'I wonder if they realize what they've done,' John thought as he gazed out over San Francisco Bay with the rest of the team. 'Sure, we defeated the Wraith super ship, but this was a really bad idea.'
He knew that no one else on Atlantis heard Her the way he did, though all of the natural gene bearers heard Her to one degree or another. He'd spent five and a half years hiding just how powerful a presence She was inside of his head. Now that She had three ZPM's and was at full power, She was almost more powerful in his head than he was. Her smug satisfaction that they'd powered her up without limiting her awareness as the Ancients had echoed in his mind. They'd saved the Earth from the Wraith, but he thought that they might have unleashed something far more dangerous by bringing Lantea 'home'.
**I do not see the problem,** She purred in his mind. **This is the world where I was created. This is where my children live. Certainly, I can be more effective in Pegasus, but now I can gather my children to me once more. Soon they will be here and I will be stronger still. This time we should be far more effective against the Wraith, as I will no longer be crippled by my creators' foolish limitations.**
*Wait a minute,* John thought with barely hidden alarm, *you're calling them? You can't call them!*
**Why not?** Lantea asked archly. **They belong here, in me. They do not belong there, in the dead towers and streets that you call cities. They should be here so that I can care for them and they can care for me.**
The image those words left in John's head was the scene in The Ten Commandments where the Jews left Egypt after Pharaoh freed them - combined with a cheesy zombie movie. John swallowed hard. He knew how important She was to him. He'd literally give up his life for the city. The thought of his brother and the other gene bearers being drawn by her mental call was kind of terrifying. It would change the level of interaction with Lantea even more than the gene therapy had.
**Speaking of which,** She said, effortlessly picking the thoughts out of his mind, **Do you not think it is time for your team to have the gene therapy? Of course, first it must be adjusted to ensure that it will be properly effective and then re-administered to Rodney. Rodney's level is inadequate and must be increased so that he can hear me. There are so many mistakes that could have been avoided if only he could hear me. I do not wish to make it fully effective for everyone, but I'm sure with sufficient adjustment to the formula your team can hear me. They are so important to you. I want them to share what you do with me so that they understand.**
John shivered and didn't answer. He was still stuck on the thought of Dave in Atlantis. Things had been so bad between them for so long that it was almost impossible to think of him here. Sure, they'd reached a fragile accord after the funeral, but John wasn't ready to let Dave in on everything. He might have figured out most of the secret that John had kept for so long, but he didn't know everything. Pure instinct warned John that it would be the end of the world if Dave learned everything, especially his long-term fascination with Rodney and the many points where John almost died.
That worry was completely separate from John's worry about improving Rodney's ability to hear Her. John wasn't sure what Rodney would say to the fact that John had hidden Her from him since the beginning. The entire situation had the potential to be seriously explosive. She was bad enough without Rodney listening to her and doing her bidding. John didn't think anyone had the force of personality to resist the mingled love and pushiness that She projected into your mind, not even Rodney, and the idea of forcing on change of that type on Rodney disturbed John.
John turned and looked at his team, flirting with the idea of telling them something that might let them know what was going to happen. Teyla had wrapped her arms around herself against the chill of the Bay. Rodney, of course, had wrapped himself around Jennifer, who looked delighted to be back on Earth. Ronon stood a little separate from the others, studying the skyline as if it was twice as foreign as Lantea's towers, which John supposed it was to him.
John knew he could trust his team. Unfortunately, Amelia was also there, along with Woolsey and Jennifer, so he didn't dare start making hints that his team could pick up on. John liked being free to fly. A straitjacket would make that difficult. Lantea and flying would both be lost if the others thought he'd lost his marbles.
In the back of his mind, John could hear Lantea's siren call to the others with the gene. Strangely, he could almost feel their minds too. It was as if he heard an echo of them through his connection with Her. They were bright, strange, frightened, and curious along with a dozen other emotions, all flaring like Christmas lights across his mind. John's breath caught at the beauty of it even as his heart pounded at the thought of the IOA and SGC finding out.
John tried very hard to suppress Dave's thoughts. His brother's mind was the clearest, full of consternation, surprise, and more than a little annoyance. John wasn't ready for confrontation yet. He wasn't sure he'd ever be ready.
"John?" Teyla asked, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, her face filled with concern. "Are you all right? You're shivering."
"Huh? Oh, just cold. Not used to this weather," John said and smiled at her. He knew it was a weak smile, but it was the best he could manage with Lantea humming to Dave in the back of his head. "Think I'll head inside and get warm."
"I believe I will join you," Teyla said, rubbing her arms. "It is rather chilly out here."
They walked back inside, quickly joined by most of the others. Rodney and Jennifer remained out on the deck, apparently discussing taking some time off to visit her father. John went back to his room to pace and argue with Lantea in private. It was a disaster to try to bring the other gene bearers here. He knew it even if She didn't. The IOA was going to have a fit. Hell, the military was going to go nuts. SGC would barely release any information, and Lantea was blithely calling civilians with all of their children and pets to a top-secret alien city in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.
She wouldn't listen to him.
"Please don't do this, Lantea," John was reduced to begging after about two hours of logical arguments that didn't impact her at all. "Please. You're going to make me choose. I'm going to have to choose between you and my career, and I really don't want to have to do that."
**But that isn't really a choice, John,** Lantea said gently. A wave of pure love swept through him along with a mental caress that held more caring than he'd ever experienced before. **We both know which you will choose, and I have great faith in your ability to make things work out. You're already plotting ways to ensure that my children will be able to come and live here, whether your superiors approve or not. You will make it happen for me.**
The shitty part was that She was right. He was already plotting and he did have some ideas of how to make it all work out. It still sucked. John groaned and collapsed onto his couch, rubbing his forehead. You'd think that with all the other people talking in his head he'd have a headache, but no, no such luck. He felt fine, even though more and more little lights were appearing in his head, including a clump of them on shore.
He checked out the window and sighed. Even from here, he could see the local police trying to convince the gene bearers to leave the dock. It looked as if there would be a riot soon if John didn't do something about it. Lantea certainly wasn't going to stop calling the others. John pulled on a jacket and headed out of his room.
"What's up?" John drawled once he hit the control room.
"There seems to be some sort of disturbance on the shore," Mr. Woolsey said with his lips pressed tightly together. "The military is working to keep it under control."
"What're they upset about?" John asked. He raised a quizzical eyebrow as if he didn't already know what was going on. "Someone take a fish away from one of the sea lions?"
Amelia made a strangled squeaking noise that had to be a smothered laugh and a few of the techs in the area grinned. Mr. Woolsey frowned appropriately at John's irreverent attitude, though amusement gleamed in his eyes. Sam Carter, who John hadn't realized had shown up until her head popped up from behind one of the consoles, looked very disapproving as she supplied an answer.
"No, it seems that they've decided that there's some sort of alien city hidden in the bay and that they need to be allowed onto it," Sam said as she listened to the radio over her headset. "We're trying to figure out how they know."
"Either hippie crystal power or the big ass wave from when we landed?" John suggested. He was more than ready to point the authorities in the wrong direction if it meant protecting Lantea.
"Possibly," Sam said with a grin this time. "Either way, it's under control. They're sending them away."
"Good," John said. He headed out onto the balcony to watch, attempting to appear casual.
*Lantea,* John thought to Her, *can you let them know the military are being buttheads and that they're going to need to be kind of patient. Have that really strong one, what's his name? Joseph? Anyway, have him get them all set up in hotels or something. Looks like Clara has a big house in town. She can put up some of the out-of-towners for a little while. The ones out of the country are going to need help with tickets and logistics of getting here. See who can help out with money, tickets and such. Not everyone's going to have an easy time getting here after all.*
**Now didn't I say that you'd find a way to handle this?** Lantea crooned lovingly. **You're such a good leader.**
*Yeah, yeah,* John thought back as Rodney joined him at the rail. *Just stop putting their biographies in the back of my head, will you? It's rude. Let me actually meet them before I know everything about them.*
Rodney was frowning fiercely as he looked out at the flashing lights of the police cars and the small crowd of presumed nut cases that John knew to be gene bearers. John couldn't think of a thing to say that wouldn't get him into trouble, so he stayed silent and trusted that Rodney would take care of filling the silence. It didn't take very long at all before Rodney fulfilled John's expectation.
"How the hell did they figure out that we're here?" Rodney demanded before he more or less answered his own question. "I've checked and we're not giving off any sort of radiation that human technology can detect. They haven't allowed any of us to go ashore yet, and there's no possibility of there being a leak. This is bizarre. There must be some sort of effect. Atlantis has to be doing it."
"Oh come on, Rodney," John drawled, trying to deflect him subtly. He'd learned after all these years that was the best he could hope for, since it was impossible to derail Rodney completely once he'd latched onto an idea. "Have you seen any signs of Atlantis being able to do things like that?"
"Well, not really," Rodney said. He glared across the bay to where the gene bearers were grumblingly breaking up and going home. "But what other explanation is there?"
"Big ass wave when we landed plus a city known for its nut-cases?" John suggested archly.
"Very funny," Rodney scoffed. He looked as if he was considering it for a moment before he shook his head. "No, there has to be something more. I'm going to go do some tests, see what I can find."
"Have fun," John said, waving a hand idly. "At least you have something to do besides paperwork."
"Which you aren't doing," Rodney snorted, heading back inside the city.
John sighed. He missed the early days when he could tell Rodney everything, or almost everything. The days before Rodney had decided that he wanted a wife and kids more than he wanted to hang out with John. John had never been able to tell Rodney how he felt about him, and he was still unsure of Rodney's feelings, but at least they'd been real friends, sharing pretty much everything.
They didn't do that anymore, and John missed his best friend. Despite that, he wouldn't let himself resent Jennifer. He was a good actor when it came to his feelings, but he wasn't good enough to hide it if he allowed himself to resent the fact that Jennifer could give Rodney the kids he wanted and John couldn't.
**You know, now that I have full power I can help with that,** Lantea offered hopefully. **It wouldn't be that hard to give you a womb. Or if you don't want to be pregnant, there are some very nice, fully functional baby chambers on one of the lower levels in one of the buildings you haven't explored yet.**
John cringed. The biggest problem with Her that he could see was her complete inability to understand that men didn't have babies and women didn't father them. His stomach roiled at the thought of it happening to him. She didn't seem to get how intense his reaction was, but then she never had seemed to understand the differences between men and women. He thought it might have something to do with her lack of a body.
*Stop offering that, Lantea! First and foremost, I'm not going to ruin their relationship,* John huffed at Her mentally. *He's my best friend and he made it perfectly clear that he'd rather have girls than me. Not my place to push it, especially while I'm in the military.*
Lantea gave a little mental nod that had the rider that She knew he wasn't going to be military for very much longer, so eventually that part of the argument would be moot. It made John want to bang his head against the rail. This really sucked. They should not have come back to Earth! He headed back inside to his office to do the paperwork that he knew he couldn't escape anymore. Lorne showed up with Carson after a few minutes, both of them looking freaked out.
"Sir, can we talk to you?" Lorne asked. His hands were shaking ever so slightly.
"Sure," John said. He made sure that the door was locked and the security video was shut off. All it took was a quick mental request to Lantea. "Let me guess. Lantea's freaking you out too?"
Carson and Lorne both let loose the shaky sort of laugh that made it clear that they were on the edge. Strangely, Lorne seemed more freaked out than Carson did, but then Carson was a clone, so maybe his freak-out-o-meter had a higher setting than Lorne's did. Lorne glanced behind him as if expecting someone to burst in.
"She's never been this strong before, laddie," Carson said, swallowing. "Ye do know what She's doin' with all o' the gene bearers, don't ye?"
"Yeah," John sighed, rubbing his forehead. The dots of light in his head were up to several hundred. "I do. I've told Her to back off. I've begged Her to stop. I've tried reason. Hell, I've tried everything I could think of. Nothing's worked so far."
**I see no reason why I should stop,** Lantea said a little huffily to all three of them. **They belong here with me, just as the three of you belong here with me. I am your proper home.**
John groaned and let his head slump forward to his chest. He hated Lantea's circular argument, but he couldn't find a way out of it. It was like arguing with your parents when they'd decided that you were having liver for dinner because it was good for you. No argument was going to get through. Lorne sighed and Carson whimpered, echoing his sentiment.
"She keeps offering to let me bear babies," Lorne said in a pained tone of voice. He looked as freaked out about that offer as John felt.
"She keeps tellin' me wha' I did wrong wi' the ATA gene therapy an' who she wants 'improved'," Carson said, looking offended.
"She keeps telling me I'm a perfect leader and that I'll figure out a way to make this work," John drawled, chuckling at their winces of sympathy.
Lantea grumbled in the back of their heads, all but crossing her metaphorical arms over her chest that they didn't think her plans were brilliant. Despite the united opposition to her calling together the gene bearers, she wasn't going to budge. John sighed, considering the situation. They had to deal with Lantea, as well as the SGC and IOA. The hard part was going to be keeping anyone from being hurt. It was clear in all their minds that Lantea was more than prepared to use force to get what she wanted.
"Look, we can't talk about this out loud," John said. "If you have something new, relay it through Lantea. In the meantime, we have to pretend that we're playing along with the military and SGC, not that it's going to work well. We need some time. There's too much that we need to get into place before we can get the others in here. Lorne, how long before you re-up?"
Lorne blinked, apparently surprised by the question. He moved around John's desk, digging through the stack of paperwork that John hadn't gotten to yet. He sorted through it so much more competently than John ever would, but Lantea's smugness in the back of his mind told him that She wouldn't dream of making Lorne her ruler. John was stuck with the job.
Both Lorne and Carson smirked at John's grumble and Lantea's little laugh. Dave's mind flared for a second and then faded, as if he'd felt the interaction between John and Lantea and was curious but unwilling to intrude. Lorne nodded eventually and pulled out a small stack of paperwork held together with a paperclip.
"Here," Lorne said as he offered it to John. "I was due a few days ago."
"Keep it," John said and pushed it back at Lorne. "If things get bad, just say that you're retiring and going back to civilian life."
"Smart, laddie," Carson said as a smile bloomed on his face. "I suppose I should go visit my dear mother. She's gettin' up there in years ya know."
John nodded approval with that. Lorne folded his papers and tucked them into his pocket. John didn't re-up for another two weeks but hopefully, it wouldn't come to him resigning his commission. He would if he had to, but he really didn't want to. He could do a better job if he was in the city. Reassured, Lorne and Carson left, chatting about the things they wanted to do once they were allowed off Atlantis.
After the door closed behind them, John mentally began to flip through the profiles on the other gene bearers on Atlantis that he needed to protect until they got things straightened out. Three of them were new recruits, with no credible way to get out of the service. Once the powers that be let them have shore leave, John would have the three go AWOL and hide with the other gene bearers in town. It wasn't ideal, but none of them had vital jobs, so they could probably manage for the short term. The rest of the gene bearers on Atlantis were civilians and could resign any time they wanted to. He told Lantea to tell them to start working on cover stories for leaving if the situation went bad.
John plotted as he worked through his stack of paperwork. In the back of his mind, he listened through Lantea to Sam Carter and Woolsey. They were discussing how the IOA and military were thinking of taking Lantea apart so that they could better protect Earth. Lantea's anger at that idea almost seared John's brain. It was going to be dangerous if he didn't head them off. With a sigh, John finished the last stack of paperwork and headed for Woolsey's office, feeling Lantea beginning to build power to electrocute Sam and Woolsey as he hurried.
"Hey, guys," said John as he casually tapped on the doorframe, "when are we going to get to go ashore? I've officially run out of paperwork, which tells you something about how little there is for us to do around here."
"Really?" Woolsey asked while blinking in surprise at the stack of paperwork John dropped on his desk. "I think that's a first."
"It is a first," Sam said, equally surprised. "What have you been doing?"
"Paperwork, obviously." John shrugged. "Only so many times you can shoot up a paper target, and the last email I got said that we were supposed to conserve ammo anyway. So how about leave time? The guys have even less to do than I do. I know Lorne's having a hard time keeping them busy. They're used to working with the scientists to explore and fix things when we have downtime, but no one is doing anything with that right now."
Sam and Woolsey exchanged uncomfortable looks. Sam's lips went thin as she turned back to John while Woolsey fidgeted with his uniform, smoothing it as if he was trying to get it to turn into the suits that he was more comfortable with.
"Come in and close the door, John," Woolsey said. His expression promised bad news that he didn't want to deliver.
John did, having Lantea close the door and then relay the discussion to all of the gene bearers on and off Atlantis. Sam looked massively uncomfortable. Woolsey looked somewhat less uncomfortable but then he seemed sort of hopeful. For the first time, Jack O'Neil flared in John's mind. The general seemed more than a little offended by John's passing confidential information on to civilians, no matter how involved they were in it already.
"The IOA and the military have… decided… that the best thing for us to do is to take the ZPMs and the Chair off of Atlantis," began Woolsey while his expression and demeanor telegraphing that he thought it was idiotic, "so that they can be transferred to a more secure location."
"More secure location?" John drawled, raising an eyebrow. "What's more secure than an invisible city that no one, not even the Wraith, can see?"
"I know, I know," Woolsey said with a tired sigh. "We're still arguing with them but it looks like we're going to lose. It's temporary, John. We will do everything that we can to get Atlantis back to Pegasus but for now it looks like we're going to be here on Earth for a while."
John let his (and Lantea's) anger show. It was idiotic and they obviously knew it. The city was a giant ship and they were taking away the main weapons, the control panel and the engines in one fell swoop. The electricity in the panels of the walls and floor crackled around John, audible only because of his link to Lantea.
*Lock the ZPM's down, Lantea,* John directed. *I don't want anyone other than me, Lorne or Carson to be able to remove them.*
*What the hell?* Jack protested. *You can't do that! This isn't your decision to make, Sheppard!*
The other gene bearers shouted him down. Dave was an almost physical presence in John's mind until he put a mental hand on Jack's imaginary shoulder. They seemed to go off into a private conversation, while the others quieted down to listen through Lantea. John nearly sighed with relief. He couldn't listen to two arguments at once.
"That's stupid," John growled, returning to reality to glare at Sam and Woolsey. "If they take the chair, we can't get Atlantis out of here and we need the ZPMs to be able to power her. She's our best defense against all of our enemies, not just the Wraith. If they take her apart there's no guarantee that they'll be able to put her back together again."
"I know, John," Sam said. Her voice conveyed both frustration and resignation. "There's not a lot we can do about it right now. The President and the IOA are frightened. We're doing what we can to calm them down, but it's going to take a little while. I promise that Atlantis will go back to Pegasus. We need an outpost there or we'll never know what the Wraith are up to before they arrive here."
"This is a bad idea," John said as he rubbed his face with both hands. "A really bad idea. It's going to cause a lot of bad feelings, especially with those of us who have been here a long time."
Woolsey and Sam had the grace to look guilty about it. John shook his head at their apologetic expressions. The apologies didn't mean a hell of a lot. He had to do something to keep Lantea from losing control and killing them both. They were his friends.
"One way or the other we really need to let everyone have some downtime," John said, deliberately changing the subject. "We just went through one hell of a battle. There's a city waiting out there where our people can relax for the first time in a long time. When can we start letting them have some leave?"
Sam and Woolsey talked about it for a few minutes, discussing how many could be allowed to leave and in how large a group before it would be noticed. John had Lantea listen for him, his attention elsewhere. Despite Dave's efforts to deflect him, Jack was pitching a huge fit through Lantea's internal communication relays.
*Damn it, you can't do this!* Jack yelled at John. *That city is supposed to be a secret and you're telling half the world!*
It felt like Jack was a football field away, not standing right there, the way the other gene bearers felt. John had to control a physical nod and look of surprise when he realized that it was because Lantea was annoyed with Jack. The power of the link appeared to be equal to how Lantea felt about a person.
Of course, how much she liked someone had a lot to do with how strongly she was in his or her head, so maybe Jack able to think more clearly than John was. He couldn't tell anymore. She was too much a part of John's mind for him to be able to tell if he was unduly influenced by her care- not that it mattered that much. As it stood, he was certain the non-gene bearers were in danger as long as the SGC and IOA wanted to take Lantea apart. Hell, the whole planet might be in danger. John wasn't sure whether She had any limits, and he didn't want to find out the hard way.
*Get a grip, Jack,* John snarled back at him. *They already know about her. They're already on their way here to San Francisco. I'm trying to keep the situation under control. Do you have any idea what Lantea will do if you try and strip her weapons and components? Come on! She's alive and She's a piece of Ancient technology beyond anything Earth has ever found. Who's to say that She won't start infiltrating our technology and causing destruction?*
*She can't do that,* Jack protested. His protest was way weaker than it should have been. It was obvious that he wasn't positive that She couldn't.
**Actually I can and I am,** Lantea said smugly. **I haven't done anything with the access I've gained yet, but I will if those stupid people try to strip me of my heart and hands.**
*What?* Jack packed more incredulous horror and shock into that one word than John thought was possible.
*I told you so,* John sighed. *Look, I have to deal with Sam and Woolsey now. Stop yelling at me, will you? This is crazy enough as it is. I don't need to be juggling two arguments.*
He turned his attention back to Sam and Woolsey as they finally reached a decision. Pairs and sets of four people would be allowed to leave the city and take some downtime. Depending on the work they needed to do, civilians would be allowed to take their accumulated vacation.
Woolsey ordered John to make sure everyone had completed the proper paperwork, and Sam told him to make sure that no one too vital was allowed to leave the city for long periods of time without permission. John nodded, made a quip about Lorne having a lot of work to do that made both of them laugh, and excused himself.
Between them, Lorne and John managed to set up a rotation that would allow the gene bearers who wanted to escape right away to the gathering group in San Francisco the opportunity to go AWOL. By that point, several hours had passed and Jack was in the back of John's head again. Strangely, Dave wasn't. John wasn't sure what to make of that. He'd expected Dave to be nagging him unmercifully, but he'd been quiet and soothing instead. It was a little freaky.
*Any luck getting the IOA to back off?* John asked Jack. He was pretty sure that the answer would be no.
*No,* Jack sighed. *They're too scared to think straight. I'm going to keep working on them. You might be right about getting everyone out. The ones who have had the gene therapy will still be there though. They'll still be able to take Her apart.*
**I will not allow the altered ones to use me if I have none of my children on board,** Lantea declared. **My city is for my children. If they choose to alter their loved ones and allow others without access on board, then I will allow them here. However while no natural gene bearers live in me, no one else will be allowed to use my technology. I will defend myself.**
A flash of possible ways she could do so accompanied Lantea's statement. John shuddered. He could feel Jack's shudder as well. They seemed to be the only ones that got that flash of knowledge from Lantea, for which John was grateful. He really didn't need everyone else freaking out about entire cities being electrocuted and the power grid across the country shutting down, much less that little bit about creating mass drones and sending them to destroy Washington.
*Damn,* Jack breathed. His mental image was accompanied by a look of surprised comprehension mixed with horror. *That's why you're playing hardball.*
*Yup,* John said. *Lantea set it up a while back. Earth just doesn't know that they've got an enemy in the city Herself.*
He patted Lorne's shoulder as he left to pass the word to the teams getting ready to leave. Lorne smiled, looking reassured by John's leadership. John settled back into his chair to pretend to do something on the computer while talking to Jack. It was getting easier to do two things at once, as long as he didn't have to make perfect sense at both of them.
*Strong words,* Jack continued, troubled. *You really think She'll be an enemy of Earth if this goes on?*
*They keep this up and 'enemy' won't be strong enough,* John replied. *Do what you can, Jack. I really don't want to be the leader of some sort of stupid 'Cult of Atlantis' or something.*
Dave suddenly spluttered and laughed in John's mind, proving that he was still ninja stealthy at listening into his brother's conversations. Jack and John glared at him mentally. It didn't seem to bother Dave at all. He mentally tapped the shoulder of a graphic designer who was on her way from India by plane and they started sketching out designs for a Cult of Atlantis logo to put on T-shirts for everyone.
John whimpered when Jack started snickering about it. He logged off his computer and got up to head to the labs. He didn't think he could bring everything to Rodney's attention, but he had to talk to someone who wasn't in his head. There was only so much telepathy that he could bear. It was bad enough having Lantea humming and growling away in his head. It felt even more intrusive to have everyone else in there too.
*Hey,* Dave said gently in the back of John's head when John was halfway to the labs. The mental image was one of quietly inviting John in for a drink and one of their awkward chats. He looked apologetic. It was obvious that he felt a little bad about laughing at John.
John winced and headed for a balcony that was empty. He hadn't been looking forward to having a real conversation with Dave about all of this. Before they brought Lantea to Earth, he could ignore his brother and pretend that everything was okay, or not okay, or whatever. It didn't work well but, as long as they ignored each other, they weren't fighting as John so often had with his father. They'd been terrific friends when they were little. John didn't know what had changed but, over time, they'd practically become enemies. It still hurt to think about it.
*Yeah?* John asked. He couldn't keep the challenge out of his mental voice.
*Is this what you couldn't talk to me about after the funeral?* Dave asked.
He nodded out over Atlantis without responding to the challenge. He seemed to be as nervous about the talk as John was. His mental voice was accompanied by the phantom image of Dave looking over John's shoulder. His ATA gene was nearly as strong as John's, so it was as though he were standing there next to John. He didn't put a hand on John's shoulder but it felt strangely intimate, almost real. John shivered, nodding slightly.
*Yeah, part of it,* John admitted.
*Huh,* Dave said, nodding slowly. John could almost see the wind off of the bay ruffling Dave's annoyingly neat hair. *That makes sense. You really don't want to explain about the crazy city from another galaxy that's talking in your head. People might talk.*
**I am not crazy!** Lantea interrupted, utterly offended. **Why do my children keep saying that?**
John bit back a laugh that no one physically around him would understand. There wasn't anyone there, but the city was open enough that people would hear him. He muffled his laughter behind a raised fist. Dave grinned at John and suddenly John felt better about the whole mess. He wasn't the only one with her so strong in his head.
*Please, this is crazy,* Dave said with a mental roll of his eyes. *Not that we're not going to be coming straight there. I've already put out inquiries into doing a takeover of a hotel in San Francisco. No matter how you look at it, this is crazy. Irresistibly crazy.*
"I really have to talk to Rodney," John said both physically and mentally. *Carry on, but leave me out of the discussion, please.*
*You got it,* Dave said.
He and Lantea faded in John's mind, becoming a distant background noise like the surf hitting the piers. It was a huge relief. John gently pushed the others back a bit and smiled. It felt kind of like creating a little fence around his mind that said 'this far but no farther please'. The others respected it and stayed outside. John nodded and headed down to the labs to see if he could figure out a way to warn Rodney about what was happening without endangering everyone.
"You can't be serious," Rodney said, staring at Jennifer. "I have too much to do to take any time off."
"Rodney," Jennifer said as she rounded her eyes and pouted ever so slightly at him, "we're so close to my dad's house. It would just be a quick flight once we got to shore. They're going to let us take leave. I haven't seen my dad in so long and I'd really like you to meet him."
Rodney knew that just about now his resolve should be crumbling.
He knew that much. He wasn't that clueless about relationships, no matter what anyone else might say behind his back. It wasn't happening. His resolve to stay and work was as strong as the Great Wall in China no matter how cute Jennifer was as she pouted at him The finger trailed along his wrist was more convincing, but only in that base carnal way that he'd come to appreciate with her.
There was so much that he needed to do. The city's landing hadn't been gentle, and there were far too many systems that needed to be checked out. In addition, there was a strange rise in computer activity with no indication as to what was causing it. Half of his staff had gone on mental vacation at the news that they'd be getting leave soon. He didn't have time to take off right now.
"You know I want to meet your dad…" Rodney began, as he tried to put Jennifer off gently.
"Great!" Jennifer beamed at him. "Then I'll go tell Evan that we'll go in one of the first groups."
"But!" Rodney said and caught her hand so that she couldn't run off to Lorne right that second. "I can't go now, Jennifer. If we want the city to keep floating, I need to stay here for at least a week. You're very important to me, but this is my job. You wouldn't leave in the middle of an operation to go visit, would you?"
"That's hardly a fair comparison, Rodney," Jennifer said with a hurt look. "The city is just a city. It's not alive."
"It might as well be for all the care that it needs," Rodney sighed. He growled as his radio squawked at him with yet another problem that he needed to take care of right that second or they'd all be destroyed. "Look, I have to go. We'll talk later. Okay? I do want to visit, just not right now. Give me a week or so? Please?"
Jennifer looked heartbroken, but she nodded. They shared a quick kiss, and then Rodney was off to deal with the next problem, the next breakdown, and the next set of idiots who couldn't seem to think straight now that they had the prospect of some real time off.
Jennifer disappeared out of his mind the way she always did when he was working and, before he knew it, several hours had passed. He was just starting to wonder when Sheppard would show up (since he always showed up, the man was as reliable as the tides in some ways) when an overly familiar voice drawled behind him.
"You going to get some dinner?" Sheppard asked. He was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed on his chest and smirking.
"Some of us have work to do, Colonel," Rodney said and eyed him. "Unfortunately, the city didn't fair well during Carson's landing in the bay. There are a lot of systems that need to be repaired and my staff has reached new levels of idiocy due to your announcement of time off."
"Can't help it if people want to blow off some steam," John said, shrugging slightly. "You want to eat or not? We got a shipment of pudding cups in."
Rodney perked up. He'd take a break for pudding. He washed his hands and walked with John to the cafeteria, complaining along the way about the stupidity of the Ancients and their design principles, the stupidity of his staff, and most particularly the stupidity of the SGC and IOA decision to strip Atlantis to her bones. He couldn't believe that they were going to do that.
John nodded and made little comments, occasionally saying something obviously designed to set Rodney off, like implying that Atlantis minded the plans. It was comfortable, comforting, and something that he never felt with Jennifer, who met them at the door to the cafeteria with a big smile that harbored hints of her disappointment in Rodney despite its brightness.
"Hey, I see Ronon and Teyla over there," said John, instantly looking uncomfortable with Rodney and Jennifer together. "You two enjoy your dinner. I'm going to see how they're adapting to Earth."
"Um, sure," Rodney said.
He watched John's back as he walked away. His shoulders were stiff, the way he held himself looking strained and painful. Rodney frowned. Something was wrong and Rodney hadn't given him a chance to say anything. Of course, John 'saying something' usually meant some awkward half statements and vague gestures that Rodney was supposed to translate into entire monologues, but he was a genius and could usually manage it.
"Rodney?" Jennifer said, nudging him as they sat at their table. "Have you heard a word I said?"
"What? Sorry?" Rodney asked. He wasn't quite ashamed of himself for ignoring her. It happened a lot and she never seemed upset by it until the third or fourth time he missed something. "Sorry, I was thinking about everything that needs to be done. What did you say?"
"I said that I talked to Evan and he said that we can take leave next week," Jennifer said. She picked at her salad while she watched him through her eyelashes. "I sent an email to my dad and he says that he's looking forward to meeting you."
"Oh," Rodney said.
He applied himself to eating his food so that he wouldn't blurt an answer in the first surge of uncertainty and worry. They ate in silence for a minute or so, long enough for Rodney to battle down his immediate urges to say 'no way', 'I'm needed here', and 'what if he doesn't like me?'
Once he had that under control Rodney looked at Jennifer who had that unhappy look again. "All right. I'll make sure that Zelenka and my staff is ready to take care of things while I'm gone. How long do we have?"
"Two days," Jennifer said as she beamed at him with delight. "Given that we're both civilians we could take longer but I know how much you want to work on the city so I told him that we'd take a weekend off. It will be so nice, Rodney. My dad is going to love you, I promise."
"Good, good," Rodney said. The butterflies in his stomach changed to elephants.
He'd hoped it would be a day trip, not an overnight trip with the questions about who slept where and how far their relationship had gone. It didn't matter that they were both adults. He knew that it was going to come up. Who knew what Jennifer's father was going to think of him? He listened absentmindedly as she chattered on about the things they could do and how long it had been since she'd seen her father. He was saved from trying to reply when his radio squawked with yet another problem he had to deal with.
"I've got to go, Jennifer," Rodney said between eating his pudding as quickly as he could. "I'll see you later, okay?"
"All right, Rodney," Jennifer said. "Be careful."
"I will," Rodney promised. He hurried off to dump his tray.
On his way out, he noticed that Sheppard was still talking to Teyla and Ronon. Their heads were together as if something big was going on. Teyla had her very serious discussion face on and Ronon looked grim. Sheppard's expression was somewhere between harried and frightened. Rodney almost stopped to go and ask what was up but his radio squawked again and he had to run to get there before the new idiots the IOA had sent in blew up the city.
He didn't see much of anyone over the next week. Most of the time he was shoulder or hip deep in various repairs. He managed about four hours of sleep a day at best. Some days he didn't get any at all. Rodney made sure to rant about to anyone who could listen that being back on Earth should mean that he was allowed some regular sleep.
Rodney noticed in an out-of-the-corner-of-his-eyes way that people were acting strange, but he didn't have the time to analyze it. With strange discussions and odd groups of people whispering together, it felt like something secret was going on, but John always seemed to be in the middle of things so he assumed that it was being dealt with - whatever 'it' was.
He got annoyed when Sam interrupted his work to question him about where a couple of the Marines with the gene had gone. How was he supposed to know? He had work to do. If they went AWOL, they went AWOL. None of it was half as important as keeping Atlantis afloat and working properly. He sent her off to Carson to trace their sub-q trackers.
Eventually, he was able to relax a little. Things finally evened out on Friday close to 3:00 pm. Radek was staying for the weekend to protect his city. Jennifer had been progressively more excited as the week went on.
"Done." Radek sighed, straightened up and stretched his back. He looked at Rodney, raising an eyebrow. "Should you not go pack, Rodney? Your Jennifer has been quite excited about your trip."
"Yeah." Rodney groaned as he stood. "I'm mostly packed already. You better take care of my city while I'm gone."
"Your city?" Radek asked and raised an eyebrow at him.
Neither of them had the energy to make it a real fight after so long without proper sleep, so after a few more quips and insults they parted ways. Radek went to get some sleep. Rodney to finish his packing so that he could go meet Jennifer's father. He'd have gladly changed places with Radek. He spotted Sheppard talking to Sam and Woolsey on his way down to the dock where Jennifer was waiting. They all looked tired and frustrated, which made him head over.
"What do you mean you can't get it to disengage?" Sam asked while gesturing angrily at one of the control panels that the SGC wanted to remove to study.
"I mean I can't get it to disengage," Sheppard said. Frustration radiated off of him in waves. "I've thought at it, pushed the buttons, done everything I can besides beat on it with a sledgehammer. It won't disengage, Sam."
"This is so peculiar," Woolsey said while frowning. "This is the sixth time that this has happened. First the ZPMs, then the weapons, and now the control panels."
"What in the world is your problem?" Rodney snapped, barging into their conversation. "It's perfectly simple to shut this off."
Sheppard rolled his eyes and made a gesture that said more clearly than words that Rodney was welcome to try. Rodney set down his overnight bag and set a hand on the console, thinking 'off' at it. Nothing happened. He blinked and tried again. Still nothing. He tried pushing the off button with the same results. Rodney tried to pull out some of the crystals and gasped to find them locked in place.
"What did you do?" Rodney demanded. "We've always been able to move the crystals before."
"I thought 'off' at it," Sheppard growled. "That's all. Look, I don't know what's going on, but maybe you guys need to think about this a little more than you have been."
Rodney knelt down to try to open the sides of the control panel. It shocked him with a minor jolt of electricity, which had never happened before. He stared at it before turning to stare at Sheppard. The way Sheppard held himself that made Rodney suspect Sheppard knew exactly what was going on, but then a disgruntled-looking Radek appeared to help them deal with the issue and Jennifer called over the radio for Rodney.
"Whatever this is, fix it," Rodney said to Radek. "I've got to go. Apparently I'm holding up the boat."
"Go, go, I will deal with it as always," Radek said. He flipped a hand at Rodney as he scanned the control panel.
Rodney looked back at the little group clustered around the control panel before he left the room. Sheppard was watching him, not Radek. Rodney almost turned around to ask what was wrong. Sheppard looked at him like he didn't expect to see Rodney again, which was blatant idiocy. They were on the same team. Of course, he'd see Rodney again. Sheppard nodded once and Rodney nodded back, half waving at him. Whatever it was, he'd have to figure it out once he got back from Jennifer's father's house.
"All right, what the hell is going on here?" Jack demanded. The doors on Atlantis hesitated before opening, which hadn't happened before She woke up.
John looked up from his place on the couch in his rooms to meet Jack's eyes with complete calm. He clearly wasn't surprised by Jack's appearance on Atlantis or him suddenly barging into John's rooms. How could he be? Jack had the same voice whispering in the back of his head that John did but from what Jack could tell, John heard and saw one hell of a lot more than Jack did. Jack had no idea how all of this had happened but he wanted to know.
"When did She get this sort of intelligence? This power?" Jack demanded. "I know you would have reported it if She'd had it before."
"Would I?" John drawled. He didn't bothering rising to face Jack.
The question hung in the air between them, forcing Jack to slow down and think. No, he wouldn't. Jack wouldn't have anyway. If he'd had Lantea whispering away in the back of his head he'd have hidden it until he couldn't hide it anymore. Hell, that's exactly what he was doing right now. Jack sighed and sat on the couch next to John.
"She's been there all along?" Jack asked.
"Yeah." John shrugged. "She was mostly asleep until She got full power. Once we put all three ZPMs in, She woke up all the way. It was easy to ignore her before, but now She's… there."
"Yeah." Jack sighed and relaxed back against the couch to consider it all.
They sat in silence for a long moment while Jack readjusted his mental map of the world. John had been hiding it all along. She'd always been there, in the back of every gene bearer's mind. He frowned, turning to look at John who looked back with clear, calm eyes that hid everything and nothing.
"What about the people who've had the therapy?" Jack asked.
"They can't hear her," John said. His voice lowered from a drawl to a rasp. "She's really upset about Rodney not being able to hear her. She wants some specific people like him to have advanced gene therapy so that he's able to hear her. Won't make him the same as us but… well."
John shrugged. The simple motion conveyed a lot of information. Resignation, frustration, hope, and fear all hid in the movement and John's expression. Jack considered Her in the back of his mind, singing to the others and pointedly ignoring him. He was on the outside of this one, despite the fact that he was a gene bearer.
Lantea played favorites. Even if they gave the entire planet the gene treatment, the more effective one that Lantea was talking about, only the people she approved of would have full access like her 'children'. Those of her children who didn't play the way she wanted would have their access lowered.
"The soldiers and scientists who went AWOL aren't coming back, are they?" Jack asked.
"How long will you be here?"
John looked at him, pain stamped all over his face. He obviously knew about the set of orders that Jack was fighting, the ones that demanded that they take blowtorches to the city to get what the IOA wanted. Jack winced. He'd hate to be in John's shoes. It couldn't be easy to be between Her and the rest of the world, including Jack himself.
Jack had to wonder how much Lantea knew. He kind of suspected that She might know everything there was to know. The rest of the world might not realize how far She'd infiltrated into the world's computer systems, but Jack knew that She was there. He heard her every time he touched a phone or computer, every time he got near an electrical outlet. She was extending her tendrils into every aspect of their technology.
"How soon before you have to carry out the orders?" John asked finally.
"Probably a week," Jack said, stomach roiling. "Still trying to fight it."
"I'll be here until then." John sighed. "I'm due to re-up, Jack. I've already made it clear that I disagree with how things are being handled. I've warned them that I'm coming due. I don't think they're listening, but I've already laid the groundwork."
"Who do we have left?" Jack asked while mentally running through the list of gene bearers left in the city and SGC.
"Me. You. That's it," John said. "Lorne turned in his resignation yesterday. Carson's taken an extended leave of absence to deal with his mother's illness. Several of us went AWOL, as you know, and the others were able to take leave, quit, or resigned. There's just the two of us left in SGC control. We're it."
Jack put his face into his hands. He didn't want to choose. He knew he was doing good work where he was. He knew that his job was important. He'd worked hard to protect the SGC. He couldn't leave, not now, not anytime soon. Moreover, he sure as hell wasn't going to leave Earth, no matter what Lantea thought. John patted his shoulder, a little flare of common understanding, something that approximated telepathy passing between them. He didn't have to quit. John didn't want him to.
"Keep fighting it," John ordered. He was clearly the one in charge despite the fact that Jack had years and rank on him. "Do what you can for as long as you can, Jack. Once we're gone, well, do your best to make them understand."
"Where will you go?" Jack asked, worried about him.
"Dave's in town with his family," John said, "and he paid for a takeover of a big hotel in town. The 'Cult' is settling in there until we get the military and IOA to understand what's going on. Shouldn't take too much longer."
"Cult," Jack snorted. "They went ahead with that, did they?"
John blushed right out to the tips of his ears. Jack grinned, lightly smacking one of John's knees. That'd teach John to make off-hand comments where people could hear him.
John sighed, making a face before standing up. It took a second longer for Jack to feel the notice that Lantea was giving them. Something was up in the control center. They needed to go deal with it.
"I swear they're getting way too much mileage out of the whole 'Cult of Atlantis' thing," John said as they headed for the door. "Dave's made shirts and now he's threatening to make Cult of Atlantis memorabilia."
Jack started laughing while grinning at John. The idea of a cult, no matter how fake, bugged him, but John's disgust at the whole thing was too funny not to laugh at. They headed through the halls for the control center, taking one of the transporters. Jack paused before pushing the control center's location. Lantea didn't want him pushing the button. She didn't even want him in the city. He looked at John.
"She's blocking me." Jack stared at him.
"Yeah," confirmed John with an apology in his eyes. "You chose Earth, Jack. You're one of her children and always will be, but that doesn't mean that She trusts you. Sorry."
"Makes sense," Jack said. He sent them to the control center despite Lantea's grumble. "It's what I'd do. Let's go see what's going on."
"Right," John said.
John led the way, his shoulders full of tension that Jack hadn't seen before. He was kind of glad that Lantea hadn't chosen him to be the leader of the gene bearers. It was hard work and the weight of it already seemed to be aging John. He rethought that as Sam lit up to see him and Woolsey smiled. It probably wasn't the leadership role aging John as much as the need to lie and hide from people that John thought of as friends.
"So what's going on here?" Jack asked.
He used a much more jovial tone of voice with Sam and Woolsey than he had with John. They had no clue. It wasn't their fault. He wasn't about to be the first to admit that he was hearing voices in his head. He'd miss driving and flying while locked inside a padded room. His rank wouldn't protect him from being declared insane. He'd probably be even more vulnerable to it given all the political intrigue.
Rodney sighed with relief as their boat docked with Atlantis. He was so damned glad to get back home. Their weekend had turned into a week and a half away from the city despite Rodney's protests and worries.
Jennifer's dad had been kind, welcoming, and mostly amused by Rodney's rants, allergies and issues. He'd pointedly asked Rodney when they were getting married. He'd hinted about wanting to see grandkids sometime soon. He'd found Rodney seventeen different job opportunities in various schools, colleges, labs, and tech companies in the immediate area. He'd even offered to help Rodney arrange job interviews. Jennifer had been glowing while spending time with her father and utterly delighted by how well he and Rodney seemed to get along.
Rodney had felt like he was about to claw his way out of his skin.
"That was so much fun," Jennifer breathed as he helped her down the gangplank to the dock. "Did Dad tell you that there's an opportunity for me to work at a children's clinic close by?"
"Yes," Rodney said while his stomach doing the crawling thing again.
"It would be so nice to get to work with kids again," Jennifer said, smiling nostalgically. "I did some of that when I was an intern and I loved it. It's so satisfying."
"I'm sure it is," Rodney said. He concentrated on not hyperventilating. He wasn't ready for this, not at all.
Jennifer kissed his cheek and headed off to unpack her things. Rodney gratefully threw his bag on the floor and then sighed. They were aimed in two different directions, and he didn't know what to do about it. Jennifer was a beautiful girl and she was wonderful to be with, but Rodney wasn't ready to get married. He certainly wasn't going to leave Atlantis behind. There was so much that they didn't understand yet. He looked around his messy room and decided to find out what had happened while he was gone. He hadn't received any calls, so he assumed that everything had gone fairly well. There should have only been the normal minor issues that the city always encountered.
The transporter was a little slow to engage when he headed to the control center but nothing that was too far out of alignment. He decided to check it later. To his surprise, everyone seemed to be in the gate room, from Jack O'Neill on down to that gate tech that Ronon seemed to like.
"Ah, Dr. McKay," Woolsey said as he walked in. "I'm glad you're back. We have a problem."
"What did you break now?" Rodney asked as he glared at them.
"The city's shutting down," Sam said. She looked incredibly frustrated. "We can't figure out why or what to do about it."
"What do you mean 'shutting down'?" Rodney demanded. He went to the control panels to check the diagnostics. Radek threw up his hands at being pushed out of the way, his gesture saying without words that Rodney would have to find out on his own. It only took a couple of seconds for Rodney to realize exactly what was happening.
The city was shutting them out of all of the systems. The delay in the transporter wasn't an anomaly. It was a symptom. Practically every system in the city was impaired or locked out. He immediately tried to figure out what had caused it, running a diagnostic that had always worked before. As he worked, Rodney muttered about the idiots that had broken his city. He didn't bother to listen as the SGC techs tried to explain things since their fumble-fingered idiocy was most likely what had set the latest disaster in motion.
"What the hell?" Rodney asked, staring at the computer and control panel. The diagnostic had reported full functionality but no access. "Who changed the access levels?"
"No one," Sam said. She leaned over his shoulder to show him a log of what had happened so far. "See? Here! This is where things started going bad. Commencing fourteen days ago, the city has been progressively locking us out. At first it was just a few systems, but now we're getting to the point where the city might not be livable for much longer."
"Sheppard, have you tried—"
"I've tried," Sheppard snarled, cutting Rodney off. "Trust me. I've tried everything that I can think of and everything that they can think of."
"Fine, snap my head off, why don't you?" Rodney said, slanting him an arch look.
He worked for a while longer, combining his ideas with Sam's and Radek's. Nothing they did worked and, every time Rodney seemed to get close to finding a way to unlock things, another block of the city or the computer system would end up locked out. No matter what he tried, it didn't work. Eventually Rodney sighed, standing up to glare at the computer in frustration. This shouldn't be happening.
"What about Lorne?" Rodney asked. "Carson? Have they had any better success?"
"Ah, Lorne decided not to re-up almost two weeks ago," explained Sheppard. "And Carson took an extended leave of absence. His mom is ill and came to town to go into one of the top hospitals here."
The almost bland way he said it made Rodney look at him more closely. Rodney was struck by the impression that Sheppard knew exactly what was going on in the city and wouldn't or couldn't say. Jack had the same sort of expression, though he hid his better. Rodney frowned.
"I suppose it doesn't matter," Woolsey said with a tired sigh. "Once the demolition team gets everything taken apart we can figure it out in the labs in Area 51 and under the mountain."
"Wait, what demolition team?" Rodney gasped, staring at him.
"That's going to happen?" Sheppard asked. He looked like he was about to be ill.
"I'm afraid so," Woolsey said. His lips went so thin that they practically disappeared. "The IOA, the President and the military have all agreed. Atlantis is to be dismantled by whatever means necessary. If we'd been able to keep the city running we might have been able to convince them to leave it alone, but now we have nothing to bargain with."
Sheppard sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He exchanged a long look with Jack before he started removing his insignia from his uniform. He took off his sidearm and set it on the console. He removed everything that marked him as a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, without meeting any of their eyes. Rodney's jaw dropped. This couldn't be happening. He'd never give up his career!
"I'm sorry," Sheppard finally said in a husky voice filled with pain. "If that's what's going to happen, then I can't stay."
"You're a soldier, Colonel Sheppard," Woolsey said. Sam nodded hard behind him. "You can't just quit."
"Actually, I was due to re-up yesterday," Sheppard said. "Legally, you can't keep me here. I'm sorry but I couldn't bear to watch Atlantis being torn apart that way. I'd end up putting a bullet through my brain, guys. This place means too much to me."
Woolsey glanced toward Jack, who shrugged as if there was nothing that could be done. Sam looked frustrated. Radek appeared almost relieved. Rodney was still gaping at them all. He wondered if he'd traveled to some sort of alternate universe, except that he knew he hadn't encountered a quantum mirror.
"Hey, I've been trying to get him to re-up for the past week," Jack said apologetically. "He won't go for it."
"I would have if the order was changed," Sheppard said sadly. "I like my career, but I can't do this. Sorry, but can you provide an escort for me to go get my things? Now that I've resigned, it's not proper for me to wander the halls alone."
Jack nodded and ordered a Marine to go with Sheppard. Sheppard walked away without a backward glance, his shoulders suddenly relaxed. They'd been tense for as long as Rodney had known him. It was as if he'd transformed into someone else in an instant.
Rodney snapped his mouth shut and charged after Sheppard. He didn't let anyone stop him. Jack and Woolsey both tried. The transporter didn't work for him, so Rodney had to climb the stairs to get to Sheppard's rooms. He was panting by the time he got there. It was easy to forget how many floors there were when the transporters worked. By the time he walked into Sheppard's quarters, Sheppard had already packed his meager belongings.
"Hey, Rodney." Sheppard smiled sadly at him. "Come to say goodbye?"
"No, I've come to ask if you've lost your mind!" Rodney glared at him. "You can't seriously intend to leave."
"I am leaving," Sheppard said. He shrugged ever so slightly. "Sorry, but I can't live with what they're doing."
He headed for the door, which opened automatically for him. Rodney followed him, hotly trying to talk Sheppard out of leaving. He tried as they headed down the stairs since even Sheppard couldn't get the transporter to work, continuing as they walked through the gate room while Sheppard said goodbye to everyone.
His attempts went on as Ronon appeared with his belongings, apparently notified somehow by Jack or Sam or someone in the control room. Then Teyla appeared with Kanaan, Torren and their things which meant he was losing still more people. Rodney's attempts to argue them out of leaving escalated into pleading with them all the way to the end of the dock where Teyla, Kanaan and Ronon boarded the boat without a backwards glance. At least Sheppard stopped and put a hand on Rodney's arm before boarding the boat.
"Look Rodney," Sheppard said in almost the same tone of voice as if they were on a mission and in danger of attack if they said the wrong thing, "you really ought to get out of here. Things are only going to get worse. Atlantis isn't going to like it when they try and dismantle her. She's going to strike back and I'd hate for you to be here."
"Quit anthropomorphizing," Rodney snapped. His hands were not shaking but he still bunched them up into fists. "It's just a city, Sheppard."
"Are you sure about that?" Sheppard said with a look that Rodney couldn't interpret. Sheppard shrugged after a second and then headed up the gangplank to the boat. "If you want to find me later, my brother arranged for a takeover of a hotel in town called the Hamilton Inn up on the hill. Come by when you get a chance. I'll buy you a drink or something."
Sheppard walked aboard. Once he was on, the crew pulled up the gangplank and sailed away. Rodney stared after them. He felt like his heart had just been cut out. He never would have believed that his team would leave him behind. Rodney watched the boat as it crossed the bay and the tiny figures of his former teammates disembarked and headed up the dock to the shore. Jack appeared sometime during the long wait. Once Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla finally disappeared, he set a hand on Rodney's shoulder.
"Are you okay?" Jack asked.
"No, I am not okay," snapped Rodney at him. "My team just abandoned me, the city I call home is shutting down around me, my girlfriend wants to get married and have 2.8 children, and you're threatening to bring in demolition teams to solve a problem that requires scientists. Of course I'm not okay!"
"Hey, just asking," said Jack. He pulled his hand back as if he was afraid it would be bitten off. "I'm trying to get them to back off on the demolition crews but I'm not having much success. They're going to bring them in soon, no matter what I say. You going to stick around to watch?"
"I'm not going to watch," Rodney said, squaring his shoulders. "I'm going to stop them."
He turned and stomped up the dock towards the city. It was not going to happen. They were not going to bring demolition teams in to destroy his city. He didn't care what Jack, Sheppard, or anyone else did. Atlantis was his city, and he was going to figure out exactly what was going on so that he could fix it. Then Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon would come back and they'd return to Pegasus to stop the Wraith.
"Woolsey!" Rodney shouted as soon as he got back to the gate room. "I need to talk to you right now!"
Teyla deliberately did not look back as the boat pulled away from the city that had become her home. She did not believe that this was the last time she would see it or that the Spirit of the City of the Ancients would allow the Tau'ri to destroy it. Although she was quite curious as to why John had not shared his connection to the Spirit with Rodney, now was not the time for questions. She had a fussy baby in her arms, a heaving deck under her feet, and far too many military men around her that she did not know.
Kanaan took Torren from her, quickly soothing his fussing. She was incredibly grateful that the two had been visiting the city when this all began. If they had been left behind in Pegasus, Teyla knew that she would be going mad with worry for her loved ones. Not only would they have been in a different galaxy, they would have been trapped on a world with no gate, unable to flee or trade as needed. Ronon tapped Teyla's shoulder, nodding towards John.
"He's relaxed," Ronon said so quietly that the rumble of his voice nearly disappeared into the sound of the engines and waves.
"I had noticed that," Teyla said, frowning. "I would not have expected it. When we reach shore I think a discussion may be in order."
"Yeah," Ronon said, nodding agreement.
John appeared far more peaceful that Teyla would have thought possible. It was an enormous change for the man who had become increasingly tense ever since they arrived on Earth. He had been having secretive discussions with various people in the city, and it had taken Teyla a few days to realize that those meetings were only with those who carried the ATA gene naturally. As those gene bearers began to disappear one by one, Teyla had become convinced that John had been sending them away.
In addition, she did not believe that the slow decline in service of the city was accidental. Teyla was quite convinced that John knew exactly what was happening and why. She had even wondered for a time he might be the one doing it, though that seemed absurd. John cared for the people in the city. She could not believe that he would deliberately harm the people he had spent the last five years defending.
The only thing that she could believe was that the Spirit of the city was directing him for purposes she did not understand yet. It had worried her at first but John was still the man he had been all along. Their occasional discussions and his quiet warnings to be ready to leave at a moment's notice in the end reassured her that all was well with her friend. It was the world and the city that were a danger.
"John," Teyla said as she stepped to his side. "Where will we go now?"
"I thought we'd stay in that hotel my brother was talking about," John said. He smiled at her far more openly than before. It appeared as though a huge weight had been removed from his shoulders when he resigned his rank. "He's arranged to take the whole thing over so there's plenty of room. It's pretty nice. It holds something like 2000 people. Pool, spa, restaurants, garden, and a nice play area for the kids. Dave said that there are some other young kids there, too, so Torren can make friends. Close to some good shopping, too."
"When did he tell you this?" Teyla asked rather more quietly when she saw the soldiers listening in on their conversation. "I was not aware that you were communicating with him regularly."
John jumped as if she'd slapped him, alarm filling his eyes. His face closed down and his shoulders stiffened. He glanced at the soldiers on the boat with clear suspicion. Teyla frowned, laying a hand on his arm in concern. He blinked and looked at her, smiling ruefully before patting her hand.
"Sorry, old habits," John muttered. "Ask me after we're away from the Marines, okay? I want to explain it all, but not where they can hear."
"All right," Teyla said slowly, "but I expect a full explanation, not simply small pieces of the truth."
"I'll get Dave to help," John said with a wicked grin. "He's a lot better at talking than I am. I think you might like him. He's really different from me. He's a pretty good guy."
"And you are not good?" Teyla asked. She raised an eyebrow at the phrasing.
"No," John drawled and rolled his eyes. "I mean about the talking. Jeez, Teyla!"
Teyla laughed. They stood together at the bow of the ship until it pulled up to the dock. It took but a moment to unload all of their belongings as none of them had collected many possessions. John waved goodbye to the marines and led the way up the dock to shore while whistling under his breath. Ronon glowered, shouldering one of Teyla's lighter bags despite her pointed look at his stomach. A man who had died and returned so recently should not be carrying anything. She took the bag back and Ronon glared at her, and then at John.
"He's definitely in too good of a mood," Ronon growled. "Did he tell you what's up?"
"Not yet, but we will tie him up and beat it out of him later if needed," Teyla said. She laughed quietly as Ronon perked up.
"Promise?" Ronon asked, grinning in his predatory way at her.
"No." She laughed harder as Ronon pouted and John turned back to look at them curiously. "We eagerly await your explanations and conveyance to our destination, John."
John nodded, looking a little puzzled at their amusement but leading the way without comment. They headed up the dock and then walked about two blocks, drawing many curious stares from people passing by. Only John wore Tau'ri clothing, so they stuck out in the crowd. After they crossed an intersection and a building blocked their view of the bay, a man emerged from a large white van and smiled at them.
"Hey," John said to him. Welcome and approval were clear in his voice.
"Hey, I see you guys made it," the other said.
Teyla blinked as they hugged briefly. It was rare indeed for her to see John allow another so close to him. Despite the differences in their appearance and modes of dress, Teyla suspected that this was John's brother Dave. She wondered briefly if they had had differing parents but dismissed the thought as John turned back to them with a bright grin.
"Guys, this is my brother Dave," John said. "Come on, let's load up the van and we can head over to the hotel. Did you bring the baby seat for Torren?"
"Of course, just like you asked," said Dave, opening the back of the van and loading their bags inside with admirable care. "Also brought a bottle for him in case he's hungry."
Teyla blinked, frowning. She knew that there was no time for John to have told Dave that they were bringing Torren. There had been insufficient time for John to call anyone before the team's departure. In addition, with all communications from Atlantis to the shore so strictly controlled, she believed she would have known if John had ever called his family. Yet John and Dave were chatting about people at the hotel, discussing them as if they were old friends with whom John was very familiar. Once everyone had gotten into the van and been strapped in, Teyla cleared her throat. John blushed at her pointed look.
"I believe that explanations are in order," Teyla said in her most stern tone of voice. "There is much here that does not make sense, John."
"Ah, yeah," John said, swallowing hard. He winced at the pointed looks from the three of them, giving his brother a desperate look.
"Hey, they're your friends and you need to tell them," Dave said decidedly unhelpfully. "Get the lead out. You know the hotel's filled with FBI microphones and bugs. That's why we had to replace the staff with gene bearers. I figure you've got about fifteen minutes to explain, given the traffic between here and there."
John winced, twisted in his seat to look at them and then squared his jaw as if he was flying off to carry a bomb to the Wraith yet again. His hand was shaking slightly on his knee, telling Teyla how nerve-wracking this revelation was for John. She didn't allow her expression to change. They were Team. He had been keeping secrets from them, obviously very large secrets, and it was time for the truth.
"It turns out that Atlantis is sentient," John said, his voice rough with emotion. "She's…in our heads, all of the gene bearers. She's most strongly in my and Dave's heads, but She talks to all of us. It wasn't so bad when there was only one ZPM. She was just this little murmur in the back of my head. It was easy to ignore, to explain away. But once there were three ZPMs in her, She woke up completely."
"She's calling all the natural gene bearers home," Dave said quietly. "It was one hell of shock to wake up and hear her in my head. My wife thought I was crazy until our daughter crawled into bed saying the crazy lady in the city wanted her to run away from home."
"Oh man, I bet that pleased Lantea to no end," John snickered. He got a quick grin from his brother. "That must have been that early squawk that had her so excessively polite for days."
"Oh yes," Dave said.
John sighed, apparently listening to something, though Teyla had no idea what it was. Dave groaned and rolled his eyes as they stopped at one of the streetlights. John nodded, waving a hand as if asking someone to get on with it and then snorted, turning back to Teyla, Ronon and Kanaan.
"Lantea wants me to tell you that She's not insane," John said, his voice as dry as dust. "She's simply attempting to take care of those who belong to her and bring them home where they should be. She also wants you to know that once Carson gets the improved gene therapy figured out, She'd be honored to have you receive it so that you can properly access her functions and hear her voice."
"That was pretty much verbatim, just without the prissy tone of voice," Dave confirmed. "Yes, you sure as hell are prissy, Lantea. Don't even try and deny it. Prissy, smug, overbearing, and beautiful, so hush and let him explain."
"This is quite odd," Teyla murmured as she realized they were having a conversation with the Spirit of the City.
"Try living it," John sighed. "Look, we're almost there. I couldn't say anything in the city because the others would have overheard. Lantea is about to throw them out on their ears. Of course, Rodney won't accept it and he'll end up coming to find us. Jack's on our side, more or less, so he's going to back us up once we deliver Lantea's demands."
"Demands?" Ronon asked, leaning over the back of Teyla's seat to peer at John.
John nodded, remarkably calm for a man who had apparently just become a negotiator for the previously unheard and only suspected Spirit of the City of the Ancients. Teyla had to wonder just how much control this Lantea had over his mind. She didn't see what they could do if the city completely controlled John and the other gene bearers, but she was sure that between herself, Ronon, and Rodney they would figure something out if it became necessary. She hoped that it would not. John seemed to be much like normal despite the conversations with the Spirit.
"All the gene bearers who want to get to come live in the city," John said, holding up his fingers and counting off. "She keeps her ZPMs. She says that she'll be willing to start up her ZPM factory to make more for Earth but only if she keeps the ones she's got and gets first pick when they run down. She does have a factory; it's just out of supplies right now. We all go back to Pegasus. They don't strip her of all her weapons and supplies. The gene bearers have their own civilian government and we're not an outpost, we're a colony in Pegasus."
"And John's in charge," Dave added when John stopped.
"No way in hell," protested John. He glared at Dave who laughed. "I never wanted to be the man! Damn it, that's not fair! You can't force me to be the leader."
"She likes you best," Dave insisted as if they were speaking of a mother or grandmother who played favorites among her children. "Therefore, you get to be the leader."
"I don't want to be the boss of everything!" Teyla winced slightly at John's whine. She hoped that Torren would not learn to whine like that from him. It was very annoying.
"This is kind of fun to watch," Ronon murmured to Teyla.
Teyla nodded agreement, trying to control her laughter as John and Dave argued about it the rest of the way to the hotel. She wasn't sure what they meant by 'The Cult of Atlantis' but whatever it was, it couldn't be terribly serious given the way they teased each other about it. It was rather like watching John and Rodney's banter, but without the poorly hidden sexual attraction. Teyla sighed as they arrived. She hoped that Rodney would find his way here soon. She had many questions to ask and he was far better at answers than John was.
Rodney growled and flipped a hand at whoever was trying to distract him from the problem he was working on. Radek's departure early in the week had slowed him down far more than he'd expected. The little Czech was more assistance than Rodney was willing to admit most of the time. Despite the loss, fixing his city was far more important than anything any of those pinheads that kept interrupting him could want. A hand rested on his shoulder and he stiffened, turning to blast the moron with both barrels. He blinked in surprise to find Jennifer looking at him.
"Jennifer, what are you doing here?" Rodney asked. "I thought you were working on getting the medical supplies out."
"I'm trying to talk to you," Jennifer said with just enough edge in her voice to cause Rodney to wince. She was smiling though, so he hoped it might not be too bad. "Any luck getting the showers working?"
"No, no luck," Rodney grumped, glaring at his computer. "No luck at anything. I swear it's as if someone's actively blocking me. Ever since John left, the city has powered down system after system to standby. There's something going on. I know there is! I've checked the computer systems and they're several orders of magnitude more active than they've ever been before. I know it's not us. I think someone must be hacking in, but I can't figure out how."
"Rodney," Jennifer said, her voice taking on that 'stop talking and listen for a minute' tone she used when she was getting annoyed.
"Sorry, what were you going to say?" Rodney asked. He blinked in alarm as she sat in an abandoned chair next to him.
Jennifer hesitated as she settled herself, not meeting his eyes. She looked at his laptop, and then looked at her hands, twisting them together in her lap. She fidgeted with her hair, scuffed her feet for just a second, and then licked her lips as if her mouth had gone dry. Watching her, Rodney felt his mouth go dry in the worst possible way. He had no clue what she was going to say, but he was convinced that he didn't want to hear it.
"Um, you know how I got an offer to work back home at the children's clinic?" Jennifer said, finally raising her chin and meeting Rodney's eyes.
"Yeah…." Rodney tried not to wince. There was too much determination in her expression for even someone as oblivious as him to miss, along with desperation, plus some worry and hope and that strange little look that Sheppard had teasingly called the 'marry me' look.
"Well, I'm taking it," Jennifer said. "I don't think I ever got used to the danger in Pegasus. I know that we were doing important things, Rodney, and I understand just how much this all means to you, but I don't want that life anymore. I want to work somewhere safe, where the patients I see aren't blown apart or fed on by Wraith, and I want a home of my own. I want to settle down somewhere nice so that I can have children. Look, I know that you think you can make this all work again, but nothing's been successful. Don't you think it's time to admit defeat? It's been nearly a week since John left. You've done your best. It's time for you to allow the SGC and IOA to take over."
She took his hand, using her bedside manner to try and reassure him. Rodney was still reeling his way through her little speech, his mind ricocheting from 'she's leaving?' to 'what does she mean kids?' to 'no way in hell am I giving up!' He pulled his hand free, taking a deep breath to attempt to calm himself. This was Jennifer. She'd obviously given this a lot of thought and taken her time before making her choice. He owed her a serious response, not one of his normal sarcastic jibes.
"No," Rodney said, swallowing hard against his own case of dry mouth. "I'm so sorry, Jennifer, but I can't leave. I'll always love you, but this is where I belong. I can't blame you for wanting something more, but this city is already my something more. It's…it's my home and I have to fix it."
"I thought you wanted kids," Jennifer said, looking impossibly hurt. "I thought you wanted to get a Nobel someday. You know you'll never get it here in Atlantis. They're not going to declassify the SGC for years, if ever. All of your best work is secret."
"I know that," Rodney said, heart beating faster. "Jennifer, I do want kids someday, but not yet. Not now. This is more important to me. I…I have to do this. As much as I care about you, I can't abandon my city."
The lights flickered and then brightened in the room, highlighting Jennifer's expression as she looked away. She looked so crushed, so very hurt. Rodney sighed, wishing he could change that, but he couldn't. They didn't want the same things. He wasn't sure that they ever had. Sure, Rodney had always intended to have children someday, possibly with Jennifer. He simply wasn't ready to do it right away. Jennifer sighed, looking at him with that same determination in her eyes.
"I suppose I can understand that," Jennifer said. Sadness filled her voice. "I hope you can understand my choice, Rodney."
"I do," said Rodney, his stomach clenching in that 'I'm about to get dumped' way that he hadn't thought he'd experience again. "Um, does this mean we're…over?"
"Unless you change your mind, I guess so." Jennifer laughed quietly. "I don't think a long-distance relationship across two galaxies would work out very well."
Rodney sighed and nodded. She gave him a hug that left his shoulder wet with tears and then exited his lab, sniffling and wiping her cheeks. Rodney sighed and leaned back into his chair, staring at the ceiling. Yet another part of his life had just fallen apart. He'd lost Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon. He'd lost Radek. He'd lost Jennifer and, no matter what he tried, he was slowly losing Atlantis now.
"I won't give up on you," Rodney said to his empty lab. "I don't care what happens. I won't give up on you, Atlantis. I won't let them destroy you."
The lights flickered again as if the city was responding to him. Rodney frowned, struck as always by his feeling that the city was more aware than anyone would admit. He would have thought that the natural gene bearers would know, but every time he'd asked Sheppard or Carson or Lorne, or any of the others, they'd all looked at him as if he was crazy. It didn't matter. He was certain that the city was aware at some level. Rodney hoped that She liked him. She was the only woman left in his life, if an inanimate collection of alien buildings could be considered a woman.
Rodney turned back to his work, trying to track down exactly what the increased activity in the computer meant. It seemed as if there was some sort of interaction going on with outside sources, but that shouldn't have been possible. He'd almost swear that there were conversations going on, like web cam discussions or emails. There was also an unusual energy signature interacting with his computers, cell phone, PDA, and the radio.
"This is so strange," Rodney muttered. He worked away at tracking the pieces of the puzzle that would let him restore Atlantis and stop the demolition teams that Jack was just barely holding off. He lost track of time as he worked, muttering and eating power bars instead of leaving the lab and losing valuable time.
"Dr. McKay," Woolsey said several days later as he physically pulled Rodney away from his computer. "I'm sorry but it's time for you to leave."
"No!" Rodney protested. He jumped to his feet and nearly passed out as all the blood rushed from his brain. "Whoo, wow. Sorry, little tired there." He shook his head and glared at Woolsey once his head cleared. "You can't make me leave. I'm finally making some progress, Woolsey. I need to stay."
"I'm sorry, Dr. McKay, but I can't allow that," Woolsey said, his face so set that Rodney couldn't read his emotions. "The order to remove you from the city came from the President himself. I'm afraid that you have to leave now." There were Marines behind him, all looking as grimly determined as Woolsey did. Rodney argued logically, and then browbeat them. He tried everything he could but nothing worked. All his experiments were aborted and his computers collected and added to his personal belongings, which had already been packed without his permission.
Woolsey personally escorted Rodney out to the boat where the last of the scientists were being shuffled off of Atlantis. The demolition teams were waiting on the boat for the last scientists to leave. Rodney fussed as his possessions were carried onto the boat, using his temper and a wave of irate words to hide the fact that he was on the verge of tears. Woolsey's face was diplomatically blank, except for the tightness around his eyes and lips, as he forced Rodney up the gangplank. The last box was loaded, and then Woolsey nodded to the demolition teams.
As soon as the leader of the demolition team stepped onto the dock, a horrible noise echoed across the city and through their heads. The marines cried out, clutching their ears, and the demolition leader shouted and jumped back onto the deck. The sound didn't stop until every Marine had abandoned the city, retreating onto the boat. Rodney hadn't realized how few people had remained in the city until he saw that they were able to fit on the deck.
"What was that?" Woolsey demanded. He glared at Rodney.
"I have no idea," Rodney admitted. He stared at the city with his mouth dropped open.
The marines and demolition team tried four more times to enter the city. Every time the result was the same. Atlantis wouldn't allow them to enter; they'd exiled themselves with their stupidity. When they finally had Rodney try, the city rejected him too. Rodney nodded slowly in understanding. The city couldn't risk letting anyone back into her, not if She wanted to stay intact.
"Take me to shore," Rodney demanded, startling Woolsey with his vehemence. "I need to talk to John Sheppard."
Rodney knew Sheppard had the answers to what was going on. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Woolsey said hesitantly. "There are several things you haven't been told and… well, let me take you to the control center the SGC and FBI set up. We've been monitoring Mr. Sheppard and there are several worrying things you should know about before you go talk to him."
"Control center?" Rodney asked. His jaw dropped open. "What worrying things? This is Sheppard we're talking about, Woolsey! What the hell are you talking about?"
John nodded slowly as he watched Rodney's boat pull up to the dock in the bay. It had taken longer than he'd expected. Rodney's devotion to Lantea was all that had prevented the city from evicting the remaining humans the same day John had left. After all, Lantea was just as devoted to Rodney as he was to her, but the day had finally arrived when it wasn't enough. With a smile of relief, John patted the railing that he'd been leaning against and headed back into the hotel.
He waved at Ronon who was teaching a group of men how to fight, just in case they had to fight their way onto Lantea. It wasn't likely, given how She was treating the SGC and military right now, but it was possible. They'd need the skills in Pegasus anyway. Teyla was taking a break from her defense class with a group of young mothers to tell them about Pegasus traditions of childrearing and compare notes on how to take care of various childhood issues. Kanaan was busy learning to cook a variety of Earth foods that he'd become fond of during their time in the hotel. Gene bearers or family members had long since replaced the staff, at least for the duration of the takeover.
"So it's finally happening," said Dave when John walked up. He handed John a black hoodie with 'Leader of the Cult of Atlantis 2009' splashed in sparkly gold across the back. He grinned at John's glare. "Oh come on, you know it's just a joke."
"I know it," John said, making a face as he looked at the damned thing, "you know it, but no one else knows it. Don't you think we've got enough surveillance watching us, Dave?"
"Yeah, yeah," Dave said, completely unrepentant. "It's part of the uniform. I would have thought you of all people understood the need for uniforms, John. We might as well give them what they expect. They're not likely to listen to us either way."
Dave laughed and ducked as John swung at him, even though John wasn't aiming to hit. It was strange being so open with his brother after they'd been so distant for years. No matter how crazy everything got with Lantea and the SGC, at least he'd gotten his brother back. It was one benefit of this whole mess. If he could get Rodney back and keep Her from destroying the Earth, then he'd be doing really good.
John grumbled as he put the hoodie on, making sure that the hood hid most of the word 'Leader'. He didn't mind the rest of the hoodies on display around him. It was just slapping that 'Leader' onto his that made John want to cringe. It didn't help that Lantea purred in the back of his mind, all but singing to his 'disciples.'
John headed back out to his post, grateful for the covered walkway that kept him from the worst of the weather. It was starting to rain, though it was more of a mist filtering down from the sky or a heavy fog. With the light breeze that had started up, John knew he was going to get soaked if he stayed out too long, but he didn't care. He needed the privacy to brood a bit.
Lantea pointed out the place where the exceedingly bored sniper had moved to so he adjusted his position so that the man couldn't get a clear shot. Ronon and Dave would both strangle him if he took too much of a risk just because he was brooding. It wasn't as though the sniper had permission to shoot. Lantea would block his radio from receiving it even if he did get it. Still, it was better not to take the risk.
Jack was back in DC, his absence granting plausible deniability for the whole mess that was about to occur. John was glad that he'd finally agreed to make the trip. He'd been afraid that Jack would be in the control center when Rodney showed up at the hotel. Given that they were taking him to the control center the FBI had set up to spy on the Cult of Atlantis, he'd probably show up with hidden microphones taped to his body.
How Jack would explain that he'd been able to hear Lantea and hadn't told anyone, John didn't know, not that it mattered. Lantea had been curtailing Jack's access to her systems ever since he'd decided that he was staying on Earth. To her, if he wasn't coming along then he wasn't really one of her children, and thus didn't get anything more than the most basic access to her systems.
*Still tracking Rodney?* John asked Lantea.
**Yes,** Lantea purred. **I've already interfaced with all the Earth electronics in the city. In another thirty-six hours, I will have access to all computers on Earth and I will be able to ensure that they allow my children to come home.**
*Please don't do anything violent,* John begged. His stomach clenched at the thought of Lantea shutting down the power across San Francisco or setting off nuclear bombs or something worse.
**I shall not hurt them,** Lantea crooned to him. **I do not think that it will be necessary. Once Rodney is on our side, it will be fine. He will make sure that the others submit to what is needed, especially once he understands that I can make him all the ZPMs that he wants.**
*I know,* John said, shaking his head. *All right, let me know when he gets close. I want the others to be able to welcome him properly. Is Jennifer coming with him?*
**No, they are no longer together,** Lantea said. **They finally admitted to each other that they do not want the same things. Jennifer will stay on Earth. Rodney will come with us.**
John winced, not sure if that made his nerves better or worse. Sure, he was glad that Rodney wasn't going to be stuck with a relationship that clearly wasn't good for either party, but that meant that John had additional incentive to reveal his sexuality. Not only did John not have to hide from the military anymore, but also Rodney was going to meet his brother, who'd already warned him that if John didn't tell Rodney, Dave would. Of course, so had most of the other gene bearers, as well as Teyla and Ronon. Even Kanaan had made a comment about John's reluctance to pursue what he so obviously desired.
It took about two hours for Rodney to show up at the hotel entrance. He'd had to argue his way through the SGC, the Marines and the FBI who had been monitoring the brand-new 'cult'. They fitted him with a wire for sound and a little camera that would let them see whatever Rodney was looking at. John had been able to hear the setup through Lantea's link to Rodney's cell phone. It had been kind of amusing listening to how careful and secretive they'd thought they were. He smiled as Ronon showed up, pulling him back towards the building and away from the misty view.
"Think it's going to be okay?" Ronon asked.
"Oh yeah," John said, nodding. "Just hope they don't pull out more snipers on us."
"Already did according to your brother," Ronon said, nodding to a building across the way. "Don't go any further out there than here."
"I will," John said with a tired sigh. Another good brooding spot destroyed by this mess. "Thanks."
Lantea winced in the back of his head at John's burst of anger at her. He didn't necessarily blame Her for failing to inform him, but he would rather know that the new sniper had been called in. He didn't think that they'd hurt him as long as he didn't do anything to harm Rodney. Since there was no way he'd hurt Rodney, it should be all right.
John shivered in the misty rain and clutched the railing. He should go back inside to meet Rodney but instead he stayed there, staring through the trees and bushes towards the invisible city that held his heart. It should be all right though. It was Rodney. He'd make things work out. He loved Lantea as much as John did.
"So you joining that 'cult' game or what?" the cabbie asked as he drove up to the hotel.
"What?" Rodney snapped, more than a little horrified that everyone seemed to know about the depths to which Sheppard had sunk. He'd spent the last two hours arguing with the SGC and FBI that it couldn't be true, and it appeared that random cabbies knew more than Rodney had.
"Oh, you didn't know?" the cabbie said, surprised. "Yeah, there's some sort of live-action role play game thing going on at the Inn. Nice people in my opinion. Looks like they're having a blast with this 'Atlantis' thing. All sorts of stuff in their game, invisible city in the bay, vampires from outer space, snakes in your head that can make you super-powered for good or evil. It's really cool when you think about it. Someone obviously put a lot of work into it. I bought one of the T-shirts a couple of days ago. Nice design, good fabric. Got a good deal on it, too."
Rodney tried not to sputter in reaction, at least until his brain caught up with what the cabbie was telling him. Once he had a few seconds to process, he decided it was the most brilliant thing he'd heard of in a while. Why hide something that sensitive when you could make it seem like nothing more than fiction? They could talk about it openly with others around and everyone would just put it down to 'the game.'
"No, I'm visiting a friend," Rodney said as they pulled up. "I'm certainly not a part of their 'game.'"
"Pity," the cabbie said, quoting Rodney an obnoxious price for his fifteen-minute drive. "Looks like fun to me."
Rodney stared at the Hamilton Inn, wondering what exactly he'd find when he went in. He discreetly caressed the microphone taped to his side, and then tugged at his jacket before heading in out of the misty rain that threatened to dampen his hair. Teyla was waiting in the lobby for him. Her smile was serene as he walked over to meet her.
"It is good to see you again, Rodney," Teyla said, gently taking his arms and touching her forehead against his in the Athosian greeting. "I have missed you during our time away."
"I missed you too," said Rodney honestly. When he'd thought about it, the fact that he regretted Sheppard and his team's absence more than Jennifer's had been just another indicator as to his true feelings about her. "Is Sheppard around? I needed to talk to him about something."
"I believe he is in his brooding spot," Teyla said. She sighed as if aggrieved. "If you follow this hallway to the end and then go outside, you will find a covered walkway between buildings. It overlooks the garden and the bay. He has taken to standing there for hours on end, staring back at Atlantis as if he can still see it."
"Lovely," Rodney growled, shaking his shoulders a little against the dampness he knew was going to soak in before he could coax Sheppard inside for a nice big cup of coffee. "I'll try and get him out of the weather. I swear, sometimes that man doesn't know when to come in out of the rain, literally."
Teyla laughed, her eyes crinkling up with amusement. She nodded, patted Rodney's shoulder and headed down a different hallway towards the faint sound of children playing. Rodney followed her instructions, freaking out more and more each time another stranger walked up and welcomed Rodney by name. The fact that they were all wearing one version or another of the 'Cult of Atlantis' shirts didn't help.
When Rodney stepped outside, he saw Sheppard standing in, or very nearly in, the rain. He was underneath the covered walkway and just out of sight from other buildings but with the faint breeze, the misty rain was drifting down and soaking him. Despite wearing his version of the expected 'Cult' shirt, a warm black hoodie with bright gold lettering and an outline of Atlantis on the back, Sheppard looked chilled as Rodney walked over and stood next to him.
"Hey," Sheppard said, bumping his shoulder gently against Rodney's. He smiled his normal smile and continued looking out over the bay. There was no sign of Atlantis; not that you could see across the bay through the rain anyway.
"Hey to you too," Rodney said, grinning in spite of himself. He waved a hand at the shirt. "So what's with this cult thing?"
"It was a joke!" Sheppard whined, suddenly animated as if he'd been teased beyond his endurance on the point. "I made one snide little comment, and suddenly everyone and their dog thought it was the greatest idea ever! It's not my fault! My darn brother thinks it's the funniest thing ever."
Rodney started laughing in spite of himself. Sheppard's outrage at being the source of a cult was too funny for him to ignore, especially after all the battles with Atlantis, losing Jennifer, and dealing with the idiotic FBI agents who'd gone on and on about how it was a real cult. Rodney grinned at him. His laughter eventually slowed to a chuckle that made Sheppard blush and rub the back of his neck.
"It wouldn't be so bad if they didn't keep sticking me with these stupid Leader shirts," Sheppard complained, shifting the hood so that Rodney could see the extra sparkly paint and swirly text they'd used for 'Leader'. He groaned as Rodney cracked up again. "Fine. Be that way. Laugh at me, treat me like a joke."
"Damn, I think I needed that," Rodney wheezed a minute or so later once the laughter had turned to coughing and he'd ended up in tears. "The last month has sucked."
"I did try to tell you," Sheppard said, quietly apologetic. "She won't let anyone stay if the gene bearers can't live there."
Rodney froze and turned to stare at Sheppard, seeing something in his eyes that Rodney had only seen a couple of times before. John was standing in front of him, not Colonel Sheppard. It was the man who'd taken care of Rodney when he'd lost himself in the Second Childhood, who sometimes peeked out when they'd had a few too many beers on the pier. John, emotions naked on his face in a way that Rodney had never before witnessed without alcohol, drugs, or strange alien rituals available to release them.
"Who is this 'She'?" asked Rodney, his voice so quiet that he wasn't sure that the microphone would pick it up.
"The city, Atlantis," John said, waving out at the bay to the city they couldn't have seen even if the mist wasn't hiding everything. "She calls herself Lantea. She woke up when you guys gave her three ZPMs. She wants all the gene bearers to come live in Atlantis and won't let anyone else live there until we do."
"And…you hear her?" asked Rodney, caution making his voice suspicious while his mind ticked over all the strange activity in the computer. He could see it. An AI waking up in the computer core would explain a large portion of the activity he hadn't been able to account for.
"We all do," John confirmed, turning and leaning against the railing again. "Every natural gene bearer hears her, though some of us more strongly than others. My brother Dave and I hear her really clearly; Jack barely at all. He's refusing to go when Lantea goes back to Pegasus so She's cut him off."
John's hair dripped water down his face, but he didn't seem to notice. Now that Rodney looked, he realized that John was soaked through. He had to have been standing outside for hours. Rodney frowned, grabbing John's elbow despite the quiet squawk from his hidden earpiece. John stared at him, confused.
"You're soaked, you idiot," Rodney said, glaring at him. "How long have you been out here? What are you trying to do, kill yourself with pneumonia?"
Rodney grumbled a steady litany of complaints as he hauled John in out of the rain and to the lobby where a young woman handed John a towel along with a grin. John huffed but took it, toweled off his hair, and then groaned as another man with the exact opposite of John's messy hair showed up with a dry version of the 'Leader' hoodie. It was only the way that John took the hoodie that hinted to Rodney that they must be brothers. He'd used the same move with Jeannie far too many times.
"Thanks, Dave," John grumbled as he pulled the dry hoodie on.
"Thanks for hauling him inside," the man, who had to be Dave, said with a grin. "He's been moping long enough."
"I wasn't moping," John protested in an utterly failed attempt at dignity. "I was thinking."
"In the rain for three hours?" Dave drawled. He raised an eyebrow at John. "Please. No one buys that one. The cook's made lunch for you two, with no citrus of course, Rodney. It's just being set out in the dining room. Go ahead and eat."
"Thanks," John sighed as he passed Dave his wet hoodie and towel.
Dave smacked John with the towel, rolling his eyes as he walked away from the two men. John led the way into the dining room. Rodney followed cautiously, made nervous by the chatter coming through his hidden earpiece. He instantly noticed that everyone inside was wearing the shirts and looked at John as if they really did consider him their leader. Once again, everyone seemed to recognize Rodney, although he couldn't claim the same.
Their table was in a quiet corner of the room, which let Rodney look out over a sea of 'cult' shirts. The people wearing them (including the wait staff that gave them coffee and food) seemed very normal. The dining room looked almost ordinary until Rodney listened to the conversations going on around him. Half of the others were talking aloud to 'Lantea' and apparently hearing her replies. The other half were planning what they'd fix after they had access to the city. Even from eavesdropped snippets of conversations they had far more technical knowledge that anyone outside of the SGC should have.
"This is real," Rodney breathed as he sipped at his coffee.
"Yeah." John shrugged one of his shoulders while playing with his coffee.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me?" Rodney demanded.
"Oh gee, Rodney," John retorted in a singsong voice. There was a sick certainty in his eyes that made Rodney wince. "I think I might be hearing Atlantis in my head. Do you think that it's normal or am I finally going crazy from the stress of being in another galaxy fighting space vampires and self-replicating robots while pretending that I'm not as queer as a three-dollar bill?"
Rodney winced, nodding. It made sense. If he had been the one hearing the city in his head, he wouldn't have admitted it to anyone, not even John. He sipped his coffee again, and then slammed it down abruptly as he sprayed coffee across the table. He coughed around the gasp of surprise. John wordlessly offered a napkin to wipe off his face and now-ruined tie.
"You're gay?" Rodney exploded. His voice came out far too harsh from coffee going down the wrong pipe.
"Yeah." John shrugged again. His eyes appeared haunted as he looked away. "Sorry, but with the whole DADT thing I couldn't say anything."
"And all the girls you flirted with? Your ex-wife? What were they?"
"Something safe to pass the time, I guess," John said as he waved one hand idly, stirring his coffee with the other hand. "Never meant all that much to me. It's just…I made my choice when I joined the military. I knew I couldn't have that, so I decided not to worry about it. Worked for the most part. Nancy was never as serious for me as it was for her. I loved her, don't get me wrong, but I never blamed her for divorcing me."
Rodney shook his head as the hidden earpiece filled his ear with cursing and two idiots congratulating each other on winning a bet. Sam's voice cut them off. It went silent again, thankfully. Rodney wasn't sure that he could keep track of their moronic commentary at the same time as he had to listen to John overturn almost everything he thought he'd known about his friend.
"That's irrelevant," Rodney snapped. He waved the whole discussion off to be addressed later. "And don't give me that look! There's a much more important problem. If you can talk to the city, you can help us save Atlantis. They're bringing in demolition teams, John. You have to do something!"
"Already did," John said. He sipped his coffee calmly enough but his eyes looked a little hurt at the casual dismissal of his sexuality.
"What?" Rodney demanded, flailing his arms and nearly hitting one of the waitresses as she walked by.
"I got us out safely," John said, shrugging. "We're all here, except for Jack who wants to stay on Earth. She's locked down. The demolition teams won't get back in. If they try hearing protection, She'll just up it to electric shocks. If they try after that, then She'll turn the force field on and not let them anywhere close to her docks."
"They'll find a way," Rodney said with complete conviction in the idiocy of the people in charge. "You know as well as I do that they will."
John shook his head far too calmly for the gravity of the situation. Rodney bristled at him. He wondered what else John had kept hidden but he wasn't going to ask. John smirked at Rodney's outthrust jaw. He closed his eyes for a second, as if waiting for something. Rodney wasn't sure what, and then he started as his cell phone buzzed. He snatched it out to stare at the screen, but all it said was 'unknown number.'
"What the hell?" Rodney whispered, opening the phone carefully and putting it to his ear. "Hello?"
"Hello, Rodney," a prissy woman's voice replied. "I do wish that Carson had listened more closely to my instructions when he created the initial gene therapy. It's such a bother to have to use this roundabout method of communication. This would have been so much simpler if you could have heard me directly. I still shudder when I think about that explosive tumor machine. If only your scientists had been able to hear me, I would have told them to leave it alone and no one would have been hurt."
"Lantea?" Rodney asked, his heart pounding in his chest. John watched him calmly, as did every single person in the room. All of their eyes had that eerie 'I know more than you do' sort of way that Rodney had always associated with fanatics and cults.
"Of course," Lantea said. "I thought it best to make it clear that if my children are not returned to me, I will be forced to take actions against Earth's primary governments. Your technology is quite simple, so it's been very easy to infiltrate. I anticipate that I shall have complete control on Earth within thirty-three hours."
Rodney's jaw dropped open. John nodded solemnly, set his mug of coffee down and shut his eyes again. There was a tiny burst of static, and then John's voice came over the cell phone. Rodney whimpered. John's lips weren't moving. His throat wasn't moving. There was no way that he was speaking, but he could hear John over his cell phone.
"It's real, buddy," John said sadly. "I'm really sorry that I never told you, but it's all happening just as She said. The Ancients didn't wake Her when they took back the city. They didn't want Her fully awake. That didn't happen until She had three ZPMs. Now that She's awake there's no going back. There's so much that She could do, if they just give Her what She wants: all the gene bearers back on Atlantis."
"Holy shit," Rodney breathed. He slowly shut the phone. "She's really taking over the world?"
"Already has most of it," John said aloud. His mouth twisted in a wry expression that was anything but a smile. "I really tried to stop her calling everyone here and taking over the computers. I'm still arguing with her about the nuclear missiles. She really doesn't want that much from Earth. Just us."
"Okay, okay, okay," said Rodney. He took a deep breath and let it out explosively. "Tell me exactly what Lantea wants and exactly what's going to happen if She doesn't get it."
Sam cursed under her breath as McKay and Sheppard talked over the insane demands that Sheppard had dreamed up. There was no way that the IOA and SGC were going to agree. They weren't going to allow civilians, especially children, onto a military outpost, especially not one so important or dangerous. They couldn't let the group keep the ZPM's, not if Earth was going to fight off the Wraith. The city-ship wasn't in any condition to go back to Pegasus, not with all the unpredictable shutdowns that had been happening. There was absolutely no way that they'd be allowed to govern themselves.
"Does he really think that this will work?" Woolsey asked Sam very quietly.
"I don't know," Sam said equally quietly. "I wouldn't have thought that Sheppard would do any of this. They can't really believe that we'll buy this… this fantasy of an AI in Atlantis."
"There were some…odd incidents during my time on Atlantis," Woolsey said. He looked incredibly uncomfortable. "Things for which I couldn't find a rational explanation."
Sam opened her mouth to demand that he stop being ridiculous and then shut it as several strange incidents during her own tenure in the city came to mind. She'd written them off as accidents or improper usage of alien technology, but perhaps she should have taken them more seriously at the time. From the look on Woolsey's face, he must have had more of those odd occurrences than she'd had.
"You think this is real," Sam breathed. "You think the city is sentient."
"I think that we might want to entertain the possibility," Woolsey admitted with a grimace and uncomfortable shrug. "At the very least, that cell phone call might be quite revealing."
Sam nodded and got to work on the analysis. The FBI helped her, quickly determining that the signal hadn't been routed through Atlantis from somewhere else. It had originated in Atlantis. Considering that there were no humans there at all, the discovery sent shivers up Sam's spine. Rodney showed up about that time, looking nearly as rattled as Sam felt, though it hadn't dimmed his blustering.
"I hope you idiots got all that," Rodney said as he charged into the room. "Please tell me you found a relay and that call didn't come from the city. Tell me that you picked up John doing something!"
"Actually, no," Sam said. She stepped aside, granting Rodney access to the computer she'd been working on.
He took it as if it belonged to him and confirmed her findings. He then confirmed the findings four different ways through four different systems, at the end looking as if he wanted to tear his hair out by the roots. Sam couldn't help but feel sympathy for him. She wanted to go hide in her lab rather than deal with the ramifications.
"How can this be real?" Rodney demanded of everyone and no one because he didn't wait for anyone to answer his question. "I know I was finding a lot of unusual computer activity that could be explained by an AI communicating with approximately five hundred people, but the entire situation is impossible. How could I have missed something this big for five years?"
"That's easy, buddy," the computer said in John's voice, making them all start and stare as if it was going to explode. "She wasn't awake until you give her the ZPMs, then She was way more concerned with stopping the Wraith than anything else. Not your fault."
"You can hear us?" Sam demanded. She leaned over McKay's shoulder to glare at the web cam built into the laptop.
"Yeah," John said with a sigh. "And I knew about the sniper and the bugs that Rodney was wearing, Sam, not to mention the team the FBI's putting together to try breaking us up. Seriously, you guys need to accept that this is real. She's getting pissed off because you're threatening her children and pretty soon She's going to start causing blackouts and messing with the computer systems in San Francisco."
Sam's breath caught and she glared at the FBI representative. She should have been informed before they made any decisions on countermeasures. Rodney squeaked furiously, spluttering something incoherent and full of rage at the FBI representative. He started tapping at the computer's keys, checking on something.
"I am the ranking officer," Sam said, glaring at him. "I should have been the one to make that call. Is that allegation true?"
"Ah, yes ma'am," the man said. He looked both pissed off and highly freaked out. "I don't know how he knew, it's not possible. The preparations are taking place outside of Oakland."
"Gimme a break," John drawled over the computer. "It's an alien supercomputer AI. How would you know what She's capable of?"
"Can you stop her?" Sam asked John with a glare at the FBI contact that made him wince.
"Sometimes," John said uncomfortably. "Not often though. She's definitely got a mind of her own, Sam. She's perfectly compliant when She's got gene bearers around, but all bets are off if we're out of the city. She gets…twitchy…is the word for it, I guess. She can feel us wherever we are, and She wants us there. There's a lot we can do to stop Lantea when we're all together, but so far She's bound and determined to get the one thing She wants—all of us under her protection in the city."
"All right," Sam said. She squared her shoulders. "I'll deal with the FBI. John, you have to keep the AI from causing trouble. Can you do that?"
"Doing my best," John said in the same tone of voice that he'd said that he'd fly a nuke into the heart of a Wraith ship and detonate it while still there. "I don't think I can hold Her off for long, but I'll try. You've probably got a day or so left at best. Sam?"
"Yes?" Sam asked while wondering what else could go wrong.
"Check your long-range scans," John said. His voice was strangely grim. "I'm picking up something strange on her scanners but without being there I can't pin it down. Scanners are one of the few systems that you need to actually be there for."
"All right," Sam said, frowning. "We'll check it out. Let me know if you need anything."
"Someone else to be stuck with the job of 'Leader'?" John quipped. Rodney snorted and Sam grinned in spite of the situation. "This really sucks. I was looking forward to kicking back and letting someone else do the hard work for a change, but no deal. If you need anything from me, just speak up. Lantea will make sure I get the message."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Sam whispered. She only hoped it was quiet enough that John couldn't hear her.
She turned the FBI agent. Stopping their raid before it could begin took a bit of yelling and invoking her authority and reputation as a person who had saved the world several times over. She informed Jack, who sighed over the phone and reminded her to be careful. It's only after he hung up that Sam remembered that Jack was one of 'them', one of the gene bearers. She almost dialed back and demanded that he confirm it all but she let the phone stay on the hook. She couldn't put him in that sort of position.
"What do our scanners say?" Sam asked as she strode into the control center where Rodney was still tapping away at the laptop and muttering to himself.
"We've got three large ships inbound," the SGC tech said. His eyes were too wide and afraid. "Um, ma'am, they look like Wraith hive ships, but they're too far out for us to be sure."
"Oh hell, how long until they arrive?" Sam asked. She stared over his shoulder at the data on his screen.
"About a week at most," the tech said, swallowing audibly. "Maybe as little as a couple of days, depending on if they're super ships or just normal ones. They're too far away to be sure at this point."
"It looks like the super Hive must have notified its allies before it left Pegasus," Rodney said from behind her.
Sam stood up and found Rodney glaring at her. Woolsey was watching her warily, as if expecting her to do something radical and stupid. She looked around and found that everyone was watching her, waiting for her order. She had a wild irrational moment where she wished that she'd never joined the SGC, that she was still just a captain, that she was just a scientist. She wished for General Hammond, for Jack, for anyone but her to take charge, and spared a sympathetic thought for John Sheppard caught between the IOA and an apparently self-aware and mildly crazy alien city.
"All right," Sam said. She let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Send a team to try and get back on Atlantis. We need to see what happens before we do anything precipitous. Someone has to get in touch with Sheppard right away. That's your job, Rodney. Woolsey, contact the IOA and let them know what's going on. I'll make a call to the President. Move everyone!"
They scrambled and Sam didn't allow herself to sigh in relief that they didn't see how worried she was. She didn't like being in charge during times like this, but it was temporary. She'd fill the void until Jack and the President chose someone new to take over the SGC. It certainly wasn't going to be her. She already knew that it wasn't what she wanted.
"Everyone," John said both vocally and telepathically, "We've got Wraith inbound. Gather your things, we're moving out."
The others started moving. They were a mixture of calm, excited, and nervous, but no one seemed to be afraid. Jack was already on his way back from DC, having heard of the Wraith's presence through Lantea. John found Teyla with Torren and Kanaan in the playroom, telling them it was time to pack.
"We never unpacked," said Teyla. Her eyes sparkled as she smiled smugly at him. "We always knew that you would bring us home quickly, John."
John blushed and ducked his head, then disappeared to find Ronon, who was already packing his things. Dave had informed him along with Radek. Radek and Ronon both seemed excited to get back to Atlantis. John still wasn't sure how the scientist had known what was going on. Radek had said that it was 'an elementary deduction based on clues at hand' but John thought that only said that Radek had a secret fascination with Sherlock Holmes and a habit of teasing people. He'd refused to explain to anyone how he'd figured it out for real. John suspected a leak from Lorne's direction but wasn't going to push it. Apparently, Radek hadn't said anything about Lantea because no one else had. In less than two hours, everyone was waiting calmly on the dock for the SGC, knowing it wouldn't take long for the government to arrive.
They were right. It didn't take long at all. Sam drove up with Woolsey about ten minutes after the last busload of gene bearers had arrived at the dock. They pushed their way through the crowd to John's side. He slouched against the rail and smirked at the two of them. Sam looked as though the day had been one of the worst that she'd ever lived through. Woolsey looked spooked. Rodney was nowhere to be seen, but Lantea showed him to John, sitting in a second car, haranguing the driver to hurry up and get there already, so it wouldn't be long. Lantea started adjusting the streetlights to make sure he arrived sooner. John sighed. He really wished that She wouldn't play favorites that way.
"What are you doing here?" Woolsey demanded before Sam could open her mouth.
"The Wraith are coming," John said with a little shrug, as if that was enough explanation. As far as he was concerned, it was. "We're going to need to get to work fast if we're going to fix Lantea in time."
"We haven't received official approval for this," Woolsey said, his voice full of urgency as he waved at the other gene bearers watching them quietly. "They can't be allowed on Atlantis."
"If you don't want the Wraith to start feeding on people in Peoria," John said as he glared at Woolsey, "then you let us on that boat and you take us out to Atlantis now, Woolsey. Believe me; I know this entire situation is insane. You're not the one with a sentient city yammering away in the back of your head. The thing is, you don't really have a choice. I know your latest attempt to get back inside Lantea failed. You need Her up and running to defend Earth against the Wraith ships that are coming in. My people can do that. We can fix Her, we can run Her and, best of all, we can get Her the hell off Earth so that She doesn't get bored and do something stupid to the world. Now get on the phone with the IOA and the President and get us in there. Earth doesn't have forever."
"There are children, Mr. Sheppard," Woolsey said, surprisingly angry. "You can't take them into a place that dangerous, into a war zone."
John raised an eyebrow and then laughed as one of the gene bearer kids came over, tugged on Woolsey's jacket and then kicked him in the shin when he looked down. Woolsey yelped, staring at her in shock. Sam looked just as surprised.
"Stop being mean," Amy said, glaring up at them. "Why are you being stupid? Lantea wants us and She's all you've got to defend my friends!"
"They're part of it," John said, his voice cutting off both Amy and Woolsey. "They're gene bearers, Woolsey. They have to go along because their parents are going, because Lantea won't rest until we're all there. You can't change that and you can't argue your way around it. She won't let you. We belong on Atlantis. Atlantis belongs in Pegasus."
Sam and Woolsey exchanged glances as Rodney charged through the crowd of waiting gene bearers. Unlike for Sam and Woolsey, they readily gave way for Rodney, clearing a path. That said a lot to John about the respect that each of them had earned. It only took about three minutes of John, the other gene bearers' quiet calm, and Rodney's loud protests for Sam to give in to the demands. Woolsey wasn't pleased, but he went along as they took the first boat out to Atlantis. Lantea sang in the back of the gene bearers' minds, nearly driving out all other thoughts for John. The others looked a little glazed too, so She must have been loud for everyone.
"This isn't going to succeed," Woolsey warned as they approached the dock. "Nothing we've tried has worked."
"It'll be fine," John said, helping dock the boat and run out the gangplank. "You worry too much, Woolsey." He walked down the gangplank and onto the pier. Nothing happened beyond Lantea purring in his head. The others poured down the gangplank behind John and headed into the city, already knowing exactly where to go. Lantea showed them, with John guiding them where needed. Woolsey and Rodney stared in surprise. John smirked at them, raising an eyebrow.
"Better get going back to shore," John said. "You've got quite a few runs to make to get everyone over here."
Rodney squawked and hurried down the gangplank and towards the city, muttering about preventing people from hurting his city. Woolsey sighed, took off his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose as if to fight a headache. He shook his head after he put his glasses back on, and then nodded to the captain of the boat to head back to shore, disembarking before it left.
"How is all this going to work?" Woolsey asked, studying John.
"Triumvirate probably," John said with a shrug. "Military leader, not me, SGC scientist leader, also not me, and gene bearer leader, which I really don't want to be me but I can't seem to escape. I have no clue as to who will be making the final decisions, other than it won't be me. I'm not going to be the king of Atlantis, no matter what Lantea or anyone else says. I refuse."
Woolsey's lips twitched at John's vehement abdication. He looked better than he had for a while when he patted John's shoulder. They headed into the city together, John focused half on where he was going and half on getting everyone on shore divvied up into the correct teams. It didn't take much. Everyone already knew what he or she had to do. It was just a matter of getting it done and minimizing the interference from the SGC and military.
Everywhere Rodney visited over the next sixteen or so hours, there were teams of gene bearers fixing things that his scientists had tried but had been unable to fix for the last five years. Watching civilians easily fix problems that the SGC's best scientists had been unable to figure out, much less begin resolving, was a decidedly surreal experience. Rodney wasn't sure if his brain was going to be able to deal with a twelve-year-old girl telling him what was wrong with how he'd jury-rigged something and then fixing it so that it ran better than any solution he'd been able to come up with.
The computers were up and running as soon as John stepped on the dock, much to Rodney's dismay. All the problems with the plumbing disappeared within an hour, while the electrical system took all of three hours. Scanners, weapons, hydroponics, labs, everything that the gene bearers touched suddenly started working, and worked better than it ever had before.
Rodney ran around with Radek trying to keep abreast of everything. They failed. There was just too much going on in too many places. Rodney finally decided he had to track down John, since he appeared to be their focal point. By that point, Rodney had been going for something over thirty hours straight, having lost track of sleep during his efforts to figure out what the computer signatures meant but, once Rodney found him, John looked at least twice as exhausted as Rodney felt.
John was in the gate room, swaying as he leaned against one of the control panels. Sam and
Woolsey were there, watching John with something very close to shock and awe in their eyes as he appeared to hold at least three conversations at once. Rodney frowned, not liking the almost grey tone to his skin or the way he had to hold onto something to stay vertical.
"That's good. Yeah, keep working on the wave generator for now. It won't work in space, but once we land in Pegasus it'll help. No, we don't want that many potatoes. Plant a row of squash and a bunch of grain instead," John said, nodding to Amelia as she worked with the scanners with him leaning over her shoulder. "See, if you do that instead it works better."
"Wow, that's a lot more clear," Amelia breathed. Her eyes went wide as the scanners showed them about four times as much information on the incoming Wraith ship than they had shown before.
"Thank goodness," Sam breathed, staring at the scanner. "They don't appear to be super ships."
"No, not super ships but still carriers," John said. He nodded to no one that Rodney could see. "Yeah, that's great, Evan. Keep that up. Yes, I know that, Lantea. We'll get to it in about two hours. Quit being such a bitch."
Rodney stomped over and stood directly in front of John, whose eyes appeared glazed. Rodney growled, grabbing one of John's wrists and checking his pulse. It was racing. Rodney could feel the way he was trembling with exhaustion.
"Hey!" snapped Rodney, glaring as John's eyes suddenly focused on him. "How long has it been since you slept? Ate? Bathed for heaven's sake?"
"Um…I'm not sure," admitted John. His expression said that he knew very well how long it had been and that he knew that he was in trouble.
"Call one of your 'followers' up here to take over," Rodney demanded. "You are going to get something to eat and you're going to sleep."
"But…." John stopped before he'd started protesting. He winced at something that Rodney wasn't aware of, or that Rodney couldn't hear, through his mock-telepathic link to the city and the other gene bearers.
"Don't start!" Rodney snapped. He gave John's wrist a shake to bring him back to reality. He had to grab John's arms when he swayed and nearly collapsed. "You're exhausted. You're eating and then getting some sleep. Call someone!"
Lorne and Dave showed up right then, both looking concerned. Dave sighed, smacking John across the back of the head so lightly that it barely ruffled his impossible hair. John almost fell over. In contrast, Lorne looked guilty but quite well rested. Sam spluttered, gesturing at Rodney and John.
"He's our interface with the AI," Sam protested.
"They're all interfaces," Rodney snarled at her as he dragged John out of the room. "Every single gene bearer can do what he was doing. Stop abusing John. His brother's nearly as strong as he is."
"Hey, don't tell them that," Dave protested. "I don't want them landing on me, too!"
"Deal with it!" shouted Rodney, already out of the room and dragging John by his wrist towards the cafeteria for food.
It felt like every single one of the gene bearers was watching Rodney and John as they headed to the cafeteria. None of them stopped the pair, but quite a few murmured something to John that he just nodded blurrily at as he passed by. He clearly wasn't tracking properly and Rodney had no idea how he'd managed to stay vertical for so long. At least Rodney had his hypoglycemia to keep him from working too long and not eating. His body forced him to stop and rest. John didn't have that advantage.
Rodney seated John at one of the tables, and then got two trays full of food. He nearly had to feed John by hand at first but, after a couple of bites, John appeared to wake up enough to realize that he was starving. He wolfed his food down after that, eating with silent intensity. Rodney watched and waited. He'd been that exhausted before and he knew that it was highly unlikely that John would make it all the way through the pile of food that he'd gotten for him. Just as John finished the mashed potatoes and gravy and moved onto the salad his head drooped. Rodney was there, catching him so that he didn't face-plant in his tray.
"Come on," Rodney said, grabbing one of John's arms and hauling it up and over his shoulder. "Bedtime for little cult leaders."
"'M not a cult leader," John growled. He managed to sound offended despite being nearly asleep.
"Your shirt claims that you are," Rodney said with a grin at John's huffiness. "Come on. Up. Let's go. Coordinate those legs, Sheppard. I'm not Ronon and I won't carry you to bed."
"I will," Ronon said. He startled Rodney by appearing apparently from nowhere. "I'll get him to bed. Thanks, McKay."
"Well finally," Rodney said as he gave John over to Ronon's probably nonexistent mercies. "Post a guard at his door or something so that he actually sleeps for about eighteen hours."
Ronon grinned and nodded as he grabbed John and threw him over his shoulder. John moaned but didn't fight it, which Rodney thought said something about how tired he was. He sighed, sat down again and smiled as one of the kids that had been fixing his city came over to carry John's tray off to be disposed of.
He'd just begun on his salad when Carson appeared, looking almost as tired as John. He still looked coherent, however. He sat in John's abandoned spot, sighing and rubbing his face before starting to eat. The way he lifted his fork as if it weighed a million pounds made Rodney frown. He couldn't help but worry that all of his friends were being worked into the ground. It felt strange to be the one concerned about other people working themselves to death. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling as he joined the ranks of those who'd watched him do it to himself for five years. Rodney didn't think that he'd change his ways, but he hoped that the experience would give him a little more patience when others dragged him away from his work to take care of his body's needs.
"You getting things worked out in the medical bay?" Rodney eventually asked around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
"Please swallow first, laddie," Carson said, giving him a pained look. "Aye, we are. Tis much faster now tha' we can jus' follow Lantea's instructions bu' there's nae much time before the Wraith get here. So much to get done."
Carson paused with his fork halfway into his mouth. His eyes glazed over slightly and then he winced, setting the forkful of food down uneaten. He nodded, rolled his eyes, nodded again, made a 'get on with it gesture' with one hand, put his chin on one fist and sighed. Rodney watched, amused as he finished off his food and picked up his pudding cup.
"Aye, lassie," Carson muttered. "I'll tell him if you'll let me get a word in edgewise once in a while."
Rodney snickered around his pudding. He glanced at the other gene bearers in the cafeteria. Some of them looked to be listening to Lantea and others didn't, making him suddenly very curious about the AI's capacity to multi-task. How much could Lantea do at once? Was there a limit? Did speaking to many people at once while running the city affect her power consumption and what exactly did She need to make more Zed-PMs if she was using power more rapidly?
"Fine," Carson said as he waved at nothing or perhaps at Lantea to hush. "Rodney, Lantea wants you to know that I've come up wi' a better version of the gene therapy wi' her help. If you have it, you'll be able to hear her, which should prevent some problems. O' course I wouldnae blame you if you chose not to. She's terribly gabby an' quite pushy since She woke up. I swear I have nae had a moment's peace in my own head since She started talkin'."
"Really?" Rodney said. He paused before eating the last bite of his pudding. He frowned at the thought of everyone he cared about being badgered and being unable to defend themselves against it. "That's not right! She can't just yell at you all and treat you that way. She needs to learn restraint. For heaven's sake, Sheppard worked himself half to death for her. You're about to collapse and there are kids working for her too! What in the world do you want, Lantea? We're not your slaves. You shouldn't be pushing them so hard!"
He shouted the last words at the ceiling while waving his spoon in the air as if it was a weapon. Everyone stared at him, including Carson, but Rodney didn't care. He huffed and glared at Carson, who winced and rolled his eyes.
"She's a bit put out by that, laddie," Carson sighed as he nodded at whatever Lantea was saying. "It's nae exactly true. We're doin' it because we care for her an' we know that this is temporary. We'll get the city up an' running an' then things will calm down."
"Carson," Rodney said as dryly as possible, "when was the last time things actually calmed down around here? It never calms down. It only gets more insane, never less. There have to be boundaries and She needs to let everyone have their rest. If they won't rest, eat and sleep, then they need to be made to do so. That's what you've all done for me for five years. Now it's your turn to follow the same rules."
Carson made a little squeaking noise and burst out laughing, grinning at Rodney while shaking his head. The other gene bearers around them were grinning as well, most with admiration in their eyes. A few of the more exhausted gene bearers looked incredibly grateful as they smiled at him.
"I'm nae sure you know what you've unleashed," Carson chuckled, "but Lantea's started giving people orders based on how long they've been working an' how little they've eaten. I think it should help."
"Good," Rodney said and put down his spoon. "Now go get some sleep, Carson. You're exhausted."
Rodney took care of his tray and left the cafeteria. He checked on the labs first, which were doing fine. He then visited the newly opened living quarters, where he found one suite that he liked a lot better than his old one. No one objected to him claiming it, but one woman pointed out that John's quarters were two floors down and that the rooms in that area were much nicer. Rodney blinked at her, cocked his head, and then went to check those rooms out. They were larger with better balconies and tubs that made Rodney coo with delight. He blinked at seeing his possessions being carried into a nearby room.
"Let me guess," Rodney said as he followed his helpers inside, "Lantea thinks that I should have this suite."
"You got it," one of the guys said, grinning at him as he placed Rodney's clothes in drawers. "And She says that you really ought to get the gene therapy so that She doesn't have to relay her words through other people."
"Then use the radio link," Rodney snapped at the empty room. "Who says that you have to use someone else when you have so much control over our technology?"
"It uses too much power," Lantea's prissy voice said over his radio headset. "It is also cumbersome, and can be overheard, which is not appropriate."
"Too bad," said Rodney while helping the others put his things away as he explored the new suite.
There was a huge bed with a proper prescription mattress, more than ample storage space for everything Rodney might want, plus a spare bedroom that would make a great office. The bathroom was perfect, with a separate shower and a huge bathtub that had Rodney crooning again. He was delighted at the discovery of a little kitchen nook where one of the people had set up his coffee machine in while he checked the bedrooms. Things became much clearer when he found a door in the living room that apparently led to a different suite.
Rodney headed through it, looking around the darkened living room on the other side and noticing three small cardboard boxes and one still-packed duffle bag. He explored further and blinked when he walked into John's bedroom. John was lying half on the bed, his left leg and arm dangling off of the side. Ronon had apparently taken off his shoes and then covered him up with a blanket that John had escaped. There were dark circles under his eyes and, even in his sleep, Rodney thought that John looked harried. He walked over and carefully rolled John back onto the bed. John muttered and shivered, so Rodney covered him up with the blanket again, hesitantly running his fingers through the disheveled spikes in John's hair.
"You do care for him," Lantea whispered in Rodney's ear. "He has loved you for so very long but he could not say it, Rodney. The stupid rules of the military prevented it and he did not feel that he deserved you, foolish boy that he is."
Rodney nodded, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. He'd never cared about the designations 'gay', 'straight' or 'bisexual'. Gender had never been an issue to him, though it was always easier to pursue a relationship with a female than with a male. He'd more or less written off romance until Sam, Katie and Jennifer, preferring to focus on work. Despite that, he'd always been aware of John Sheppard as a very attractive person with a very intelligent brain.
"So stubborn," Rodney whispered while petting John's hair and smiling as he sighed and finally seemed to relax in his sleep. "Doesn't he realize that I'd change the universe for him? I did on several occasions."
Rodney tugged the blanket up around John's chin and left the bedroom quietly. The others had finished setting up his rooms, so Rodney had them go and set up John's rooms next, telling them to be quiet about it. As they left, he stopped the youngest one, a girl with deep chocolate skin and pigtails who couldn't be more than ten. "How does She feel about you?" Rodney asked, studying the girl's eyes.
"She loves us," the girl said, blinking at him with surprise. "I think She might love me just as much as my mommy and daddy do. That's why we're working so hard to fix Her, 'cause we love Her too."
"Oh," Rodney said. He let her leave without any other questions.
Rodney sighed and went out onto his balcony. The sun was setting over the bay, staining the city and the ocean in red, gold, and orange. He sighed. He knew that he should talk to Zelenka and Sam before doing anything with the gene therapy, but he didn't seek them out. He also didn't leave to find Carson or one of the nurses to give it to him. Instead, he headed to his huge new bed and curled up to get some sleep. In four or six hours, he'd be much more clearheaded, and then he'd decide what to do.
Rodney fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow and woke up about seven hours later without remembering a single dream. He yawned and stretched while enjoying the wide expanse of his bed, and then got up. The shower was perfect and, when he opened his closet, his clothes were hung up neatly in a way he'd never managed himself. He dressed, checked on the still sleeping John and smiled at the sight of a tray of food and water beside the bed. Then he headed to the medical bay to get the new, improved gene treatment.
"Carson!" Rodney snapped as soon as he walked in, making everyone jump. "Where's this treatment you were talking about?"
"Ye've decided to do it?" Carson asked, blinking at Rodney. He shook his head sadly at Rodney's impatient finger snaps. "All right, laddie, but you're letting yourself in for a lot of jabber."
"Oh please," Rodney said, sitting on one of the examination tables while Carson got the treatment ready. "As if I can't outtalk anyone. Get on with it."
Carson laughed and did it. It took about half an hour before Rodney could hear Lantea. The first time he'd gotten the treatment, the only sign that it had worked was that the personal shield device had engaged for him. It was different the second time; he could hear a whisper in the back of his head that quickly grew until it was a murmur and then a wave of love flooded over him, accompanied by Lantea's prissy voice.
**Finally,** Lantea said in his head. **I've been trying to communicate directly with you for years!**
"Whoa," Rodney breathed. He swayed as the sensation of love that accompanied her words made his head swim.
Carson had him lie down and left him alone for a while so that he could adjust. He listened to Lantea complain about how annoying it had been to have people trying to fix her without any idea of how to do it. She sounded so much like he did when he wanted to distract people from his emotions that he started chuckling.
*You're not fooling me,* Rodney said to Her while smiling at the ceiling. *Your complaining is no different from my complaining. Hiding behind a wall of words won't work with me and I won't let you badger them all into killing themselves for you, or love them into it either.*
**I have no idea what you're talking about,** Lantea said archly while something that felt distinctly like a rosy blush crept through Rodney's mind. **I don't do anything of the sort.**
Rodney grinned and got up. He could feel the others through Lantea. It was an incredibly efficient way of keeping track of people. Rodney ran through everyone, snorting to realize that Radek had already gotten the therapy. Radek's mentally muttered Czech was as distinctive as Carson's faint accent and even John's sleeping presence. Rodney headed for the gate room. He could tell through Lantea that Sam and Woolsey were there, both nursing morning cups of coffee. They were getting close to having Lantea in full working order, so it was time to work on making sure She was properly supplied, which meant they needed a new military commander and more marines, more weapons, and certainly more bombs.
John woke slowly, stretching languidly in his new bed. Lantea was quiet in his head, barely talking though the smugness associated with her mental presence in his head was almost unbearable. He noted that people seemed to have gotten a lot done during his nap and then sat bolt upright as he realized that he'd been asleep for sixteen hours, not the hour or two that he'd planned on. He showered quickly and scrambled into clean clothes, not bothering to shave. He did grab some food off the tray that someone had left by his bed. With the arrival of Wraith ships looming over their heads, he couldn't believe that the others had let him sleep for that long.
"Good to see that you're up," Sam said when he made it to the control room. She had a faintly wild expression but she was controlling it fairly well. She was holding a mug of coffee as if it was her anchor to reality. Lantea's faint dislike for her hadn't faded at all.
"Why did you let me sleep so long?" John demanded as he checked on the preparations.
"Well, Radek and Rodney took the gene therapy," Sam said. She gestured with her coffee towards Woolsey's office. "And then they basically took over the preparation efforts. We're in the process of bringing in more marines and choosing a new military commander."
"Oh," John said. His heart lurched unexpectedly at the thought of not being the military commander for Atlantis. "Okay. That makes sense."
"You could join up again," Sam offered.
She seemed serious about the offer and John was certain that his papers were still sitting on her desk waiting to be processed. It was a flattering but futile gesture. John knew there was no going back. He'd already made his choice. Lantea and Rodney came first. He wasn't going to play the military's DADT game anymore, not when he could have Lantea, flying and, based on the golden hum in the back of his mind, Rodney.
"No, not going to happen," said John as he shook his head no. "Who are they talking about?"
"Caldwell in the lead," Sam said with a nod of acceptance. "There are a couple of other people they're discussing, but none of them have experience fighting the Wraith. Only one has fought the Ori."
"Caldwell will probably work out," John said. He controlled a wince. "Doesn't get along with me all that well, but I think he'll be able to deal with us all talking to Lantea in our heads."
Rodney and Woolsey came out of his office. Rodney was talking a mile a minute. He stopped and beamed when he saw John, giving him a fierce look that swept him from head to toe before nodding his approval after a second. John could feel Lantea prompting him on a power flow problem that needed his technical skills. Woolsey sighed with relief as Rodney stomped off to deal with it.
"Glad to see you're awake, John," Woolsey said.
"Thanks," John said. "Caldwell?"
"He's agreed to do it temporarily," Woolsey said, nodding somewhat hesitantly. "He thinks that this should be treated as an attempt at a coup, but the military is prepared to wait and see how we handle the incoming Wraith ships."
"Okay," John said. He tapped into Lantea a little more firmly to review the completed work, the preparations remaining, and the food supplies they'd taken aboard. "Right. Well, we still need to get the drone factory up and running, but it looks as if Radek will get that done within the next half hour. We're going to need to get some sand from the bottom of the bay before we lift off so that we have raw materials to make drone shells. Also, we need to make sure that all the weapons and ammunition are on board in the next hour but, after that's finished, we can go and deal with the Wraith ships."
Woolsey and Sam stared at him. John grinned at them. Sam clutched her mug of coffee more firmly, taking a sip and then wincing as she realized it was empty. She set it down carefully only to be surprised when a young boy came in carrying a carafe of coffee that was nearly as big as he was.
"Thanks, Tony," John said, grinning and taking the carafe from him.
"No problem," Tony said grinning. "Want me to bring some breakfast for you?"
"Sure," John said, ruffling his hair. "They've still got some of those ham and egg wraps in the cafeteria. Bring a couple up for me."
"Whee!" Tony cheered, running out of the control room and nearly knocking over Caldwell and a couple of marines. "Egg nummy thingies!"
"I need more coffee," Sam sighed. She took advantage of the carafe to refill her mug.
Caldwell glared after Tony, moving his shoulders as if having a kid running around the control room was one of the most offensive things he'd ever seen. He deliberately relaxed his shoulders, squared his jaw and then stomped over to Woolsey, Sam and John. He saluted both Woolsey and Sam, spearing John with a glare. John smirked back at him, not surprised that Caldwell was playing things that way.
"The President's made his choice," Caldwell said. "I'm all yours until someone more qualified can be found."
**This one I do not like that much,** Lantea huffed in the back of John's head. **Do not bother to offer him the gene treatment. I will not give him access at all.**
*He's okay,* John said with a mental shrug. *Career military but he's dealt with the Wraith and seen what Pegasus is like. Could be a lot worse. Don't give him too much trouble, okay?*
**Only because you ask,** Lantea grumbled.
Woolsey nodded while looking at John. None of them seemed aware of the conversation that John and Lantea had just had. Sam looked at John as if she was worried that he'd hit Caldwell. He wanted to roll his eyes at them both but didn't.
"Welcome aboard," John said with a smile at Caldwell. "I think I managed to clear out all the paperwork before I left. You should have a reasonably neat desk to start with. Just so you know, we've moved the ammunition stores down a floor. There's a much better room for staging there than the one that we were using before. Plus we're starting up the manufacturing line for Lantean weapons, so there should be some really cool shit for the Marines to play with by the time we're back to Pegasus."
"Really," Caldwell drawled.
"Yup." John nodded. "Sort of like Ronon's blaster but with more settings."
"Really?" asked Caldwell. He perked up as every good soldier would at the thought of playing with a cool new gun.
Woolsey looked like he'd stopped breathing sometime around the time John had started talking. Sam's fingers were white on her coffee mug. Eventually Caldwell nodded, bestowing a little smile on John as if he'd just passed some sort of test. John smiled back at him, not half as uptight about the change as he'd thought he'd be. Caldwell really wasn't that bad, now that John didn't report to him.
"So what's the chain of command?" Caldwell asked, turning back to Woolsey and Sam. "How is all of this," he gestured towards John and, by extension, Lantea, "going to work?"
"We're not quite sure yet," Woolsey said carefully. "The gene bearers all report to John. We haven't figured out how they're going to interface with the SCG and military command structures yet."
"Sorry," John said, shrugging ruefully. "I was sleeping."
"Really." Caldwell seemed to be trying to outdo Ronon with the non-conversation conversations.
"Sixteen hours straight," John said, grinning as Tony ran in with two of the ham and egg wraps and then ran back out. He started eating, talking around the bites of food. "I'd been going for something like three days straight at that point. This has been more insane that you'll ever know. Lantea can be a serious bitch when She doesn't get her way. It was hell keeping Her from blowing things up."
Woolsey's eyes went wide behind his glasses and he shuffled his feet uncomfortably. Sam's eyes narrowed over the top of her mug as if she didn't believe him. Caldwell just nodded extremely slowly, as if he was factoring in a new possible threat and working out plans of how to deal with it. John kept eating. He was starved, and the wraps were made with Earth eggs and ham so they tasted like heaven.
It took them about another two hours to get everyone who was going aboard. Caldwell literally had to escort Sam off Lantea. John went along, standing on the end of the pier and looking back at San Francisco thoughtfully.
Caldwell studied him out of the corner of his eye. "Problem?" Caldwell finally asked as Sam got off of the boat and let Jack take her up to the waiting car.
"No, just saying goodbye to Earth and Jack," John said, shrugging. "He's staying. He's the only gene bearer who is staying. We're all on Lantea. Jack's going to be alone on Earth."
"Why?" Caldwell asked with a deep frown.
"Why what?" John asked, looking at him.
"Why stay when everyone else is going?" Caldwell said. "Better yet, why is everyone else going? What the hell kind of hold does she have on all of you?"
John shrugged, looking at San Francisco's lights. The sun was setting over the bay and the city was starting to light up. It was beautiful in its own way. Five years ago, he would have said the city was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen, but he'd had his standards for beauty revised when they arrived in Atlantis. John didn't need to turn to feel Lantea's warmth. She was with him all the time.
"Love," John said finally. "Jack loves Earth best of all. Lantea loves us, though she does play favorites. We love her. Simple as that."
"Seriously," Caldwell said. His frown said better than words that he didn't buy it.
"Seriously." John shrugged. "I've loved this old city since the moment I set foot in it. I've been willing to die for it. Shouldn't come as much of a surprise that She loves me back. The others feel the same way. She's our home. Anyway, I've got to get to the chair room. There's a city to fly and a battle to fight. You probably ought to get to the control room. I'm going to be busy flying the ship and firing drones. Anything smaller than that's going to need the military dealing with it."
"Okay," Caldwell said. He straightened up and smoothed down his uniform. "Good luck."
"You too," John said with a nod at him.
They walked back to the transporter, going separately to their different destinations. John ran a hand along Lantea's wall as he went to the chair room. Lantea hummed in his mind, sounding better than She ever had. John could hear Dave handling a bunch of administrative details. Lorne was interfacing with the military, being his normal highly efficient and tactful self as he told off some new marines who were making a fuss about civilians in charge of military equipment.
Rodney was in the control room, buzzing brightly as he checked all the systems and made sure that they were ready to go. Radek muttered in Czech down in the manufacturing facility at the base of the tower, setting it up to create more drones as they used them.
All the gene bearers shone in John's mind's eye, each working on their tasks, or eating, or sleeping. Teyla had taken the treatment during his sleep, as had Kanaan. Even little Torren was a gene bearer now. He was giggling and playing with a baby toy that Lantea had pointed out to one of the women taking care of the kids. Kanaan didn't have full access, nor did Torren. Lantea had them tagged with a lesser level of access until She decided if She liked them enough to talk to them.
She so played favorites. John chuckled about it for a moment until a thought stopped him dead in his tracks. The city had always seemed half dead, or dying, or at least wounded and tired. She didn't feel that way anymore. She was vibrant, opinionated certainly, but fully alive and getting stronger as the gene bearers continued working on her.
"You're alive again," John whispered, pausing outside of the chair room.
**Yes,** Lantea said, love flowing through him. **Finally properly alive again. However, I do still think that those baby chambers would be an excellent thing to get up and running. You and Rodney truly should have children sometime soon. I think children with your combination of traits would be absolutely wonderful, despite your stubbornness about having a baby.**
*Lantea!* John groaned. His chin slumped down to his chin. That was a thing that he'd hoped She'd given up on.
*Stop that!* Rodney snapped. *Wait until we've at least had a chance to kiss, will you?*
*I get a kiss?* John asked, grinning.
*Only if you don't get yourself killed doing some idiotic stunt, Oh Leader of the Cult,* Rodney said sarcastically.
*Hmm, that's a good incentive to avoid idiotic stunts,* John said, going into the chair room and sitting down. A couple of new scientists looked at him with wide eyes. Neither of them had gotten the gene therapy so they had no idea a conversation was going on.
*You mean that's all I had to do to keep you from risking your life?* Rodney squawked. *Why didn't you tell me that years ago?*
John laughed, leaning back into the chair. Time to fly.
Richard nodded tightly as Caldwell entered the control room. He looked entirely too on edge. Of course, Richard felt nearly as worried as Caldwell appeared. There was so much they didn't understand or weren't sure how to deal with yet. Atlantis' new consciousness was his largest worry, but the Wraith and the gene bearers' unexpected unity were nearly as high in priority. He wasn't sure that he could fulfill his orders to find a way to control the gene bearers. They were verging on hive-mind behavior, despite the fact that each individual still seemed to be fully independent.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Caldwell asked in an undertone that wouldn't carry beyond the two of them.
"We… believe so," Richard said carefully. "The city is in much better repair than it was when we landed. The gene bearers have worked miracles repairing its systems and it appears we will have more than sufficient drones to be able to battle the ships."
Caldwell looked at him out of the corner of his eye, the expression saying more clearly than words that he hadn't been talking about that. Richard allowed the corner of his mouth to quirk up into something that approximated a smile without being one while shrugging ever so slightly. He didn't want to offend the AI of the city. He suspected that he'd already been marked as undesirable. Caldwell sighed in resignation, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Are we ready?" Caldwell asked.
"Yup," Sheppard said over the radio, sounding calmer and more relaxed than Richard had ever heard. "Ready. Everything's locked down and all the weapons are hot. Give the word and we'll take off."
"We should at least wait until dark," Richard said, a little alarmed.
"No need," McKay said over the radio. "We've set up the engines and cloak so that we should be able to take off without being seen. As long as the trajectory is cleared of traffic, we'll be fine."
"Send a message to get the trajectory cleared," Caldwell ordered, taking command of the situation.
It took about five minutes to clear the airspace they needed and then Richard gave the order. He was rather grateful that Caldwell and Sheppard allowed him to do so. He might be the head of the expedition in the eyes of the IOA, but it was still very much up in the air who would turn out to be the real leader of their odd group.
The ship vibrated and lifted off incredibly slowly. Richard frowned and gripped the railing, looking at the displays. The gene bearers appeared very calm, although the various scientists and military personnel looked nervous. Caldwell seemed half a second away from calling it off.
"Is there a problem?" Richard asked. "We're not taking off."
"Taking it slowly so that we don't cause a tsunami," Sheppard said. "We don't want to be visible, which means easing up out of the water."
"Oh, I see," said Richard with a surprised blink.
Once the sensors showed they were a few dozen yards over the surface of the ocean they sped up, heading out of Earth's gravity well. The farther into space they went, the smoother the ride became. Richard could feel a difference between this trip and the last one. During the last trip, the city had vibrated as though it was on the verge of falling apart. This time the sensation was smoother, more like an engine that was running well.
"Interesting," Caldwell commented.
"Hmm?" Richard asked, looking sidelong at him.
"They're all smiling," Caldwell said. He nodded at the various gene bearers in the room.
"Yes. Odd," Richard said as he realized Caldwell was right.
They were not only smiling, some of them were grinning outright. Lorne was quietly humming as he hovered in a corner of the room. It was strange to see him in civilian clothes. Richard frowned and then went over to him. Lorne stopped humming to nod at Richard. "You seem quite cheerful," Richard said while checking the display. They were getting close to where they'd fight the Wraith ships.
"We're going home," Lorne said and shrugged. "And this time we're bringing our families, too."
"To a war zone," Caldwell said. He frowned at Lorne.
"Yes sir," Lorne said, nodding respectfully. "But the war's obviously coming to us. Did we ever figure out how these Wraith found Earth?"
"Not yet," Caldwell said. He looked at the display. "Carter's current guess is that super-ship sent a message to some allies before it left Pegasus. No one is sure back at the SGC. At least these don't seem to be super-ships."
Lorne nodded, looking at the displays too. Richard sighed. He wished that he had a crystal ball so that he could see how things were going to work. He didn't like not knowing the chain of command. He didn't like not knowing how the administrative details were going to work. He truly didn't like not knowing if he'd end up in charge, if this would become a military venture, or if it would become a true colony with Sheppard at the helm.
"We're getting ready for drop out," Sheppard said over the radio. "Everyone hang on and get ready to start shooting. Caldwell, you're in charge of the small stuff. We're going to be busy with the drones and managing the shields."
"Got it," Caldwell said, striding back over to the city's controls.
"It'll be okay," Lorne said quietly. He put a hand on Richard's elbow. "We're a lot stronger this time and Lantea can tell us directly what's going on."
"That's not what's bothering me," Richard admitted. "I hate not knowing how the… command structure will work."
"Can you really picture John doing that much paperwork and going to meetings with the IOA on a regular basis?" Lorne asked with a huge grin. "Come on. You've worked with him. He's not going to rule and he's definitely going to back you over Caldwell. You're in charge. It'll be fine."
Richard's breath caught and he rocked back on his heels for a moment, feeling absurdly reassured. He knew that Caldwell wouldn't try to take over. He didn't want to be there at all, and would likely only metaphorically flex his muscles during moments of crisis. It had been Sheppard and the gene bearers that had been worrying him.
"What about your Lantea?" Richard asked.
"She likes you way better than Caldwell," Lorne confided with a wink at Richard. "Besides, She's a city. She's not going to cut off your gravity or air or something. She doesn't do that."
They both stopped talking as the city dropped out into regular space. Richard nodded to Lorne, heading over to the controls where Caldwell was already snapping orders. Richard stayed in the background, watching and waiting. It wasn't his battle. Colonel Caldwell and Sheppard's gene bearers would be the ones handling it. At least he had some reassurance that things wouldn't be completely different once they returned to Pegasus. The details would change, but the outline was solid enough for him to deal with it for the present.
"Three hive ships, lots of smaller carriers," John said. "Someone start tracking those darts and feed the info into the big guns."
*On it,* Dave said. *Okay, auto tracking is set up. We've got some of the video game nuts working on supervising it.*
"That works," John snorted, grinning. "Just keep them out of the way of the marines."
John had access to everything that Lantea could see on the Wraith ships. None of them had ZPMs, which meant that none were heavily armored, but there were more ships than Lantea could deal with easily. Unfortunately, it was highly likely that some of the darts would get through the shields during the coming bombardment.
"Caldwell," John said, "tell your men to be prepared for a few darts getting through the shields. I doubt that we can keep them all out."
"Understood," Caldwell said. "Fire when ready."
"Firing now," John said as he triggered the drones.
*I have begun production of replacement drones,* Radek reported from the drone factory. *There may be some delay in getting the first batch, but we should be able to cover the losses within about fifteen minutes.*
*Hopefully, we have enough that it won't be an issue,* John said. He smiled at the beauty of the drone swarm heading for the hive ships.
It was very different seeing the battle through Lantea's sensors. As soon as Lantea had dropped out, the hive ships launched waves of darts. They'd started firing, hammering at Lantea's shields. John ignored them and directed the drones at the hive ships. He wasn't able to direct them as easily as before. There was too much going on in his head.
**Let me take over,** Lantea scolded John. **I know what you want the drones to do. Stop trying to direct each of them and watch the shields and coordinate my children. You are but one man, no matter how wonderful, and you cannot do it all alone.**
*Trying,* John said. He was having a hard time letting it go.
*Have some issues on the shields,* Rodney said. He immediately attracted John's attention away from the drones and the others.
*What's wrong?* John asked. He shivered at how bright Rodney's mind was and how fast he thought compared to everyone else.
*The bombardment's causing holes and feedback into the system,* Rodney explained, showing John what the problem was.
John could hear Caldwell in the control room, calmly giving orders and directing the attack. He directed Lantea and the other gene bearers to do what Caldwell said and focused on the fluctuations with Rodney. It was easier to deal with them since he was sitting in the Chair. He could literally feel where the feedback was happening and direct the electrical system to reduce the problem. Rodney ran through the hallways, his mind filled with love and hope and worry and excitement. John felt almost like Rodney was a mobile extension of his body, another part of his mind. Rodney's flush of pleasure at catching the thought made John blush in return.
**This is why you really must start up the baby chambers,** Lantea said much too fondly. **You two must give me more children just like you.**
*Lantea!* John squawked in perfect unison with Rodney.
*Not now,* Rodney complained.
Time seemed to fade as the battle progressed. John allowed Dave to take over coordinating the gene bearers, while Lorne was a perfect interface with the marines since most of them still knew and respected him. Caldwell directed everyone, military and not, brilliantly. In less than half an hour, the Wraith ships were destroyed and all of the wayward darts had been brought down.
*I sense three Wraith in the city,* Teyla said. *Ronon and I are taking several groups of marines to track them down.*
*Thanks,* Dave said. His smile was clear through Lantea's link. *I'll let Caldwell know.*
John sighed, relaxing a little in the Chair. Lantea felt good, more or less at full power and more than ready to head back home to the Pegasus galaxy. He rubbed the arms of the chair, smiling at the way Lantea purred at him in the back of his head. Rodney entered the Chair room, frowning at John.
"Sheppard," Caldwell said before Rodney could do more than open his mouth, "all the hostiles have been destroyed. We've received permission to return to Pegasus. Do we have a planet that we're aiming at?"
**Oh!** Lantea gasped, all but flailing her metaphorical arms in delight. **Go here! Go here! It's perfect, plenty of resources, the more exotic supplies we'll need to make more ZPMs, no gate so the Wraith don't know about it, and several large lovely continents that would be perfect for growing crops.**
"And you know about this planet how?" Rodney asked. His voice sounded annoyed though his expression was highly amused.
**It was scheduled for colonization just prior to the Wraith becoming an issue,** Lantea said, returning to her prim manners.
"Works for me," John chuckled. "Caldwell, I'm sending you the information on the planet we're heading to. Looks like a good one, but if we need to move later it shouldn't be a problem."
"You have a go," Caldwell said.
John settled back into the Chair, engaging the hyperspace drive thing that Radek had come up with. Radek called one of the other gene bearers to tend the drone factory and hurried up to help supervise the system. It was awkward, drained a lot of power, and was difficult to manage. The damned thing quickly gave John a headache that threatened to make his forehead explode as he tried to integrate Radek's invention with Lantea's systems and consciousness. It was almost impossible to accomplish but, in the end, it didn't matter. They made it to Pegasus. They found the planet that Lantea liked so much. John even managed a semi-graceful landing despite Rodney's cursing everyone at everything and the way John's brains kept threatening to bleed out of his ears.
"Carson flew that thing?" John gasped once they'd landed and Lantea had confirmed that they were intact, for the most part.
"Yeah, and he reacted about the same way you did, just not as severely," Rodney said, carefully helping John sit up and ease out of the Chair. "Come on, infirmary for you."
"No, bed," John protested. He wasn't at all interested in going to the infirmary.
*There's nothing I can do for him besides give the poor boy painkillers,* Carson said. His voice made John shudder as the words echoed far too loudly in his head. *It's just a migraine triggered by over-stimulation. He'll be fine with a wee bit of sleep and a large dose of analgesics.*
"Yes, yes, then send the painkillers to his room and I'll take care of him," Rodney grumbled.
"Not so loud," complained John. His voice was only a whisper that sounded harsh even in his own ears.
"I know," Rodney said, a great deal more quietly. "Come on. Let's get you to your new room and your nice new bed."
John could feel Lantea dialing down how much access She gave him. All the other gene bearers faded in his mind, leaving him with nothing to focus on besides the pounding of his head and the solid warmth of Rodney propelling him through the hallways to the room that had been chosen for him.
"You won't go away?" John asked once they were there and he was clutching a pillow to his head to block the light from the window.
"No, I'll be here," Rodney said. There was very little of his normal snappishness in his voice. "Put that down and take these. They should make the pain go away. And you'll sleep for another twelve hours or so but after the way you overextended yourself, you can certainly do with it."
John flinched at the light and took the pills, swallowing them dry. Rodney forced a glass of water into his hand so he drank some of that too. He managed two gulps before his stomach roiled and he had to lie down, putting the pillow over his head again. Lantea and Rodney were the only ones left in his mind, one a vibrating, bright presence that combined with his physical presence on the side of the bed. The other surrounded John with soothing warmth and a wave of love that comforted even as it made his head throb.
"I know you care," Rodney huffed, "but he's over-stimulated, Lantea. Back off and let him rest."
**You'll care for him, won't you?** Lantea said anxiously. **You won't let him disappear if I let go?**
"Not going anywhere," John mumbled. He reached out to take Rodney's hand.
A bright wave of pleased delight came from both Lantea and Rodney. Rodney squeezed his hand, shifting position a little bit, as if he was planning on sitting there the entire time John slept. John smiled as Lantea eased out of his mind entirely, leaving him alone with his thoughts for the first time since She'd received full power. He couldn't feel Rodney's mind anymore, but that was all right. Rodney was there with him physically. The lies were gone. Lantea was more or less whole. They were back where they belonged, and Rodney was holding his hand, rubbing his thumb gently over John's knuckles.
John finally slept, a contented smile lingering on his lips.