The Demon’s Glass
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
W.B. Yeats, 1893
2186 C.E. - Thessia
Cerine Asil was troubled as she paced back and forth in the small, poorly lit room. She was a decorated commando, just assigned to lead her own squad a month ago. Now, they had taken more than half of her new team from her and sent them to serve as an escort for that pureblood scientist T’soni. Then they relegated her and the remainder of her commandos to guard the Lonican Artifact. That ridiculous relic was the cause of her misfortune. The Reapers were waging war across the galaxy, and she was assigned the job of a museum curator. While the Reapers had not yet reached Thessia, some of its colonies had not been so lucky. She should be out there on the battlefield not in one of the most secure facilities in the sector. The Lonican Artifact was held in a vault deep beneath the ground, where it had been stored for countless centuries, and suddenly Asari High Command decided it needed a guard. Cerine couldn’t stand the thought of all that solid rock bearing down on her, and she hadn’t seen the sun or had fresh air since her commander had ordered her down here three days ago.
She glanced down at her left arm as her omnitool lit up. “Finally,” she muttered to herself and tapped on the omnitool to accept the incoming call.
“Lt. Asil, this is Captain Jaris. I got your message that you needed to speak with me.”
“Yes, Captain. I wanted to discuss my assignment.”
“Were your orders unclear, Lt. Asil?” Jaris asked. Cerine could easily picture the annoyed look she knew her commanding officer had on her face and stopped her pacing.
“No, Captain, they were quite clear, but…”
“Then explain the problem to me, because I’m not sure I see the issue,” she cut Cerine off, a tinge of anger in her voice.
“Captain, this isn’t where I belong. This artifact is a hundred feet underground. There is no threat here.”
“Cerine, I gave you your own squad because I thought you were ready,” she said, letting the statement hang there for a moment before continuing. “I’m coordinating ten commando squads spread across three different worlds at the moment. We lost three commandos on Kalus this morning. How much time do you think I have to waste on people questioning their orders?”
Cerine blanched. “Captain, I didn’t mean…”
“Do your job, Lt. Jaris out.”
She shook her head with a sigh and approached the artifact. It was highly classified, as she had only learned of its existence when she’d been assigned to guard it. Asari archaeologists had discovered it during a dig at Lonica, one of Thessia’s greatest cities, three thousand years ago. Apparently, it predated even the protheans, and they had no idea what it was, but the possibility that it could be a weapon could no longer be overlooked, not with the Reapers threatening asari space. The Council hoped that Liara T’soni could come in and figure out what the hell it was. Cerine certainly didn’t think it looked like a weapon. It was a large metal ring, just over twenty feet in diameter, with a series of completely alien untranslatable symbols etched on the surface. If they asked her, she would say it was probably some ancient monument or altar to a long-forgotten god. Of course, they didn’t ask her. They just told her to guard it. Whatever it was, it was a waste of her skills and time.
“Lt.?” One of her squad asked as she entered the room.
Cerine continued to stare at the ring.
The soldier cleared her throat. “Lt. Asil?”
Cerine turned and looked at her. She was so deep in her thoughts it took her a moment to realize who it was. “Yes, sorry, Sergeant Mileta. What is it?”
Mileta saluted. “We just got a message transmitted from topside. The squad has rendezvoused with Commander Shepard and Dr. T’soni. They should be here within the hour.”
“The sooner the better,” Cerine replied, and then gestured to the artifact. “This… thing has been in the archives for thousands of years, and suddenly it’s a priority. Entire worlds fall while we guard a giant metal ring that seems to serve no purpose.”
“Yes, Lt. Hopefully, once Dr. T’soni has examined the artifact, we’ll be cleared to return to normal duty,” Mileta said hopefully.
Cerine gave a half smile. “Hmm, well, I’m not sure I’d call fighting Reapers ‘normal duty,’ but I’ll take it over this any day. We’re warriors, Mileta. Warriors need a war.”
“Can’t argue this a safer place to be,” Mileta countered.
Cerine shook her head. “No, I don’t fear dying, just being useless or helpless. If safety is your preference, then you’ve chosen the wrong line of work.”
“I think…” Mileta began then suddenly stopped speaking, her mouth agape. She slowly raised her arm and pointed to the ring.
Cerine arched her eyebrow and turned to look. Part of the metal ring had begun to spin. “By the goddess. What the hell?” She said and pulled her rifle from her back and approached the ring. “Mileta, put the squad on alert!”
Mileta was mesmerized by the spinning ring and didn’t move.
“That’s an order, Sgt.!” Cerine snapped.
Mileta’s cheeks flushed, and she rushed out of the room.
The young asari commando watched as the large ring continued to spin, stopping every few seconds on certain symbols. There was a sudden loud whoosh as a great blast of blue energy shot out from the ring. Cerine stumbled, tripping over her feet as she tried to back away and landed with a thud on her back. She groaned, more from embarrassment than pain, as she pushed herself up on her elbows. A shimmering field of blue now filled the ring, casting a soft glow over the room. Her eyes widened when a body came flying from the energy field and slid and tumbled across the floor. Then the glow vanished as the field disappeared as quickly as it had come. She hopped to her feet and approached the body on the floor, her weapon trained on it, a biotic field forming around her free hand.
“Identify yourself!” she shouted. As she got closer she could see it was a human male in a uniform she didn’t recognize, and he appeared to be seriously injured.
Cerine holstered her rifle on her back and dropped down to her knees beside him, activating her omnitool. She gently rolled him onto his back, drawing a groan from him. She cupped the side of his face, which was unusually warm, and turned his head towards her. His blue eyes regarded her with confusion, and he grimaced.
“Good. You feel pain, human,” she said as she began to scan him. “That means you’re alive. Who shot you?” He appeared to have several burns on his chest from an energy-based weapon. She grabbed the sidearm out of his holster and laid it behind her, then removed his combat vest and began to rip open his shirt to get better access to his wounds.
“Shot… no, fire,” he muttered.
She ran her omnitool over the burns, dispensing medi-gel. She continued to scan, checking that the medi-gel was setting in properly. “Well, you won’t die on me, but we’ll need to get you to a doctor.”
He tried to sit up but quickly fell back with a painful grimace and let out a huge breath.
She shook her head disapprovingly. “Tsk. Don’t rush it, human,” she advised.
“Yeah, thanks,” he grunted hoarsely.
“You are in a secure asari military facility. How did you get here and what is that?” She gestured to the ring. “Who are you?”
He looked at her, his brow furrowed. “I’m… I’m… you’re blue. Sorry… Who are you?”
Cerine smiled, bemused. “Lt. Asil of Thessia and I am quite blue. You act like you’ve never seen an asari before. Perhaps, you hit your head?” She held her omnitool above his face and scanned.
“No, my head is fine.” He gently pushed her arm away from his face. “My name is Daniel Jackson. From Earth. And I’m not sure where I am to be honest.”
Mileta came rushing back in with two other commandos, their guns at the ready. “Lt.?” Mileta said uncertainly, training her rifle on the human.
Cerine motioned for them to lower their weapons. “It’s alright, Mileta. Get a message to Shepard and Captain Jaris. Let them know we have a guest. Tell them… tell them he fell out of the ring. Nayta, go fetch some water. Kira, contact the base doctor,” she said and looked back to Daniel.
Nayta and Kira rushed off to carry out her orders. Mileta hesitated again, not wanting to leave her commanding officer with their “guest,” but she dared not have the Lt. yell at her again.
Cerine took Daniel’s arm and helped him slowly sit up. “I’ve never seen an Alliance uniform like yours. Are you working with Shepard? What is that? How did you get here?” She pointed again to the ring.
Daniel’s eyes narrowed. The rifle on her back, and black armor she wore certainly were unrecognizable to him, but she wasn’t pointing the rifle at him, so that was a plus. However, he was certain if Sheppard had met a beautiful blue alien he would’ve heard about it from McKay in detail. “That’s a lot of questions. You say you know Colonel Sheppard?”
Cerine nodded. “Yes, but I thought it was Commander. She’ll be here soon.”
He shook his head. “She? No, we must be talking about different Sheppards.” The pain in his chest was starting to numb, so he began to climb to his feet. Cerine took his arm and assisted him. He walked towards the gate and then suddenly he remembered the fire that had forced him through the wormhole. “Sam,” he said to himself. He turned back to her, concern evident in his voice. “Did anyone else come through the Stargate?”
Cerine shrugged. “I don’t…”
“That! The ring,” Daniel said, trying to maintain his patience and pointed with both hands to the gate.
She frowned. “No, just you.”
Daniel shut his eyes and took in a deep breath to calm himself. “Not good,” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
He pressed a hand to his forehead. “I have to… I have to get back. McKay really, really messed up this time, and he doesn’t even know it. Where the hell am I?”
She approached him and rested a hand on his shoulder and extended her other hand to him.
Daniel studied the young woman for a moment and then clasped her hand.
“Daniel, my name is Cerine. I will do what I can to help you, but first, we need to get to know each other I think.”
After recovering his glasses from a corner of the room, which fortunately had fared better on their trip through the gate than he had, Daniel stood before the gate. He took a drink from the canteen Cerine had given him as he studied the symbols. Cerine was in the corner, quietly talking into her omnitool, while the guard at the door watched him closely. The gate, which was marked with symbols as foreign to him as they were to the asari, was identical to the one that the Atlantis team had found only days before on a remote outpost in Pegasus. The symbols on it matched none he had ever seen on any gate or in any Ancient database. He had no clue what they meant, or how to use them to get back, and there was certainly no DHD in the immediate vicinity. Of course the one in Pegasus had not had a traditional DHD either but a computer console similar to the one on Atlantis.
“Daniel?” Cerine said after completing her call. She walked up beside him and stared at the gate. She crossed her arms, biting the tip of her tongue as she tried to make sense of it. After a few moments she finally spoke. “So… stargate?”
He nodded without looking at her. “Yes, it allows near instantaneous travel between two gates.”
“I was given a quick briefing on the artifact when they assigned me to guard it. As far as the asari know, it’s the only one in existence. Not just on our world, but anywhere.”
“Well, I stepped through one just like it in the Pegasus galaxy, and now here I am. Wherever here is.”
“I would say you fell through it rather than walked,” she corrected.
Daniel chuckled. “Yeah, well that’s not out of character for me.”
“You’re just lucky the other end of that gate was here. This is Thessia. Some call our world the shining star of Council Space. I would not disagree with them. So, consider yourself lucky.”
Cerine stared at him quizzically then let out a sigh and waved it off. “Never mind. We’re in an area of the Milky Way that the humans call the Athena Nebula.”
“Good to know I’m back at home in the Milky Way, even if it is a different one.”
“Wherever you are from, these gates sound like a mass effect relay. It even resembles the rings from a relay, though considerably smaller.” She tapped on her omnitool and brought up a holographic projection of a relay.
Daniel stared at the projection, and then he shrugged. “I’ve never seen one, so I’ll take your word for it. I think it’s safe to say this particular gate has taken me completely off the grid. Normally, that would be kind of exciting.”
“Well, you met me. That’d make an exciting day for anyone, and it has certainly made my morning more interesting.”
“Well, I have to admit that I’ve encountered much worse things when coming out of a stargate. If I have to be lost, I’ll take charming blue alien over a Goa’uld death trap any day.”
Cerine blushed. “Come on. The medic is going to check you out.”
He gave the gate one last glance and then turned and followed Cerine out of the room. She led him down a short corridor to an elevator at the end. She stepped in and beckoned him in. Once inside she tapped on the console.
“So you’re familiar with Earth?” He asked.
“I’ve never been, but I’m afraid it’s not doing so well. The Reapers have been hitting it hard.”
Cerine nodded. “Reapers. Giant sentient starships bent on destroying almost all organic life in the galaxy. I’m afraid you’ve chosen to visit our galaxy at a bad time. I guess you don’t have Reapers where you’re from?”
“No. I was on Earth just days ago. I can say there were no Reapers. I think I may have travelled farther than I first thought.”
“Yes, it would appear we both have many questions,” she said. The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. She stepped into the hall and then glanced back at him. “I can help with that I think, but let’s have the doctor look you over first.”
She took him into a small room where another asari was waiting. She directed him to remove his jacket and torn shirt and lay down on a bed.
Daniel lay on the table, and stared at the ceiling. Cerine stood on one side of him, while the asari medic stood on the other. He grimaced as the medic poked and examined the burns on his chest.
“I appreciate it, but it isn’t necessary. I’ve been burned before. It’s not that bad.”
“Typical human stubbornness,” the medic said. “Are you a doctor?”
Daniel nodded. “I am actually, just not that kind.”
“Then let me do my job. You say these came from a fire?” She asked as she studied the scans on her omnitool.
“Yeah. Power conduit exploded. I owe McKay for that.”
“Well, Lt. Asil got the medi-gel applied quickly enough. You shouldn’t have much scarring. She said you took quite a tumble though. Any other pains?”
“Nothing serious. Just some bruises, which I’m no stranger to I must admit.”
The asari nodded. “Well, just take it easy for a couple of days.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Cerine said. “Can I speak to him privately for a moment?”
The medic nodded politely as she left the room.
Daniel sat up and Asil handed him his shirt and jacket.
He slid his shirt on. “Cerine, I do appreciate the attention, and I would honestly love nothing better than to stay here and learn everything I can about asari, but I really have to get back. I was working with a friend. If I was injured, she could be too. Now, the gate you have out there matches the gate we found. Do you have any type of control device or console for it?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. If we did it would most likely be stored here with it. We don’t even know what the ring is, Daniel. But Dr. T’soni will be here soon. If anyone can help, it would be her. She’s our foremost expert on ancient civilizations, or so I’m told.”
Daniel’s face brightened. “Wait. An archaeologist?”
“Yes, she is.” Cerine said softly and tried to conceal her disappointment. This was the most fascinating thing that had ever happened to her, and she had the very real fear that Shepard and T’soni would be quick to cut her, a rookie lieutenant, out of the picture. “But while you will need her help, you need to be more concerned with Commander Shepard. She’s the one who will decide whether to let you try to use that gate again. You’ll have to convince her that you’re not a threat. My commanders are concerned that you might be Cerberus.”
Daniel arched an eyebrow. “I assume you’re not talking about the three-headed dog.”
Cerine stared at him curiously. “Umm, I’m not sure about dogs. Cerberus is a terrorist organization. A very powerful one at that. Human terrorists.”
He looked her in the eyes. “Do you think I’m a terrorist, Cerine?”
She gave him a slight smile. “No, Daniel. You seem much too confused to be anything other than lost, but I’ve never met Shepard. I have no idea how much value she’ll give my opinion. However, from what I hear Dr. T’soni and Shepard are quite… close. If you get Dr. T’soni on your side, you may not have anything to worry about.”
“Well, if she’s like me, she’ll be thrilled to meet a fellow archaeologist.”
“Oh, I thought you were a soldier. You dress like one.”
“Let’s say 50/50. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time fighting, but it isn’t my preference.”
“I was born to be a commando.” She pointed to the small insignia etched on the chest of her armor, her face beaming. “Recently promoted. I’ve been given my own squad, but we were assigned to guard the artifact. Not exactly the exciting assignment I was hoping for my first command, but you have livened things up. Now, it would help, if by the time Shepard shows up, we could have an idea of what is going on.”
“I take it you have a suggestion.”
She nodded. She knew Captain Jaris would probably disapprove, but she was running out of time. “I’ve never done this with a non-asari, but we have the ability to join. I can create a mental connection between us. It could help us both understand each other.”
Daniel studied her for a moment. “Is it safe?”
“Of course,” she replied with an air of confidence. “Asari often join with those from other species.”
He nodded reluctantly. He needed to get back and to do that he needed to figure out what was going on. “What do I do?”
She motioned for him to stand, and then she stood directly in front of him. After removing her gloves, she laid them on the table. She then reached up and lightly pressed her fingertips to each side of his face.
“Close your eyes and relax. We like to say ‘embrace eternity.’ You have to open your mind, Daniel.”
He chuckled. “Not the first time I’ve heard that.”
Cerine’s eyes shifted to black and she focused on the feel of his skin and the flow of thoughts between them. There was a flood of color and sharp pains pierced her temples and she fell back with a cry. Daniel opened his eyes in a panic and looked at her. He grabbed her as she appeared like she was about to faint and lifted her up and laid her on the table.
“Cerine? Look at me,” Daniel said softly. He pressed his fingers to her neck to feel for a pulse.
She looked at him and then closed her eyes, trying to block out the thoughts and images bombarding her mind, but it only made it worse. She took deep breaths, and she could hear his voice.
“I’m going to get the doctor,” he said.
“No!” She grabbed his hand to stop him. “No, Daniel. I’m… it’s ok.”
“What happened? I just got a few quick glimpses of… is that what you call a Reaper?” There was a tinge of concern in his voice. He had seen something like that, a schematic.
She ignored the question, trying to focus on regaining her thoughts. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. Your world… your galaxy is so very different from mine, but it wasn’t that. What are you?”
Daniel’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure…”
She sat up slowly and touched a hand to his forehead as if in wonder. “It was… overwhelming. There is so much memory, and so many thoughts that I see are hidden from you. Taken from you.”
“Wait. You can see that?”
She nodded her head. “But only in the way a grain sand might see a wave rushing towards it. You don’t belong here, Daniel. The Earth you call home is not our Earth. This is your galaxy, yet it isn’t. You truly are lost.”
Daniel sighed, the revelation wasn’t particularly helpful, but Cerine did not look well.
Cerine pressed her hands to her temples and let out a deep breath. “I um… I need a moment alone. Please.” She tapped on her omnitool and summoned Mileta.
Mileta came in a few moments later and was immediately taken aback. Her commanding officer was visibly shaken and rather pale. Her hand immediately went to her sidearm. “Lt. Are you alright?”
Cerine nodded. “Yes. Please take our guest back down to the gate.”
“Yes, Lt.,” Mileta replied, glaring at Daniel. “Commander Shepard will be here in ten minutes.”
“Good. Good. That will give me time.”
“Cerine?” Daniel asked uncertainly, clearly concerned.
“It’s ok,” she said and gave him a reassuring smile. “Please go with Mileta.”
“This way,” Mileta said bluntly and left the room.
Daniel hesitated for a moment but then followed Mileta out.
Cerine waited for the door to slide shut and then could no longer fight back the tears that began to roll down her cheeks. She buried her face in her hands and struggled to keep her eyes open. Every time she closed her eyes the space behind her eyelids was overwhelmed with bright light, then crushing darkness. She could feel the weight of it all so that her entire body ached.
Thanks for the kudos so far, they are much appreciated!
Daniel sat in the corner, leaning against the wall. He practically had the new symbols on the gate memorized; studying them more would do him no good. They were completely foreign to him, and he could only hope that this archaeologist knew something about them. Those symbols were his key to getting home. Now, he was fighting a slight headache as his mind was still trying to filter through images. Images Cerine had given him. One of them in particular he was struggling to hold onto. It was another unusual feature of this gate apparently that the symbols on it lit up. He had a very vague and blurred memory of the gate, with some of the symbols lit up in blue. Cerine had seen the gate activate; she’d seen the symbols. If she or he could remember which symbols had been active when he came through, it would at least be a starting point. However, the images bothered him. He was having enough trouble sorting through the little bit he had gotten from her in their brief ‘joining.’ If she had truly tapped into the knowledge of the Ancients, he could scarcely imagine what that would do to her. Every moment that passed without her showing back up in the gateroom only deepened his concern.
He was pulled out of his thoughts by the footsteps of Mileta. She kicked him, not too softly, in the foot and motioned with her rifle for him to stand.
“Shepard’s here,” she said. “If you are Cerberus, then I hope you’ve made peace with yourself. Shepard is a Council Spectre, and she will not hesitate to put you against the wall.”
“Well, hopefully that can be avoided.” Daniel stood up and looked at her. “As I told Cerine…”
“I don’t care,” Mileta interrupted with a shrug. “You have to convince Shepard not me. Consider yourself lucky you don’t have to convince me.”
“Is your Lt. alright?” he asked.
Mileta ignored the question and turned her back to him.
Two asari guarding the elevator snapped to attention when the elevator door slid open and three people stepped out.
Daniel studied them carefully. Apparently, his chance to get home, and indeed his life, lay in their hands. From what he’d gathered, Shepard was human, so she was easy to pick out. She was certainly younger than what he’d expected, but she carried herself with a definite air of confidence and purpose. Her black armor bore the obvious signs of combat and had a red and white N7 insignia on the chest. He could only see one of her piercing green eyes through the strands of red hair that covered half of her face, but he could tell that her gaze never wavered from him. When she came closer he was taken aback by the small thin scars on her face seemed to have a reddish glow. Beside her walked another asari and a… he wasn’t sure what. Was that a frog? A lizard?
Mileta stood straight and saluted as they approached. “Sgt. Mileta at your service, Spectre.”
Shepard returned her salute. “At ease, Sgt. Where is, Lt. Asil?”
Mileta glared at Daniel. “She needed a moment. Should I go let her know you’re here?”
Mileta pulled out Daniel’s sidearm and handed it to Shepard. “He says he’s a doctor, but he was carrying this.”
Liara and Mordin glanced at each other. “Many doctors carry weapons, Sgt.,” Liara said.
“Of course,” Mileta replied.
“Indeed. Reapers don’t shoot themselves,” Mordin said with a broad smile.
“More’s the pity,” Shepard said as she studied the weapon. “If you are Cerberus, then the Illusive Man has gotten tight with weapons funding. This weapon is 20th century era. Very curious.” She then looked to Mileta. “Please, go get the Lt.”
Mileta headed for the elevator. Shepard then turned to Daniel.
“I’m Commander Aerin Shepard of the Systems Alliance and Council Spectre,” she gestured to the two people with her. “Dr. Liara T’soni and Dr. Mordin Solus.”
“Pleasure to meet you. I seem to be in good and unusual company,” Daniel said.
Shepard’s eyebrow arched.
“I’m also a doctor. Daniel Jackson from Earth,” he said and extended his hand.
Shepard shook his hand without hesitation as she looked him up and down. “Happy to meet you, Doctor Jackson.” She pointed to the SGC patch on the arm of his jacket. “Military? I must admit I’m not familiar with that division, and your uniform is somewhat… antiquated.”
“Yes and no. Kind of a long story,” he said. “Yeah, so Lt. Asil has told me a little about the asari, but…,” he gestured to Mordin, “umm, you are?”
“Dr. Mordin Solus, former STG, of Sur’Kesh. Salarian. Singer on occasion. Gilbert and Sullivan. Currently experiencing slight bouts of nausea due to miscalibration of inertial dampeners aboard ship.”
“I told you I wasn’t imagining it,” Liara muttered to Shepard.
Shepard pressed her fingers to her temples and let out a deep breath.
“Unsure of what information you are requesting,” Mordin said. “Can download personal biography to your omnitool. Need skilled proofreaders.”
Daniel was silent for a moment as he tried to process Mordin. “Uh huh, no, that’s… that’s good. Umm, yeah, so I was told one of you is an archaeologist.”
Shepard chuckled as she glanced at Liara. “I see her reputation precedes her. I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t get her to stop digging in the dirt.”
Liara had a wistful smile. “Well… I used to be an archaeologist. Things are more complicated now.”
“I’m also an archaeologist, and I’m hoping you know something about this ring.”
“Archaeologist?” Liara pushed past Shepard as she began spouting off questions. “What do you know about the Protheans? Is this artifact related to them, or do you believe it predates them to one of the earlier civilizations? Even in the Council Archives there is no record of such a device. I’ve found no evidence that could link it to…”
Shepard gently elbowed Liara in the side. “I can only handle one Mordin, Liara.”
Liara blushed. “Sorry. I haven’t met a fellow archaeologist in a while, much less one that appeared out of thin air from an ancient artifact. Exciting would be an understatement.”
Daniel cleared this throat to catch their attention again. “Sorry, but you mentioned a Council. Lt. Asil also mentioned that. What is the Council?”
Shepard gave him an odd look until she quickly realized his curiosity was sincere. “The Citadel Council is made up of representatives from some of the most powerful worlds and attempts to maintain law and order between the different factions in the galaxy. As a Spectre I serve as something of representative in the field. Thought right now I must admit they’re proving to be relatively useless to me and a pain in the ass.”
“Yes, Lt. Asil said there were some problems in this galaxy,” Daniel said sympathetically. “I don’t mean to take up your time.”
Shepard gave a half-hearted smile. “Yes, ‘problems.’ Well, Doctor, I’ve only received a brief report on what is going on here.” She pointed to the gate. “Lt. Asil said you came through an energy wave from this ring.”
Daniel nodded. “That’s correct.”
Shepard approached the gate, staring at it. She then turned to Liara, the exhaustion apparent on her face was eased by a slight, but fleeting, hope. “Is it the Catalyst, Liara?”
Liara thought for a moment as she studied the large ring. “No, I don’t believe so,” she replied. She wished desperately she could have said otherwise when Shepard only responded with a heavy nod. “Our plans for the Crucible would indicate something much, much larger, and this certainly does not appear to be of prothean design.”
“But if it could have some use against the Reapers…”
Daniel raised his hand. “Sorry, I’m still not completely clear on exactly what you’re fighting, but it’s not a weapon, Commander. We call it a stargate. It is able to create a stable wormhole to allow instantaneous travel between two gates.”
“But there are no more of these rings known to exist. Even I had no idea it existed until a few days ago, and that’s saying something,” Liara interjected. “So, where is the gate you went through?”
“The gate I went through wasn’t like the gates I’m used to. The symbols on that gate and this one are unknown to me. Based on what I’ve learned from Lt. Asil, I think I’ve crossed into a parallel universe.”
Shepard, who had not sleep in twenty-six hours, felt her patience slipping. “I’m sorry. Could you say that again?”
“Fascinating!” Mordin said, his eyes wide. “Wormhole generation? Parallel universe? Interdimensional travel? Precipitated by a collapse in space-time? Possibility of multiverse barriers breaking down? Enormous implications for science and our understanding.”
“Mordin!” Shepard raised a hand to silence him. “So, you think it’s possible? And what good does it do us?” She asked with uncertainty.
Mordin walked towards the gate. “Indeed. Not my area of specialty, only dabbled in it as a hobby but am familiar with multiple theories on the subject. Some theorize that infinite universes exist parallel to one another, never crossing. Infinite universes for infinite possibilities. Gates able to create a pathway that intersects two parallel universes? Symbols on the gate serve as coordinates? Represent specific location in space-time?”
“Yes, exactly!” Daniel said. “We have a device in which we input symbols like these on the gate. Those symbols correspond to other gates. However, their design is to link to other gates usually within the same galaxy, not to connect to another universe.”
Mordin held up his omnitool as he began to scan the gate. “However, you say these symbols are different. Perhaps this gate specifically designed to cross into another universe? For what purpose? Escape? Research?”
“That’s what I was trying to find out, before I went through the gate,” Daniel explained.
Shepard studied the gate then looked back to Daniel. “Well, Doctor, it is a fascinating story, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t look for more solid evidence, but time is not in your favor.”
“Cerine will vouch for me,” Daniel said. “Right now, I need your help to get home.”
“Lt. Asil cannot vouch for you,” Mileta said. She had returned without their notice and drew her weapon on Daniel.
“What’s the problem, Sgt.?” Shepard asked.
“He did something to the Lt.!”
Daniel raised his hands defensively. “Is she alright? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t feign ignorance! You did something. She won’t wake up.”
Shepard’s eyes narrowed. “What happened with Lt. Asil?”
Daniel sighed. “She said she could ‘join’ with me. She said it would help her understand.”
Liara frowned and walked up to him. “She entered your thoughts?”
Daniel nodded. “Something like that, but it seemed to overwhelm her.”
“It’s a damned Cerberus trick,” Mileta hissed.
“Perhaps, but I don’t think so Sgt. Doctor Jackson doesn’t strike me as Cerberus,” Shepard replied. She motioned for Mileta to lower her weapon. “Take us to Lt. Asil.”
“Very well, Spectre,” Mileta replied.
They followed her towards the elevator.
“You say you’re from Earth?” Shepard asked as Daniel walked beside her.
“Yes. I work for the United States Airforce for the Stargate Program. We use the stargates to explore and to protect Earth from alien threats.”
“United States?” Shepard asked quizzically. “Here the United States no longer exists, Doctor Jackson. It was absorbed into the United North American States nearly a century ago.”
“Right. Commander, what year is this?”
“2186. Has your device sent you through time as well?”
“Umm yeah, it wouldn’t be the first time. The gate has sent us through time before, though I don’t recall ever travelling to a parallel universe through it. When I went through the gate on my end it was 2009.”
“Well, your equipment would certainly back that up. If it’s all a grand trick, then you’ve certainly gone to an impressive level of detail. I’m going to need a complete report from you, Dr. Jackson,” Shepard said as they stepped into the elevator.
“I do appreciate your concerns, Commander Shepard, but you have to understand that my people may be in danger. I have to get back as quickly as possible.”
“I do understand. As we stand here the entire galaxy is at war. Millions die every day and Earth is burning, but if you are who you say you are, then you might have information or knowledge that could help us. We have no knowledge of these stargates. I have to wonder what else you might know that could help us fight the Reapers.”
“That’s what concerns me. The gate I went through was on an outpost we stumbled across. Just before I went through the gate, I had accessed a database. What I saw makes me think the outpost was somehow related to these ‘Reapers.’”
“If that’s true, then perhaps we’ll have to help each other.”
A few moments later they entered the room where the medic was attending to Asil.
“What’s her condition?” Liara asked.
“It’s not a coma. She’s just unconscious. She’s showing an extremely high level of brain activity,” the medic replied.
“Mileta’s right. It could be my fault,” Daniel said as he approached the bed.
“How?” Liara asked.
“It’s a long story, but I have a lot of… suppressed memories. Suffice it to say I’m carrying around the knowledge of an ancient civilization in my head.”
“Well, it appears we might have something in common then,” Shepard said.
“Really? Well, this is more than a human mind can deal with, so it was buried in my subconscious to keep me from going insane or worse. Cerine was able to see it. If asari are similar to a human at all, then it could overwhelm her mind. It never occurred to me I was putting her in danger.”
The medic shook her head. “I assure you that an asari mind is far more resilient than a human’s.”
“Enough! Shepard’s mind has proven pretty damned resilient to prothean beacons,” Liara snapped at the medic. “The important thing now is helping Lt. Asil.”
Daniel looked at Cerine. He could see the rapid movement of her eyes in twitching of her eyelids. He couldn’t even begin to guess what she might have uncovered in his mind. “I might be able to help her, but not here.”
“What do you mean?” Shepard asked suspiciously.
Daniel looked to Shepard. “If we can get her back to my people, then we have technology that can help clear the knowledge from her mind. Something like this has happened to one of my friends… more than once actually.”
“We have no idea how to send you back, Doctor,” Shepard replied.
“That’s why we have to work together.”
Shepard activated her omnitool and tapped on it. She then pointed to one of the monitors on the wall. The monitor went to static for a moment and then a video feed appeared. Daniel could recognize it as London; he’d been there enough times. Giant machines walked among the skyscrapers. The city glowed with fire and smoke filled the sky.
“This is London just a few days ago. It’s mostly rubble now I would guess. This is happening on dozens of worlds, Doctor Jackson, and more will follow. The Council and Alliance have tasked me to save the galaxy. You have my curiosity, but I’m afraid at the moment there are more pressing concerns. We’ll find someone to study the gate. Once we know more about the gate and you, perhaps we can help.”
“Solution already in progress,” Mordin said, looking up from his omnitool triumphantly. “Latent programming in the gate is now active. Sizeable amount of data to process. Assume it is related to gate’s recent activation. With this information, EDI and Dr. Jackson’s assistance, it is possible we could develop a program to interface with the gate. Alien technology. Success not guaranteed.”
“Mordin, you know that I need you with me on Tuchanka. The cure…”
“Twelve hours,” Mordin replied.
Shepard regarded him suspiciously, especially given the succinctness of his statement. “You think you can figure it out in twelve hours?”
“Indeed. If not, little harm done. Genophage cure not going anywhere.”
Shepard shook her head. “No, I have to disagree, Mordin.” She pointed to the screen. “Twelve hours makes a hell of a difference. Palaven is dying waiting for the krogan, and I can’t get the damn krogan until we get to Tuchanka.”
“Commander…” Daniel began to plead.
“It’s done, Doctor Jackson. We’ll find an asari scientist to study the gate. It’s the best I can do.”
Liara surreptitiously motioned to Shepard and headed toward the exit.
Shepard sighed. “Excuse me for a minute, Doctor Jackson.” She tried to ignore Mordin’s knowing eyes that followed her out the door.
After Shepard and Liara stepped outside the door closed behind them.
“Did I miss something?” Daniel asked Mordin.
“Asari can be very persuasive. Particularly that one.” Mordin smiled. “Think you are about to get the help you seek, Doctor Jackson.”
Once the door had closed, Liara turned to face Shepard.
“Liara…,” Shepard said with a heavy sigh. She knew what was coming.
“We should help him, Aerin.”
Shepard crossed her arms. “While our people die? I have the weight of a galaxy on my shoulders, and now I have to worry about a parallel galaxy? Whatever that is.”
“Every day you make hard choices. Inevitably people will die, no matter what choice you make.”
“But I still make the best choices I can.”
“I know you do, and I’m not saying your choice is wrong. I just think not helping him would be... an unfortunate missed opportunity.”
Shepard laughed uneasily. “Right. I thought you were the one person who wouldn’t second guess me.”
Liara winced at that. Then she reached out and grabbed Shepard’s hand. “Hey! I don’t question you. If you say we go to Tuchanka right this second, then we go. I’m just asking you to think about it. If he is telling the truth…”
“That’s a big if, Liara.”
Liara nodded her agreement. “As is the Crucible.”
“True enough.” Shepard certainly couldn’t deny that. The Crucible, given just its enormous size, was a huge gamble, but that was a small matter compared to the fact that they had no idea what it would actually do.
“But if it is true, it could change everything.”
“Not necessarily for the better,” Shepard reminded her.
“No reward without risk. Look at me. I was a big risk. Benezia’s daughter. A naïve scientist ‘digging in the dirt.’ You took a chance trusting me, and I don’t mean to brag,” she said and gave a flirtatious grin, “but I think I’m quite the reward.”
Shepard smiled and pressed her forehead against Liara’s and closed her eyes. It was nice to be able close her eyes for just a moment; those moments were rarer and rarer. “Quite.”
“And you’re no small prize yourself,” Liara said softly.
Shepard caved. “Alright. Alright.” She turned away and went back into the room.
Mordin and Daniel looked to her expectantly.
“Very well, Mordin. You have six hours, starting now. If in six hours you haven’t made what I deem to be sufficient progress, then we go.” She then locked eyes with Daniel. “If that happens, you’ll be coming with us Dr. Jackson.”
“I’ll see about getting us some equipment,” Liara said.
“Will return to gate to continue my research,” Mordin said excitedly.
“Thank you, Commander Shepard,” Daniel said with obvious relief.
Shepard took Daniel by the arm and led him into a corner. “Don’t thank me yet, Doctor. Lt. Asil isn’t back with us yet, and I’m still not convinced. I need a clearer picture. Who the hell are you exactly and what led you to end up here?”
1 Hour Earlier – 2009 C.E. – Ancient Outpost - Pegasus Galaxy
Rodney McKay stared at his laptop screen and yawned. He'd been staring at it for hours and was beginning to feel that the text had permanently been burned into his eyes. They'd been at the Ancient outpost for nearly a day and had little to show for it. They'd uncovered its location in the archives of a recently discovered secret research lab on Atlantis. The lab had belonged to Janus, one of the Ancients' greatest scientists. Of course, his archives failed to note the facility's layout, size, or even purpose for being, but that hadn't mattered to McKay. If the outpost was related to Janus that meant anything could be there, and he had been more than a little eager to see it. As the hours dragged on his excitement had decidedly decreased. The outpost itself, besides the difficulty of accessing its secrets, did nothing to improve his mood. Unlike Atlantis, which was a sprawling city, the outpost was cramped and dark with stale air. The room McKay had made home, with its rows of monitors and consoles, was the closest thing they'd found so far to a control room or central database and was little bigger than a large closet. After hours of work McKay had had little luck in unlocking its secrets. He turned his head towards the door at the sound of footsteps.
“Morning, Sunshine," John Sheppard said with a bright smile, tossing him an apple.
McKay tried to catch it, but it bounced off his hand and landed on the floor. He let it roll away and turned back to his laptop. "It's not morning." He then glanced at Sheppard, an uncertain look on his face. "Is it?"
Sheppard nodded and leaned against the wall. "You better get a nap. Carter and Jackson will be here in a few hours to help out, and they'll be ready to get to work. You know how hard you are to work with when you're tired... or hungry… or thirsty… or stuck."
McKay scoffed. "I'm not stuck, and I don't need help." He started typing again on his laptop. "I just need… time. I'm close to a breakthrough."
"Really? Because when I left here…," Sheppard glanced at his watch, "…six hours ago you said some help would be nice."
McKay frowned. "Did I? Doesn't sound like me."
"You did," Sheppard assured him wryly.
McKay shrugged. "Huh, well no time for sleep then. You know, I do have to hand it to Janus."
McKay clenched his fists. "He has a talent for making the most infuriating encryption system in the known universe," he said but then looked at Sheppard with a confident grin. "Fortunately, he didn't count on someone like Rodney McKay. McKay is at the top of his game."
"Uh huh. Let's not have this discussion again, Rodney."
"What are you babbling about?"
"The talk we had about referring to yourself in the third person. It's just… not healthy. Don't make us do another intervention."
"Geniuses often have quirks, and that wasn't an intervention! Ronan threatening to shoot me is not how you do an intervention," McKay countered.
"Right. So, Mr. Genius, is it safe to say that you still haven't the slightest idea what we're dealing with here?”
"It would be Dr. Genius, and I didn't say that," McKay said and gestured to his laptop. "It's obviously important, otherwise why go to all this trouble locking it away. Just finding the reference to this place in his database was a chore. And that stargate with the odd symbols obviously was meant for something."
Sheppard rolled his eyes and sighed. "Obviously. And what would that 'something' be?"
McKay waved him away. "Go away. I'm trying to work here."
"Well, whatever this place is, it's huge. Teams have been mapping it out, and it would seem that it's underground."
"Makes sense," McKay remarked. "The little planetary data we found in the database indicates the surface is barren and uninhabitable."
"So, we avoid the surface. Check. It looks like the lower levels in east wing, where that funny looking stargate is, were constructed much later than the rest of the facility."
"'Funny looking?' Is that the technical term?" McKay mocked.
Sheppard pointed at him and wagged his finger. "No jokes. Not until you can tell me what it does."
"I told you I'm working on it."
Sheppard pulled a data pad from his jacket and began glancing through reports. "North and south wing seem to go on for a way, piled high to the ceiling with some sort of generators that are giving off a signal, and those two wings have major conduits that lead directly to the gateroom. That would be the normal gate, not the funny one. Zelenka and his team are trying to figure out what the signal is. They also found at least a couple of geo-thermal power rooms that are operating. Zelenka says most of the power seems to be going to those signal generators."
"Yes, yes, I get the hint. I'll add your mystery signal to the enormous pile of mysteries that I need to solve. We don't want Zelenka getting in over his head."
"He's figured out more about this place than you have," Sheppard teased.
McKay grunted. "Oh yes, figuring out what's keeping the lights on, that is a groundbreaking discovery. I'll recommend him for the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile I… I'm just working on an extremely complex ten-thousand-year old database that may contain research that will change the face of modern science."
"You are in rare form today. You really need to get some sleep, Rodney."
"Oh, if only I had time for something so pedestrian."
"Would it help if I told you we found three ZPMs?"
McKay perked up in his chair. "Really?"
"No, but you felt better for a second right? See, it's all about attitude, but unfortunately, we've found no room full of ZPMs yet," Sheppard lamented.
"A ZPM storage room would be nice for once," McKay admitted.
"How's it going guys?" Daniel asked as he entered the room.
McKay pushed his chair back from the table and turned to glare at Sheppard. "You said 'hours.'"
Sheppard grinned innocently and shrugged. "Did I? Sorry, my timing must be off. Well, Dr. Jackson, I know that Rodney is just dying to put your expertise to work. So, I'll go meet up with Carter. She's eager to see our new gate down on the lower level."
"Actually, if Rodney has things under control, I wouldn't mind taking a look at the gate first," Daniel said.
Rodney waved them on. "Yes, yes, go look at the gate. Go off and be fascinated by the shiny object. It'll give me some time to think to myself."
"Right, like you've been doing all night?" Sheppard asked.
McKay grabbed a data pad off the table and tossed it to Daniel. "There, if you really want to make yourself useful, you can have a look at that."
Daniel adjusted his glasses and scanned the data pad. "Another Janus encryption key?"
"Yeah, it's a specific section of the database. That encryption will unlock the files to tell us what those floors of generators are for and hopefully what signal they're putting off. At least I'm pretty confident that's what it is. You work on that, and I'll get to work unlocking the stargate."
"You sure you should be messing with a gate we don't know anything about?" Shepard asked skeptically.
"I'm not 'messing' with it," McKay countered, making air quotes with his fingers. "If I can unlock its functions then we can understand what it was designed to do."
"Don't blow up any star systems this time, McKay," Sheppard ordered.
"Not entirely my fault!" McKay shouted after them as they left the room.
Daniel followed Sheppard to an elevator where Samantha Carter met up with them.
"Colonel Carter," Sheppard saluted.
"Colonel Sheppard, good to see you again," Carter replied. She looked to Daniel. "Not helping out, McKay?"
Daniel held up the data pad. "He's a little grouchy, so I'm tele-commuting."
Carter chuckled. "Gotcha."
"You know McKay. He's grouchy under the best circumstances; add in now that he hasn't slept in nearly a day. He'll be a little better after he gets some sleep," Sheppard explained. "Come on, you two are going to love this."
They entered the elevator and Sheppard took them down. Daniel was thoroughly engrossed in the data pad.
"So, I hear you've been given a command," Sheppard said to Carter.
Carter beamed with pride and nodded. "Yeah, the George Hammond. Newest Daedalus class off the line. She is a fine ship. Does her name proud."
"I never really knew General Hammond, but it certainly seems none of us would probably be here now without him."
"You're not wrong. He was a damn fine leader," she said.
Sheppard sighed. "Yeah, we've both lost some damn fine leaders."
"John, you still can't be beating yourself up about Elizabeth."
"I'm not. Scout's honor," he protested.
She patted him on the shoulder. "It wasn't your fault. She knew the threat the replicators posed. She made her choice to help try and stop them."
"Yeah, I won't deny it's a good argument, Carter," he said. "But good arguments sometimes don't make much difference do they?"
She couldn't disagree with that.
The elevator finally stopped after going down five levels. The doors slid open and led directly into a large room with the stargate at the other end. Carter and Sheppard stepped out. They both turned when they realized Daniel was still in the elevator, tapping away on the data pad.
"Daniel?" Carter said.
Daniel looked up. "Sorry, I think I've got something. Rodney was close to cracking this. He just gave up a little too quickly."
"Yeah, better if you just tell him you solved it on your own. Now maybe you can solve this," Sheppard said, jerking this thumb in the direction of the gate.
The three of them walked down the room towards the gate. The walls and ceiling were cluttered with power conduits that all converged at a generator behind the gate.
"That looks like an awful lot of power they were pumping into that gate," Carter said.
"Yeah, so far the only power source we've found is some geo-thermal generators. We've also found halls full of things that look like generators, but Zelenka says they don't seem to be producing energy just an unknown signal."
"Do you recognize the symbols, Daniel?"
Daniel glanced at the gate and shook his head. "No, never seen them before anywhere."
He held up a hand. "Sorry, Sam. Please, give me just a minute."
Sheppard motioned to Carter. "Come on, there's some sort of control panel back on this wall."
Daniel continued reading and typing, then, suddenly, the encryption broke. He was in. He quickly began trying to sort through what he was seeing. Schematics of multiple ships he had never seen before appeared on the screen, diagrams of wavelengths, and designs for the generators he'd seen in other parts of the outpost."
"Sam?" Daniel called.
There was loud hum as the power conduits in the room suddenly came to life. Other displays around the one Carter was studying came on as the gate began to spin.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked Carter as she began frantically going over the consoles and displays.
"I have no idea. We didn't do anything," Carter replied.
Sheppard tapped his earpiece. "Rodney, this is Sheppard. The gate down here is active."
"I know! I'm working on it."
Sheppard frowned and the frown was evident in his voice. "Did you do this, Rodney?"
"Just give me a minute, Sheppard."
Daniel glanced at the ceiling as a loud clang reverberated throughout the room.
Carter was rushing from display to display, more than a little concerned at the red warning messages that began to appear on them. "There's too much power in the conduits. They can't handle the strain," Carter said as she slid an earpiece on.
"Can you shut it down?" Sheppard asked.
"Trying but my Ancient isn't so good," she replied. "Daniel, I need you!"
"Rodney!" Sheppard shouted into his mic.
"I'm trying to shut down the power, but it's not working. You guys need to get out of there."
"If all of these conduits blow, it won't matter where we are, Rodney!" Carter shouted through her mic.
One of the conduits in the ceiling suddenly ruptured and a large section came crashing down to the floor in a hail of sparks and fire. The crash sent pieces of hot shrapnel flying out which caught Daniel in the chest and threw him to his back.
"Jackson!" Sheppard shouted as other conduits began to rupture, causing a fire and an acrid black smoke to spread throughout the room.
Daniel groaned and climbed to his feet, clutching his chest and beginning to cough from the smoke. The loud whoosh of the gate caught his attention. The fire was gaining on him. He glanced hurriedly around for the data pad, but it was either in the fire or smashed under debris.
"He's trapped!" Sheppard said as he scanned the room for some way to get around the fire.
"I'm close. Just get out of there!" McKay said.
"We can't get Daniel out," Carter replied. "Contact the Hammond. Have them beam Daniel out and tell them we need a fire crew beamed down here now!"
"They won't be able to beam him out of there. That area is too deep and shielded," McKay informed her. "I'm working on it."
The fire was fiercely hot, and Daniel knew it wasn't going to get better. Faced with the option of being burned alive, he rushed towards the gate. Another conduit exploded, the force of it propelling him through the event horizon.
"Jackson's gone through the gate!" Sheppard shouted.
"I've got the power under control!" McKay said. "You have to get out of there so I can activate the fire suppressant."
"But Daniel's gone through the gate," Carter replied.
"Sam, we'll get him back," McKay assured her, "but I need you guys out of there right now!"
The power conduits in the room went silent and the gate shut down.
Sheppard grabbed Carter by the arm and pulled her towards the elevator. "We've got to go, Sam."
Carter nodded and headed with him towards the elevator. As the elevator doors slid open, the unmistakable sound of the gate powering up as the chevrons began to lock stopped them dead in their tracks.
Daniel stared out across the burning horizon from the fifth floor of a ruined skyscraper. Though the building had once towered into the sky, now only five floors remained, even the ceiling and most of the walls on this floor were gone. The ruin of London stretched out all around him. Columns of thick black smoke snaked into the sky, while buildings jutted from the ground like so many shattered bones. The sun was just vanishing at the edge of the world, giving the western sky a brilliant violet hue that contrasted sharply with the orange and black that consumed the city. Artillery barrages from the ground added flashes to sky, while hundreds of Alliance shuttles flew into the city, as fragile as birds against the Reaper fire. There was an ethereal beauty to it all – a landscape of nightmares and dreams – accentuated by the acute roar of the colossal Reapers that had laid siege to the old city and the sounds of renewed war as London had just become ground zero for an intergalactic war. The archaeologist and historian in him couldn’t help but muse, what would Nelson or Churchill have done against such an enemy as this? No doubt fought to the bitter end as these brave soldiers were doing. In all his years of fighting the Goa’Uld and then the Ori, this is what they had always feared and somehow miraculously avoided. This Earth could easily have been his own. He couldn’t let it end like this. The Reapers were a threat that transcended universal boundaries and allegiances. Despite everything happening around him, he couldn’t help but smile. Today, with any luck, he would see his friends again. The past five months had been nothing short of intense, and he could not wait to return to the familiarity of home.
He turned at the sound of footsteps; Cerine approached him. She returned his uneasy smile as she came to his side and followed his gaze out to the horizon.
“Are you alright?”
His eyes narrowed. “It’s not my Earth, but…”
“It is, and it hurts.”
“Yes,” he admitted with a heavy sigh.
“They are not of your galaxy, but they are your people. How did Liara say it?”
He recalled the moment when they understood that sending him home was possible, but that it would take much longer than he wanted. Liara consoled him that nothing could change that, but he could help change what was happening here. “’We will get you home, but first you will fight with us. You will fight for them, because you know their songs. You can recite their stories, because they are yours.’”
“I don’t want to let them down.”
Cerine smiled encouragingly and reached over and clasped his armored hand with her own. “We won’t, Daniel. Shepard has put a lot of faith in us, and she seems to rarely be wrong. You have certainly impressed her… all of us.”
Daniel nodded. “You haven’t done so bad yourself.”
She looked up at him. “We’ve made a good team – you and I. While it pains me to leave while our worlds burn, knowing what we hope to accomplish, and that we’ll be doing it together reassures me that it is right.”
Daniel turned to Cerine. Her dark blue armor was scarred and blackened and streaks of dirt covered her face. She noticed him staring and grinned as he leaned in to kiss her. Her arms encircled his neck and they pressed as close as their armor would allow.
Her mouth wrinkled and she pulled back from the kiss with a stifled laugh.
“What was that about?” he asked.
She pressed a finger to his lips. “I can tell you haven’t been wearing your helmet enough. Your lips have the slight taste of ash. It’s all in the air.”
“I’m still not used to helmets, especially this fancy one Shepard gave me with the hud. Takes some getting used to.”
“And as I keep reminding you, it can’t protect that pretty head of yours if it’s retracted,” she countered.
“Quick screw before the next battle?” Wrex interrupted with a gravelly chuckle as he emerged from the stairwell. “If that’s how you two get ready for war then you’ve got more krogan in you than I thought.”
Cerine quickly broke the embrace, her face flushed. She murmured an apology to which Wrex only smiled. Facing down a Reaper was certainly a challenge, but compared to this she’d take the Reaper. Things with Daniel were still new, and she had not yet quite figured out how to handle it.
“We were just saying goodbye,” Daniel said, trying to deflect attention away from her embarrassment. “This may very well not work.”
“’Confidence, Dr. Jackson.’ I bet a pijak’s ass that’s what Mordin would say,” Wrex replied, then his face darkened. “Though I’d have a damn sight more of that if he were here with us. He was a tough old bastard.”
Daniel nodded. The loss of Mordin just a couple of weeks ago on Tuchanka had hit them all hard. “I have no doubt in Mordin’s research, just in our ability to implement it correctly. One decimal in the wrong place and we end up… I have no idea where.”
“Well, that tin can with the nice ass seems to know what she’s doing,” Wrex said.
“EDI, Wrex. Her name Is EDI,” Cerine said with a roll of her eyes, having shrugged off her momentary embarrassment.
Wrex shrugged his massive shoulders. “Device is nearly ready.” Wrex’s omnitool began to beep.
“Wrex, this is Liara. We have failed to reach the conduit,” her garbled voice came through Wrex’s radio. The sounds of gunfire and shouting filled the background. “We’re implementing Plan B immediately.”
“Shepard was dead set against Plan B, Liara,” Wrex argued. “Did she authorize this?”
Liara was silent a moment and all they heard was the gunfire before she spoke again. “She’s dying, Wrex. She took nearly a direct hit from Harbinger. I’m getting her out of here. We’re coming to you. Be ready!”
“You keep her alive, Liara!” Wrex snapped and shut off the omnitool. He snarled and walked up to the nearest wall. He began slamming his fist into it. “Cannot,” punch, “catch,” punch, “one,” punch, “fucking break!” With the final two words he slammed his forehead against the wall and Daniel and Cerine feared the whole thing would topple over.
“Wrex!” Cerine shouted. “We have to go now. Get us to the stargate.”
Wrex grunted and nodded affirmatively. “Leave it to me. My clan will get you to the gate.”
“McKay, hold that suppressant. We’ve got an incoming wormhole,” Sheppard said into his earpiece.
“Is it Jackson?” McKay asked.
“Don’t know yet,” he replied.
Carter held her breath as the last chevron on the stargate locked and the energy wave came flying out, vaporizing some of the debris that had fallen from the ceiling. From their vantage point in the elevator, much of the stargate was obscured by black smoke, however, her eyes went wide when she caught a momentary glimpse of two great seven-foot-tall armored hulks emerging from the gate.
“Did you see that?” Sheppard asked, trying to blink away the irritation in his eyes caused by the smoke.
“I’m not sure,” Carter replied.
The armored figures approached the fire and began spraying out a suppressant from the built-in extinguishers into the arms of their armor suits.
Carter whispered into her earpiece. “McKay, get a security team ready up top. We appear to have some company. They’re putting the fire out. Can you use the vents to clear some of this smoke?”
“I believe I can reroute some airflow,” he offered.
A third armored figure, much shorter and thinner – human-sized and female judging by the armor contours - emerged from the gate. The smoke was now beginning to clear, and they could see one of the hulks turned and waved her on into the room. The other hulk began to clear the heavy debris from in front of the gate, with little effort. The woman activated an orange hologram on her left forearm, seconds later people began to pour through the gate, most of them armored, and many appearing to be seriously injured.
One of the soldiers came out of the gate in a full run, and immediately headed straight toward the back of the room without hesitation, waving to Carter and Sheppard. A suit of black armor and a helmet hid all features.
Sheppard began to step out of the elevator and Carter grabbed his arm to pull him back.
“What are you doing, John?”
“Bad guys don’t wave right? The Wraith certainly don’t wave. So, I’m just going to say hello. They look like they could use some help. Just want to show them we’re friendly.”
Carter nodded and followed him out of the elevator. The armored figure slowed down and approached them, holstering the rifle on his back. The orange hologram appeared around his forearm and he tapped on it, causing his helmet to begin disassembling and retracting back into the collar of his suit of armor.
Carter smiled and Sheppard cocked his head curiously.
“You guys miss me?” Daniel asked.
Carter’s face could not hide her surprise. “Daniel… um… what the hell is this?” Clearly, this was not the same person who had left just five minutes ago. He bore some new, albeit minor, scars on his left cheek, his face was covered in soot, and his hair could definitely stand a wash, but there was something different in his face, in his eyes. He had been through something harrowing but had come out stronger.
Daniel nodded. “That is a great question, but for now, I need your help. I’ve got a lot of wounded with me. I need you to contact the Hammond and Atlantis. We need every medic and doctor you can spare, and we need to start getting people up that elevator.”
The third soldier who had exited the gate joined them hesitantly. From the armor, she had appeared to be a human female, but as her helmet likewise retracted, they were stunned by her blue skin and sapphire-colored eyes.
Daniel motioned to her. “Guys, this is my… friend, Lt. Cerine Asil.”
Carter caught slight hesitation in Daniel’s introduction, only adding to her confusion and curiosity.
She extended her hand, which Sheppard was quick to accept.
“Welcome to Pegasus,” he said with a roguish grin.
“Thank you,” she said. Her omnitool crackled with static and a voice came on. “This is Liara T’soni. Come in Astria.”
“This is Astria squad,” Cerine replied. “Our transport was successful.”
“Shepard?” she asked hesitantly.
“Secure and alive.”
“Well done, Lt. I’ve taken personal command of Veric squad.”
Cerine’s lips pursed and her checks flushed with anger. “You’re not coming?”
“No,” Liara replied. “Veric squad was being overrun. I joined them to buy you more time. Securing Shepard’s evac is the highest priority. This won’t work without her.”
“When she finds out we left you behind…”
“She will understand,” Liara cut her off. “But tell her I completely expect her to come back and rescue me. That should provide her the motivation to get her ass out of bed.”
“Wrex isn’t coming either,” she informed her.
“Then I’m placing you in charge until Shepard recovers,” Liara informed her.
Liara was not military, and the group that came through the gate was human, salarian, asari and more – she technically had no authority over any of them, but Cerine nor anyone else would question anything that came from her.
“She needs you, Liara,” Cerine said simply. She knew that would sting, but she was desperate. Most of Shepard’s crew was on the Normandy or elsewhere. Only Liara and Vakarian had gone with Shepard to the conduit, and Wrex had stayed back to help guard the stargate at Shepard’s request, but once Shepard was safely through Wrex had refused to join them. He’d said his place was in the fight – he would carry on in Shepard’s name. Shepard herself was unconscious and on the verge of death. Now if Liara wasn’t coming, that left her, Lt. Cerine Asil, in charge of a rag-tag outfit stuck in an alternate universe – it was not the sort of command she had always envisioned.
Liara however was not swayed. “I have to go, Cerine. We can’t hold the chokepoint much longer. I estimate we’ll be overrun in less than five minutes. Half of the squad is seriously injured, but we’ll hold them back as long as possible if you need more time.”
Daniel and Cerine both glanced back toward the gate quickly to see that already nearly two dozen people had come through.
“Negative,” Cerine replied. “Recommend you proceed to your evac point. Let Hackett know that we made it through. Tell them…,” her voice began to shake and she took a moment to draw a breath, “tell them we will be back. Shepard will see this ended. We all will.”
“Acknowledged,” she said. “Transmitting last minute orders to your omnitool. Proceeding with gate shutdown. Good luck, Cerine. Take care of her for me.”
Cerine’s omnitool powered down and she stood there silent for a moment.
“Are you alright, Cerine?” Daniel asked.
Holstering her rifle, she nodded. “That crazy pureblood put me in charge. Knew she wasn’t right in the head.”
“They’re not your commandos, but these people trust you,” Daniel said. “And you know that.”
“Right then. Let’s get to work.” She jerked her head back at the wounded. “Sgt. Vakarian says we’ve got to get Shepard into surgery now or she won’t make it. If she doesn’t make it, then neither does my home.”
Daniel nodded and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Go get her ready, we’ll get her up top first.”
He looked back to Carter. “We need a doctor by the time we get up top.”
Sheppard and Carter didn’t question him further. Sheppard tapped his earpiece. “Rodney, contact Atlantis and let them know we have a medical emergency. We need them prepped for at least twenty wounded. We’ve got people who will need emergency surgery.”
“Who the hell are you talking about?” McKay asked.
“Daniel’s back and he brought friends.”
Daniel turned and headed back towards the Stargate, motioning for the two of them to follow. He weaved among the wounded straight to where Cerine and Sgt. Vakarian, a turian combat medic, were kneeling next to Shepard who was lying on a stretcher.
Daniel looked to Carter and Sheppard. “She’s Aerin Shepard, and I wouldn’t be back here or even alive without her help.”
When Carter and Sheppard saw her they shared a grim sidelong glance at each other. They knew, whoever she was, she would not survive. She was covered in blood, most of her armor was gone and some parts that remained appeared to be fused to her skin. Her auburn red hair stood out in stark contrast to the cold pallor of her face. The only glimmer of hope was that she didn’t appear to have any head injuries.
The turian was applying some sort of gel to her wounds with a marked speed and determination and simultaneously scanning with her omnitool. “My knowledge of human physiology is limited! I was pulled for the Battle of Earth before I completed my exobiology training.”
“You’re doing fine, Kaeta,” Cerine assured the young turian.
She shook her head vigorously. “No, she’s dying. I’m not my brother. I can’t save the damned galaxy nor even one fucking person it seems!”
Cerine leaned in close to Kaeta and whispered. “You’re a turian. Keep it together and keep Shepard alive. You can do this, Sgt. Am I clear?”
Kaeta nodded. “We have to get her to a doctor. Her implants and the medi-gel are helping keep her alive, but they’re being overworked. Her cybernetics will completely fail if we can’t stabilize her.”
Daniel grabbed an end of the stretcher and nodded at Carter to grab the other end.
Carter knelt down to Daniel’s level. “Daniel, she won’t make it.”
“Like hell,” Daniel replied simply which brought a smile out of Cerine. “Let’s go, Sam.”
Carter grabbed the other end and gently they lifted her off the ground and began their way towards the elevator. Sgt. Vakarian followed alongside, continuing to apply medi-gel. They passed another medic helping the other wounded.
“You, salarian,” she said, pointing a finger at the medic. “I need you on triage. Prioritize who needs to go up the elevator first.” The salarian nodded and saluted her.
“Ummm, Sheppard,” Daniel began tentatively, “I need a favor.”
“You got it, Jackson.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have agreed so quickly. I need you to contact your wraith friend.”
Sheppard smirked. “Why do people keep saying that? We’re not friends.”
“Well, I’m afraid we’re going to need his help,” Daniel lamented. “Trust me I don’t like it, but I don’t think we have a choice.”
Sheppard grimaced. “Yeah, fine. We get back to Atlantis, and I’ll see what I can do.”
By the time they reached the elevator, they already had a train of organized patients, several on stretchers lining up behind them; the salarian was taking his new task seriously.
“John, why don’t you work with that medic? See if you can get an idea of the injuries we’re dealing with. Relay to McKay so he can help the med teams get prepped.”
“I’m on it. You should speak to Woolsey directly and let him know what’s going on.” Sheppard said. He tapped his earpiece as the elevator doors closed. “McKay, we got the first group of wounded heading up. Go ahead and dial up Atlantis and let them know we’re going to start sending people through. Inform Dr. Keller that the Hammond’s medics will focus on the minor wounded here, but we’ll be sending the worst straight through the gate.”
“I’ve had them dialed up for the past few minutes. Carson was in doing some work on project with Jennifer, so she’s pulled him in.”
“That’s great. They’re going to need all the help they can get.”
“Woolsey wants a full report from you ASAP,” Rodney informed him, with some small amount of mirth.
“Yeah, that’s the reaction I expected. That’s for lying to me this morning about Jackson and Carter.”
“Tell Woolsey I’m working with the wounded, and I’ll check in as soon as I can. Something is going on here. Jackson says we need to bring in Todd.”
“What? Your wraith friend?”
Sheppard clenched his fist. “I swear to God, McKay!” He stopped and took a deep breath. “Forget it. We have work to do. Have a couple of medics come down when the elevator unloads and send Ronin and Teyla with them. There’s some…,” Sheppard glanced at the two armored hulks, “sketchy looking tank-like aliens down here.”