Part One: March 1928
Professor Langford glanced up at the arid shout of "Foreman! Foreman!" rising from the lowest plain of the dig. He and Taylor were in the office overlooking the site, busy with their own work. Langford was at his desk, perched on a campstool for lack of a proper chair, meticulously creating a new copy of the cartouche that adorned their center coverstone. He was drawing this one larger, the better to puzzle out its eight mysterious geometric symbols. Taylor was at the other table sketching a new map of their target area.
"Taylor, it sounds as if they want you," he said as the buzz of noise grew closer.
"A moment. The scale of this cliff is being bloody difficult." At the other desk, the dig foreman was busy jotting numbers and frowning at his ruler.
In addition to the intriguing coverstones, those thirteen mysterious wedges around a central disc that had originally brought Langford to the site, his expedition had now excavated a tremendous ring – perfectly and impossibly circular – composed of a strange dark grey mineral that was unknown in Egypt and perhaps in the world. The geologist Langford had consulted had had quite the fit of apoplexy when it would not give up a scraping even to his diamond-tipped blade. The man was now in London consulting with other experts, and Langford awaited a cable with impatience.
"Halloo the office!" Sayeed, their Egyptian translator, puffed to a halt at the edge of their camp tent, practically quivering with excitement. "Foreman, Professor, please come quickly! We have a new find! It is more of the unknown mineral. We are just uncovering the edges!"
"Another!" Langford jumped to his feet, full of hope. If it were a second Ring! "Bring the map, Taylor! We'll need to add this."
Minutes later they were jogging down the rough planked ramp to the lowest level of the dig. The space was packed with workers bearing tools, at work uncovering other elevations of the site. Langford pushed his way through to see what they had found, and his hopes for a second Ring instantly vanished. What lay before him, between a pair of long stone slabs that had been prized back and set aside, was a narrow and perfectly rectangular channel seated in the earth.
Langford had no idea what it might be. He bent down and touched the warm surface with his fingers, rubbed it clean of grit with his thumb so it shone, dark grey and dully gleaming. Surely it was composed of the same material as the Ring, whether metal or stone he did not know. All around him, half a dozen men were shoveling untold amounts of sand from the trench at its heart.
Taylor was pacing behind the diggers with carefully measured steps. "I say, Langford, the interior is precisely the length and width that would accommodate the Ring," he announced with excitement.
"Yes, yes!" Sayeed agreed. "Hurry, keep going!" he shouted at the workmen in Arabic.
Langford got up and walked from one end of the neat rectangle to the other. Then he studied the slabs of stone that had been pulled away. One of them displayed evidence of quite a lot of wear at some point in the past, while the other seemed perfectly cut and unused. Curious. Perhaps the people had approached the front, as one would an altar, and the unworn side was out of bounds to them.
It took the men more than two weeks to clean millennia of packed dirt from the inside and excavate far enough around the rectangle to rule out the existence of more carved symbols, like those on the coverstones and ring. This object was merely a housing of some sort, and Taylor was right: it fit the ring's dimensions perfectly.
Then an American linguistic archaeologist named Daniel Jackson arrived, and all Langford and Taylor's hopeful speculations that they had found a secret royal cipher from the New Kingdom stumbled to an abrupt halt.
The American upstart squinted sidelong, turned his battered sholapith hat in his hands, and took a brush to the nearest coverstone wedge. "Gentlemen, with respect, these carvings clearly predate any Egyptian kingdom or dynasty. Do you see any hieroglyphs here?" He waved at the intricate carvings before them. "This isn't Egyptian. It's a completely different language!"
Three months later, the half-dozen British servicemen milling about the perimeter, ostensibly there to guard the site from looters, were a constant reminder to Langford that he, as a Norwegian, was only tolerated at the pleasure of the new and quite tentative Egyptian government, and the Egyptians inevitably bowed to the will of the British. Such was life in the colonies, even six years after Egypt's bid to win its independence. In 1922, Britain had agreed to let Egypt go, but now it seemed there were more Englishmen in Egypt than ever before.
In August, Langford and Taylor decided to insert the Ring into what they were now calling the Cradle. It was not difficult to engineer: a wooden crane with a pulley, a quantity of rope, numerous men guiding the Ring gently along the grooved slots etched into the Cradle's interior, just as if they were sliding two mechanical gears together. Langford hoped that returning the Ring to its proper place in the Cradle would guarantee it would remain here in Giza where it belonged and not be shipped to the hallowed halls of the British Museum in London.
The Ring settled into place, the ropes went slack and fell away, and a great cheer went up from the men. The Ring towered above them, dark grey and majestic against the bright sand and sky. The great deep hum that erupted from the earth moments later startled everyone. Happy chatter vanished against a profound ratcheting noise and a series of heavy thuds. Then the Ring began to spin.
A great many workers fell to their knees voicing prayers to Allah. Taylor crossed himself and murmured an oath. Langford himself shouted at Brach, one of their many assistants, to keep their movie camera rolling, to capture all of it, for pity's sake.
The camera was set on the lip of the dig, overlooking the wide flat place that held the Cradle. It caught the image of the great blue wave that erupted out of the ring and then snapped back without – somehow – releasing a single drop of water. The glowing, rippling blue light filmed poorly without color, but color autochrome photographs were being taken as rapidly as the cameramen could exchange the plates. The images would certainly be blurred, as the autochrome process required several seconds to set, but the series would at least show the colors as they truly appeared.
The bloom of blue was astounding, beautiful, and not a little terrifying. Langford had no idea what it might be, or how it might be, for there was nothing on the other side of the Ring whatsoever. It seemed as if it must be magic, or else a sublime and true act of God manifest upon the Earth. The seconds stretched into eternities as Langford stared into the wall of unreal blue water, following its rippling motion, its strange blue light. Then it vanished.
For a moment, everyone was frozen. Then Langford noticed that the men who had been in the wave's path were simply gone. Enveloped, eradicated. Their footprints remained in the sand, but there was not a drop of blood, not so much as a lost sandal.
He stared in silent horror, and then there was a flash of motion: Jackson was skidding down the embankment, turning a circle in the flat plain, shouting, "What just happened? What was that?"
People came to life at once, most of them shouting, although some held still in stunned silence.
Langford was in motion before he knew what he was doing. "Careful!" he shouted. Jackson had palmed the edge of the quiescent ring. Langford was flying down the ramp as fast as his old legs would carry him.
Jackson was standing on the re-emplaced stone slabs, cursing. He struck the carved rim of the Ring with his palm, then reached through, waving his hand in the open air on the other side. "Nothing," he said as Langford rushed up. "Not a damned thing." He struck it again. "It isn't even hot. Or cold. There's no vibration that you would feel from a motor. Nothing!"
Langford could only spread his hands helplessly. He could imagine no power on Earth able to do such a thing. Was it some kind of weapon? It was no machine gun nor mustard gas bomb. This was…some fiction come to life.
Behind them, Taylor and Sayeed began a headcount of the workers. "It is beyond anything I could dream of," Langford said at last. "I can only say it reminds me of – what is that American magazine? Amazing Stories? It is uncanny, like a story to frighten children."
Jackson laughed bitterly, a jarring sound against the background noise of men calling out prayers and names and keening the loss of their friends. "I know it. I have a friend in England who reads it devotedly. She – actually," Jackson paused. "She's a physicist, American, but at some institute there – top of her field and I don't understand a tenth of what she says about it, but, actually—" He stopped, scratched the back of his head, and then continued slowly, "This—" Jackson patted the side of the Ring. "—would be – You agree that we're dealing with a machine of some sort, yes?" Langford nodded. "And neither of us are remotely qualified to understand what it just did?" Langford nodded again. "So, why don't I just go and send a cable."
Late February 1929: six months later
"Three-two-one, and – can I say, 'Eureka!' or is that too passé?" Rodney sat back on his heels beside the short metal pedestal that had consumed nearly his every waking hour since his arrival here two months ago and listened to the beautiful, nearly inaudible hum of a machine coming to life.
He beamed up at her. "I did it! Sam, we have power!"
She was gazing into the open access panel with wide, astonished eyes. She was close enough that Rodney could see tufts of her blonde hair, lightened almost to white in the Egyptian sun, poking out from the sides of her mud-colored hat. "My God," she said, "you really did."
"Told you I would," he said, beaming, and then he inhaled deeper, catching the fragrance of a perfumed oil, maybe from her hair, and some darker scent that reminded him of secretive forays into the souk when the dig site was closed and he was ordered to go find someone else to bother.
Sam was stroking the row of crystals that were now pulsing with light and life, maybe for the first time in millennia. "I can hardly believe they're working. You know, I didn't think it could be done." She leaned back with a wry laugh. "I've spent months here trying to figure out the problem."
Rodney frowned, gathering his leather roll of tools. "That's because you were confusing the crystals that route the information with the ones that route the power. Obviously a novice mistake. You shouldn't feel bad, Sam. They aren't clearly labeled, after all."
She glared at him icily as she stood up. "That's Dr. Carter to you, McKay."
Rodney harrumphed and pretended to ignore her; they went through this frequently. As far as he was concerned, he would listen to her or anyone else once she had two doctorates behind her name and not before. But she was easy on the eyes and far less stupid than most of the people he'd met in this desert.
The next step, of course, was to find out whether the circuitry between the power source and the surface interface was intact. Rodney pressed a symbol on the top console, and the carved tile depressed with a click, lighting up what must have been a tiny ancient light bulb inside. "Whoa!" he exclaimed. He had mashed all thirty-nine – keys? buttons? petals? – in the weeks previous, and it had never done that before.
"Rodney!" Sam hissed and shot a nervous glance over her shoulder. Sure enough, Colonel O'Neill was jogging down the ramp from the officer's pavilion up on the higher level, the sun gleaming on the American flag patch on his uniform. O'Neill slowed to a saunter when he noticed them watching, and Rodney saw Daniel Jackson emerge from the tent and follow.
"What's up, kids?" the colonel asked when he finally arrived.
Rodney took a deep breath. "I'm sure you – well, at least I'm hoping that you understand – that we have to determine whether this contraption actually does anything. Clearly there's no way to tell whether it does what it was designed to, but the least we can do is begin to figure out what its limitations are given how long it's been buried in the sand."
"He pressed one of the push-buttons," Sam clarified, the traitoress.
O'Neill raised an eyebrow at her, then Rodney, and his expression only grew less enthused. "I see."
At that moment, Jackson jogged up, his linen suit jacket flapping, and didn't even notice O'Neill's glower. He only had eyes for the glowing light on Rodney's now-revived console panel. "Oh, wow, McKay, this is great! This is the thing I've been working on!" He pulled a small leather-bound notebook out of his coat pocket and thrust it at Rodney. "This series here." He pointed. "It begins with the symbol you pressed."
"Now wait a sec," O'Neill was saying, but Rodney had had his fill of military and bureaucratic bullshit for the day and he was not going to sneeze on an excuse to do some real live science.
He pressed the next seven push-buttons, while behind him, Jackson was saying, "This is what I was telling you about! The old site over there, down in the sublevel. The walls are covered with the same group of symbols that are on the cartouche. There's an incredible amount of text there, too."
"But you don't know what it says, Daniel! You told me that—" O'Neill broke off as the Ring whirred to life and began to spin. One by one the chevrons above each symbol Rodney had pushed lit up. Then the wave came.
There were shouts of "Clear!" and "Look out!" but the people were still suspicious of passing near that side of the Ring, and this time it didn't catch anyone in it's impact zone.
"You activated it," O'Neill said dully.
"Evidently, yes," said Rodney. He was staring into the water, which had settled into a kind of vertical puddle, while rapidly taking shorthand notes in a small notebook. He wondered if it was wet. He wondered if it was warm or cool. He wondered if any of these imbeciles would be foolish enough to touch it, or if he would have to harangue someone into being a test subject for them.
Alas, it blinked out after another minute, and O'Neill wouldn't allow him to repeat the experiment, no matter how he, Sam, and Jackson argued that they needed more data.
By next morning, there was practically a whole battalion of troops stationed around the dig site. The archaeologist Langford, who had been in meetings in Cairo the day before, was shouting up a storm and to no avail. What seemed a small multinational cadre of generals and a cowed-looking Egyptian official were facing Langford down like some great immovable wall of negation. Their message was clear: Langford was out. Rodney was hardly surprised; Langford was an Egyptologist, and there was absolutely nothing Egyptian about this technology. Let the man go dig up some other part of Giza. After all, there was plenty of it.
Jackson spent the next several weeks deciphering the language carved on his precious walls, while Rodney continued his work deciphering the various types of crystals he had discovered. If only he had a way to see the information they held inside. Through his trusty magnifying glass, Rodney saw the tiny microfilaments of wire formed a three-dimensional lattice within the crystal matrix, but that hardly told him what secrets they held inside, did it? He felt rather like he was attempting to hear the music on a gramophone record by holding the disc next to his ear instead of playing it on a Victrola.
Someday, somehow, Rodney would figure out how this thing worked. He was the smartest man in the world, although he could admit that sometimes Einstein gave him a run for his money. He was sure he would figure this thing out. Eventually.
Colonel Jack O'Neill stepped through what Jackson was insisting on calling a "stargate", and came out in a freezing cold, murky grey room. The trip through what McKay was calling a "wormhole" had felt like his insides were turning inside out, but he shook it off as fast as he could. Looking around, the place seemed dead. Behind him, Kawalsky, Carter, and Jackson stumbled like ducklings out of what he could only think of as the "puddle". Surely somebody would come up with better names for these things.
After a minute, the puddle blinked out and Carter lit their kerosene lantern. "Looks like we're alone," she said.
Jack hummed noncommittally. That could be good or bad. "All right, explorers," he said, "let's go exploring."
It was evening before they realized they didn't know what symbols to press to get home, and there was hardly a way to pick up the receiver and ask the operator to connect them, was there? They camped, miserable, in what Jackson was calling the "gate-room". By then they had found the windows and seen the ocean stretching miles above them, seen the endless spires and skyscrapers stabbing upward from the murky depths, and climbed up and down what felt like miles of staircases. A few lights had come on of their own accord, a few doors opened to empty rooms, but no one was home. Jack was beyond disconcerted; he was downright terrified. If he had it to choose, he would take a battlefield under a clear blue sky any day. This fretful weaving through pitch-black corridors lit only by the shaky light of a camp lantern was far too much like a story by H.P. Lovecraft for Jack's taste. Surely there were tentacled beasts lurking just around the next corner. If he hadn't been physically exhausted from climbing stairs all day, he would hardly have slept at all.
In the morning, Jackson chose a corridor in a new direction and led them into a strange circular room. It was empty, Jack saw as Sam swung the light in a wide arc. He was on the verge of herding them onward when a ghost appeared out of thin air. She was dressed in white and glowed brightly in the darkness. Jackson let out a startled shriek and gaped at her. She then said, "Welcome."
In that hour, Jack learned what a holographic image was. He learned that the mythical lost city of Atlantis was a real place. He learned the planetary stargate code for Earth, as well as a half dozen more stargate codes for real planets that not only had life, but had people! Actual human people! Carter and Jackson were practically bouncing with excitement, and even Kawalsky looked willing to give it a shot.
"We still have plenty of supplies, sir." Kawalsky patted his field pack.
"I agree," Carter said, and Jackson chimed in with a, "Me, too!" that Jack could only glare at. This was supposed to be a chain of command, not a democracy. Still, he would much rather return home with proof of life on other planets than merely the holographic rumor of it.
"Well, then," he said, making the syllables more petulant than he truly felt. Jackson couldn’t tell a master sergeant from a general, but Carter had been in the Army Air Service before it disbanded. She ought to know better, even if she was a full-time scientist now.
Not that it mattered on a team this small, he thought, relenting. "Let's go see what there is to see."
The first code they tried led to a bucolic, Earth-like place that seemed uninhabited until they reached farmland. Then they found people dressed like Jack's grandparents had 60 years ago. The girl wore a bonnet, for crying out loud. But the man Tyrus greeted them with civility.
"You carry weapons," he noted, but he didn't sound upset about it.
Jack glanced down at the old Colt six-shooter in his holster. Kawalsky had a rifle on his back and a six-gun of his own, but they were hardly kitted out for the Battle of the Somme.
"We believe it's good to be prepared," Jack said with as much blandness as he could. "In case we need to defend ourselves, you see."
Tyrus nodded and the girl hid her expression behind her hand, but they agreed to take them to their village.
They even threw a little party, and it turned out that the Genii had never even heard of Earth or pyramids or Atlantis. The beer in the little tavern ran freely, and – even if Jackson started it – soon all four of them were telling their hosts all about what life was like on Earth.
The man in charge, Mr. Cowen, never seemed to warm to them for some reason, but Jack assumed that was simply the manner he had of leading his folks. At home, sometimes General Hammond played cagy, too, especially when he had a handful of imperial and colonial representatives making demands of the official American presence in North Africa. It was nice of Cowen to assign them a friendly escort back to the stargate. Jack wasn't entirely sure he could find the path back through the trees and fields, and he was a little more tight than he cared to admit. A guy named Ladon and a pretty redhead called Behrna walked them back, although Jack was pretty sure it wasn't they same way they came.
Jackson dialed the code for Earth that the holographic teacher had given them, but it didn't work. "You have too many symbols!" Behrna laughed. "There are only seven, you know. How did you manage to get here without knowing this?"
"We're still learning," Jackson answered. To Jack he said, "It was seven to Geniya, but I know it's eight to Earth."
Jack nodded. "Try Atlantis."
He entered the code and a wormhole formed. Moments later, they were standing safe and sound in the dark and musty gate-room of the silent city. Very strange, Jack thought; however, the eight-symbol code for Earth worked exactly as the hologram told them it would.
In Egypt, it was night when they stepped down from the worn slab of rock onto the sandy plain of the archaeological dig. Soldiers surrounded them and men shouted greetings on all sides. They were home. They had been to a different planet.
They were home.
The crowd parted and General Hammond's aide-de-everything, Sgt. Harriman, was suddenly at Jack's elbow. "Welcome back, sir. Come this way for your debriefing, please? Yes, all four of you, sirs, Doctors, thank you." Up the ridge they went, out to the road, and into an open Crossley touring car.
Jack ignored Harriman and Kawalsky's happy chatter, tipping his head back to gaze at the midnight sky. The drive up to Cairo would take nearly an hour, even if Harriman managed to hit twenty miles per hour along the road's flat stretch. He leaned over to Carter. "We're sure we left the planet, right?"
She laughed, bright and surprised over the roar of the motor. "Yes?" she said. "They had no idea what Earth was. I think that's a pretty clear sign, sir, don't you?"
Jack nodded, conceding her point. Then he pointed up at the stars. "So, where do you think we were?"
"I couldn't say, but I do know an astrocartographer. Maybe we can find out."
Meanwhile on Geniya, Ladon and Behrna were standing at attention in front of Cowen, who sat enthroned on his dais, hands folded, with his councilors sitting at two long tables on either side of the room.
"Emperor," Ladon began, "they did not even know how to operate the Ring of the Ancestors. They made no effort to conceal where they were going."
"They are like babes in the wood, sir," Behrna agreed. "They did not respond to any hint about the Wraith. It is as if they live in a world without predators."
At the long tables on either side of the room, the councilors murmured.
"General Kolya," Cowen said, nodding.
"Sir, this opportunity is too good to pass by. They have no unified government on their world. Let me take a force to infiltrate the populace and prepare it for invasion."
Cowen narrowed his eyes, thinking. The Genii Empire held five worlds in addition to Geniya, whose existence they worked very hard to conceal. That these strangers had stumbled upon them by accident was very suspicious indeed.
"A small expedition to begin with, I think," he told Kolya. "We must corroborate their story. Go first to this Atlantis. If it is desirable, then we shall acquire it. Then travel to this Earth, and if your intelligence supports it, then we may proceed with a full-scale infiltration plan." He paused. "If these people are truly as isolated as it seems, then you must acquire samples of pathogens to send to Hoff. Everyone must be inoculated, including all of us who met with the visitors today."
"Thank you, Emperor," Kolya said with a bow. "I'll assemble a team at once."
"Tyrus," Cowen said and waited for the man to bow. "You will compose a plan for the mobilization of fifty thousand troops based on the intelligence Kolya's agents provide. Expect to move when his infiltrators are established. If Earth is a viable target, then we will take it within a year."
"Thank you, sir."
"Ladon and Behrna, arrange supplies. We must have weaponry and armor for our troops. Personnel carriers, turbos, bombs. Whomever these people are, they don't know our reputation and they won't know that the best choice they can make is surrender. They'll fight, but we need their resources to defeat the Wraith, so ultimately, victory must be ours."
"Yes, Emperor!" chorused the councilors, and Cowen sat back, watching his well-honed invasion-machine spin once more into life.
Part Two: Late Spring 1930
The bolt of light smashed through John's upper starboard wing and the support struts cracked. The lower wing bent in the wind, wood pieces flying and torn fabric flapping as the plane coiled down into a spin. "Mayday, mayday," John gritted into his radio, even though he knew it was a lost cause. There would be no one coming, not this far behind enemy lines.
He managed to slow the spin and get away from the mountains, and with a whole plane he might even have made it. He found the ripcord to his parachute, climbed out of the open cockpit, and leapt into the air. His chute opened, thank God, and in the far distance John was sure he could see Rome. Closer by, he counted the crash sites of his compatriots, smoke billowing up in oily black plumes. As he descended, he saw that the forest was too thick below and tried to adjust his trajectory. He aimed at a meadow. And missed.
He came down among pine trees. Fabric ripped, wood splintered and drove upward into his legs as he fell. He felt bones snap in his left arm and side as the tree caught him. He dropped, bark and pine cones scraping gouges in his skin. Before he knew it, John's right foot had touched down, rolling on a wizened root and tumbling him to his knees as he gasped for air. The breaths came in red bolts. He cursed. He wrestled himself out of the parachute harness and made no effort to yank its silk tatters out of the branches overhead. He could hardly bury it, per the protocol of landing behind enemy lines, in his present state.
If he could reach a city. If he could reach the sea.
John bandaged the one bad gash on his thigh, cut a sling for his arm from a trailing slice of parachute, and then set out. He hiked in the forest for hours. It all looked alike, but he kept heading downhill. He knew that if you kept going downhill, you'd reach water eventually. Unless you reached something else first.
It was dusk and John was stumbling with exhaustion and knife-stabs of pain in his arm and chest. The gouge in his thigh was surely bleeding again, but he wouldn't let himself stop until he found water. Even a muddy stream would do, and then he could do something about shelter. But the trees had thinned. The sky was clear and silvery, with streaks of orange and violet in the west and a glimmering haze that made it hard to survey the ground ahead. He was already on them before he knew what he was looking at.
"Shep, run!" came a shout, which was followed by a lengthy cry of pain and a heavy-booted scuffle. He might have gotten away if he hadn't already been injured, but the fire in his left lung was wrenching and there wasn't enough underbrush for cover.
He didn't know why they didn't shoot him.
"Sorry to see you here," Holland said when the Genii soldier dropped John to the ground.
"You too." John gave Holland a once-over, noting the fresh wet blood. "Leg?"
"Double compound fracture." Holland's breath was shallow. "These jerks just made it a fuck of a lot worse."
"Shit." John bit his lip on the flood of "Oh, Christ no. Not Holland" that was welling in his throat. He didn't have a first aid kit, just some more gauze in a pocket of his vest.
Holland nudged him like he'd missed a question. "You?" he said.
"Ribs and left arm." John looked down at himself and started picking bits of tree out of his ruined uniform. "Tree cut up my leg, too," he added, taking disconnected notice of the blood soaking through the binding.
"Yeah." Holland was quiet for a little bit, probably from the pain. After a while he said, "You see anyone make it out of here?"
John shook his head. "No, they picked us off like they were swatting mosquitoes. Pretty sure I was the last one down."
"Well, shit." Holland's face went hard and bitter. Leaning heavily, he slowly made himself comfortable against John's right side. "Wake me up if anything happens," he said, and John grunted assent. Maybe they'd get lucky and the aliens would shoot them both in their sleep.
The Genii invaders had stripped off their heavy grey coats in the summer heat. Their shirts were white linen and glowed in the headlamps of their turtle-backed personnel carrier. Soon, the guards lifted them into the back of the vehicle, and they drove off. The rural road was agony, but after a while, they were deposited in a village square, lying on the ground within spitting distance of a public fountain their captors wouldn't let them use. Small fires in open pits lit the plaza in place of streetlights. It was more than enough light for John to watch as, throughout the evening, more Genii soldiers arrived, group by group, bearing the last surviving fliers from their air squadron.
John slept a little, between arrivals, and in the morning he found that they were seven men and two women. Fifty-three pilots had gone up on this mission, and his was the last bird in the sky. The Genii turbos were just too damned fast, too bulletproof, and too well-armed. No one had believed the intelligence reports that the enemy had an aircraft that could shoot lightning bolts. Mitch had said, "Oooh, and their pilots are actually the bad guys from Buck Rogers!" in a voice that made the crew around them laugh. But Mitch and Dex had both gone down in flames in the first engagement.
"Form up!" one of the guards yelled suddenly, and John saw a motor-car come hurtling out from the main road to the highway. It was a brand new Alfa Romeo with Italian government markings, but the men inside all wore invader uniforms. On the ground, John and the other Allied pilots stayed where they were, in a rough semi-circular huddle.
"General among us! Welcome General Kolya!" someone in uniform shouted. The Genii guards snapped their salutes. Some seemed to be quaking in their boots, and John was struck by the sudden stink of fear and rapt obedience that filled the air.
The man Kolya got out of the commandeered car and mainly ignored his subordinates; he had the look of a man who knew the bowels of hell firsthand and didn't mind sending you there if he decided you were in his way, the alien bastard. He gave the nine Allied fliers an assessing, cold-eyed stare. John cocked an eyebrow and gave it right back, wishing a rain of death down on Kolya and every other Genii invader at the same time that he tried not to be moved by the noise of Holland whimpering into his hip.
Five minutes later, Holland was dead, executed because he couldn’t walk, maybe; or maybe because he'd been curled against John's good side with his blood soaked into John's flight suit; or maybe because Holland had been delirious with the pain of his suppurating wounds and steadily, horribly dying. John didn't look for reasons until later. At that moment, he was too busy screaming, "I'm going to fucking kill you!" at the top of his parched voice.
Kolya was only chuckling softly at him, saying, "I just bet you will." Then to one of his underlings, "Take him and interrogate him. He's older than the others in this group, and that's an officer's insignia, isn't it? Find out everything he knows."
"Those courgettes and five of your small tomatoes, please." Teyla paid a few coins and nestled the produce into her willow basket. She moved on to the next stall, which specialized in mushrooms. All along this street, she could find any type of food she could imagine. The selection was magnificent and at the same time heart-rending. There was nothing like this abundance in her former home in Tanganyika, especially after the colonial government made the people pull up their food crops to grow cotton and sisal for the German colonial governor to export.
She had reached the top of the street, her market basket brimming full, when she heard a sudden rabble overtake the regular call of sellers hawking their fare. Storefronts with radios inside blared the noise at top volume. From the windows high above, apron-clad housewives were calling the news out open windows:
"The aliens are in Europe! North Africa is lost!"
"It says the Genii invaders have taken control of the Italian army. Il Duce is dead! His aides are all shot, and – wait." She broke off. "My God. He says that thousands of refugees are fleeing north into the Alps and across the waters of the Mediterranean in all directions. Ferries have sunk, hundreds are drowned."
One called out another window, "The League of Nations is calling an emergency meeting in Geneva presently."
"But that's the wrong direction!" a man yelled up from street-level. "The politicians will get there at the same time the invaders will!"
Teyla stopped in the doorway of a bakery where the radio set was playing at top volume. The radio announcer was interviewing a French member of parliament who sounded terribly worried. He was saying, "The economic situation is already terrible. The crop failures, the devastation of the American stock market that is spreading to all other countries, the famines in those countries that usually deliver a bounteous harvest unto the world – it is all quite distressing, no? We must ask the League of Nations how we will defend ourselves. Who will lead us against this race of strangers who bear such fearsome weapons? And, of course, with banks collapsing right and left, who will pay for it all?"
The discussion went on, but she moved back out onto the sidewalk. She would return home to eat and think, and then she would go into work early to discuss what to do.
Last week the news had reported that the Genii had killed the rulers of North Africa, Arab, Berber, and European alike, and yet the French president had assured everyone that Europe was safe. Why were they so afflicted with wishful thinking? A dozen years after the Great War, these people of the north seemed determined to think themselves immune to strife. Teyla had not yet been in France then, but she had seen the transfer of her country from German to British rule.
She could not understand what drove their arrogance. What she saw was a will to obsession with their old, familiar enemies so great that it blinded them to any other danger.
When she arrived in her building, there was a note on the chalkboard above the downstairs telephone table with a message for her: Mr. Grodin would be going in early and hoped to see her no later than eight. As she erased the note and turned to the stairs, she wondered if there would be a change to the evening's song list or if he only wanted to discuss contingency plans. In her flat, she turned on her tabletop radio and listened carefully to the newsreaders as she set about chopping onions.
John didn't break when he saw the monster, but that might have been because he didn't believe it was real, not at first. The man in chains was the American ambassador to Italy, and when he caught sight of John, he shouted out who he was and that if John got out, then he had to tell the League of Nations about this. "Find General Hammond!" the man begged. Then the monster laid his palm on the man's chest and the ambassador withered from a robust forty to a heap of dusty skin and bones. It was impossible.
"You'll be next," said a girl they called Sora.
"Hell no, I won't," John gasped out.
"Then talk," she said, and her tone said that she'd be perfectly happy to have them bring the monster right in. Never mind that she was practically a child. The Great War had been rife with boys, and a few girls, who'd lied about their ages, John remembered. He also knew there was a lot that a young kid would do to impress an officer that older soldiers wouldn't. John was beginning to guess that young Sora didn't have many limits.
"Okay," John said at last, "first, you have to understand that I've lived in Europe for a lot of years, mostly in France, though, and all these countries speak different languages. I don't know how you people seem to be able to speak them all, but we don't."
"The Ring translates," she snapped. "Don't you know anything?"
John stored that tidbit away for further thought. The newsmen on the radio had described the "stargate" down in Egypt, but no one understood how it worked."
"Get on with it. Who is this General Hammond?"
John stared across the wide room at the monster, who stood chained to a wall with what looked like a tiger's cage framed up around him. He swallowed hard. "When the US finally joined the War, they started the Army Air Service. It disbanded several years ago, but Hammond was in charge."
"What does that have to do with what he said?" she asked, jerking a thumb at the crumpled pile of clothes that had been the American ambassador.
"I don't know," John said. "Look, I joined up with the Royal Flying Corps in England back in 1915. I haven't been back to the States since." Sora didn't like that answer, or much of the rest of what he told her, and by the time he passed out, he didn’t much care if she fed him to the monster after all.
He woke up in the wee hours to the sound of an explosion and an American voice saying, "Sir, sir, wake up. Can you hear me?" John's shackles fell off, and before he knew what was happening, he was being tucked carefully into the back of a cargo truck, nestled under burlap, and covered with potatoes.
He next saw daylight in a warehouse that smelled heavily of ocean and salted fish. The man digging him out of the potato truck turned out to be a young Negro in a flat cap and dusty coat. "Major Sheppard, sir," he said with a relieved smile. "Sorry there wasn't time before. I'm Lieutenant Ford, US Marine Corps. Are you all right? I hope you didn't get bounced around too much back here."
John scooted gingerly down to perch on the tailgate. "Pleased to meet you," he said, looking around. "Tell me, did you get any of the other pilots out? There were nine of us in that plaza. Sorry, eight after they killed Holland." John paused and added, "Two were women."
Ford gave him a grimly sympathetic look, and then proceeded to check John's injuries. "Sorry, sir, but I just don't know. My operation was aimed at you alone, but there may have been others scheduled for different nights." He shrugged. "I'm supposed to get you on a boat and safely headed to Paris." At John's puzzled look, Ford said, "That's where the Terran Resistance is based right now."
"Is that so?" John said doubtfully. When he deployed a week ago, there wasn't any central organization. "My papers are Royal Air Force. I'm supposed to report back to my commander in London. In fact, at first I assumed you were British, and I was just hallucinating an American accent."
Ford's gaze was steady as he shook his head. "No sir. Everyone's SGC now."
"The hell is SGC?" John said, temper flaring. He couldn't sneeze at getting rescued, but this was no way to brief a man.
"I apologize, sir. All this is brand new to all of us, and I guess I'm telling it out of order," Ford said quickly. "The lowdown is the League of Nations has a division called Stargate Command that was confidential up until this week. They're the folks who know about the stargate, and the defense of Earth is under them now."
"And they're not in Geneva with the rest of the League?" John said with a doubtful look.
"No, sir. The SGC was based in Cairo, mainly, with a branch in London, I think. But in any case Geneva's been evacuated. Paris is where we're deploying from. For now, anyway."
"Great," John said with bitterness. "And you? Who are the US marines under?"
Ford helped John to his feet and started them on a slow walk down to the docks. "All of us with languages have been assigned here, for now, at least. If the fight crosses the ocean, I don't know what'll happen."
"Heaven forbid," John said darkly. He couldn't imagine what the Americans could do to stop it. "Any idea how long we have until Paris falls?" he said bleakly.
Ford scowled, but rallied almost immediately. John nodded dismally, but Ford stuck out his chin. "Never say die, sir. Besides, they can't kill us all. They have to want us for something, right? That's what everyone keeps saying."
"True enough." John scratched the back of his neck and tried to think about strategy. "They'd massacre everyone if they just wanted the planet. Killing off the politicos counts as conquest, I guess."
"Yes, sir." Ford sighed heavily. "I still can hardly believe this is real." They didn't say anything more as they negotiated the maze of warped wooden boards and piles of waiting cargo. Sea brine filled the air, along with the shrieks of hungry seabirds and the breathy moan of wind through ships' rigging.
At the stern of a small freighter called Queen Bess, Ford stopped. "Right here, sir. There's a medic on the boat who's going to set your arm. You've got a pack waiting in your berth with some clothes and other gear. Someone will meet you in Paris."
"Thanks," John said gruffly, as the kid led him up the gangway. "I appreciate it."
"No thanks necessary, sir. You're an asset and we need you. Good luck."
Ronon had been in Malta on Invasion Day, preparing to worm into a meeting of a communist group that wanted to free the stargate from imperial control. The news on the morning broadsheet made that a moot point, and Ronon rushed to telegraph Cairo for new orders. Finally, after an excruciating three-hour wait, came the reply:
"STAFF KILLED OR FLED TUNIS STOP REGROUP PARIS ASAP STOP"
Ronon immediately booked passage to Tunis, but by the time he landed, the Genii invaders had already killed the sheikh and the French colonial governor. Europeans were fleeing en masse, and everywhere he went, he saw people in panic, with wild rumors flying of massacres and horrible depredations on women and children.
He didn't see any evidence of massacres in Tunis. He didn't see anyone he knew from Giza, either. He spent a few days watching the port, and on his third day prowling the docks, he got lucky. In the flood of people debarking from a crowded ferry, he found the West Indies-born American guardsman, Bates, and a stargate worker named Campbell whom Ronon had sometimes dealt with in Cairo.
"Ronon," Campbell said with relief when they saw him. "Are the others here yet?"
Ronon shook his head. "I was in Malta. Came as fast as I could, but you two are the first I've seen."
"Damn it." Bates turned and scanned the milling crowds. "We were the only ones from the program on our boat."
"I've been watching for three days so far."
"I still think the scientists went over land," Campbell said. "The Genii blocked the way to the river pretty fast."
Bates scowled. "I know but—" He stopped and looked up at Ronon. "The Genii knew who they were looking for. They took a bunch of people back through the gate at gunpoint, and that gave some of the others time to run."
"Into the desert?" Ronon said darkly.
"It was midnight," Campbell said. "Anyone could see the lights of the Great Pyramid—"
"Including the Genii," Bates said.
"Well, yes," Campbell allowed, "but they hadn't closed the perimeter yet. I think they found a caravan."
"You mean you hope." Bates' voice was low and bitter, and at Campbell's sour look he insisted, "You can't know for sure. You were too busy with the boat."
Ronon sighed. "Okay. You two need to get to Paris. Orders are to regroup as fast as possible. I'll go find the scientists."
"You're going to search the whole Sahara," Bates scoffed.
"Won't need to," Ronon said. "We know where they started from." He gave them the name of his hotel and made sure they had the funds to get to France.
"We have some cash, and we can have more wired to the bank here," Bates said.
"Do it fast," Ronon warned. "If there's a run, the bank won't stay open." He eyed Campbell's khaki uniform shirt and Bates' too-heavy black coat and mismatched desert pith helmet. "Do you have other clothes?"
Campbell shook his head. "Left everything and ran."
"If the Genii are smart, they'll be looking for men in desert uniforms. You two need to blend in: boring suits and grey hats, nothing new or colorful enough to be memorable. Tell my concierge and he'll take care of it."
"Where are you going?" Bates said.
Ronon shrugged. "Some of them must have escaped. I'll bring them in if I can."
Ronon rode east and south, robes billowing, speeding his camel along the caravan route as fast as the brute would move. Any westbound caravans would be moving at a snail's pace. Refugee trains, likewise. Ronon had a suspicion that the Genii would overtake those trains, searching them to a man, and then Earth would lose all of its experts who knew how to operate the stargate.
In the second week, he found them. He had been riding night and day, napping in the afternoons in the shade he made between his camel and a long sheet of fabric attached to its saddle. He'd passed other groups, refugees, clearly, but this was the first who drew arms against him at his admittedly thirsty, "As-salāmu `alaykum."
It was the tell-tale American, "What? What! Oh!" that brought the smile to Ronon's face.
"Dr. Lee," he called out, and to the Egyptian with the pistol, he said, "I'm a friend. Ask him." With that, he removed the Arab headdress that was keeping the desert sun from killing him.
Dr. Zelenka poked his head around the shoulder of a man in Arab clothes. "My God, Ronon." He turned to the armed man and said in a heavy Czech accent, "It is fine, put that away. He is ally!" Then Zelenka crossed to Ronon and embraced him.
Laughing, Ronon slapped him on the back. "Good to see you, Doc."
"Ronon Dex, I can hardly believe it," Dr. Lee said. He was peering up at him, blocking the sun from his eyes with an uplifted hand. "Did they send you?"
Ronon didn't answer. A young boy was leading his camel to where the others were tethered by the water, and Ronon thanked the caravan leader for his hospitality. Then he returned to the scientists. "Are any others with you?"
Zelenka scowled. It wrinkled his sunburned face, and he answered wincing, "In short, no. But come in out of sun and we will tell you." Ronon let himself be guided into a tent and plied with waterskins and dates until he felt vaguely human again.
Zelenka cleaned his spectacles and resumed the story. "Genii took ten maybe, or twelve? Mostly military, I think. At first they could not tell who was security and who was scientific staff. It was chaos and many died before they began taking the prisoners away. Some SGC people drove off in a motorcar in the confusion, but they would have gone to Alexandria or Cairo, I think."
Ronon let out a deep sigh. The news reports on the radio said the Cairo airfield was closed and the port of Alexandria was under tight control, with all ships and passengers being searched. If he was going to get them to Headquarters, they would have to set out for the coast, somewhere so insignificant it wouldn't be watched.
At that moment, a strange low whine began to fill the air. People emerged from the shelter of tents, some rubbing sleep from their eyes, others hastily arranging their clothing. The camels rustled and snorted, and their wranglers all leapt to keep them still. Overhead, a strangely shaped silver aircraft was crossing the sky, leaving a long white plume of vapor in its wake. It was nothing like the new experimental metal passenger aeroplanes touted in the newspapers. Its wings were almost V-shaped.
"That…isn't ours. Not from Earth, I mean," Lee said, mopping his head with his handkerchief. "I don't know what that is, but…" He trailed off and looked at Ronon, then Zelenka. "We're in real trouble."
Ronon did some quick calculations allowing for sand, wind, and rocky terrain. If they rode like the wind, they might make the coast in record time, but they would attract the attention of any aircraft looking for them. They would have to go slow and stay inconspicuous. "We'll rest today, and tonight we'll head north." Ronon thought Beda Littoria would be quiet enough to avoid Genii interest, but big enough that they could get a boat.
He saw them back to their tent and then had a word with the caravan leader while sharing a meal of roasted goat. Ronon let him drive a hard bargain for as long as it remained interesting, but after a while the need for sleep grew paramount and he sealed the deal. They would have their camels and supplies, and the man had a story to give anyone who questioned him about foreigners fleeing Cairo overland.
In another week, Ronon, Zelenka, and Lee were on a boat to France, and Ronon dared to hope that things were going to be all right. After that, they took a sleeper train from Marseille to Paris. There had been no news in reply when Ronon wired their scheduled arrival time to Weir, his supervisor at SGC Intelligence. Until now there was always something: "Athens lost," or "US engaging at sea". He checked the telegraph offices at all the larger stations on the way, but there was no word. He got little sleep that night. There were too many factors to plan for if he were going to get Zelenka and Lee to safety.
The Queen Bess was chugging along off the coast of northern Portugal when they got word. The crew were in the mess and the ship's cook had the galley radio tuned to the BBC. Suddenly the music that was playing stopped with the loud rip of a needle, the chimes of Big Ben rang out, and the announcer came on:
"We are interrupting our program to bring you a news flash. This is London calling. Here is a news flash. German radio has just announced that the Genii invaders have bombed factories in and around the capitol Berlin. The German air defense was unable to thwart the attacking Genii turbos. Further, in Spain, Spanish ruler General Primo de Rivera and King Alfonso XIII have been assassinated by Genii soldiers. It is unclear whether government or party leaders in Germany and Spain yet survive. General Hammond of the Stargate Command division of the League of Nations had this to say:
" 'Judging from the way the Genii have progressed outward from Egypt, the pattern is to assassinate the country's political and party leadership, along with top aides and security personnel. It appears that Genii operatives have been here for some time in secret, presumably to learn how our governments and our collective defenses are organized.
" 'Let me assure you that the League of Nations is doing everything possible to protect the people of Earth. We are all in this together, and we are working hard for a fast resolution. Thank you.' "
The tinny recording of Hammond's speech ended and the announcer returned: "General Hammond declined to answer questions following his statement. He remains working closely with top-level officials across all the Great Powers."
The other sailors in the mess looked at John in expectation, but what could he say? "Well?" one of them urged.
"Hey, I don't know. You don't see any stars on my shoulders, do you? I've never even met Hammond."
"You think the Americans will swoop in and save us again?" This was the first mate, an Englishman they called Rupey. He wasn't quite dripping sarcasm – like many veterans of the Great War, mentioning Americans still brought a frustrated mix of gratitude and grief over the millions of lives that could have been saved if the US had stepped in sooner – but his tone had an edge to it that John knew first hand. There had been a reason he'd left the States in 1915, after all.
"You know what I think?" John said with a sigh. "Truth be told, I think the general there is blowing smoke. These turbos the Genii have aren't anything like our fighter planes. They have two metal wings instead of fabric bi-wings, and the guns aren't even guns. The energy bolts they shoot are like something from the future. We haven't even dreamed of this stuff yet."
"So, you don't think they'll come?" asked a young brown-skinned engineer's mate named Sol. If the kid was eighteen, John was Popeye the Sailor.
From the bulkhead, Cook scoffed loudly. "You wait, my lad. They'll come. In four blooming years."
They all laughed, and John didn't feel any patriotic guilt. He'd waited until his mother died, but he didn't owe anyone else there anything. To Sol, he answered, "Yeah, I think they'll come, but I don't think there's a damned thing they can throw at the Genii that we haven't already tried."
"Then the aliens are going to win," Rupey said, and the galley went quiet.
John thought about Holland for a moment, about the four dozen pilots who had been shot out of the sky that day three weeks ago. It reshaped the steel in his spine, and the men shifted on their benches as if sensing it. "They're invading us, sure, but that doesn't mean they've won the war. The war's barely even begun."
Teyla stepped up to her mark with a smile, letting the applause wash over her as she scanned the after dinner crowd. Le Club des Cinq was a bandstand, a wide dance floor, and several tiers of small square tables where patrons who came early could indulge in dinner and those who stayed late could drink and dance to American Jazz music until dawn. The house was full tonight, with every table claimed.
The clapping faded as the orchestra struck up. She filled her lungs, winked at Peter, her band leader, and started the opening number: "Blue skies, smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies do I see…" The people seemed to relax immediately and an air of determined gaiety filled the room. That was fine, Teyla thought. Tonight they all needed something to hope for.
That day the radio and newssheets had blared the news that the Genii were on their way to Paris, that the government had declared an open city, that Stargate Command had gone into hiding or even retreated across the Atlantic. They also replayed the official recordings of Genii generals ordering all military groups to stand down, insisting they simply wanted everyone to continue with their business as usual, that no one had to get hurt if they would only cooperate. Paris had watched the other cities of the world fall – some with violence and others with no more damage than a few royal bloodstains. "Go or stay??" the headlines had asked for weeks now. The current consensus seemed to be "stay".
Teyla watched the audience carefully as they performed "Stardust" and "Someone To Watch Over Me", "More Than You Know" and "If I Could Be With You." Couples filled the dance floor, moving with anxious grace and clinging just a little too tightly to one another. The first set lasted for just over an hour before the break, and during the interval the bandstand was flooded with slips of paper bearing song requests.
Teyla had thirty minutes to see to the most important business of the night. She greeted regular faces and briefly joined important patrons at their tables, chatting about inanities and praising their courage in coming out on such an evening as this. Of the admirers who approached, a few she greeted with happy cries of "My old friend!" that she made sound as genuine as her own name. Cheeks were kissed and folded scraps of paper were slipped into her palm, which she then tucked safely into the underpinnings of her evening gown.
Teyla sang two sets a night, with other acts going on both earlier and later. The young comedian with the dog appeared early; the dancing girls who aspired to be the next Josephine Baker went on after Teyla had changed clothes and turned her mind to more pressing business.
Before her second set, Teyla repaired to her dressing room, unfastened her bodice, and read the unofficial news. "Sub-Saharan Africa mainly ignored. The leaders of South Africa are dead. Same Australia and probably New Zealand. South America not heard from." Another read, "China putting up fight with sheer manpower, but aliens will likely reinforce by morning. Japan lost." Another read, "Stalin dead. Politburo dead, others scattered. Trotsky still in hiding."
The official news services were censoring their newssheets; certainly the BBC was extremely interested in preserving morale, even to the point of misleading the public. Radio Paris was proving inconsistent, sometimes reporting on the invasion in great detail and other times not at all. It was possible that teletypes from overseas correspondents were failing to arrive, but Teyla rather suspected that at the rate rumors were flying, someone at the SGC had told the radiomen to keep the losses under their hats until they could see how the land lay.
It was all Teyla had expected, but then she had been following matters closely since the Invasion. Her flat was stocked for a siege; she was as ready as anyone could be.
That afternoon, Peter had cancelled rehearsal so that he and any of the others who needed to could go to the market and bank. Teyla had stayed home and hosted a meeting of her friends Mr. Lorne, Mr. Halling, Miss Dumais, Mrs. Biro, Miss Simpson, and Mr. Yamato concerning what more must be done before Genii officers took control of the city. The resistance already had numerous secret caches of rifles and ammunition in place. A mining company employee had donated rather a lot of dynamite and fuze, although they did not yet have a target – Evan was handling those details. Their current project was discovering how to acquire enough portable radio sets to maintain essential contact with other portions of their fledgling network. And, of course, they were continuing to do everything possible to ferry stranded SGC personnel from occupied areas to relative safety.
Lorne had assured them all that the SGC had people at work organizing covert supply deliveries to the resistance networks. The leadership were in hiding, obviously, to avoid assassination, but they had already developed ciphers for coded telegraphs that would defeat the Genii ability to understand all languages. They were doing good work, Teyla felt assured.
The band closed the second set with "La Marseillaise" at Teyla's own request, never mind that she'd just sung them "Making Whoopee," and all the club joined in.
It had just struck midnight, and Rodney was staring sleepless at the ceiling of the garret guestroom of a complete stranger. Well, she was mostly a stranger. Her brother had been at the international physics conference in Munich, where Rodney had been presenting the day before the invasion. Josef wasn't terribly bright, but he was handsome and surprisingly kind, given that they were little more than two ships passing in the night. Marta was also kind, if tragically disinterested in physics, and had even telegraphed to London for him.
The invasion itself had happened in the wee hours, Cairo time, and Egypt was theirs by dawn. Genii soldiers had arrived in Munich on the second day. It was as if they had been here all along, perhaps for months, making their plans and infiltrating Europe. Rodney only knew they were Genii because he heard a group of them talking about the "Ring of the Ancestors" as they walked through the university. He was in a stairwell and they were on the landing below, headed into the college. They weren't in uniform, likely because the German police would capture them instantly if they were. No, they were dressed just like any man on the street: ordinary suits, grey fedoras, plain men's shoes. Rodney had heard Sam's description of them often enough after her first little adventure, and, God. Sam.
He hadn't dared wire Cairo. Even if he managed to go out incognito, the fact of sending a telegram to Africa from Munich would certainly be memorable to the clerk behind the counter and to any other customers standing about eavesdropping. He could feasibly pay someone to send it for him and await a response, but that wouldn't take the novelty of Egypt out of the equation, would it?
Sam had been in Giza at the time of the invasion. She was still obsessed with solving the stargate controller crystals and had brought a crate full of them back from her last trip to Atlantis with O'Neill and Jackson. Months ago the Americans had built a barracks and office building just up the road from the stargate, to spare the staff the drive all the way back to Cairo when the site closed at night. It was hardly the Ritz, but it sure beat camping in the sand.
In hindsight, it seemed incredibly naïve to Rodney that the only guards on the site had been around the perimeter. The British were worried that the Germans were too interested. The Americans were worried the British had forgotten that Egypt was an independent state now. Point being, the sentry points all faced out. Nobody had thought to watch the stargate itself, and Rodney was pretty sure no one could say how long ago the Genii had first begun coming through. Late at night when the dig was empty, there would have been no one around to notice, much less stop them.
Rodney had heard the early report on the radio – maybe only a rumor, or maybe a scrap of truth let out before the censors clamped down – that the Genii had kidnapped a certain group of people, had seemed to be seeking specific individuals, and taken them through the stargate to some other world. Rodney was certain that they'd taken Sam, Jackson, O'Neill, and whomever else had been with them when they went exploring. The other staff was less certain. The scientists came and went in an itinerant rotation roughly matching the solstice points of the academic year: a semester, a quarter, a break. He himself had only left the site for a conference. It was only a week, including travel days.
Now it was the fifth day of the invasion, and Rodney had given up on the SGC sending someone for him or otherwise answering his cable to London. Marta and he had spent days listening to the news on her wireless. His German was about as strong as her English, so they took turns switching between the BBC and German news programs. North Africa had been lost virtually overnight. There was no point in his attempting to return to Giza. The question was Paris or London, and how best to get there from here. Dare he try Berlin? There would be express trains. Or he could try the line from Stuttgart. Or he could go east to Prague and then north to Gdansk. Not that he spoke a word of Polish. Would that matter? Would it be smarter to forget the railroads entirely and drive? He could buy a motorcar, but he would have to have the money wired, which would mean going out and dealing with the telegraph office and the bank, not to mention the automobile dealer. No. No, he was being ridiculous. He would take a train. It would be fine.
Only it wasn't. They caught him in Berlin, and not even through any fault of his own, which was small comfort in the end. But he hadn't talked with other passengers or done anything to make himself memorable. No, all they'd had to do was follow him and sit in the next carriage, and then grab him on the platform when he switched trains. Rodney had never even known they were there.
They took him to a house in Berlin at first. He didn't talk, but they weren't asking many questions. Later he discovered that they had an image of him – a color portrait like an autochrome, only caught instantaneously while he was completely unaware. Remarkable technology, he couldn't help but acknowledge. The men were only soldiers sent to find him and capture him. The house had a radio, and they permitted him to follow the news. They seemed as interested as he was, in fact, in the progress of the war, although their reactions were cheerful and optimistic while his were primarily horror-stricken.
They only hit him when he tried to escape. He tried precisely twice, and then he spent his spare energy on creating various kinds of "Help me!" messages and jettisoning them from the house in various ways. It didn't help that he hadn't the foggiest idea of his prison's house number or street name.
At the end of the second week, there was a great cacophony from the street – radios blared and men, women, and children called in shrill panic, "Dresden! Dresden!" Rodney clamored to turn on the radio. The German newsreader was speaking too fast for him to follow. The BBC was just catching up:
"…is London calling. Here is an urgent news flash. German radio is reporting that a bomb unlike anything ever seen before in history has destroyed the German city of Dresden. Most of the city has been flattened. Repeat, Dresden has been destroyed. Dresden is located on the border of Germany and Czechoslovakia, some seventy-five miles northwest of Prague. German radio reports that witnesses in outlying villages described a blinding white flash, followed immediately by a ground-shaking blast. The outskirts of the city are on fire, apparently in all directions. Again, Dresden has been destroyed. We will have more news as it becomes available."
Rodney couldn't believe his ears. To destroy an entire city in a single stroke, buildings full of innocent people, children— "You complete bastards," he growled. Before he knew it, he was running at the nearest guard. He got in one weak punch before a fist met his face and knocked him cold.
In the morning, Rodney was escorted back to the train station and onto a special train with only two cars. One was for prisoners, the other was for Genii. Rodney found himself surrounded by people he either knew or had at least heard of. Colleagues from the conference in Munich. Professors at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. Some from other countries, even. "Let me guess," Rodney said, "we were all captured as soon as they arrived."
"I was free until yesterday," said Lise Bohm with a rueful shake of the head. She was working on something to do with radio, Rodney thought. Others spoke up, offering periods of captivity ranging from days to weeks, all with guards and some with no real understanding of the stargate as a portal to other planets at all.
"You do not read the paper or listen to the news?" said an incredulous Werner Heisenberg.
His colleague merely shook his head. "No, I am working. If I am working, then I can bear no distractions, you see?"
"Where is Einstein?" Rodney asked.
"United States," someone said. "He was to give a talk at Harvard, I think. Lots of money, you know."
Rodney sighed. That was something, at least. Even if the man's wormhole theory was insupportable – and Rodney would prove it to him once the SGC finally convinced the man to sign on – Einstein would be able to understand the mechanism of the stargate and use it to stop the Genii.
When the locomotive stopped, the imprisoned scientists found themselves being herded out onto the station platform in Heidelberg. It was cold this high up in the mountains, colder still in the open automobiles that drove them up the precarious roads above the city to the ancient half-ruined castle, Heidelberg Schloss. Inside, they found a whole wing converted into laboratories. They passed by a dormitory and kitchen before the Genii guards lined them up in a central meeting space.
A man in a Genii officer's uniform stepped forward. "I am General Ladon Radim. You have been chosen to accomplish a task that will determine whether we destroy every city on this world and leave you to the carnage, or whether we build factories and help you to elevate your own level of technology and standard of living. What happened to Dresden can happen anywhere on this planet, not only in Europe. New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Tokyo – all are within our reach, as are the places where your families live, so we trust you will choose the continuation of your civilization, rather than its destruction."
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. No one said anything, and as much as Rodney wanted to demand to know, he bit his tongue on the thought that was driving him crazy: how, how could they possibly use such weaponry when it was blatantly obvious that no country on Earth had anything that could stand against the Genii? What sort of technologically advanced barbarians were they?
He wanted to punch the smirk right off Radim's face.
The general said, "A very wise decision. The group of you will be responsible for discovering how to produce certain Genii equipment in your facilities here on Earth. No sabotage will be tolerated. No substandard designs or modalities will be permitted. Our own engineers will evaluate your work, and you will test each other's prototypes, so if you intend to do us injury, it is only your colleague you will harm. Have I made myself understood?"
They murmured their assent. Rodney was reeling. The Genii were literally placing the fate of the planet in their hands. Dresden could happen anywhere. Radim had the whole world as hostage.
By the time John's ship had chugged into harbor, Paris was lost. London, too, with the royal family evacuated to unknown locations in Canada and the prime minister in hiding. Genii turbos crisscrossed the sky several times each day, and the radio was full of official instructions on how everyone should go on with their daily lives, business as usual.
John was met at the dock by a boyish American who looked as if he'd jumped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He introduced himself as Evan Lorne and explained that, after Dresden, the SGC had gone underground and covert resistance was the new way of things. If John really wanted it, they could probably get him on a ferry across the Channel to the military rehabilitation hospital in Bath, but whether he could get back to the Continent again afterward was anyone's guess. "I'll stay," John said firmly, and Lorne had delivered John to the flat of one Teyla Emmagan for safekeeping.
He liked her almost immediately. She explained the nightingale hours she kept, which he didn't mind. He'd been sleeping so much while his bones knitted that he often found himself awake in the wee hours. Her cozy apartment was full of books and gramophone records, and he realized quickly that he could be happy there. It was a strange thought; he'd been a nomad for going on twelve years, living in hotels and kicking around the Continent like so many other expats, but Teyla welcomed him like an old friend, and, strangest of all, genuinely felt like it.
She sang and he read. They listened to music. Her friends from the band sometimes came over. More and more often, Lorne and people from the stargate underground dropped in to share news and messages. John found himself setting up a kind of post office, with numbered envelopes pinned to the kitchen wall holding notes to be picked up or relayed on to other people. But mostly they sat and drank and made contingency plans.
The thousand Genii troops now stationed in Paris weren't really doing anything. There was no looting, no pillage, very few bloody massacres – with the exception of Dresden, which wasn't even in the same category. There had been riots in Berlin, though, afterward, as well as some other places. It was hard to know what had really happened there. In some countries, the Genii were executing only the top government officials, but in others, they were killing anyone organizing any sort of vocal protest. It made John suspect that Kolya was behind the violence, while the Genii who came on the radio and talked about technologically advanced factories and productivity had little interest in killing potential workers.
One night around three in the morning, John looked up from his book at the sound of Teyla home early, her keys rattling in the lock only to drop to the floor with frantic muffled curses. He had the door opened before she had managed to stand up again.
Her hair was disarranged and she was still wearing the dress she performed in with a trench coat belted over it. She always changed before walking home. "Are you all right? What's happened?"
She pushed the door closed and locked it. Then she went straight to the kitchen and began making tea. Her hands were steady enough, so John said, "If it's not an emergency, let me do that and you go and change clothes."
She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. "There is no emergency. I had a shock, but all is well." She looked down at her train of red silk, then, and let out a pale laugh. "Perhaps I should change."
Minutes later she was back, pajama-clad and makeup-free, and looking perhaps even more vulnerable. John served them both and when Teyla had taken a first steaming sip, she breathed out heavily and began to speak. "Today Genii command gave orders permitting their troops to engage in recreation in Paris."
"Wait," he said, suddenly chilled to the bone. "Did someone hurt you? Are you okay?" If she said yes, John was going to go kill someone.
She stared over the rim of her cup at him. "I am disconcerted, as you have seen, John. If I were hurt, I would have said so immediately."
"Sorry," he said, because of course she would.
"Drink your tea and listen, please. Up until now, their own rule was they could only use the taverns they ran themselves. Apparently we have been deemed 'satisfactory' for them to interact with socially."
John put his cup down with a dangerous clink. "Oh, Christ." Now he saw what it was all about.
Teyla's gaze snapped down at the sound but her glare over his mistreating the china broke quickly. "Tonight there were about fifteen of them at the club. Many seemed to be officers, and there were several Genii women. Perhaps that prevented many of them from approaching…us." She frowned. "It is strange to refer to ourselves as Terrans when I only mean to say 'women'. "
John nodded. "People is us. Genii is them. Did any fights break out?"
Teyla made a face. "You would ask that." She took another long sip of tea. "Yes, or almost. A young man was drunk and foolish, but Maurice was extremely vigilant."
John nodded. Maurice was the club manager and nothing got past him. He knew all of his regulars and if he didn't know a fellow, he'd make a point of finding out who he was. "Pierre threw him out?"
"Oh, yes," Teyla said with a smile, "and Maurice had stern words with everyone, even the Genii commander, about respecting the common love of wine and musical entertainment in peace."
"Brave man," said John, gesturing with his teacup.
"Or a great fool." She turned suddenly dismal. "I fear I will go in tomorrow and learn he's been arrested or executed."
"Hey." John nudged her arm. "Wouldn’t they just shut the club down?"
She raised her eyebrows, then let out a weary sigh. "I suppose that is also possible. Predicting their responses is difficult. They have done such violence in some places, while they appear not to bother with others."
He hummed to himself. "Did they leave angry?"
Teyla shook her head slowly. "No, the opposite. I'm actually rather afraid we were a resounding success. That's what upset me so much. The idea that night after night, we will have to entertain the enemy. I do not wish to be in the same room with them, much less be forced to smile and pretend that I do not hate their very existence."
John sighed. "Do you want something stronger than tea?" he asked because the subject seemed to warrant it. She hesitated, but then shook her head and he sat back. "You'll have protection," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "When have I been unable to protect myself?"
He chuckled. "You're heaps more dangerous than me right now." He thunked his casted left arm on the table and she laughed. "My point is, though, that we can talk to Maurice, and to Lorne, too, for that matter. Maybe I'll start coming to work with you. I can at least watch your back and yell really loud if things get ugly."
She was silent for a long time, and finally she admitted, "I am torn between insisting that that won't be necessary and thanking you for your offer."
John grinned. "Now you're talking. And while we're talking," he said, pausing to sip some more of his own tea, "you said that there were more than a dozen tonight? It strikes me that this could be a good chance for some recon. Especially if they drink a lot and start blabbing."
He saw her eyes narrow and spine grow impossibly straighter and remembered how good she was at reading people's faces. "You would suggest that I—" she began, full of spit and vinegar. Then she stopped and frowned.
John poured more tea into her cup and watched her methodically apply cream and sugar. Softly he said, "I meant any of us, really. They'd notice my cast, but Lorne and maybe Simpson? They could go dancing, maybe strike up a conversation..."
When she looked up, she had one eyebrow raised and a look of weary amusement in her eyes. "I would be a fool not to press my advantage."
"You could never be a fool," John said and meant it. She was one smart cookie, although if she ever heard him say so, she would probably break him in half.
All that week, John made a point to be awake when she came home, even if it meant setting the alarm clock. He wasn't happy about the risk she was taking, being in proximity to people like Kolya every night, but he couldn't get his cast into a shirtsleeve, much less a suit jacket. Once he got it off, then he would go along and watch her back.
As of the end of the week, at least, the peace in Paris seemed to be holding. It was after 4 in the morning on Saturday night, and Teyla and John were unpacking all the bits of news they had gleaned over glasses of wine at the kitchen table. There were reports of street riots in London and Constantinople. Germany had staged one massive battle in Berlin and the Genii had neatly wiped out tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians seeking revenge over Dresden. Now Berlin hosted more than five thousand Genii troops – possibly a great many more than that. It was the only city they knew of where the Genii had done more than kill the old leadership and insert a Genii administrator. In comparison, Paris was completely at liberty, unless tomorrow afternoon's meeting with Lorne's operatives brought surprises.
Teyla remained skeptical. "In Tanganyika," she told him, "it took a very long time for the German invaders to do much more than raise a flag. When the British took control, they changed the entire economy and even my people's basic daily diet within months."
"So do you think the Genii are more like the Germans or the British?" John asked, idly curious. She was an expat from a conquered land, while John was an expat from a country that had never lost a war and had its thumbs in every pie.
She shook her head. "Neither. Or both. They are each an empire conquering a foreign land which they do not understand. They do not know our ways but are pleased to rape the new land of its resources and quash rebellion wherever they encounter it." She stopped. "An empire is an empire, I think, and now Earth is a territory of the Genii."
"Yeah." John sighed. "There is that." He refilled their glasses of wine and pictured Holland's grinning face from back when he was alive and happy. Then he remembered the Italian landscape dotted with the fires of crashed Terran aeroplanes as John had drifted down into the trees. "All right. Let me tell you about meeting Kolya." He took a drink. "And what came after."
Ronon arrived in Paris in the early afternoon with Drs. Zelenka and Lee, bad news on every front page, and a reeling Czech to deal with. Dresden was near Prague and Zelenka had known the city reasonably well. Worse, he and Lee had spent hours postulating what damage to the area around Dresden might result from this alien bomb, sending them into further and inevitably moot tumult.
Ronon guided them onto the metro and down a street to a basement apartment to which he had a key. Sometimes people lived here and other times it was only a sort of way station kept for meetings. This morning, he found an envelope on the kitchen table addressed to him from Weir. It was all in code, and he had to take a moment to recall the exact wording of her last cable to him. Then he spent twenty minutes with pencil and paper transcribing, deciphering, and reprinting her letter.
My dear Ronon,
Our work remains our first priority. Please remember that though SGC is adapting to a new structure, its mission continues for as long as Earth possesses a stargate. You will receive assignments and intelligence via coded message as before; the only important difference is my location will be unknown at any given moment. You shall cable to the relay Montesano, Broussard, Smithwick, Espinoza, or Paxton and we will proceed with usual emergency procedures until circumstances warrant a change.
Do please convey Zelenka and Lee to UC London physics building, basement laboratory. Novak is awaiting them.
Next assignment on report of their safe arrival. Good luck.
Ever your friend,
Wonderful, he thought bitterly. On the sofa, Lee was plying Zelenka with a glass of brandy. Zelenka was more interested in the newspaper that lay on the table. Ronon rose and checked the kitchen for food. There was a block of ice in the ice box along with some fresh produce, a bottle of milk, and a good cheese. There was bread in the breadbox and wine in the cupboard. Food for them through breakfast, anyhow, and Ronon knew a girl he could send to the market for them if need be.
"What will we do?" Zelenka asked when Ronon hauled him bodily to the table to eat. Ronon had never heard him sound so mournful.
Lee patted his arm. "Chin up, Radek."
Ronon spoke around a mouthful. "London."
"I cannot stand one more train."
"Oh, sure you can," said Lee, flapping the air. "We've come all this way. You rode a camel, for heaven's sake!"
Ronon huffed a laugh as Radek crossed his arms over his chest and started to dig in his heels. "Relax, Doc. We can take a couple of days here."
"We can?" Lee asked. "Really?"
"Our job was to get here," Ronon said with a shrug. "Now I have to get you to London so the SGC can keep you safe, but that's two trains and a boat. If they wanted you there immediately, then I figure someone would have already delivered our tickets. Nobody's knocked, right?" He met Zelenka's gaze.
"Right," he answered wearily.
"So, eat, drink, sleep, and we'll deal with the rest later."
Zelenka closed his eyes, and after a minute Lee squeezed his arm again. Neither of them said anything, but there seemed to be a little relief mixed into their resignation and weariness.
They arrived at their goal three days later, with Lee navigating them through the maze of University College to the Physics building. A stair led down to a basement level on the west end of the building, and at the bottom, holding the heavy wooden door wide for them, was a sight that brought a wide grin to Ronon's face for the first time in weeks.
"Laura," he said, noting her smile and impatient wave against the afternoon drizzle. "Everything okay here?" he asked as he herded the professors down the rain slick steps.
"Les loupes nous survolent tous."
"Flying wolves?" Lee asked. Ronon grunted. It was one of the phrases that meant nothing had changed: they were all in as much danger as ever.
"Hi, I'm Laura Cadman," she told the professors as they passed into the corridor. "The big galoot forgets we're allowed to know each other's names sometimes."
Zelenka smiled weakly. "We are pleased to meet you."
She led them through a door and down another hall, her polished heels snapping smartly on the concrete floor. At the end, they went down another flight of stairs to a long laboratory crowded with equipment and chalkboards. At their entrance, everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and stare. Then a small round of applause broke out and a tall woman rose from a table, a wide smile on her face. "Ronon, Radek, Bill," Weir said, clasping their hands warmly. "We are so pleased and relieved to see you."
Zelenka and Lee were all eyes; the controlled chaos of the operations room was a little overwhelming on ordinary days, but it was something else when everyone's focus suddenly turned on you. Ronon put a steadying hand on Zelenka's back, just in case. Then Sgt. Harriman hurried up, saying, "We have a room set up for the debriefing. This way, please." He pushed aside a chalkboard and opened a door to a conference room. General Hammond appeared in the doorway, earphones from a radio set clamped over his head. He waved at them to come in as he vanished further into the room.
At their elbow, Weir said, "Sgt. Harriman will bring lunch in. Let's catch up on what you've been through, and then we'll bring you into operations. I know Dr. Novak is anxious to put you to work."
Weir's face didn't give anything away, but the gentle nudge she gave Ronon as they followed the line of people into the conference room spoke enough of her relief. He answered by pulling out her chair for her and letting his fingers graze her shoulder blade with steady pressure as she sat. With a little luck and her usual discretion, maybe he'd be billeted with her tonight.
"Ain't misbehavin', saving all my love for you," Teyla sang to the crowd. The dance floor was full, and Le Club des Cinq was doing rollicking business. Across the room, Maurice was all smiles and wide gestures, welcoming regulars and socialites he knew from the society columns he read so faithfully. There were more than fifty Genii in the house tonight, and Maurice was laying on the charm doubly thick, doing everything he could to keep the peace.
From her point at center stage, Teyla had a better view than anyone except for Pierre. Maurice had hired more men to provide security, and now Pierre occupied a stool on the second level overlooking the dance floor. From there he could direct the bouncers to any trouble-spots quickly, and Teyla felt better for it. Most of the regular – Terran – patrons gave the Genii a wide berth, but alcohol had its way with a person's temper, especially when the place was crowded with jostling, swinging, careless bodies. A crushed foot, a wild elbow – men had died for less, and Teyla was ever aware of the knife's edge balance she helped to maintain every night.
John was here now, at least, at his reserved table at the side of the stage, and Teyla was pleased to discover that he was making her work much easier in more ways than she'd anticipated. Certainly it was a relief to know she had an ally at her side in case one of the Genii decided to take her bodily away. Everyone had heard the story of Fats Waller being kidnapped at gunpoint to play Al Capone's three-day birthday party. If the mob could do that to a musician with impunity, then why not the alien invaders?
But more importantly, as Lorne's network was growing, word had spread that John and Teyla were working as a team. Men and women with news could have a seat at John's table, have a drink, pass a message, and move along while Teyla watched the room. She and John had arranged a set of signals that she incorporated into the gestures she made as she sang. Fingers in one position meant Genii approaching. Arms up and out meant for him to get out now. A sweeping arc at waist-level in every quarter hour meant all was well.
She still worked the room, though. In the interval that night, she spoke with the crème de la crème whom Maurice indicated with comical amounts of pointing behind people's backs. Several of her usual "old friends" approached her, but only a couple passed her notes. Most only greeted her and let her know that they had said hello to John earlier in the evening. It felt a little uncanny to thank them for coming and accept their compliments on the music without also filling her bodice with secret news reports. More disquieting was when the young Genii approached her and asked if she would come and speak with his commander for a moment.
She forced a smile and said, "Of course," and then she spent ten minutes listening to the invaders compare Earth's musical customs with those of other worlds. It was extremely strange, and yet surprisingly civil.
"We are very fond of your music," the older officer told her. "Paris is a beautiful city, too. So marvelously open!"
She did not know whether he was making a cruel comment on the French government declaring Paris an open city, a plea to spare it from destruction before they fled into hiding, or if he was merely appreciating the architecture. "Thank you for the kind words," she said, and then she made her excuses, as time was short before the second set.
Instead of retreating to her dressing room to read the two slips of paper she'd received, she sat down with John at the corner of the stage and gazed out across the club. From her view the Genii were all grouped on the right, with the bouncer named Jean-Paul marking the boundary between them and a large party of university students loudly celebrating a birthday.
"Relax," John said into her ear, and handed her the glass of champagne a waiter had just set down.
She laughed wryly. "You know me too well." The champagne was very good, though, and the young Japanese woman playing the piano during the break was quite pleasant to listen to.
"There's good news," he said, leaning in close. "They've found the missing professors. Still on Earth."
Teyla smiled widely. "That's wonderful. I—" She froze as a man approached. "I look forward to hearing it," she said.
The man was very tall and looked strong enough to work in the circus. His suit was well-tailored and his hair was elegantly styled, but he was sun-bronzed in a way that spoke of exotic islands and a climate far warmer than that of Paris. "Miss Emmagan," he said. "I saw you sing a couple of years ago in Barcelona and enjoyed it very much. It's a pleasure to meet you."
She smiled. "A couple of years ago in Barcelona" was a phrase with meaning. It meant the speaker was an operative with highest level clearance and important instructions. "Please sit down, Mister…?"
"Dex, Ronon Dex." He sat and shook both their hands when Teyla introduced John. "I've just come from London."
Teyla breathed a sigh of relief. That could only mean good news.
Nodding at the stage, John said, "Peter's back. We only have a minute before she goes on again."
Teyla met Peter's gaze and lifted a finger. He mouthed the words "Sweet Georgia Brown," and she nodded. She hadn't forgotten. The song after that would be "Let's Misbehave".
Dex grinned. "How would you feel about going on tour?"
"Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no!" In his hand the Geiger counter was clicking a solid static haze. "What the hell are you people doing?" Rodney shouted. "Are you stupid? Do you want to die of cancer? Worse, do you want me to die of cancer? You only have a fraction of the necessary shielding on this thing!" Rodney glared at the two Genii soldiers who had brought in the warhead. Then he turned his glare on his colleagues. "Come on, come on. We have to get to a safe distance." He unplugged the Geiger counter from the room's only electrical outlet and hurried down the corridor to another lab. He plugged it in again, but there were still too many clicks for comfort. He moved down three more rooms before he felt better, and only because the castle's interior walls were made of solid stone.
The soldiers had gone for an officer, and then Rodney had to explain in very small words what radiation was and how lethal it was to the human body without a great deal of lead shielding between you and it.
"There are mines and smelters very near here," suggested Heisenberg. "They can fashion a new containment vessel for the uranium."
The officer raised an eyebrow, grunted approval, and announced, "Then you will come with me and see that it is done correctly."
In a blink, Heisenberg was gone, even as Rodney was murmuring, "He's a physicist not a blacksmith, you alien dolt." It was as well that no one heard him.
Rodney spent the rest of that day upstairs in Lise Bohm's lab, gleefully examining the Genii wrist-radio transmitter that she had been tasked to recreate.
"This is ridiculous," she told him. "Why must we reverse engineer equipment that they already know how to produce? If they provide us the blueprints, then we can hurry up and build the tools we need to make them ourselves."
"Hmm." Rodney was only half-listening to her; he was busy measuring the electrical conductivity of the tiny rectangular circuit board. "I don't think they're that well organized," he said. "Most of us here are theorists, not technicians." Dropping to a whisper, he added, "I think they only wanted to gather up scientists with specialties related to the stargate and cloister us away. After all, we can hardly help the SGC from here, can we?"
Bohm shot a glance at the open door onto the hallway and the inevitable Genii guards pacing back and forth in perpetual boredom. "I rather thought they were testing us," she said softly. "If we can discover how these things work, then maybe we are advanced to work on more interesting projects?"
"And then get sent through the stargate to some other planet where we're never heard from again!" he whisper-shouted.
"Don't draw attention," she said through clenched teeth. "Now. We have a very strange circuit board, a battery, a very small microphone, and a speaker. These look like they might be the transmitter and receiver. That leaves us with this." She tapped her pencil against a very small, brittle-looking rectangle. "This must be its brain."
Rodney squinted. She might be right. "Well, there's hardly room for vacuum tubes."
"Which leads to the question of how it processes the signal, doesn't it?" She was scowling with irritation. Then she launched into a lecture on radio waves and oscillation valves which, after a minute, Rodney could tell was for her own benefit as she talked her way through the problem. "But there's nothing here to measure voltage, current, or charge…meaning that there must be a way to understand electrical signals in entirely different terms. Simpler terms," she said slowly, "like a code."
He was nodding fervently, but as soon as the first, "Yes!" was out of his mouth, she was saying, "Out! I need to think, Rodney. Go away now." He stood still for a moment, watching her stride to a chalkboard and begin to diagram. On the right margin, she had drawn three dots, three dashes, and three more dots: S-O-S.
"Out!" she shouted, without even turning her head, and Rodney hurried to gather his notebook and find something else to do before the guards led them down to supper.
The next day, Rodney was told to assist Lipinski in the basement with…something. The cylinder emitted some kind of wave but not at any known frequency, and it became extremely hot extremely quickly.
"It's a weapon, it has to be," said Lipinski.
Rodney stared at the charred circle on the brick wall. "That definitely seems to be a possible application, yes." He glanced toward the door, but it sounded like the guard had left them down here alone, what with there being no other exit from the cellars. "Think we could use it to get out of here?"
Lipinski frowned, scratched his head, and turned a circle to examine the walls of their prison. "Brick is baked. The heat-beam is very narrow, but it could crumble stone eventually."
"Excellent!" Rodney got to his feet.
"It would be slow, though – as in many days of use – and it would leave marks they could see before we achieved success."
Rodney slumped back onto his stool. "Well, drat."
Lipinski was quiet for a moment. Then he spent a few moments scrawling numbers into a notebook, glancing back and forth between the scorched wall and the cylinder.
"What?" Rodney asked.
"The frequency is too high in its current state, but set at a less dangerous level, you could use this to measure distances."
Rodney frowned and began to nod slowly. "Which could be used for targeting!" His eyes went wide. "This has to be how the turbos shoot those fire bolt things."
Lipinski was nodding, too. "Different energy wavelength, but same principle, yes. It must be."
"So the question is, how do we change the wavelength?" Rodney was already reaching for a screwdriver to look inside.
"I don't like it," John said.
Ronon sighed and collapsed into one of Teyla's kitchen chairs. "It'll work."
John spread his hands, trying to include everyone in this argument. "There's just no reason for Teyla to have to be there."
"I want to be there!" Teyla was also on her feet, fist clenched on her hip and a terrifically scary expression on her face.
John almost backed down, except for how it wasn't right to use her like this. As calmly as he could, he said, "That doesn't change the fact that you aren't a soldier."
"I have faced danger," she said, voice low.
"I know, but—" He turned to Lorne. "This sounds like a mission for the marines. Why isn't someone like Lt. Ford assigned to do this?"
Lorne shrugged. "Probably because his unit is in Egypt trying to blow up Genii turbos."
John caught his breath, derailed. "Really?" Then he added, "And you guys have me here?"
"John!" Teyla said, clearly offended.
But he couldn't care. "Put me in an aeroplane, man. I'm a pilot, for God's sake!"
As it was, British special forces were in Egypt. The Americans were doing something naval that would surely fail. The Germans were reeling from the loss of Dresden and the continued occupation of Berlin. The Chinese were in the middle of a civil war. From what he'd heard, it sounded like the League of Nations had fallen apart. The Genii had ordered the demobilization of all soldiers on pain of bombing them all to smithereens if so much as one shot was fired. The order had been sneakily interpreted as only pertaining to regular infantry, so now the war for Earth was in the hands of specialist units and underground agents. John was still a little baffled at the notion of himself as an underground agent, now he wasn't convalescing anymore. He damned well wanted a plane to fly.
Lorne's gaze was level. "We did consider it."
"And?" John said.
Lorne shrugged. "We can get a Vickers Victoria to Strasbourg, but—"
Ronon interrupted, "But it would mean risking the whole ivory tower at once. If they shot you down, we'd lose a lot more than one fighter pilot."
John's heart sank. He cursed, paced a frustrated circle around the kitchen, and managed not to punch a hole in Teyla's apartment wall. "Valid point," he said finally.
Lorne shifted in his seat. "We can hold the thought, anyhow. And God knows, if we can manage to steal one of their birds and learn how it works, you'll have a job we won't let you out of."
"Gentlemen." John's eyes had lit up with hope, but Teyla's eyes were on the clock on the mantel. It was nearing dawn.
"Listen," Ronon said, "the Genii are guarding the routes into town because that's where they're holding the scientists. It will be easier for us to go in as Teyla's entourage than to sneak in without a legitimate reason to be there. For that we need Teyla and at least a few boys from the band."
"Perhaps only Peter," Teyla interrupted. "He plays piano very well, and it would be easier not to travel with instruments."
Ronon nodded. "Done."
Together they hashed over the plan until the sun was well and truly up, and finally John had to announce he was going to bed. Teyla was yawning, too. Lorne looked half-asleep. Ronon finally left with a promise to arrange tickets, among other things, and John lay down, at last, wondering what maniac scheme he'd gotten tied up in.
It went without saying that the SGC needed their thinkers back, and John was hardly in a position to get mad that they wouldn't let him fly against enemy aircraft that shot lightning bolts. He wasn't balking at doing covert ops; he was actually enjoying the stuff down at the club. He was just a little bit knocked for a loop at the thought of going in on the ground instead of as air support. He'd never been Army, nor ever wanted to be, and all of this was starting to feel like putting on somebody else's skin.
"Do I love you? Oh my, do I? Honey, 'deed I do!" Teyla crooned into the microphone. She had been surprised that the music hall in Heidelberg had a microphone – they were enormously expensive and did not, in her opinion, convey adequate vocal quality through the loud speaker, but they had moved her to a larger venue due to the extreme demand for tickets. Apparently she was among only a handful of nonlocal entertainers to play the city since the invasion and the public were desperate for distraction. She could hardly blame them.
She and Peter performed for more than two hours, and then they gave a half-dozen encores because the Jazz craze had swept Germany with a fervor. These people were so thirsty for music, Teyla found it almost heartbreaking. She was determined to return with the full band as soon as it was practical.
Which assumed that she and her companions didn't all leave the country tonight with bounties on their heads.
After the show, they were supposed to return to their inn for a late dinner, followed by a clandestine skulk up the mountain. That had been the plan, at least.
However, there was an insistent knock at Teyla's dressing room door as soon as she had slipped out of her heavy beaded stage gown. "A moment," she called, pulling on the plain black dress she had arrived in. The knock sounded again, and she answered with irritation, the beaded gown draped over one arm.
It was three Genii, and they had Peter. Rather, they were pushing Peter toward her, into the room, while behind them, John was protesting, barely restrained violence on his face. "I told you that you have to wait…" he trailed off as she met his eyes through a gap between the soldiers.
Teyla glanced at Peter, who whispered, "I'm fine."
She took a breath and aimed her glare evenly at the three invaders. "He is correct. It is inappropriate for you to intrude upon a dressing room like this." She laid the beaded dress across a chair and raised an eyebrow. "Most especially a woman's."
The Genii on the left nudged the one in the middle, who didn't seem to take his meaning. "We apologize for our lack of consideration, ma'am." The other two then chimed in with mumbled apologies, and Teyla relaxed the slightest fraction, noting that they seemed very young. Behind them, John was still glaring, and Peter was a solid presence at her side.
"What do you want?" she asked.
The one in the middle answered. "Commander Radim requires you to come at once."
"Why?" said John from the doorway.
"To sing, of course," said the one in the middle with a sneer.
"Where?" asked Teyla. "We were only engaged to play the hall."
"The commander insists on your presence," he said again.
"And is there a piano?" Peter asked darkly.
The first one spoke again, smiling gently. Clearly, he was gifted with social skills the others lacked. "Allow me to explain. The commander is hosting a small party and would appreciate you sharing your talents. The guest of honor enjoys your style of music very much but could not attend the show tonight." He looked at the third Genii for confirmation as he said, "The large dancing room in the castle has an instrument similar to the one here. Do you think it's the same?" At the word "castle", Teyla couldn't help glancing at John and Ronon, disbelieving their luck. Peter pressed his thumb against her spine gently in a clear "yes".
"It was smaller," the third Genii said doubtfully, "but I'm sure the shape was the same."
"Then it should serve," Peter said. "We'll only hope it's in tune."
"We must go at once," insisted the one in the middle. "Come along. We have a car."
Ronon stepped into the doorway, towering over them in his tailored black suit. "Entertainers never travel alone," he said. "We'll follow you in my car."
Teyla wondered if Ronon would have had the nerve to challenge them if they had been more like the Genii John had faced in Italy, but Ronon seemed to know exactly how far he could push them.
While John demanded the soldiers wait in the corridor, Teyla packed the small valise that held her costume, makeup, and change of clothes.
"We'll be fine," Peter said. "We'll find out what they want. We'll play. Then we'll leave."
Teyla nodded. "If they are having a celebration, then there will be no need to create a further distraction. Peter and I will manage it and you and Lorne will arrange the rest."
"If you're sure," John said, as he had already said several times.
Teyla squeezed his arm reassuringly. "All will be well."
Ronon vanished for a quarter hour, and then returned for them in a large black enclosed touring car. It had exquisite blue velvet upholstery and a middle row seats facing the rear. It was quite a luxurious journey up the short, tightly curving mountain road.
Peter was saying, "I suppose the commander will have specific requests. I wish we had some time to rehearse." John, however, remained intractably quiet. Teyla slipped her hand into his and hummed a simple tune until his breathing slowed and matched her own.
"I don't like it," John said, scanning the crowded room from the hallway where they stood. The sightlines were terrible.
Ronon sighed. "What's eating you this time? They only have about thirty people and all but a couple of them are drunk as fish. It's perfect."
John knew that, just as he knew Lorne was already on the grounds making sure that the cars he'd hidden in the woods earlier were still there. They weren't even going to have to create a distraction, as they'd originally planned, to pull the guards away when they snuck down to the laboratory wing. Finally John stopped grinding his teeth and said, "Yeah, but if Kolya or that girl Sora are here somewhere, I can't be responsible for what I'll do." He shrugged. "I don't want to get us all killed."
Ronon's expression went stony. "Stay here. I'll find out."
Teyla threaded her arm through John's, and they watched Ronon slide past a uniformed soldier into the room. With charmingly awkward gestures, he pulled a very young-looking Genii officer out of a conversation and was speaking to her with bashful eagerness, complete with nervous glances at the crowd. The girl laughed and patted his arm, and a blush rose on his cheeks. Then she said something else, and Ronon's face fell in almost comical disappointment.
"He should be in pictures." John was a little awestruck at the effortlessness with which Ronon played the role and, well, at how plain easily he seemed to fit in at a party.
A moment later, Ronon was back. "Sora went back through the Ring, she says. I'm sure I'm devastated," he said, clutching at his chest for the benefit of another passing Genii.
At his side, Teyla was hiding a laugh behind her hand. "You poor thing," she said.
Ronon's eyes crinkled. Then, to John he said, "The man you asked about is on assignment elsewhere."
John breathed deeply, hardly even aware of the Genii couple giving them looks for blocking part of the wide doorway. He hadn't really known just how much he'd been tied in a knot over this, but now that he knew he wasn’t going to run into either of them tonight…the relief was palpable. "Okay," he said. "That's fine." He was about to ask Teyla, yet again, if she were sure she wanted to do this, but as he turned, he saw Peter Grodin approaching.
"The piano is in the next room. The sound is fine; it's a beautiful instrument." He smiled at Teyla. "They are about to bring it through the partition from the other half of the ballroom. I'll show you where you can change." He looked at John and Ronon. "We go on at midnight and play until they let us go. Will we see you later?"
John looked at Ronon. Ronon passed the car key to Peter. "If we get separated."
Peter nodded. "Well, come along then."
He took them around the corner to a lounge with an en suite lavatory. While the men waited, Teyla put her beaded gown back on and came out with her hair and makeup as perfect as they had been four hours before when she went on stage in the music hall.
John couldn't help repeating himself. "Remember, you need to get out of here by one o'clock. Sooner if you can."
"We know," Teyla said gently.
"They'll lock the place down as soon as they realize something's wrong," he said. "I don't know how long we'll be able to wait."
With a sigh, Teyla went to him, rose up on tip-toes, and kissed both his cheeks in the French fashion that was foreign to them both. Then she pulled his head down to rest against her own forehead and merely held him there. John swallowed, feeling caught out. "Sorry," he murmured.
She hummed softly. "Yes, I know. But you must trust me. We have a dozen contingency plans. We will be fine."
John stepped back. "I know, but if they suspect—"
She looked at him levelly, radiating calm. "They will not feed us to their monster. We are only two musicians. We are not ambassadors or politicians. We are not even soldiers."
She raised an eyebrow at him in a way that made him feel like he was about ten years old, and he finally nodded. "Okay. Be careful. I'll see you later."
"Yes, you will," she answered. Then she gathered up Peter and opened a connecting door between the lounge and the ballroom.
Moments later, Commander Dahlia Radim was leading them out to the piano. "As a surprise for my dear brother Ladon, Teyla Emmagan is with us tonight giving an encore performance just for us!" she announced, and the Genii answered with a raucous and inebriated applause. She then said something about the occasion that John couldn't follow, but other Genii soldiers replied with good-natured ribbing and the general's ears went pink.
Someone handed Peter a list of songs, and from just within the doorway, John and Ronon watched Peter and Teyla scan the page, smiling. The Genii were lounging on sofas and ottomans, or standing in groups, all drinking and relaxed, assured of their safety. General Radim was cozied up on a couch with his sister and another woman. They smiled happily as Peter began to play. John figured Teyla was as safe in here as anyone walking into a lion's den ever could be.
Ronon tapped John on the shoulder, and silently they slipped back through the lounge to the corridor, found the nearest staircase, and hurried to their rendezvous point with Lorne.
Standing at Sheppard's side watching the Genii make fools of themselves, Ronon wondered why he didn't kill them all. There were only two dozen of them, and they couldn't be more vulnerable. After Dresden, the Genii had lost the right to claim innocence. Mowing them down with a Tommy-gun would be simplicity itself. If only he had one to hand.
He shook it off. Killing one of their generals in cold blood at a social event was a surefire way to make the Genii destroy another city. Ronon had lived all over the world, in more than ten different countries before he turned sixteen, thanks to being the child of South Seas missionaries. He didn't want to see Dresden happen anywhere else. Besides, a tactical success here was pointless without a level of strategic support that they didn't have. The SGC had to get rid of the Genii turbos before they could attempt more than small-scale covert ops.
A brief touch to Sheppard's elbow, and they were moving through darkened passages and stairwells, out of the Genii-occupied section and down and onward to an older, more decrepit part of the Schloss.
Lorne met them in a moonlit hallway on the downhill side of the castle overlooking the town. This far from the festivities, they couldn't even hear Peter's piano. "How'd it go?" Lorne asked in an undertone.
"Good enough," Ronon answered. "They have the car if they need to make a break for it, and the invaders are too drunk to chase them."
"Good thinking." Lorne opened his coat and pulled out two heavy bundles. Sheppard took one and snapped the knife sheath to his belt and pocketed the garrote. Lorne said, "Three guards. Two on the exterior doors – sometimes they're inside, sometimes they go outside – and one on the door to the central wing. There are two more walking the perimeter. At twelve forty-five, they should be at the other end of the estate, so even if they have those wristlet radios, we ought to be able to beat them out of here."
"Only two on patrol?" Sheppard said doubtfully.
Lorne shrugged. "I guess they feel pretty safe. Nobody knew this shindig was happening, after all, and the folks in the town have been keeping their heads down instead of harassing them."
"Lucky for us," Ronon said.
Lorne said, "The scientists are on the second or third floor. I don't know which. You ready?"
"More than," John said, and Ronon agreed. They set off with Lorne in the lead.
Ten minutes later, the Genii at the three guard stations were dead, garroted and dragged into an empty ground floor room. Sheppard stayed downstairs to keep watch while Lorne and Ronon ran upstairs. If they timed it right, Ronon thought they might be able to get out of here before any of the aliens realized something was wrong.
The second floor was nothing but labs. As silently as they could, they raced up the next flight of ancient stone stairs, pausing on the landing to check for more guards. The hallway was empty. Three dim electric bulbs glowed from carelessly wired sconces. The walls were covered in some thin reddish fabric that spoke of a long ago attempt at renovation, but it did little to muffle the sound of voices coming from several rooms, despite the late hour.
"Glad some of them are awake," Ronon said.
"I just hope they're all on this floor," Lorne answered. He took the first one, knocking softly in a way the Genii would never do. The woman who answered was dressed in pajamas and shielding her eyes from the light. Lorne smiled at her, and she blinked in surprise. "Dr. Bohm," he said, "we're from the SGC. It's time to get out of here."
She took a step backward and shook her head. "I am awake, aren't I?"
"Oh, yes," Lorne said. "We have to hurry. Please get dressed and pack anything you need to take. We don't have much time."
They went on like that, going room to room, until one of the scientists shouted, "Thank merciful God!" and the last doors opened on their own.
"What is going on out here?" Ronon heard in familiar, irritated tones, and then a surprised, "Lorne!"
"McKay! Excellent. This is all of you, right?" Lorne turned a circle in the confusion of people milling in doorways, others crossing from room to room.
McKay was staring, caught in the surprise that had taken them all. Someone else spoke up with, "Yes, we are eight."
Ronon said, "Good. Get your stuff. Dress in dark clothes and walking shoes if you have them. We're going to have to be very quiet."
"And very fast," Lorne added.
McKay was still standing there. "This is really happening," he said wonderingly.
"It won't if we get caught," Ronon said, irritation rising, but it got the job done.
Ronon watched the chaos for a moment. Some of the scientists had little more than a change of clothes. One woman made a bag of her pillowcase and filled it with her notebooks and a spare dress. Ronon stepped back into the hall in time to see Dr. Bohm emerge from the stairwell, a wristlet radio in her hand and a wide smile on her face. Ronon's eyebrows went up in surprise, and she grinned as she slipped back into her room. Ronon followed. "Where did you get that?"
"My lab," she said, prying open the false bottom of a small Gladstone bag. She wrapped the Genii radio in a handkerchief and lay it inside. "They assigned me to discover how it works, which I nearly have."
"Ten 'til one," Lorne said in a low voice from the doorway.
"Damn it." Ronon stalked down the hall, counting heads. Most were ready, it seemed, and then he stuck his head through McKay's door. The man was shoveling things willy-nilly into a suitcase; he seemed to have more stuff than all the rest of them put together. "You have a kitchen sink, too?" Ronon asked.
"Ha-ha. You're a regular George Burns, aren't you?" McKay said, not looking up. "They caught me when I was traveling. I've been living out of this suitcase for weeks." He pushed ineffectually at the mound of clothes and books. Ronon could see it was never going to close like that.
He made a command decision. "Leave it."
"No!" McKay squawked. "I can't! I have research in here!"
Ronon dumped the suitcase out onto the bed, plucked out the notebooks and the black coat McKay had forgotten to put on, and asked, "You don’t have anything stashed in the sides, do you?"
"No, but, my clothes!" McKay protested as he put on the black coat Ronon put in his hands.
Lorne appeared. "Look, Doc, we have to go. The patrol's going to find us if we're not gone now." To Ronon he said, "I sent the first four down to Sheppard."
"Good," Ronon said.
Caught between them, McKay deflated. He shoved his notebooks inside his shirt, buttoned his coat to his chin, clapped his hat down on his head, and marched. Lorne followed, and Ronon shut off the bedroom lights so the glare from the windows wouldn't draw the guards.
When they got to the ground floor landing, McKay turned to Ronon, eyes bright with the light of a sudden imperative. "I need to get something," he hissed. "One minute, honest. Just stay here." Lorne reached out a hand to stay him, but McKay was already running down the stairs to the basement level, faster than Ronon would have given him credit for.
Lorne sighed. "There's always one more thing with him."
"But he knows how the stargate works," Ronon said. "Go on and get them moving. We'll catch up."
"Don't let him tarry." Lorne gathered the other three milling scientists and started herding them toward the door. There was no sign of Sheppard, so Ronon assumed he'd already taken them to wait outside.
Surprisingly, McKay was back almost immediately, running clumsily while jamming a narrow cylindrical object into his overcoat pocket. Ronon didn't ask. If it was important, he'd find out later. If it wasn't, McKay would probably tell him anyway.
The grounds were dark under an overcast sky and the path to the hidden motorcars was completely invisible. Lorne walked ahead like a mother duck leading a trail of errant scientists, who followed holding hands or coattails. Sheppard was at the end when Ronon handed over custody of McKay. Then Ronon followed at a little distance so he could back them up in case they ran into trouble.
He remembered pretty well where the cars were, but their only light was from the gas lamps on the outside of the castle, and the forest rose quickly around them. He was beginning to think Lorne had missed the spot when he heard a metallic clunk and a muffled curse. Then there was a blinding flare of light as Lorne lit a match. Ronon saw he'd smacked into the side mirror of one of the cars.
They drove out the gravel path from the old carriage house and met the main drive a few hundred yards down slope from the front steps. "Teyla and Peter," Sheppard said. Ronon braked, watching the brightly lit entrance for signs of movement. The car was still as he'd left it, parked at an angle in the long line of vehicles commandeered by Genii. Ahead, Lorne had slowed to a crawl, waiting for them.
"I should go get them." Sheppard's hand was on the door latch, but he was hesitating as if he knew he was asking for trouble.
Ronon checked his pocket watch. It was one twenty. "They'll miss me."
"I'll tell them you walked back to town."
From the back seat, McKay spoke up. "What? You're going back there? Are you crazy?" He turned to Ronon. "Is he crazy?"
Sheppard laughed. "Maybe."
Ronon grunted. "Go sit in the car, then. If they're not out in ten minutes, go in and get them."
"Meet you in a jiffy," Sheppard said, and disappeared into the night.
"What the hell is he doing?" McKay cried, as Ronon put the car back in gear and pressed the accelerator. He passed Lorne with a wave of "all's well", and ignored McKay until he said, "Well, you can't just leave him!"
Over his shoulder, Ronon said, "He's making sure our ticket into the castle can get out safe again."
"Your ticket…" McKay trailed off. "That would be a person, I suppose." There was a pause, and then a quiet, "Oh," as if the notion that other people were risking their lives for his escape had only now occurred to him.
Ronon drove on.
Rodney couldn't believe that he had done it, and he was already wishing that he hadn't. If they figured out that he had a sister. If they went looking for Lipinski's family, or any of their families – not that it would have to be any of their relatives. They could commit another Dresden against any city to punish him.
But a small voice in Rodney's head insisted that the general hadn't told them not to steal, only not to sabotage their projects. As if General Radim would bother to split that hair.
But if they could figure out how to duplicate it, they could build the SGC an armory full of ray-guns, just like in the magazine serials, and then the Genii would be gone for good.
There was certainly a flaw in that plan, but he was too tired to try to figure it out. Lipinski had pleaded exhaustion hours ago by now, surely. All this excitement made time run strangely.
Before he knew it, Ronon had stopped their saloon-car right at the river on the downstream side of town. A boat was waiting, lit by several kerosene lanterns between the dock and the gangway, and Rodney instantly saw the rest of the plan. Behind them, Lorne's car pulled up, and in moments, everyone was being hurried aboard.
"Hurry up," Lorne hissed, as he pushed them toward the hatch. "You're going to stay below and out of sight."
The area below deck was for cargo, of course, and Rodney made a snide comment to that effect that everyone ignored. "Yes, yes, beggars, choosers," Rodney murmured to himself. It was only nerves, but he had plenty of them. Plenty.
He went up the ladder three times to find out what was happening. The first time Ronon reminded him about the man Sheppard getting out of the car to get the rest of their group. The second time he needed to ask where the head was. The third was because another twenty minutes had passed and the waiting was sending him around the bend.
"Get back down there, McKay. Go argue with someone about science," Ronon growled. "Anything. Just stay below."
"Told you," Lipinski said when Rodney sat down again. Luckily the wait was brief. They all looked up to see Sheppard descend the ladder ahead of a olive-complexioned man in evening clothes, a black fedora, and a fine black overcoat. And behind them, a dark-skinned woman in a coat and black dress. Rodney couldn't help noticing the admirable shape of her legs, but he doubted he was staring more than any of the rest of them. Someone passed down a small valise and Rodney could hear the words, "Aye, casting off," drift in before the hatch thudded shut.
The new man and woman sat down, and Sheppard settled in at the woman's side. The three lanterns that lit the hold swayed slightly as the boat picked up speed.
"How far are we going in this tub?" Rodney asked. "Not that I don't appreciate the daring rescue," he hastened to add. "It's only that there are eleven of us down here and this isn't a passenger boat."
"Rodney, please stop complaining," said Heisenberg, but Rodney ignored him, his gaze fixed on Sheppard because Sheppard was making a face Rodney didn't know how to read.
Rodney took a guess. "Obviously we're going to take the Neckar to the Rhine. My question is whether this is a short ferry excursion to another town with a train station, assuming that any city anywhere near here is running regular trains in the middle of the night, or if we're going to be kept in this boat's cargo hold all the way to Rotterdam."
Sheppard scowled, which at least had the benefit of being an expression Rodney could read. Then he glanced around at the whole loose circle of people who were all staring at him. He took a breath and said, "Hi. I'm John Sheppard. This is Teyla Emmagan and Peter Grodin. They helped get you out, and there will be time to tell that story later. Right now we're, as McKay said, on our way to join the Rhine. Sorry for the lousy accommodations, but you have to admit that a luxury touring boat would turn heads right now." He paused and glanced slowly around the room. The he looked directly at Rodney, cocked an eyebrow, and said, "Rotterdam's a possibility, yeah. Not my favorite option, but I'll take any plan that gets all of you back to the SGC safe and sound. We'll learn more in a few hours, but for now, we should try to get some sleep while we can."
There was a murmur of assent, and then little conversation as eleven people attempted to find room to sleep in a narrow, hard-planked space. Coats became pillows and the air became warm with their combined body heat. Rodney was worried that he wouldn't be able to sleep, what with the sound of the boat's engine, their movement on the water, the incredible discomfort of a bare wooden deck, and the unwelcome intimacy of ten other bodies around him. But as soon as he realized how tired he was, he drifted right off.
By the time they reached London, Teyla was more travel-weary than she'd been in all the years since she'd sailed away from Dar es Salaam and gone in search of her father's family in France. That journey had been longer and more grueling; it was only that her life in Paris these last years was so easy. She had grown spoiled.
They were allowed to bathe and rest at a hotel in the city before proceeding to the University of London to meet with the SGC. The weather was quite cool so far north, especially for July, and Teyla found herself wishing she could have packed more luggage. A woman soldier had come by earlier, bringing dresses and underthings in likely sizes. They didn't fit very well, but Teyla was so happy to have something clean to wear that it hardly mattered.
London had fallen to the Genii largely following the example of Paris. The mayor had insisted that he could keep the worldwide banking and trade arteries running, if only they would leave the city in peace. The Genii had assigned a small contingent. With Dresden still smoking, they didn't need to threaten much more.
In the afternoon, Lorne and Ronon escorted them all to a large stone building, down some stairs, and into a large room full of very harried-looking people, most of whom were in various uniforms. Teyla saw flags and insignias from several different countries and heard conversations taking place in four separate languages. In a corner a teletype machine clattered. People were busy at typewriters and telegraph keys. Suddenly her small efforts in gathering news in Le Club des Cinq, and John's message-passing center on her kitchen wall seemed terribly insignificant.
And yet, as her companions all entered the room, the bustle stopped and the people broke into applause.
"This way, please," said a balding man in a khaki shirt when the collective embrace of a number of scientists had gone on for quite some time. It seemed that Dr. McKay had believed some of them to have been stolen by the Genii, as he kept glaring at Ronon over everyone's heads, demanding, "How did I not know they were safe? How?" It took rather a while to herd them all into the long conference room next door.
They settled when Ronon brought Dr. McKay in, physically detaching him from conversation with a Dr. Zelenka. Teyla sat between Peter and John, and Ronon placed Dr. McKay between Ronon and himself. Lorne sat across the table, with everyone else arranged wherever they would fit.
At the front of the room, General Hammond and a tall woman in a well-tailored suit were beaming. "Everyone, I have news," he said when they quieted. "As you may or may not know, the SGC sent a force to North Africa in an effort to separate the Genii from at least some of their turbos. We managed to destroy six and capture one intact, and we have a team already at work on figuring out how those darn things work. The other good news is that, as far as we can tell, the Genii haven't attacked any other cities like they did Dresden. I know they threatened you with it, and I can't imagine a more frightening goad, but they haven't done it yet."
Hammond paced back and forth a few times, as if trying to order his thoughts. "Back in Washington, things are a fair mess. President Hoover is still alive, but it looks like he'll never talk again. Vice President Curtis didn't make it and Congress is scattered. A bunch of Genii are in charge, but the sheer size of the US is its own problem. What that means is that the troops that were supposed to have been disbanded are now assigned to keep the peace on the home front."
A low murmur went around the room. "What about Canada?" asked Dr. McKay. "I haven't heard anything. Nothing at all."
General Hammond nodded. "From what I gather, English Canada capitulated while French Canada fought unsuccessfully for about a week."
"Oh." Dr. McKay's face fell.
"However, I have it on good authority that the new plan is to, I quote: 'Let winter get them.' "
Dr. McKay laughed. "Yes, that's using the North to our best advantage. Thank you."
"Now," General Hammond said, "we are the only organized international resistance force with any resources to speak of, and we are the only group of people on Earth who know how the stargate works. Our goal is to take back control of the stargate and to stop the Genii. We need your help in whatever capacity you can give it."
Teyla looked up at Peter, a wry smile on her lips. She wondered if he regretted getting involved. She had hardly given him this much choice in the matter. Once they were alone, she would apologize. Of course, he had never balked at any of her plans, and he had been the very first person she approached.
The general made a few more remarks to the scientists, and then he introduced the woman as Dr. Elizabeth Weir, head of SGC Intelligence. Teyla wondered what sort of doctor she was.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she said, "the greatest problem we have right now is that the Genii know all they could want to about Earth, but we know almost nothing at all about them. Every culture has weaknesses, but we have very little idea what theirs are. We're going to be interviewing all of you about your time with them to see what we can learn." She paused. "Those of you who are based in Paris, for now we are confident in our communications abilities, so we will be sending you home in a few days. Those of you who live in other parts of the continent, we will be discussing arrangements individually."
Dr. Bohm put up her hand, and Dr. Weir nodded. "Is it true that they took Samantha Carter?"
Dr. Weir let out a deep breath before answering. "Well, in a word, yes. She was in Giza at the time of the invasion, and she was among those the Genii captured."
Dr. McKay cleared his throat and spoke in a relatively small voice. "Is there, or did they make—" He broke off, took a breath and rapidly said, "Do we know if she's still alive? Or any of them?"
Dr. Weir exchanged a look with General Hammond. Her expression was terribly resigned, and also worried. "In the beginning, their leader Cowen assured us that they were alive and well. It's been several weeks since they would discuss the matter with us, and, as you know," she said with a rueful smile, "the general and I are keeping a low profile these days. Also, we don't have a whole lot to leverage for the truth, so the bottom line is that we just don't know. We don't know if they're okay or even where they were taken. Yet."
The room was quiet, digesting that. Then Ronon said, "Yet?"
Dr. Weir smiled, confidently this time. "We're going to get them back and we're going to defeat the Genii. To do that, we need control of the stargate. As General Hammond mentioned, we've begun the process of eliminating their turbos. That in itself is a significant long-term project, but we have a few cards up our sleeves now, thanks to you all, and we're going to do everything in our power to win this."
General Hammond said a few words about refreshments being served for them in another room, which had the effect of clearing the room very quickly, except for their corner of the table. Peter, Teyla, John, and Ronon all kept their seats. Dr. McKay stood, but seeing that they weren't moving, didn't move to leave.
"It's okay, you can go if you want," John told him.
Rodney glanced at the door, then back at John and sat down. "Curiosity killed the cat," he said with a shrug.
John smiled. "They catered for an army, anyway."
Ronon said, "You're getting to work on your emitter thing tomorrow?"
Rodney shook his head. "After this. We're bringing Zelenka, Novak, and Lee in, too, and someone's supposed to be writing a catalogue of Genii technology, but I haven't found him yet."
"Okay," Ronon said. He turned to John. "You think you can fly a turbo?"
John blinked slowly. "You think you can find a guy to show us how to turn it on?"
Ronon flashed a feral smile. "Someone can."
John made a face Teyla couldn't interpret, but then he said, "All right, then. I'm your man."
Ronon's smile gentled as he looked at the rest of them. "We'll be back in Paris by Friday."
Dr. McKay sighed wistfully. "Speak for yourselves. I'll be right here."
John clapped Dr. McKay on the back and stood up. "Don't worry. We'll visit. Now, who's hungry?"
Dr. McKay stood up, glanced at Teyla a little shyly, and said, "I've never seen Paris in the summer. Actually, I've never even heard you sing."
She smiled at him. "You will come for a visit then."
John cocked his head, frowning. "He might cause a riot, though. Maurice probably wouldn't appreciate that."
"A riot? Why?" Dr. McKay looked baffled.
"Well," John said, drawing the word out, "the Genii are big fans of Teyla, and you were their prize captive stargate expert—"
"They half-fill the club, you know," Ronon said, standing. "You wouldn't want to run into one who recognizes you."
"You wouldn't have to go to the club," Teyla interrupted before they could wind Dr. McKay up too far. His face had already reached a worrying shade of pink. "Perhaps if we can find a piano here, we might do a few numbers for morale?"
"Fine," Peter said, "I'm glad to play, only let's don't say anything until after we've had our tea."
"Really?" Dr. McKay said in relief. "Would you really?"
Chuckling, Ronon started toward the door. John laid an amiable hand on Dr. McKay's shoulder and pulled him along. John was smiling, and that was rare enough for Teyla to notice. She looked up at Peter as they followed them, asking with her eyes if this was all truly okay for him, too, because this meant an escalation; this meant attempting to save the planet, however it could be done. Peter simply nodded, not needing to put it into words, and slipped her arm through his.