Milites, aedafitores, cogitores, amici, amantesque fueram; centis nominibus appellari sumus et milli pluribus appellabimur ante astrae fient obscurae frigidaeque. Heroes sumus.
Prologue -- Evening on the Ground
Pegasus Galaxy -- 42,000 BCE
The war was over.
The war had been over for quite some time, to anyone who was paying attention. It was hard to keep fighting; after all, once you were exhausted on one plane of existence and on another your entire home galaxy had been laid to waste by the strategic weapons of both sides. They had managed somehow, just as the others had, slugging it out star by star and planet by planet until only a few last remnants had been left alive.
An end had finally come, after the better part of fifty years' fighting, with word arriving that a peace had been negotiated between the Loyalist and Independent factions. It was not unexpected; even if the Loyalists had managed to muster the forces to attack the last few Independent strongholds, it was doubtful their Lantean and Nox supporters would have gone along with it. They were tired of the slaughter and had no desire to see more of their own people put at risk. All that was left now was to pack up and obey the recall orders.
That, Crawliel thought, might be more difficult than it sounded, because he wasn't sure how his companion would take it. He delayed as long as he could with other tasks, like getting the ship powered up and ready for the long intergalactic flight, but eventually he sighed and started the long walk deep into the research facility's lowest and outermost reaches. He wished there was someone else there with them, preferably someone he could order to do the job for him, but the rest of the already-small garrison had been withdrawn one by one, until only he and a few dozen automated systems were left.
Besides Lilith and her pets, that was.
A hatch slid open and he stepped from the facility proper into one of the experimental areas. It was like stepping between worlds: on one side everything was smooth white walls, bright lights, and gleaming metal; on the other there were dark, twisting halls made from chitin and flesh. There was always a distinct chill in the air, and many of the corridors were filled knee-deep with a fog that he hoped was just water vapor. Goosebumps rose on the skin of the construct he was wearing, for more reasons than one.
He finally found Lilith in what she called the queen's chamber, not far from the command deck. She was tall and lithe, and had long blonde hair that was streaked with red, like many of her kind. As she so often was, she was running esoteric devices over the sleeping form of her eldest 'daughter'.
"Afternoon, ma'am," Crawliel said after a few moments.
"Good afternoon," she replied, not looking away from her work. "How are you today?"
"I'm doing fine," he said. "You?"
"Quite well. I think I've finally gotten the bugs worked out of the mass birthing process." Lilith stroked the queen's cheek fondly. "That will make things so much easier in the future for all of us."
"Uh, yeah." Crawliel shuddered slightly. Natural birth was not something he and other Furlings had needed to be concerned about for a hundred thousand years, since they had mostly shed their original forms. For that matter, he was pretty sure that even other Nox weren't quite so enthusiastic about the process. "Actually, about that. The war's over. We're going back to Bastion."
"I am aware of that," she said, with only the slightest stiffening of her body. "I have been kept appraised of the progress of the negotiations. It's not unexpected. I'll be ready to leave by the end of the day."
"Oh. I see." Crawliel had honestly expected considerable resistance on her part. He was relieved that the war was over, having chosen a side more or less by accident and doing his best to avoid any actual fighting. She, on the other hand, was a convert and always struck him as something of a fanatic. "You don't mind?" he asked.
Lilith finally turned to face him. "Would I have preferred to see the Citadel burned to ashes and scattered across the stars, just like my world? Certainly. They deserve nothing less. But the outcome was inevitable once the Ancients and the rest of the Nox decided to intervene." She shrugged. "I can wait. I can wait a millennium, or a dozen, or longer if I have to. Demographics are on my side. My Wraith will be as ready then as they are now."
"They can hibernate that long?"
"Not naturally, but the equipment here will sustain them." Lilith smiled softly and turned back to the queen. "Sooner or later, they're going to understand what we've all lost while they stood by."
In all honesty, Crawliel doubted that would be the case. The Ancients had been around millions of years and had seen countless civilizations come and go. Lilith's pet Wraith would be no different. It wasn't his problem, though, and if it kept her happy then he really didn't seen any reason to contradict her beliefs. The Ancients could do that for him.
Part One -- Prelude to War
Excerpt from "A Brief History of the Wraith Conflict" by Moros Myrddin
-- Found in Merlin's Cache at Glastonbury Tor, Trans. D. Jackson (2007 CE)
One reason that the Wraith posed such a challenge was the timing of their emergence on the galactic scene. Under normal circumstances, they would have posed little threat. Lantean technology far surpassed theirs even at the start of the war, with our warships in particular having advantages on a ton-for-ton basis in power output, efficiency, offensive and defensive capability, and every other measure of combat ability. At other points of history, the differences would have been even greater. Even their advantage in sheer weight of numbers should not have been so great -- at our height, Lantean society was spread across the entire galaxy, and the Wraith would never have had a chance to grow to such numbers.
Unfortunately, we were considerably weaker than was average for Alterran civilization. One must understand that this was part of a natural cycle of boom and bust that stretched back to the earliest recorded parts of our history, right to the original split with the Ori. Society would advance to stretch across the galaxies, until our technological and biological advancement reached a critical point and the vast majority of the population disappeared in mass ascension events. There would always be some left behind, either intentionally or by accident, and from these remnants Alterran society would once more rise. Atlantis, and the other city-ships that followed, were designed specifically to help moderate the effects of these mass ascensions and preserve what knowledge and technology could still be used and understood by those who remained. Once such event occurred shortly after the Furling civil war, leaving Lantean society vastly diminished. We were only just beginning to recover in terms of population and advanced technology, with barely twelve million of us spread across the galaxy, a tiny number compared to the countless billions of the servitor species produced by the Human Seeding Program [nb: believed to be h. sapiens extracted from Africa -- dj]. Lantean population growth was only barely above replacement rate, but none the less we were beginning to once more spread out and explore the galaxy around us when we encountered the Wraith.
The exact date for the start of the war was one of considerable debate, in no small part because it had political ramifications regarding how the High Council and other government bodies handled the earliest parts of the conflict. I think that, in retrospect, the only logical point to choose would be when the Wraith were first awakened. This occurred at an archaeological dig being conducted as part of a planetary survey by the Monitor Corps vessel Veritas, a Loknar-class destroyer operating under the auspices of the Galactic Exploration Command....
MS Veritas -- Galactic Rim
Lantean Date 5,241,163.08 -- (8,907 BCE)
Planets are big. Really big.
Even habitable planets -- using baseline Alterran physiology as the standard for defining 'habitable', as opposed to that of methane-breathing knnn or gas giant Dwellers -- are positively huge. They have about five hundred and ten million square kilometers of area, give or take some millions. One could not just step through a stargate, spend a few hours walking around the general area, and declare the planet explored. Even the most basic survey of anything beyond gross physical features could take hundreds of people months to complete.
That was why Veritas was at thirty days and counting in its mission to explore a nameless world out on the far end on the galaxy. Re-explore, rather -- like every other habitable rock in Pegasus, it had no doubt been surveyed several times before but those records had disappeared somewhere in the database at some point in the last few thousand years. It was one of those jobs that someone had to do in order to keep society functioning smoothly.
Vital as it was, it was also so boring that the ship's executive officer, Star Captain Johannes Veterator, was seriously contemplating finding some way to accidentally blow the planet up. It wouldn't be all that difficult. There were a dozen ways to do it with a stargate alone. If he put some thought into it, he might even be able to do it retroactively, so that he'd never come to the system at all.
"You're thinking evil thoughts, Johannes," Star Colonel Nioba said, breaking into his contemplation of artificial singularities and closed time-like loops.
John sat up a little straighter and glanced over his shoulder at the ship's commander, who had turned her chair to face him. "I don't know what you mean, ma'am. I'm just reviewing the report from the aquatic survey unit."
"Mmm-hmmm." She arched one eyebrow at him. "You're being very loud about it, you know."
John blushed and looked back at his screen, clamping down on his mental shields. "Sorry, ma'am."
"No, you're not," Nioba said with a chuckle. "Go find something to do before you kill us all."
"Yes, ma'am," he said as he all but jumped out of his chair. "If you need me, I'll be on the surface."
He left the bridge before his commander could suggest something else for him to do. A visit to some of the survey sites on the planet would be good for morale. They might need reminding that the people upstairs remembered they existed. Or possibly not, since most of them came back to sleep on the ship at night and probably didn't really care what the operations crew thought about them, but it would definitely be good for John's morale to get some fresh air and flight time.
John passed by the external transporter rooms, even though ring transporters had been placed at all the points of current interest around the planet. Instead he went straight to the main hangar bay and picked out his favorite gateship. A minute later he was flying clear of the bay and pushing the engines as hard as they'd go. The maintenance crew would be annoyed when he got back, but he'd discovered that one of the benefits of being the executive officer was that he could ignore that sort of thing. He spent a while putting the ship through its paces and making sure that he hadn't lost his touch while spending most of his time behind a desk, until finally he turned planet ward. Veritas was a sleek, dagger-like shape against the bright blues, greens, and white of the planet. John deliberately dropped his speed to only a few dozen kilometers an hour and then did a close approach, just barely missing the transparent bridge dome as he skimmed along the hull.
Grinning to himself he turned the gateship once more and sent it into the atmosphere, heading for the largest of the many survey sites scattered around the planet. It was located in the foothills where a great plain met a mountain chain, and like the rest of the planet, it was currently uninhabited. Until a thousand or so years before, much of the area had been tundra or even covered with ice, the result of a short cold period, but now there were trees and grassland stretching in all direction. The only artificial object on the entire world was the stargate, or at least that had been the assumption until the ship's deep scans had picked up faint readings not far from the gate. Since then most of the ship's archaeologists and no few of the engineers had been going crazy over the find, although the rest of the science staff were of the general opinion that they had been insane to begin with.
John landed in a clearing not far from the main encampment and enjoyed spending a few minutes walking through the pristine forest. He hadn't called ahead, but none the less one of his fellow officers was waiting for him when he emerged from the woods. Field Captain Teyla Salatrix was the commander of the ship's Ground Force contingent and thus had the dubious job of safeguarding all the scientists from wild animals, hostile aliens, and on occasion, each other.
"I see that one of our lords and masters from the operations crew has deigned to visit us," she said to him with mocking seriousness. She had an odd, slightly stilted way of speaking, the result of growing up among the consular and anthropological delegation assigned to the human world of Athos. Like many members of the Monitor Corps, and especially the Ground Forces, she had spent most of her formative years surrounded by as many humans as Lanteans.
"Someone has to keep an eye on you grunts," John replies. "We can't have you blowing up the invaluable artifacts or damaging the local ecology, can we?"
Teyla raised an eyebrow. "I am not sure a flyboy would be the best candidate for supervising us, especially you. Did you not once set fire to a temple?"
"Honestly, how was I supposed to know the holy vines were flammable?" John brushed the entire issue aside with a wave of his hand. It wasn't his fault that humans were weird. "How's everything going?"
"No one has died," Teyla said, "and thus far even Sergeant Lynceus has managed to restrain himself and not stunned anyone. In my view, that is a smashing success."
It was John's turn to raise an eyebrow. "That bad?"
"Our scientists do not get along with those sent by the Science Council. I believe the most polite thing they've called them is poachers and it gets worse from there." She paused a moment and smirked slightly. "I believe the troopers are teaching them new profanity."
"Good for them." John spotted one the scientists in question approaching and nodded in acknowledgement. "Parrish."
"Johannes," Parrish said. He was a tall, lanky man with a near-constant smile and the enthusiasm of a puppy. He was also head of Veritas' life sciences department. John liked him, not just because of his personality but also because Parrish had once saved him from large, betentacled plant that had been either very hungry or very amorous. "Come to see what we've found?"
"Yeah," John said, only lieing a little. He was a big fan of science, although he preferred the kind that made explosions and ravening death-rays. "What have you got?"
"Well, the ecology around here is just fascinating." Parrish turned toward the mountains looming in the distance and waved his hands at them. "I mean, only two, maybe three thousand years ago, the glaciers you see up on those peaks would have reached down here. But if you look all around us, there's already an incredible amount of plant life that has moved back in. Most of it's very hardy, because the winters are still fairly harsh in this area, especially since the moisture coming off the oceans all gets dumped here. There's a lot of animal life, too, although honestly only the giant squid in the oceans are all that interesting in my opinion."
"Animals not as exciting as a nice tree?" John joked.
"Wellll," Parrish said, looking a bit shifty, "that depends on how you define exciting."
"The beasts of the forest crave the flesh of men," Teyla stated matter-of-factly. John smiled hesitantly, unsure if she was joking. Finally she explained, "A bear attempted to eat Doctor Goramnus."
"What, seriously?" John asked.
"I wouldn't say it tried to eat him," Parrish said. "It just mauled him a bit and then left."
"Mauled him," John repeated.
"He tried to pet it. It's not the bear's fault that he'd never seen an undomesticated animal outside of a zoo. We warned everyone not to bother the wild animals, but no one ever listens to squishy scientists."
"They do now," Teyla said, a hint of a smile appearing on her face. "It was certainly an instructive experience for everyone, and we have much less trouble keeping everyone inside the camp's protective barriers at night."
"And Gor wasn't hurt much!" Parrish quickly added. "Well, once they reattached his arm and stuck him in a regeneration pod for a while." He clapped his hands together. "Anyways, you probably didn't come down here to talk about bears. Come on, I'll show you the real prize we've found."
Parrish set off down a path into the forest, heading toward a long, high hill a kilometer or so away, and John and Teyla followed along. About ten minutes later they reach an excavation pit, where several scientists were using disintegration rays and force fields to dig into the hillside. Parrish led them into the pit itself and John realized that they were carefully uncovering something big. A few dozen meters under the surface they had exposed a wall of some strange, glistening material that was colored in subtle hues of blue with traces of green and purple. It reminded John of the shell of a beetle or some other insect.
Reaching the blue wall itself, Parrish turned and grinned triumphantly at them. "Impressive, isn't it?"
"It is at that," John said, walking up beside him. He glanced at Parrish for the okay, then carefully placed his hand against the material. It was hard and smooth, almost slippery even, although not moist in the least. It definitely wasn't any kind of rock that he'd ever heard of. "I'm guessing it was alive or something?"
"Is alive," Parrish corrected. "We've taken tissue samples, there's definitely cellular activity under the outer layer. What you're looking at seems to be a shell of some sort. It's a chitin-like material, although the makeup is just astounding. Most of it's very similar to advanced carbon nanotubes, and there's also iron, titanium, even minute traces of naquadah and trinium. None of us have ever heard of anything like it."
"How far does it extend?" Teyla asked.
"We think the whole length of the hill -- maybe even longer."
John did a quick estimate of how far it had seemed to extend in either direction. "That's got to be, what, ten kilometers?"
"We think closer to eleven or twelve, depending on how much is buried."
"Bigger than a city-ship," John said with a whistle.
"I know. There's records of larger fungal or plant colonies, but not of a single organism of this size or makeup, at least not on land." Parrish' smile grew even wider. "The best part is that there's six more of them scattered around the surrounding area, plus another dozen or so smaller ones. There might even be more. This is the sort of find that makes careers."
"Which is why the Science Bureau is sending their own experts and ships," John guessed.
Parrish rolled his eyes and nodded, his grin dropping away. "Yes. That, and the archaeological find. It wouldn't do for the Corps' pet scientists to show up the real researchers."
"I bet the commander would let you stick around after we leave," John offered. "You could catch up after we hit Prolmar and Sector Seven."
Parrish shook his head. "No need. The company would be awful, and I'd get bored before too long. I took this position so I could go out and discover things, not sit in one place." His smile returned. "Besides, everyone's going to know who found it."
"I'm sure our planned shore leave at Sateda has nothing to do with your decision," John said.
"I did hear they have rather impressive botanical garden in the capital, although I'm not a particular fan of pleasure domes, unlike some people on the ship." Parrish gave no indication that he was directing the comment at his present company, which saved John the effort of defending his honor against the horrible, vicious, completely (mostly) untrue rumors floating around the ship's rec rooms. "Come on, you'll want to see the other source of excitement."
Parrish led them out of the pit and away from the hill-slash-creature and down another well-worn footpath that lead in a different direction than they had come from. After another walk, they came to another excavation; this one they were digging around something that was more of a small rock outcropping than something that could accurately be called even a small hill. The rock extended well beneath the dirt that had accumulated around it, and the workers had exposed a clearly artificial opening. It was extremely simple, just an arched entryway that was flush with the rock face and may well have been next to invisible if the rock around it hadn't been worn away by time and the excavators.
"This is just the tip of a large, buried facility," Parrish explained as they walked down a ramp to the level of the entrance. "Most of it is several hundred meters down, in the bedrock. There's also what looks like a caved-in hangar about twenty kilometers west, in one of the foothills. Both sites are very well hidden, and there are remains of what were probably shield and sensor-jamming systems near the surface in both areas. Whoever made this place wanted it to stay unnoticed. If the glaciers hadn't disturbed a lot of the stealth materials or the power was still on, we might not have noticed it."
"Mmm," John said, looking around as Parrish led them inside and through an open airlock with what looked like double-layered blast doors. It sounded like a lot of effort to avoid being found, and he couldn't think of a good reason for that -- or perhaps more accurately, an innocent reason.
"We checked for booby-traps and automated defenses," Teyla said, as if reading his mind. "Our initial scans showed nothing obvious, but I have specialists going room-by-room and scanning for anything dangerous."
"Good thinking," John said.
Beyond the airlock the hall began spiraling downward at a gentle slope. There were lights strung up at regular intervals, as the originals weren't working. They descended the equivalent of ten or twelve levels before it flattened out and then terminated in a wide open chamber. There were several tables, chairs, and computer consoles scattered about, almost as if it had once been half living area and half workroom. Now it was filled with engineers, technicians, and other people studying the place. Less than half wore the white, gray, and tan uniforms and jumpsuits used by the Monitor Corps; far more wore civilian clothing with pins or patches identifying them as members of one of the Science Council's many subsidiary organizations.
Holding court at the center of the room was a short, lithe woman with space-black hair which was pulled into a braid that reached halfway down her back. She glanced their way momentarily, sighed dramatically, and handed a data slate off to one of her subordinates.
"I suppose you've come to find some new way to obstruct my team, Captain?" she asked sharply. "Or perhaps it's you this time, Doctor?"
"Actually, we were just showing the XO around," Parrish said. The woman's attitude didn't dampen his enthusiasm in the least. "Have you gotten that blockage in the lower tunnel cleared out yet?" To John, he added, "Our surface-penetrating scans show tunnels leading from a chamber a couple levels down out to each of the creatures, but there's a collapsed stairwell in the way."
"The executive officer?" The woman said, ignoring Parrish. She inclined her head to John in a polite greeting. "Project Administrator Taxia, Faxlig Institute."
"Star Captain Johannes," he said, nodding. "Nice to meet you."
"Has your commander finally decided to listen to the complaints I've been filing?"
John raised an eyebrow. It sounded like the commander may have chosen then to send him down for more reasons than worry about explosions. "Complaints?"
"Captain Teyla has been placing unnecessary restraints on our research," Taxia said, glaring at Teyla.
"By which she means we have been making sure that her team is not exploded, electrocuted, poisoned, or crushed by hidden defenses," Teyla replied.
"You're annoyed because they're checking for booby traps?" John asked, wondering if he was missing something.
"It's highly unlikely that there would be any such thing, and we do have our own procedures for avoiding that sort of incident," Taxia insisted. "All you're doing is getting in the way and possibly disturbing the state an invaluable archaeological find. This is almost certainly a late Third Age Furling installation. It's entirely possible that there's not another like it in existence, especially in such pristine condition, and your soldiers are tromping around making a mess of it."
"As I've assured you," Teyla said, "we are taking every precaution to avoid disturbing the site."
"I don't know if that's good enough," John said. "Didn't one of your guys accidentally knock down that tower we found on Arprolas?"
Teyla narrowed her eyes. "No. That was one of your pilots, I believe."
"Oh. So it was." John shrugged. "Director, I wouldn't worry. They really are trained on how to take care of that sort of thing, and I'm sure our own archaeologists are watching them like hawks."
"I see," Taxia said. "I suppose I should have expected the field captain's paranoia to extend up her chain of command."
"Yep." In John's opinion, once enough weird human ruins had shot poison darts at you or tried to crush you with giant boulders, it was healthy to have a certain amount of wariness about any long-abandoned building. "What is this place, anyways?"
"My guess is some sort of biological research lab," Parrish said. "They were either studying the creatures we found, or were responsible for creating them somehow."
"That seems unlikely," Taxia said. "The Furlings rarely concern themselves with matters like biology, and that held true even during those days when most of them still had primarily physical forms. Research into some sort of exotic radiation or particles is more likely. The experiments themselves might have been conducted at the end of those tunnels and at some point since the facility was abandoned, whatever it was leaked out and caused local life to mutate."
"Could be, could be. The Furlings didn't always bother with proper shielding, either," Parrish agreed. "Which brings us back to the question of the stairwell again -- can we go and take a look?"
"The engineers have cleared it out, yes, and your security technicians have cleared that level," Taxia admitted. "There's a sealed hatch at the end of tunnel to the closest mound creature. I was about to check on their progress at opening it."
"It's a good think I showed up when I did, then," Parrish said. He looked at John and Teyla. "Want to come along?"
"I'm sure they have something better to do," Taxia said.
John shook his head. "You'd be surprised. My job involves a lot more sitting around staring at personnel reports than dog fighting with pirates or rescuing stranded travelers."
"I see. Well, come along then."
The four of them headed further inside the facility, passing through a pair of short halls before coming to a stairwell leading downward. After several flights they came to an area where the white walls were cracked and buckled and were now shored up with the copper-colored material commonly used in Lantean buildings. According to Taxia, the immense weight of the glaciers had caused shifts in underground formations, which in turn had broken the structure at that point. Most of it was far more intact, barring a few other less well-constructed corridors. The stairs terminated in another open chamber similar to the one above, although filled with more equipment instead of furniture. It was barely lit, with only a few portable lamps stuck here and there; of the half-dozen halls that lead away from the chamber, all but one was pitch black.
At the end of that one there was a round door and several scientists milling about, peering over each other's shoulders as they observed two technicians kneeling on the floor. The techs had a panel open next to the door and were fiddling with something inside.
"Afternoon, Specialist Firtus," John said, recognizing one of the techs.
"Practicing your breaking and entering skills, I see."
"We've got to keep in practice in case someone else decides to lock you up, sir." Firtus conferred a moment with his companion, then stood up and brushed off his knees. "Actually, it was pretty simple. The door's got a remote-controlled lock, but whoever built this place didn't actually activate it when the left, like they did the main entrance. We've just been hooking up a power cell and checking the circuits over."
To demonstrate, he reached across the door and tapped a raised triangle with symbol engraved in it. The symbol flashed and after a momentary hesitation the door slowly rolled aside with a raspy, creaking noise. There was darkness beyond, quickly dispelled as people began shining lights inside. Immediately past the hatch was a surface the same blue color as the carapace that had been unearthed at the dig, only here it was swiftly retracting into itself until a tunnel of some sort was revealed.
Teyla had to step in front of Parrish to keep him from rushing inside and took a few cautious steps past the hatch herself before nodding for Parrish to follow. John and Taxia followed, with the techs and other scientists coming along in their wakes. Here and there parts of the ceiling began to glow, providing illumination that was dim but more than adequate to see by.
"This is artificial," Teyla said as they all slowly walked further inside, coming to halt inside a chamber thirty or so meters inside. She squatted down and put her hand through the fog. "The floor feels extremely level and not very wet, considering this fog. I can not imagine that would occur naturally."
"Some sort of living structure," Taxia murmured. "Incredible."
"I've heard that people have tried this sort of thing," Parrish said, practically vibrating with excitement. "But as far as I know, never on a scale like this."
John was left scratching his head as everyone else marveled at the find, with even the techs getting into the act and looking over what looked like some sort of console but did absolutely nothing as they poked and prodded at it. It honestly didn't seem all that important to him.
"So what's it good for?" he asked, drawing odd looks from the others. "I mean, okay, I suppose it's impressive and all, but why make it?"
"That's a good question," Parrish said after a moment. "It definitely isn't like the Furlings to create something like this. It's far too... squishy."
"It could have been someone else, some ally or servitor species," Taxia suggested.
"But still, why even bother?" John said. "I don't see the point."
Parrish frowned and worried at his lower lip. "You could plant a seed or egg or something at your chosen location, and come back a few months or years later to find a complete building, assuming you supplied the right nutrients."
"A wet, cold, disgusting building. It's nothing we don't do with fabricators, assembler gates, and a few industrial robots."
"It could grow and repair itself."
"City-ships do that with repair droids and micromachines. They don't get sick, either, like living things do."
"For another thing, I can't imagine a biological creature could match advanced technology."
"Well, no, there are hard limits to how far you can push an organism that's mostly carbon-based, especially when it comes to high-intensity power, but who cares?" Parrish spread his hands wide and smiled. "It's amazing! Isn't that enough?"
"I guess," John said. He really couldn't see anything particularly amazing about living inside the bowels of a big bio-engineered critter.
"You know, I think I'll --" he started, cutting short as he turned a little and saw movement out of the corner of his eye. It was nothing much, just a flash of red in the darkness of one of the corridors leading away, there and then gone, but he would swear that it wasn't a trick of the light.
"Teyla, you see that?" he asked, noticing she was eying the same corridor
"I am not sure," she said slowly. She pulled a hand scanner from her utility belt and turned it on, but it was a futile gesture: the device's entire screen lit up and it made a plaintive chirp.
John frowned deeply, and Teyla looked no happier. Neither one of them had gotten this far by ignoring their instincts. It was possible they were just bored and looking for something interesting to do, but unlikely.
"Administrator Taxia, Doctor Parrish," Teyla said. "If it is not too much trouble, I would prefer if you did not being immediate exploration of this place." She held up a hand before they could protest. "As you can see, our life-sign sensors do not appear to function correctly, and there could be hundreds of miles of corridors. It would be very easy for people to become lost, and there may be hazards further inside."
Parrish sighed but nodded. "You're right, of course. We'll need to be careful, maybe adopt cave exploration procedures."
"It shouldn't be too hard to adjust the sensors," Taxia said, nodding as well. "Anyone who comes down will not do so alone, or go far past the immediate area until it is mapped."
It wasn't exactly what Teyla had said, but it was a compromise of sorts. "That is acceptable, so long as at least one Corps member accompanies each group."
"Agreed." Taxia looked around her. "It will be weeks before we can even hope to explore it entirely in any case, and a few delays until the rest of our personnel and equipment won't hurt anything. Studying a find like this at even a basic level will take years. Decades, even."
John and Teyla stuck around until well past what should have been dinner, because apparently everyone who was planet side -- and a few who hadn't been -- wanted to come down and see the big, huge, immensely important find of the millennium. Nothing untoward happened at all, not even so much as someone wandering off and falling down a chasm, and eventually they both relaxed enough to leave Teyla's chief lieutenant to supervise and went to get some chow, dragging Parrish along to make sure the man relaxed a little before he exploded or spontaneously ascended or something.
Teyla did some more dragging after they ate, pulling the two of them and a couple of her troopers away from the main camp to another, smaller clearing where someone had dug a fire pit over the last few weeks. It was one of those odd ideas she had picked up from her childhood, that people should get away from stress by leaving the comforts of a perfectly good city or recreation tent with a fully functional holographic entertainment center and instead go 'camping' out in the forest. John had known her for ten years and still didn't quite get it. He was far more at home in the air or space, and if he had to commune with nature, time out on the ocean would be his first choice. Still, he could see a certain attractiveness in the peace and quite of just sitting around a fire, melting various sweets over it, and passing around alcohol and other mood-altering substances.
Later, while John and Parrish were lying on their backs trying to figure out which star was Veritas (none of them, they realized, because there were trees in the way) and the troopers were arguing what the best squad support weapon was (drones, in John's opinion, could solve anything), Teyla's communications pin chirped.
"Captain, it's Kelto."
Teyla sighed. "Go ahead, Lieutenant."
"We've had some people exploring the... thing go missing. Trooper Mikros and two scientists. No one's heard from them for about an hour now. I've sent some search parties down, but I thought you'd want to know."
"Of course someone is missing," Teyla replied. "It would be too much to expect that no one wander off despite instructions to take care. I will be there shortly."
John propped himself up on his elbows. "You want us to come with you?"
"I am sure I can manage a simple search and rescue by myself," Teyla said with a slight smile. "If I have need of more manpower, I shall call --"
"-- the ship," Parrish finished. He grinned and stretched. "I don't feel like moving."
"I will try to keep that in mind." With a nod to John, Teyla disappeared out of the circle of firelight and into the darkness. The four of them remaining turned back to their conversations, recounting old stories of adventures on worlds that had offered more excitement than this one.
The attack came without warning. One moment they were talking around the fire; the next a lithe form leaped from the trees and struck Corporal Persperia's head so hard that John could hear her neck snap. There was a beat of horrified confusion before the rest of them moved, drawing weapons and scrambling to their feet. John trained his disruptor on the attacker but before he could fire another being appeared from the side and struck the weapon from his hand. John tried to hit it back but the thing deflected his blows with ease, casually turned to bat Parrish to the ground when he tried to aid John, and with little effort it forced him to retreat until it suddenly rushed forward and pinned him against a tree. He tried to struggle, but its strength was so great that with just one arm it could hold him in place.
Firtus was having no more luck that John, and in fact the first attacker -- and now that it was in the firelight he could see that it was a female with long, blood-red hair -- was holding him down on the ground. For some reason she ripped the front of his tunic, raised her right hand, and brought it slamming down on his bared chest.
A moment later, Firtus screamed. He kept screaming until he had no more breath, and even then he mouth hung open in silent agony as his entire body twisted and shriveled until, a minute later, there was nothing left but a desiccated corpse.
Finally the female rose, turning John's way and giving him a wicked smile. At some silent command the male released John and he staggered a few feet. He knew he stood no chance at trying to fight, run, or even activate his communicator, so he straightened his back and squared his shoulders.
"I am Star Captain Johannes Veterator of the starship Veritas, Lantean Monitor Corps," he said, managing to keep his voice steady. "Who are you?"
"We are Wraith," the female replied. He voice was low and slightly raspy. She slowly began walking around the fire, and as she did John studied her and the male. They appeared almost human at first glance, although even the slightest observation belied that. Her skin, and that of her companion, was a pale blue-green in color, and there were strange inset marks on their faces. Their limbs were a little too long, and the female moved with an odd, predatory grace that reminded John of the great cats, all arrogance and lazy power.
"I'm not familiar with that species," he replied. "If we're trespassing on your world, I apologize. I warn you, though, if you kill us we will be avenged."
She laughed at him. "Perhaps. Perhaps not."
"Believe me, there's no 'perhaps' about it. We have a ship in orbit, and I can guarantee that if you pick a fight with it you'll lose."
"We know of your ship. It does appear formidable." She drew a finger along his jaw. "You are one of the leaders, are you not?"
"I'm the second in command."
"I thought so. You will prove very useful."
"I doubt it." John smirked a little. "You won't get anything out of me, and honestly, I'm not sure you'd get any kind of ransom."
She chucked again, a deep, vibrating laugh. "Oh, I shall savor your defiance."
"I don't know. I've been told I'm a bit stringy," John said. He was trying to keep their attention firmly on him, and not what he'd caught out of the corner of his eye. He could have sworn that he did nothing to give it away, but it was almost as if she had read his mind. The female tipped her head to slightly to the side and the male stalked over to Parrish, who had been silently inching his way backward towards John's weapon, and placed a foot on his outstretched hand.
"My queen," the male said, eying Parrish with a speculative look that John did not like at all. "If I may?"
"You may," she replied.
"No, wait," John said desperately. "Don't do this."
"Is he a friend?" the queen asked. John didn't answer, but she smiled even more. "Perhaps I should keep him around, then. Take only a little."
Parrish tried to fight, kicking and punching as hard as he could with no effect as the male knelt down, and when John tried to move the queen's arm lashed out fast as a snake and pressed him hard against the tree once more.
Just as the male was grabbing on to Parrish's shirt, an energy bolt flashed out of the woods and struck the queen in the side, flinging her a half-dozen meters. The male jumped to his feet and hissed, only to be hit square in the head then chest in quick succession. Incredibly, the queen rose, ribs exposed through a charred but visibly healing hole, then with a screech she darted off into the woods and disappeared in the darkness.
Teyla appeared a moment later, her pistol extended in the direction the queen had gone. "Are you all right?"
"Fuck, no," John said. "But we're alive."
"You're lucky I was still close enough to hear the screams."
Parrish snatched John's disruptor and got up, trembling in a way he hadn't even a few seconds before. John found himself shaking as well as he retrieved the more powerful pistol Persperia had been carrying. He checked her pulse and found none.
"We need to get her to sickbay and into a regeneration pod," he said. A glance at what was left of Firtus left little doubt in John's mind that he was too far gone for even the most advanced revivication technology. Given the massive tissue damage done to the rest of him, there was no chance that his brain wasn't destroyed beyond repair. "Have you alerted everyone else?"
Teyla shook her head. "I tried to contact both the ship and the camp, but it appears our comms are being jammed."
"We'll head back to camp, then, and use their transmitter. If we have to we'll ring aboard and do it in person."
"Where did they come from?" Parrish asked. "There's no way we could have missed them in our original scans."
"The mounds," John guessed. "They must have been inside, hibernating or something, and we woke them up."
"They would have had to come out through the facility's entrance and past the guards and civilians, though," Teyla said.
"It's possible there's other exits that they could open from inside," John suggested, but he wasn't sure of that at all. It was all too likely that where there were two of the Wraith creatures, there would be more. "We should hurry."
They set off through the forest, as fast as they dared with only dim moonlight to see by. Teyla took the lead and John covered the rear, with Parrish in the middle where he kept an eye on Teyla's scanner. None of them saw anything on the way, but that apparent blessing turned ominous when they reached the camp and found it dark and deserted, with no one to be seen and the normally-bright spotlights around the perimeter and main paths unlit. The sole sign that anyone had been there at all was a pair of Wraith bodies, which looked male but were far more heavyset than the first and had strange face masks. Nearby was the corpse of a trooper, too desiccated to even be identified.
"I'm not picking up any life signs," Parrish whispered. "Anywhere."
"They might have retreated to the ship," John said.
Teyla shook her head and said what John had actually been thinking: "Or the guards ended up spread through the mound and were isolated one by one, then those who were still on the surface were overwhelmed."
"Or that, yeah. We need to get to the rings and get reinforcements."
They made it halfway to the center of the camp where the ring platform was located when the night sky was suddenly split by a brilliant blue bolt from the nearest mound. It was swiftly followed by more from the other mounds. John was an experienced astrogator and needed no instruments to measure the angle to know they were aimed at geosynchronous orbit. There was only one thing up there worth shooting at.
"Back to my gateship!" he ordered.
They sprinted this time, thankfully down a more beaten and safe path. Even as they reached it the ground started to rumble and shake, as if there was a mighty earthquake beginning. John flung himself into the pilot's chair, activating the cloak and taking them into the air before the hatch was closed behind them. In all directions the mounds were cracking open as something began to rise from inside them. It was an incredible and terrifying sight, even from a distance: six massive, triangular shapes lifting into the side, with smaller ones coming up as well. They were ships, living ships, carrying who knew how many Wraith and possibly prisoners aboard them.
John wanted to drop the cloak and open fire, but he didn't dare do so, not with passengers, and not when someone had to report back home. He wasn't even sure he could kill more than one or two before he was out of drones in any case. So he trailed the ships at a safe distance, recording as much data as the gateship's sensors could pick up, until all of the Wraith ships had entered orbit and then jumped to hyperspace.
Veritas was in pieces when John took the gateship that way. The ship was broken completely in two by a gash amidships, one of the engine nacelles was floating free, and there was a slowly-expanding cloud of debris surrounding the larger parts. Even the largest sections were barely intact, cratered and charred by weapons fire. Trying to dock and perform rescue operations was out of the question, as there were no safe ports or hangars, and they didn't have the right equipment aboard anyways. The only option was to use the stargate to contact the nearest base and request help.
The battleship Depulsio arrived two hours later. By the end of the day, there were exactly twenty-eight survivors from Veritas' crew: John, Teyla, Parrish, four marine biologists who had been on gateships under the ocean, ten people from a different survey site on the other side of the planet, and eleven crew members recovered from within the ship's wreck. It wasn't skill but luck that separated them from the two hundred and ten who did not survive.
Days of debriefing followed, with John and Teyla bearing the brunt of it as they were escalated up the chain of command right to the High Council itself. The loss of a starship, plus the Science Bureau's advance team, to a completely unknown enemy was an important matter. Every last action they had taken since the day Veritas had entered orbit was reviewed and dissected, until finally there was no questions left to ask.
When it was over, John found himself in the office of Supreme Commander Camilla Volsciae, the commander in chief of the Lantean military. He had been there before, although not for a long time. She was a distant relative, a great-great-something aunt although only her gray hair betrayed her centuries of age, and a mentor of sorts who had taken him under her wing when he had been barely sixteen and his parents had had the bad grace to choose then to ascend. At the time she had been a starship commander, and since her selection as Supreme Commander he had avoided having too much contact, wanting his own career to be well established in a way that left no room for accusations of favoritism. It was decision mostly born out of pride, not any real chance that anyone of importance would think poorly of him, and now he was glad that it was her sitting across the desk instead of a stranger.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Exhausted," John replied. He felt as drained as he would have been if the Wraith had gotten him, if not more so. They, unlike politicians, at least had the decency to kill you once they were finished.
"I'm not surprised. You've had a rough week. If you want leave, it'd be no trouble to arrange for a month or two, longer if you need it."
John shook his head. "Naw. I might take a week or two, but I'd rather get right back to work and deal with any lingering issues I might have in a more aggressive way."
"I see." Camilla sat back in her chair and steepled her hands. "The Council has reached a decision regarding how we shall proceed regarding the Wraith problem."
John leaned forward. "And?"
"While a shoot-on-sight order has been authorized, we'll be taking no particular effort to track them down."
"What? You've got to be fucking kidding me!" John exclaimed.
"I'm completely serious, Star Captain," Camilla said coolly, reminding him that, mentor or not, she was still his superior.
"They only have a handful of ships and no major population centers or industrial base," she said. "Our resources are better spent elsewhere, especially given the continued tensions in Sector 3."
"There are always tensions in Sector 3. The Genii are incapable of going more than a dozen years without pissing off at least one neighbor." John shook his head. "It's an excuse. If human raiders had hit one of our ships, we'd hunt them down like dogs."
"There are other political considerations," Camilla admitted. "Based on your scans, it's the opinion of several scientists that they incorporate Nox technology. We've also concluded that the Wraith themselves are artificial beings, possibly some sort of hybrid between a human-like species and an insect called the iratus."
"The Nox are pacifists. They wouldn't create something like those things."
"They haven't always been such ardent pacifists, though."
John frowned and nodded slowly. "That ideological shift followed the war, after so many of their planets were devastated."
"Exactly. Which leaves us in something of a delicate situation, doesn't it? If this came to light, it might cause considerable internal turmoil in our allies' societies. We can't even be sure who created the Wraith -- there were Nox and Furlings on both sides of the war, and while it seems unlikely that the Elect would build a facility in Pegasus in secret, it's possible that our ancestors knew and we lost the records after the Great Ascension."
"Shit," John said. The Furling Civil War had been a complete mess, an internal dispute that had spilled over into Nox society and eventually drawn in the Lanteans and even their fledgling Asgard protégés. Most of Andromeda had been rendered lifeless, including the majority of Nox and Furling worlds. There were still hard feelings all around, especially since the Lanteans had refused to destroy the Fallen while imposing a peace.
"It's not just our alliance, is it?" he asked after a moment. "The Wraith could be considered self-replicating weapons, in violation of the Tripoint Accords."
Camilla tipped her head. "They're sentient, independent beings, so strictly speaking that's not true. Still, it skirts the line, and we'd rather not see it come up."
"Yeah, the last thing we need is a formal investigation. We'd still be dealing with it in ten thousand years."
"Precisely, which is why we've largely kept this from the public. As far as most people are concerned, Veritas was lost to raiders who destroyed it through treachery."
"And the Wraith just get away?"
"Hardly. Even if we're not focusing on them, sooner or later we're going to find them, and when we do I think it's safe to say the fight will not be nearly so one-sided."
John sighed. "I don't like it, but I guess it's not my decision."
"No, it's not." Camilla tapped her fingers on her desk for a few moments, before idly saying, "The construction of the Aurora-class battleship Inceptum will be finished in about two years."
"I -- ma'am?" John said, blinking in surprise at the sudden change in topic.
"There's only twelve like her in the fleet, you know. A brand new line of battleships, the first of any importance in the last few hundred years."
"I know that, ma'am. I've been keeping an eye on the design process." On the surface the Auroras were little different than any other ship of their size class, but under the skin they were the most advanced ships produced since the Ascension had left Lantean technology considerably regressed. They were even equipped with advanced drives that could, if necessary, be converted easily for extragalactic flight. According to rumor, there were plans to start re-exploring the Avalon galaxy with them sometime in the next century or so.
"She doesn't have a crew or even senior officers yet. I want you to take command."
"Ma'am?" John said blankly, sure he had misheard. "I don't have the seniority for that."
"The committee had already been considering you, based on your performance in other command positions and Star Colonel Nioba's recommendations, and in light of recent events I'm going to go ahead and give her to you. There may be a few hurt egos, but it'll be far more convenient for us both this way."
"What do you mean?" John asked, still stunned.
"It'll keep you from running off to try to hunt the Wraith by yourself, for one thing," Camilla said. John ducked his head sheepishly and didn't try to deny that he had briefly entertained the idea. "Starship captains have considerable leeway in carrying out their assignments, you know."
"And if we happened to spend a fair amount of time looking for certain mysterious raiders while carrying out our other duties, they might be found without any need for an official search," John finished. "Sneaky."
Camilla grinned. "I didn't reach this age without learning a bit of deviousness, Johannes. I take it you accept?"
"Yes, ma'am, I do," John said, nodding sharply. "Thank you. You won't regret it."
Excerpt from "A Brief History of the Wraith Conflict"
The decision to put aside dealing with the Wraith was both a massive mistake and completely correct given the information available. At the time, the Wraith had only six hiveships and an equal number of combat cruisers. A single Monitor Corps squadron of a battleship and escorts could easily have destroyed them in a fight with only minimal losses. The problem was that it would be difficult to bring them to battle. Already they had escaped and almost certainly scattered. At the time, we had not isolated the unique emissions signature of their hyperdrives and could not tell them apart from other interstellar traffic except at close range, and thus hunting them down individually would take dozens or more ships. Diverting that many Class One starships, or even less powerful auxiliaries from the Civil Defense Forces or other second-line units, would draw considerable attention both internally and on the intergalactic scene. That was viewed as unacceptable, especially since those ships were already being used for productive purposes elsewhere in the galaxy.
Second, it simply did not seem worth the effort. The Wraith posed little threat to any prepared Lantean ship, even those of civilians, and most cities and outposts had sufficient defenses to ward off any attack for sufficient time for rescue to arrive. Thus only human worlds were endangered. Several simulations and projections were run to estimate the potential damage. First, it seemed unlikely they would attack any of the major worlds with interstellar travel. While Wraith technology was in most cases considerably superior, the human fleets and defense networks would still be a threat. Industrial-level worlds, while less capable of mounting space-based defenses, would also be difficult targets both because of ground-based air defenses and their connections to more powerful civilizations. Thus only planets without significant industrial capacity would be directly threatened. Next, after considerable study of the recovered bodies of Wraith drones, estimates were made on how often they needed to feed. Even the most pessimistic put it at one human every two weeks under normal circumstances. It was also estimated that a hiveship carried roughly one to two thousand crew. (This is believed to be accurate at the time, but later in the war hiveships often carried up to twenty thousand crew to support enlarged fighter wings.) Based on this, we estimated human casualties on the order of no more than forty thousand per month. This was viewed as acceptable losses.
That decision may seem callous, but one must consider the sorry state of most human societies, especially at the most likely target level of development, and the fact that it was out of a large galactic population. Forty thousand a month was a drop in an ocean compared to common causes of death; it would not even make it into the top hundred. Even leaving all the myriad diseases or simple malnutrition aside, more humans would die at the hands of their brethren in inter-tribal warfare every year than would die at the hands of the Wraith. The efforts of the Monitor Corps, as well as other diplomatic and human welfare programs, would be best focused on larger issues such as crop failures or preventing warfare that could potentially kill millions in a single attack. While in retrospect it is clear that Supreme Command Camilla and Councilor of State Ganos Lal were correct to argue the other way, I believe that we could not have made a different decision at the time.
[nb: Appendix C, dealing with casualties, has an estimate of eleven to fourteen million dead in the first ten years after the Wraith awoke. -- dj]
MS Inceptum -- On Patrol
Lantean Date 5,241,178.16 -- (8,892 BCE - Awakening +15)
The Monitor Corps had many duties. Beyond the core mission of defending Lantean citizens, frequently from their own stupidity, it was primarily an exploratory, humanitarian, and peacekeeping force. Part of this involved enforcing limits on the interaction of societies with exceedingly large technology gaps. No one wanted planets with interstellar warships conquering those who thought that bronze was a marvelous advance; not only did it tend to result in all sorts of genocidal nastiness, but it kept any one power block from accumulating enough worlds and resources to become an even greater annoyance to Lantean society.
Needless to say, there were always people trying to skirt the rules.
"Okay, let's try this again from the top," Star Captain Laurentius Quercus said with a sigh. "Your ship is a free trader registered out of Ha Vek Ni?"
"Yes, yes, that is correct," Shipmaster Ni So Ba Kep said, bobbing his head.
"And for the most part you do business by going between different planets, some high tech, some low tech, and exploiting the technology differential," Lorne went on, "shiny trinkets or useful pieces of tech in exchange for genuine native art, that sort of thing."
"Indeed. I assure you, we only offer fair trades, and stay within the rules from the Office of Cross-Cultural Relations," Ni So Ba Kep replied. "I have recently acquired some very fine Tetrakamen spirit carvings, perhaps the honorable captain would wish to see them?"
"Not really, no." Lorne pointed out the window of the meeting room at the planet that Inceptum was currently orbiting. "So that kind of trading is what brings you here to Sorasu, a lovely world where most of the planet is finishing up their industrial revolution and they've recently discovered such wonders as internal combustion, flight, mass conscription, machine guns, and trench warfare."
The trader hesitated then nodded. "That seems accurate, oh most noble captain."
"And among things you've been selling are... what did call them? Large-scale excavation devices?"
"They are not on the restricted list!"
"They're nuclear bombs! Some of them are even multi-megaton city busters."
"They are fission and fusion devices," Na So Ba Kep corrected.
"You can call them whatever you want, but they're still included in the category of 'weapons of mass destruction'," Lorne said. "Can you explain to me in short words and phrases why you thought this was remotely a good idea?"
Na So Ba Kep shrugged. "They were liquidating outdated devices on the last planet I visited. There is no need for concern; I sold to all parties on this planet to insure fairness."
Lorne forced himself not to bang his head on the table or, more productively, shoot the man. He briefly wondered if John's previous captains had made their XOs deal with this sort of problem, then decided they hadn't. After all, the entire reason Lorne was doing it in the first place was that John had been of the opinion they should just blast the traders out of the sky and ask questions later.
"Here's what we're going to do," Lorne said after a moment. "You're going to give us a list of every person or government you've sold a nuke to on the planet. Then while we collect them, you're going to give them all refunds. Also, we're going to take any remaining inventory you have."
"And if any city disappears in the meantime, things are going to become very, very unpleasant for you."
The threat of possibly having his ship seized or being subjected to psych adjustment was enough to get the trader to cough up names and coordinates. Even then it still took several hours to send gateships down to the planet and collect the fifteen bombs that had been sold so far, as the new owners were understandably reluctant to simply give them up. Fortunately, none of them had even gotten around to picking which of their several enemies they wanted to vaporize first, let alone figured out how they would deliver their nukes. One joker claimed that there had been some kind of mistake than that they had never received any such device, but a few quick scans and a well-placed drone dealt with that problem. Things went quite a bit smoother after that, until the planet was once more a nuclear-free zone and the trade ship had hurriedly left orbit.
It was just another fun and exciting day in the Corps, really.
Satisfied with a job well done, Lorne headed down to the forward observation lounge to relax a little. He found John and Teyla there, sitting together on an isolated couch near floor-to-ceiling window that made up one wall of the compartment. He made his way over to them.
"Scoot over," he ordered. They obliged and he squeezed in next to Teyla.
"Hello, Star Captain," she said. "I trust everything went well?"
"There's no risk of a sudden outbreak of nuclear war, if that's what you mean," he answered.
"Good job, Lorne," John said. "I knew you could do it without me."
Lorne refrained from commenting on how something probably would have exploded if John had been talking with all the annoyed potentates on the planet, and instead asked, "What are you looking at?"
"Intelligence reports," Teyla replied, tilting the slate she was reading so he could see it.
"Wraith hunting?" Lorne shook his head and put an arm across the back of the couch as he leaned closer. It was something of a preoccupation for the two of them, trying to discern information about what the Wraith were up to. It was difficult, to say the least, because the creatures were very good at staying unnoticed and almost no one had seen one for years, or at least not seen one and lived to tell about it. Most of their information was rumor and speculation. "You guys really should find another hobby, you know."
"It keeps us out of your hair, doesn't it?" John asked with a smile.
"You out of my hair," Lorne corrected. "Teyla never causes me any headaches."
"Only because she's better at making excuses and looking innocent," John retorted.
"Of course," Lorne said. "Find anything interesting?"
"Attacks have spiked significantly over the last few months," Teyla said. "In fact, compared to last year, they've almost doubled."
"Here, listen to this," John said. "Travelers from around the galaxy, including several Lanteans, began arriving at the monasteries of Sal Madon for the Festival of the Grand Conjunction, one of the most anticipated musical events of the decade, only to find the buildings deserted. There was no indication of where the monks had gone, although there were signs of struggles."
"Anthropologists observing the yearly Great Meeting of the Plainswalkers of Takledon noted that fully half of the tribal caravans failed to arrive at the fields around the stargate," Teyla went on. "Most of them were from the eastern part the continent, and an aerial survey with a gateship discovered several sites with the burnt remains of caravans and untended herd animals."
"The Libellan colony on Tirias Plekorush had been scheduled for relocation due to the sudden onset of an ice age following a minor asteroid impact, but the five thousand settlers there never returned to their homeworld," John said. "The Interior Bureau ship sent to relocate the stargate found the town buried under snow and many buildings collapsed, but only a few bodies."
"A dozen unknown fighter-class ships came through the gate on Sumanok Peloray. They buzzed several towns and attacked another before leaving."
"Fighters?" Lorne said with a frown. "That's a new one. Pretty heavily populated planet, too, if I'm remembering right."
"It is, yeah," John said. "We're not positive they're actually Wraith, but there's been at least three other possible sightings in the right sector and they seem to have the same general shape of the larger ships. There was also a small scout ship of some sort spotted near the Omaron Nebula by a cruise liner, but they didn't stick around to get a good look at it when it came their way."
"They're getting pretty bold," Lorne said. "That's more sightings in a few months than you've had in some years, right?"
"It is," Teyla said, handing Lorne her slate. "I find the trend worrisome."
Lorne looked over the accumulated data and statistics. In truth he had always thought that his friends' constant search for the Wraith was a bit pointless. Understandable, yes, given what had happened, but unlikely to achieve much. Space was too vast for a single ship and a handful of people to have much hope of finding a relatively small group determined not to be found, and the Wraith were quite good at making sure no one ever saw more than glimpses of their ships. Suddenly, though, the occasional diversion from the ship's planned course to interview survivors or follow up possible leads seemed far less pointless and more important.
"They're hitting industrialized worlds, too," Lorne remarked as he looked things over. "It's the same general pattern of going after relatively isolated targets on those planets, yeah, but the targets themselves are larger. Towns instead of villages or nomads."
"Which suggests that, while they like to concentrate their forces, they are needing more and more... victims at a time," Teyla said, "Which in turn implies considerable population growth."
"Not to mention confidence that no one's going to stop them," John added. "That has been pretty much the case."
"To a point. They do seem to be avoiding anyone who could mount a defense," Lorne said, studying a plot of the times and locations that the Wraith were believed to have struck. He had a nagging feeling that there was some kind of pattern there, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "It seems like our biggest problem is that we can't pin them down, right? There are hundreds of possible targets and even more uninhabited systems for them to hang around in when not actively culling."
"Exactly," John said.
"Have you considered scattering some sensor platforms around?"
"No, we haven't. I don't know why we never thought of the blindingly obvious." John rolled his eyes. "We don't have the resources to seed as many as we'd need. Too many possible targets again."
"But if we could find a way to focus on a few planets, we might have a better chance," Lorne said thoughtfully, "especially if we could get some of the more advanced human worlds to cooperate. I'm sure some of them have to be getting worried about the level of raider activity, even if they have no idea who's behind it all."
"We would have to be careful with that," Teyla said. "We have discussed similar ideas before, but both Corps Command and the State Bureau have been reluctant to involve the humans more than necessary. I think the situation may have gotten bad enough that we could attempt some small measures, though."
John raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. "I take it you're offering to help sift through the mountains of data we have to come up with a plan? Because trust me, there's a lot more we haven't even gotten to yet."
Lorne shrugged. "There's only so much off-duty time I can spend painting or hanging around botany. It'll give me something to do. Plus I know full well you couldn't plan your way out of a wet paper bag."
"Screw you, Lorne."
"If that's how you want to thank me, sir, it sounds good to me."
It took a few weeks of analysis, but Lorne did eventually manage to produce some general predictions and models for how they could improve the search for the Wraith. John was a good leader, amazing pilot, and an excellent tactician, but Lorne was far better at taking piles of seemingly unrelated information and turning it into something useful. It wasn't terribly detailed, of course, but there were a few general trends in the timing of the incidents, their size, and how far they were from other recent attacks. Why those trends existed, Lorne could only guess, but there were a place to start.
That was the easy part, of course.
Aquanulae City, Lorcanis (Lorcanis Vutrehker)
Lantean Date 5,241,178.53 -- (8,892 BCE - Awakening +15)
Stargates were incredibly convenient things. A person could enter a simple six-digit code, step through the wormhole, and find himself on a planet across the galaxy, without any of the fuss of flying a ship across the intervening distance. For example, if a very busy starship commander needed to squeeze in a visit to a planet while his ship was dealing with idiots who had nearly knocked a moon out of orbit on the other side of the sector, all he had to do was snag a gateship and fly it on through the gate.
Aquanulae City, where the gate on the planet Lorcanis was located, was all but indistinguishable from those of any of the other industrial worlds that John had ever visited, at least from the air. Immediately around the gate was a large plaza, suitable as both a market and for transshipping goods. While at their technology level the gate was not useful for moving anything but people, luxury goods, and other low-bulk items, it was still an important trade link, and no doubt there was a train station within a reasonable distance. Here and there he could spot new construction: guard towers, bunkers with automatic weapons and light artillery, and other sorts of defensive structures. He had little doubt there were heavier weapons zeroed on the plaza out at a further distance. The Monitor Corps strictly limited the kind of fortification allowed around a stargate, mostly to insure that no Lantean traveler ended up splattered across a gate shield or similar barrier, but also to enforce a degree of free passage between worlds. There were different degrees and exceptions, of course; trenches and walls were perfectly fine, so long as a gateship could pass safely, and societies that needed to worry about someone shoving a naquadah-enhanced fission bomb had more leeway. It appeared the Lorcanians were now determined to push right to the limits of what they were allowed.
John landed at a military airbase near the edge of the city. Stepping out of his ship, he was greeted by the smell of burning fuel, a cacophony of sounds, and an array of soldiers bearing ballistic weapons and wearing absurd clothes. The Monitor Corps favored simple uniforms of white and tan, with a small amount of gold threading, pins, and faux leather for the purposes of rank identification and comfort; humans, by contrast, invariably needed to cover themselves with ribbons, medals, epaulets, badges, feathers, and every other imaginable kind of finery. It was really a bit silly, in his opinion, although he couldn't blame the entire species for having bad taste when Lantean civilians were quite capable of coming up with their own absurdities, aided by far more questionable uses of advanced technology.
The man with the flashiest uniform and most befeathered hat stepped forward, while the rest of the soldiers came to attention.
"Star Colonel Johannes Veterator? General Salamis Istven, commander of the Gate Guard." Istven shook John's hand. "It is an honor to have you here, sir."
"The pleasure's of all mine." There was a loud roar overhead and John looked up to see a trio of sleek, jet-propelled aircraft swoop past a few hundred feet overhead, doing a complex interweaving maneuvers as they did so. John grinned and said, "Nice ships."
"They're some of our newest," Istven said, looking up at them as well with a bemused expression.
John got the feeling that their little demonstration was unplanned and grinned even more. Pilots were pilots no matter the species, it appeared. "Have someone pass on my complements on their flying."
"I will. If you'll come this way, sir, the war minister is waiting to meet with you."
The general led John to an open-topped ground vehicle and soon they were purring along down the streets of the base. It only took a few minutes to reach the side furthest from the airstrips. Inside they were taken to an ornate conference room with a long wooden table, fine drapes, and several paintings on the wall. Waiting at the table was another man. His clothing was even less practical than the generals, including a poofy shirt with a frilled collar and lace cuffs.
"Star Colonel Johannes!" he exclaimed. "Eltris Mortoven, His Majesty's Minster of War. It's wonderful to meet you."
"Please, sit down," Mortoven said. John did so and the two Lorcanians sat down across from him. "I hope your visit has been good so far."
"It has," John replied, not pointing out that he had only been there ten minutes or so. "I've been impressed by what I've seen so far."
"You flatter us, sir. I'm sure it's all nothing compared to some of the things you've seen." Mortoven sighed, clasped his hands together, and put them on the table. "Which, of course, is why we were so thankful when you requested to visit."
"I mean the current situation, of course. Half the quadrant is talking about these raids. Strange, dart-like fighters coming out of the gate or descending from the skies, and when they leave thousands of people have simply vanished. It's terrifying."
"I hadn't realized word of the attacks had spread quite so much," John said. He wondered how much information they were missing simply because all they had to work with was what other Lanteans overheard or were told and then took the time to forward on to Command. Half the reason he and Teyla had started going on these visits was to improve their direct sources of intelligence.
"Well, it wasn't until recently that some of the more well-traveled merchants started to put things together, but I assure you, most governments in the area have taken notice. Once you're looking for it, it's obvious that something has begun in the last year or two."
John nodded. "We've seen it, too. A few other officers and I have been aware of the presence of these raiders and we're doing our best to hunt them down, but there's been a sharp spike in activity lately. That's why we're trying to focus our efforts a little more and touch base with you and the other human worlds."
"For which we are grateful, Captain. We tried talking with the State Bureau, but in all honesty they weren't very helpful at all."
"Be glad you don't have to live with them, Minister," John said with a smirk. It died away after a moment. "I should warn you now, though, that I can't guarantee a lot of direct help. We're still trying to track these raiders -- they call themselves Wraith -- and not having a great deal of luck. We hope that by working with you and others we can pin them down and destroy them."
"We'll be happy to assist however we can," Mortoven said.
"You can start by telling me what sort of deep space tracking systems you have."
Istven winced. "We've only just put our first few satellites in orbit ourselves. There is an old Sikarii sensor platform as well, but it can only monitor a few light-minutes out and is only really useful for tracking asteroids or the occasional merchant ship."
"We had been hoping to upgrade the system," Mortoven added. "We've been looking into purchasing a complete skywatch system from either Athos or Solana V, with hyperspace early warning capability, but we're waiting on paperwork to go through the Office of Cross-Cultural Relations."
"You'll have a permit within the end of the week," John said easily. "I'd go with the Athosian system myself. I've never known their work to be anything but top quality."
"I -- thank you, sir," Mortoven said. He seemed taken aback by how quickly John had given the okay. No doubt there would be minions from the State Bureau sending John nasty messages for the next few months.
"I imagine you don't have much in the way of actual orbital or surface-to-space defenses, either."
"No, we don't," Mortoven replied, with a sudden gleam in his eyes, "although we might be able to afford some sort of orbital weapons platform, or even a just few ground-based ion cannon."
"Mmmm-hmm. Yeah, I'm sure you could," John said, quirking an eyebrow slightly. "I imagine your neighbors on the other continents would be thrilled to see you put a few particle beam batteries in their skies."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"Maybe after I talk with them I could work something out, maybe stick with just surface weapons, but for now it's probably best to assume you won't get anything like that for a while." John didn't mind allowing them access to a mostly harmless sensor system, especially if it was tweaked so it couldn't look downward and gave equal access to everyone on the planet, but the history files were full of examples of why it was a bad idea to give advanced weaponry to people who still had enemies on their homeworld. "What about air defenses?
"Those we have," Istven said. "Surface-to-air missiles backed by radar-guided artillery, although not much in the way of theater missile defense. We've also got two hundred of our newest air superiority fighters like the ones you saw, plus another thousand-some of the previous model. Most of it's concentrated near the border areas, though, and I don't know how effective any of it will be against these Wraith."
"We honestly don't know their full capabilities, but what little we data we do have indicates they should be vulnerable to your weapons, at least when they come down in your engagement range. My recommendation would be that you redeploy what assets you can back to your population centers, and if possible find a way to get your aircraft numbers up. I think I could probably swing you some smaller, more mobile SAMs or even some man-portable air defense weapons a lot easier than heavy weaponry. That way you could cover your smaller cities and towns better as well. I'll do my best to convince your neighbors to withdraw some of their border forces as well."
"I'm sure you have many helpful suggestions," Mortoven said. "Really, though, I'm not sure what good stopping some of their aircraft will do us if we can't reach them in orbit."
John nodded in acknowledgement. "A valid concern, but with the Wraith we haven't seen any sign of orbital bombardment at all. It should be entirely possible to significantly delay them in their attacks and prevent them from achieving their goals long enough for help to arrive. I've brought along subspace transmitters that you'll be able to use to send a distress call. The minute you see any suspicious activity, you just hit the button and a Lantean ship will be here in less than an hour, at longest. Think you can manage that?"
Istven puffed up a little. "If anyone can fight off alien spacecraft, sir, it's our boys."
"I'm sure that's the case, General." John reached for his belt, intended to retrieve his hand computer to go over more detailed information, but stopped when he heard a loud noise outside. "Is that a siren?"
"It's the air raid alert," Istven said, sounding confused. "That can't be right, I specifically ordered that no drills be held this week."
The sirens seemed to grow louder, until John suddenly realized that the noise wasn't just the siren but also a high-pitched buzzing wail from sources there were rapidly drawing closer. The sudden outbreak of weapons fire and explosions confirmed John's worst fears.
"Wraith," he spat, jumping from his chair. "I need to get back to my gateship! It's armed!"
"This way," Istven shouted back, leading the way out into the hall and out the rear of the building. There was chaos all around them, but of the purposeful kind seen whenever well-drilled troops were acting on instinct alone and rushing to do their duties. Overhead, one of the dart-like craft raced past, only to be caught a moment later by a missile fired from one of the jets John had seen earlier. Any thrill John felt from seeing such dramatic evidence that the Wraith were vulnerable was short-lived, because more darts appeared and swept after the human fighters.
They reached the road leading to the landing field just in time to see a dart blast something out on the field, and while John couldn't see through the smoke he had little doubt that fighting the Wraith off with his gateship was now impossible. Then that dart swung around and came buzzing straight down the street at him, firing some kind of quicksilver beam that dissolved everyone it touched. He tried to throw himself and the general into a door but was too slow and everything disappeared in a flash of light.
Lantean Date 5,241,178.53 -- (8,892 BCE - Awakening +15)
Slowly regaining consciousness, John cautiously opened his eyes and immediately wished he hadn't. Between the dim blue light and the strange, fleshy feel of the floor beneath him, he knew exactly where he was. He considered feigning unconsciousness for a while longer, or at least waiting to move until his head didn't hurt quite so much, but in the end he climbed to his feet. There was no one else in the cell, and he had been relieved of his communicator, sidearm, and other gear. The only thing he had was a small non-regulation knife in his boot, but under the circumstances it was cold comfort indeed. He tried searching the cell but found nothing, and as he examined the walls for any panels, ducts, or other possible means of escape he heard the door spider web-like door retract.
John turned to find a Wraith male and two drones standing there. "Hello," he said after a long moment of silence. "I suppose you want to take me to your leader. Well, you're in luck. It turns out my schedule's been cleared unexpectedly."
The male bared his teeth in a predatory grin and jerked its head backward, giving John no other answer. He and the drones lead John through the twisting passages of the ship. From time to time they would pass other Wraith, but there were no signs of any humans. Eventually they reached a large chamber that was dominated by a gnarled throne, with several screens along the walls. The largest, directly across from the throne, showed a world John recognized from his planning sessions. It was Shiuen, one of the most populated pre-spaceflight planets in the sector.
As he studied the display, there was a soft sigh directly behind him. He turned around to find himself face to face with a queen.
"Greetings," she said with a toothy smile. For a moment he thought it was the one from the forest, but then he reconsidered. This one, while almost close enough in appearance to be a twin, had golden hair rather than blood red. Then again, it could be the same one; he had no idea what coloration meant with Wraith.
"Hello," he said, lifting his chin a little to look her in the eye.
"I remember you. The one from the awakening, who escaped my sister. What are you called?" she asked, circling around him.
"Johannes Veterator gens Lastares d'Atlantis," John answered, giving his given and chosen names, family line, and place of birth. "Commander of the Monitor Ship Inceptum."
"You name yourself after the trickster fox," she noted. "A predator. Interesting."
John ignored her comment. "I think I mentioned this the first time I met your kind, but kidnapping me is an act of war."
The queen chuckled. "The war began long ago, Lantean." She stopped moving when she was in front of him again, holding herself unnaturally still. "Kneel."
John shook his head. "No thanks. I only do that sort of thing with close friends, maybe the occasional comrade."
"Kneel," she repeated, drawing a finger along his cheek. The next thing John knew his knees gave out and he found himself staring up at her impossibly tall-seeming form. She was a telepath, he realized, and a strong one at that. He pulled his mental shields as tight as they could go and started reciting primes, formulas, and other random information, which only seemed to amuse her.
"When I learned a Lantean had been captured, I had planned to feed on you myself," the queen said. "Your lives are so might brighter and more exquisite than mere humans. But now that I know who you are, I think perhaps a different course of action is called for."
"How's that?" he asked.
The queen stepped aside and tipped his chin up so he was looking at the screen. "What are the defenses of this world?"
"I don't know even what planet that is, and if I did I wouldn't know what you're asking."
The queen laughed. "You were found on a similar world, and you command a warship. Surely you know something."
"Not really," John bit out. "You know us Lanteans. We never pay much attention to mere humans."
"You're lying," she said, sounding amused. She began circling him once again. "Even if it were true, you certainly have other information that would be of use regarding your fleet's deployments and the defenses of Lantean worlds."
"I'm not telling you anything."
"That is what many others have said, and in the end I have always learned what I wished to know." The queen leaned down from behind him so that her mouth was by his ear. "This does not have to be unpleasant. I could have great use for one such as you if you willingly cooperate."
"I...." John swallowed. "I'd rather not. So why don't you let me go?"
The queen stood straight and walked back in front of him, trailing her hand on his shoulder. "You mentioned friends. Perhaps you worry about them? You could protect them if you help me. I assure you, if you serve at my side the relationship would be most rewarding for both of us."
"No," he said firmly.
She touched his cheek again and grinned. "We shall see. I ask again, what are the defenses of this world?"
He felt her mind slam against his like a tsunami, threatening to overwhelm every defense he had ever been taught in an instant. The urge to open his mouth was overwhelming, and he soon gave in.
"Nothing," he said, "Nothing of importance. A few aircraft, artillery, nothing of note though. Not even get aircraft or rocketry."
"Aaaaaah, good," she crooned. "Go on."
"We haven't even made direct contact with them to talk about you. They hate interacting with outsiders. They probably don't even have a clue you exist. All their defenses are oriented around stopping passage through the stargate." He babbled on, trying desperately to keep her interest focused on what he was saying. He slowly inched his right hand back to his boot and the concealed knife, his movement painfully slow for fear of drawing attention. He finally managed to grasp the hilt and a moment later he had it free. He lashed out lighting-fast and the ultra-sharp blade passed through flesh with ease, only meeting slight resistance as the tip passed through bone. John fell to the deck, blood bubbling from the wound in his neck, and despite the pain he grinned as the Queen screeched with fury. Then his vision began to grow dark and it felt like he was being lifted upwards into nothingness.
The Cruise Liner of Ultimate Knowledge
Sailing Uptime at a Rate of Thirty-Three Dreams per Second
John found himself standing at the bow of a massive ship, face to the breeze. The surface of the water below glimmered with sunlight, although the sky above held no sun, only an endless expanse of brilliant stars and nebulae. Leaping around besides the ship were something almost, but not quite, like dolphins.
John turned around to see a man with a long, flowing robe standing with his arms spread wide.
"Hey," he replied with a deep sigh.
"You have ascended, my friend! As your body died, your mind shed its corporeal bindings and transcended to a new plane of existence." He clapped his hands together. "Is it not wonderful?"
"Ascended? No, really?"
"It is true! What you see and hear is but a construct your mind has created because it can not yet comprehend what has occurred. Soon you will shed all the trappings of mortality and become truly enlightened."
John laughed incredulously. "Who the hell do you think I am?"
"I... excuse me?"
"Stars and void. The welcoming committee has really deteriorated. Where's Oma?" John paused, looked around, then added, "And is there an easy way off this thing?"
"I don't understand," the man said. From the sound of things, this was not something he was used to anymore.
"Never mind." John climbed up on the railing.
"Wait, where are you going?"
"Back!" John shouted over his shoulder. He took a breath and dove into the water below.
Lantean Date 5,241,178.53 -- (8,892 BCE - Awakening +15)
"Colonel? I think he moved. Doctor, the colonel's waking up!"
"Oh, fuck me. Lorne, stop shouting," John mumbled. He opened his eyes and immediately shut them as the light seemed to make his head explode. After a moment he tried again, blinking groggily a few times and turning his head to see that Lorne and Teyla were standing nearby and watching him. "Where am I?"
"Sickbay, sir," Lorne replied.
"One of our search teams found you naked in a field, not far from the city," Teyla explained. "You were missing for almost a day."
"Naked," John repeated, latching on to what was clearly the most important part of the sentence.
"As in unclothed, sir," Lorne confirmed. "No one knows how you got out there."
"Good afternoon, Colonel," said Surgeon Lieutenant Celeria, approaching the medical bed from the other side. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good, actually," John answered truthfully.
"He always says he's fine," Lorne pointed out, trying to sound light-hearted and not quite making it.
"Well, as far as my scans show, he is," Celeria replied. "He could stand to lose a kilo or two, but otherwise he's in perfect healthy."
"Do you know what happened?" Teyla asked. "There are eyewitnesses who say you were beamed aboard one of the Wraith fighters."
"Darts," John said. "They're pointy, so I've been calling them darts."
"Darts. Yes. In any case, we theorized that you were aboard one of those the Lorcanians successfully shot down, but none of the other missing persons have returned, including those who should have been aboard the same craft."
"I don't know," John said. "I was running for the airfield, and the next thing I remember is waking up here." He frowned. "Although... Captain, call the bridge. Set a course for Shiuen, flank speed."
"Sir? This was almost certainly a scouting attack. It's possible the Wraith will follow up in force."
"I don't think so. It was too small, and they have to know we've got a presence here after spotting my ship. This isn't their target, not yet."
Lorne glanced at Teyla, then shrugged and relayed the order. "You're the commander."
"Yes, I am." John looked at the doctor. "Can I go?"
"We don't have a clue what happened to you, sir," Celeria said. "I'd rather keep you under observation for a while."
"Tell you what, I'll spend the night here, but right now I've got work to do." John sat up and swung his legs off the bed, then looked down. "Could someone get me some pants?"
Inceptum reached Shiuen a short time later, sliding into a low orbit and ignoring the indignant radio messages being sent their way. They waited for an hour, which stretched into a second and then a third. As hour four began to creep up, John started to wonder whether his hunch was completely wrong and he had just left a planet undefended behind them.
Then the answer came, as Lieutenant Chuck announced, "Hyperspace signature detected! Distance is twenty light-years and closing, ETA one minute."
"Red alert," John ordered. "Stand by on all batteries."
"That's awfully close," Lorne commented from his station behind and to the left of John.
"Their ships are pretty stealthy," John said. "It's not going to help them this time, though. Chuck, pin down an emergence vector. Helm, prepare to maneuver and intercept."
A minute later, a hyperspace window ten thousand kilometers above the planet and directly in front of Inceptum. Four ships emerged, a trio of cruisers surrounding a far more massive hiveship. Almost immediately they began cruising toward the planet, launching darts as they went, but shortly after they noticed their unexpected opponent and changed course.
John activated the external communications with the thought. "Wraith ships, this is Inceptum. You've got, oh, fifteen seconds to surrender or we will fire into you."
"Wraith ships are powering weapons and hyperdrives," Chuck reported a moment later.
"I guess that's a no," John grinned. It was the answer he had wanted. "Tactical, take 'em out."
"Aye, sir," Amelia said. "Drone control, bridge. Fire for effect."
The Wraith ships began to spit a hail of blue bolts at the Lantean vessel. Some bolts from the hive were nearly half as long as Inceptum. They splattered against the ship's powerful shields to little effect, slowly draining the shields but not even sending so much as a shudder through the hull or flicker through the lights. It was far too little to save them. A series of hatches opened on Inceptum's dorsal side and a flurry of yellow squid-like projectiles spilled forth. The bulk of them headed straight for the hiveship, with three smaller streams splitting off to hit the cruisers. The drones pierced straight through the Wraith hulls, carved their ways through vital systems, and emerged on the other side, only to turn around and do it again. It took only seconds for the drone swarm to utterly shatter the hiveship, until at last its main reactors detonated and a massive explosion vaporized it entirely. The cruisers followed moments later. The few surviving darts tried to ram Inceptum, but only one survived long enough to smash harmlessly against the shields.
"Good work, ladies and gentlemen," John said as it became clear no further ships would be arriving.
Lorne grinned at him. "Looks like they can't handle a stand-up fight against someone who can shoot back."
"It's why they scurry around like roaches," John replied. "Too bad for them there's an exterminator around now. A couple more fights like this, and the Wraith will be history."