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The Second Failsafe

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Atlantis – Pegasus Galaxy – 10,000 years ago
“Thank you,” she told Janus, feeling more relieved than she should before a ten millennia journey home.


“Thank you, for giving me hope that Atlantis will survive another ten thousand years.” He flashed her the same cheeky smile he’d had since meeting her. “After you discover it again.”


She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek, but before she could pull away, he gripped her arms, holding her close, whispering in her ear: “I’ll see you again, Elizabeth.”


And then he was gone, and she was all alone.

 

United States – Earth – 19 years ago
“You sure you want to be here, Lizzie?”


“I’m sure that on Monday morning I don’t want to be the only person in school who didn’t go to this party, Carrie.”


“I never took you for one to give into peer pressure.”


“And I never thought you’d be afraid of a little beer and music.”


Taking a deep breath and arranging her to top to make sure the right shoulder was fully visible, Elizabeth walked through the front door with a big smile like she absolutely belonged there.


“Hey, Lizzie, glad you made it!” Someone she barely knew from history class shoved a beer in her hand and pulled her further into the house.


Her heart seemed to pound with the base of whatever band she didn’t know pulsing over the sound system. She’s already lost track of Carrie, and despite her outward confidence, was feeling lost and out of place. But she’d wanted a chance to wear the outfit she’d bought herself with the money she got for her fifteenth birthday; it wasn’t like she’s ever be able to wear the mini skirt and off-the-should silk top out of the house or to school. Just once in her life she wanted to forget a perfect grade point average, Sunday dinners with her parents, volunteering after school to improve her college resume; just once she wanted to be like everyone else.

“Here.” A hand held a cup with a colourful liquid in front of her face. Started, Elizabeth turned and saw the most beautiful boy with the largest blue eyes she’d ever seen in her life. “It’s sweet. You might like it better than the beer.”

She reached out and took it with a smile. “Thank you, uh…”

“James. I’m James. New transfer.” He flashed her a grin with perfect white teeth. “It’s nice to meet you, Elizabeth.”

 

United States – Earth – 7 months later
“Push, Elizabeth, you have to push!”

“I can’t, Mom, it’s too hard!” This exchange had been repeated several times over the last hour. It was too soon, and the baby coming too fast for an epidural.

“Yes you can. You got yourself into this mess, and this is the way out.”

“Stop saying that!” the frightened teenager sobbed.
The sympathetic obstetrician glared at the older woman. “Mrs Weir, perhaps it would be better if you waited-”

“No, I’m staying right here with my daughter.”

“Then please, I need you to help her focus, or else we’re going to have to do a caesarean.”

That shocked her more than a little, the prospect of a scar permanently reminding her daughter of this horrific episode in her life. Collecting herself, Elizabeth’s mother kissed her daughter’s forehead and took her hand. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth, I’m sorry. Please, honey, I know you’re strong enough to do this. Just a little more.”

Bearing down on the next contraction, the doctor proudly announced the appearance of a head, then demanded one more push to free the shoulders. “There we go! Good girl.”
But there was no cry, no further celebratory declarations, just a dizzying blur of people in white rushing about.

“Mom?” Elizabeth looked up at her mother, her facing going from red with exertion to deathly gray.

“She’s haemorrhaging!” someone shouted. “Call the blood bank and prep an OR!”

 

Stargate Command – Earth – Present
Elizabeth knew she should be sleeping, but General O’Neill had presented her with a stack of personnel files, mostly military and a few more civilians the IOA had authorized at the last minute. They were set to leave in a little over 30 hours, supplies were still coming in, Expedition members were still arriving from around the globe, and she’d hardly slept since leaving Antarctica. Sipping her strong tea, she opened the next file and choked, coughing brown liquid all over the papers.


“No, no, no, no,” she whispered, using her sleeve to wipe it up, trying to see the picture better. It was her. There was no mistake. She looked like Elizabeth did at 18 – no, 19 now – but angrier, a thick white scar running from the corner of her left eye to temple, disappearing into thick brown waves that looked rather untamed for a military photo ID. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Elizabeth grabbed the folder and marched to Jack O’Neill’s office, knowing he would still be there, even though it was approaching midnight

.
“Dr Weir, you're looking...stressed. What can I do for you?”


“Take her off the Expedition.” Elizabeth dropped the slim file on his desk without preamble. “Everleigh Weiland. Get her off the roster. She is not going to Atlantis.”


Though he didn’t know the diplomat too well, Jack was relatively certain that this was not in character for a woman who spent her life negotiating rather than demanding. Sighing, he picked up the manila folder, containing all of two pages, which he read quickly. “Dr Weir, this is a military appointee. You don’t have authority over assigned military personnel.”


Clenching her fists, Elizabeth took a steadying breath. “I’m telling you, General, she cannot go. You can replace her with anyone, I don’t care. But not her.”


“Oooookay. And is there any particular reason? She owe you money? Once insult your mother? Ran over your cat?” Jack waited, watching her shift uncomfortably; she hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Would you like to sit down while you concoct a really good lie? It might help.”


Elizabeth did sit, pressing her hands together, trying to think a way out of this, but the longer the wait, the more Jack would know she wasn’t holding a hand worth playing. Maybe cards on the table was the best bet. “General, I could come up with some elaborate story, but I don’t think anything would be as effective as the truth... And I’m trusting it will never leave this room.”


Jack smiled sadly, leaning forward to push the file back to her. “She’s your kid, isn’t she?” The pronouncement was like a slap, physically jolting Elizabeth back in her chair. “But I’m betting you didn’t raise her. You couldn’t have been more than, what, 16-?”


“Fifteen,” she corrected softly. “How did you know?”


“I’m not as young as I used to be, Dr Weir, but I still have two very good eyes, and she looks like your Minime – well, not ‘mini’, she’s definitely taller than you. But if I didn’t know any better, I would think someone had cloned you, then dropped you in a war zone. The similarities, though, are only skin deep.”


“Why do you say that?”


“This code.” Jack pointed to the CR-12 stamped on the file cover. “This is a Military Intelligence program. Specifically, recruits from the prisons of America. The worst and brightest, as it were, given a second chance if they serve at the pleasure of the President. Or, well, his minions, at least.”


Her breath caught in her throat. “Are you saying she’s a…criminal?”


“Oh yeah, and a brilliant one at that to end up in CR-12. My guess is someone wants a military mole capable of understanding what your scientists are up to. Wouldn't want a really nice, shiny Ancient weapon to not be added to the US arsenal because someone had moral scruples about its use.”


Elizabeth turned her head and stared into the corner of the room. It was easier to maintain her composure if she talked to the wall. “She was ten days old when they finally took her from me. I was so young, and she was so early. There were complications – for the both of us. To keep her alive I kept her next to me for ten days. I kept her warm and healthy. She never cried. She’d just occasionally made a little sound, letting me know she wanted something. The doctors said she was a miracle. And then while I was sleeping, they came and took her, because I'd signed the papers months before at my parents' insistence. From that day until tonight, I never knew what happened to her, in spite of my efforts to find her. And now that I have found her, I want her as far away from here as possible.”


Jack knew what it was to lose a child, the fear that clenches the heart when you realize that you can't keep your most precious possession safe from the world. He had to clear the lump in his throat before he could speak. “I…I can’t make any promises, Elizabeth, but I will do everything in my power to keep your daughter from walking through that Stargate. And if it can’t be done through official channels, then maybe a bout of intestinal upset keeps her in the infirmary on D-day.”


Wiping away a single tear, Elizabeth finally looked at the General. “Thank you, Jack.”


“You realize you might not ever see her again if you can’t find a way back?”


She nodded. “So she lives. On Earth. Safe. I can live with that.”

*******

Colonel Marshall Sumner was not pleased about having this conversation with General O’Neill at 0730 the next morning. “Sir, with all due respect, you can’t start shaking up the troops this late in the game, especially without a reason.”


“Dr Weir has reservations about criminals being included in the Atlantis Expedition, and I can’t entirely disagree with her there. Three hundred million light years from Earth is not a good place to be stuck with the emotionally unstable and morally unreliable. I would know; I took a roadtrip with my ex-mother-in-law once.”


“Private Weiland is the only CR-12 draftee. In my briefing, I was advised that she has the Ancient Technology Activation gene, an IQ of 180, and from what little I’ve been told, can take down the NID intranet in five minutes with a Palm Pilot and a few paperclips. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said she’s been training for this Expedition for the last six months and that she has…skills we will likely find useful.”


“And those are?”


“I wasn’t told. And I wasn’t going to interrogate the Chairman, sir.”


Jack tapped an irritated pen on his desk. “She’s also only 19. And a criminal. Genius or not. I don’t see this going well.”


Colonel Sumner grimaced. “General, I don’t necessarily disagree with you, either. Private Weiland was not my choice; she came from above. Far above. You want her left behind, you’re going to have to look up, not down.”


“Then I will do just that, Colonel. In the meantime, I want her to stand down.”

*******

That afternoon, walking back to her office with a sparse lunch, Elizabeth was suddenly confronted with irate green eyes and balled fists. “Who the fuck do you think you?”


These were the first words Elizabeth Weir heard from her daughter. The meaning didn’t matter; she was trying to detect regional inflection and dialect, trying to reach past the words and to the person, as she’d done so many times at the negotiating table. “I’m sorry?”


“I’ve been ordered to stand down! Why the fuck are you trying to remove me from the Expedition?! I agreed to this so that I don’t spend the rest of my life in a very dark NID holding cell. So who are you to put me back in it?!”


Elizabeth was too stunned to speak.


“You know what? Never mind. Fuck you. I’m sorry if you don’t think I’m good enough for your party, but yours won’t be the first one I’ve crashed.” Everleigh made her point with her middle digit. “You don’t know me; you don’t know who I am or what I can do. This is where I need to be, where I’m supposed to be. So fuck you, lady.” And with that she turned and marched away.


Looking around desperately for a flat surface, Elizabeth finally settled on depositing her lunch on the top of a fuse box and running after the young woman. “Hey, Private, hold on a second-”


Grabbing Everleigh’s arm, the diplomat somehow found herself suddenly, painfully, face down on the floor, arm pinned behind her back while the shoulder threatened to dislocate itself.


“Let her go!” General O’Neill was flanked by two MPs, each with a 9mm pointed at Everleigh.


“No!” Elizabeth cried, looking up at the General desperately. “Put your guns away! Please!”


Jack kept his gaze locked on the infuriated soldier, who didn’t seem intimated by the MPs in the slightest. She wasn’t going to be the first to blink, but Elizabeth certainly flinched as her arm was pushed a little further out of joint. With a wave of his index finger, Jack’s security lowered their weapons, while Everleigh released the good doctor and slowly raised her hands. “Gentlemen: Arrest Private Weiland.”


“It was my fault,” Elizabeth tried to explain, regaining her feet with Jack’s help. “I startled her is all…”


Jack cut her off rather abruptly with a shake of his head. “Put her in the brig,” he barked, meeting Everleigh scowl for scowl. When they were gone, he turned to Elizabeth, gentle fingers probing the bruise on her cheek from where it hit the deck. “You gonna be ok, Doc?”


“Yes, I’ll be fine. But what will happen to her?”


“Whatever you want, Dr Weir. But I can make sure she doesn’t walk through the Gate tomorrow for sure now. No Pegasus galaxy for that ‘undomesticated equine’, as Teal’c would say.”


Elizabeth couldn't shake the image of Everleigh being led away, head bowed low and shoulders slumped. “I think you’re wrong there, General. Someone broke that horse a long time ago.”


Jack put a comforting hand on her arm. “If you’d like, I can try to get the classified file for you-”


“No,” she said quickly. “Thank you, General, but no. Knowing more wouldn’t make it hurt any less.”

*******

The call came at 0200 hours, jarring Jack out of his bed at the SGC, wanting to remain on base until the Expedition departed. Ten minutes and a pounding headache later, he was in the brig, ordering Private Weiland’s release.


“I just got an earful from the President, a man I generally get along with. It seems the NID really, really wants you on this expedition, no exceptions. So I am obeying orders.” The cuffs clicked as they were released, having been left on as punishment by the guards earlier, after she made certain aspersions about their manhood and their mothers. “But I have a request, a personal one: Take it easy on Dr Weir. She was only trying to save your life, kid. Because there’s a good chance of never coming back from this.”


Everleigh rotated her hands, cracking her wrists; she was rather familiar with handcuffs, apparently. “I don’t need saving, General.”


Now Jack scoffed. “Kid, I don’t think the entire College of Cardinals and the Pope himself could save you. But Weir is giving you a chance, one that you may or may not actually deserve. She's like that. So don’t blow it. Where you're going, you'll need every friend you can get.”


“Sir!” Everleigh snapped a salute and marched back to her quarters to pack. And retrieve the contraband hidden in a supply closet. And to raid the SGC cafeteria for a few extra trade goods. Plus the one very special thing she was taking, tucked safely a crate she marked with a discrete white hash. She wasn’t going to the Pegasus galaxy emptyhanded; she’d be able to open her own PX. She would survive. And she would never come back to Earth or the NID; she would finally be free.

*******

At 0600, the Atlantis Expedition gathered in the ‘gate room. Surveying the group, Elizabeth saw the one person she had hoped not to and looked over at Jack, who shook his head sadly: this was out of his hands. And that said a lot about whoever put Everleigh on the Expedition team. But that was a mystery for later.


“Now, every one of you volunteered for this mission and you represent over a dozen countries.” She’d written the speech before Everleigh’s file ended up on her desk, and the words became a little more difficult to get out. “You are the world’s best and brightest; and in light of the adventure we are about to embark on, you are also the bravest. I hope we will return one day-” She swallowed the lump in her throat “-having discovered a whole new realm for humanity to explore, but as you all know, we may never be able to return home. I’d like to offer you all one last chance to withdraw your participation.”


She pleaded in her mind for Everleigh to say something, to melt into the back of the crowd and disappear through a door. But the girl didn’t move. Looking up at General O’Neill, she nodded. “Begin the dialing sequence.”


Elizabeth looked back before stepping through the Stargate; Everleigh did not. While she was held for the previous six months she’d been briefed on everything about the Stargate Program, the Go’auld, the Asgard, and the Ancients. After everything life had thrown at her, she took it in her stride; this felt right. Everleigh dragged her loaded pallet up the ramp and after blowing the air out of her lungs, stepped through the shimmering pool of light, emerging in darkness.


Chaos followed. Sumner, knowing she wasn’t proper military, assigned Everleigh to move and sort the supplies while other teams of Marines went exploring through the city. Elizabeth didn’t have much time for her either, giving her one order: “Stay near the Gate room. If we have to evacuate, grab everything you can and get through the Stargate. Don’t wait for anyone, just go. Understand?”


Hundreds of feet underwater, a failing shield, and not enough power to save them? Everleigh didn’t need to be told twice. She sat on her pallet and watched, holding the bottle of Brüt General O’Neill had sent through, wishing the Expedition luck. Coming from a man who got into as much trouble as Jack O’Neill did (she’d read the SG-1 mission reports) it seemed ironic, and probably a jinx. From time to time Everleigh felt Dr Weir’s eyes on her, but no more orders were forthcoming.


“How are we doing?” Elizabeth asked Rodney nervously. “If we can just buy ourselves another day-”


McKay cut her off. “This city is sacrificing other parts of itself in order to maintain these central areas, but catastrophic failure is inevitable.”


“Not in my wildest dreams…” Equal parts frustrated and frightened, she looked down to the main floor again, saw her daughter sitting on a pile of crates, idly bouncing her feet off the side while playing some handheld game, apparently oblivious to the danger. “And we have no choice but to walk away from this?”


“To save Atlantis? Yes.”


To save more than Atlantis, Elizabeth thought. “We don’t have enough power to send a message. As far as Earth is concerned, we’re just going to be missing, presumed lost.”


“We’ll be back,” Rodney assured her. “We’ll find a power source somewhere in Pegasus.”


She wasn’t ready to give up. “We’ve not heard from Colonel Sumner; we’ve got no idea what’s out there.”


“We can’t wait any longer, Elizabeth. It’s time to go. Now.”


Walking away from the scientist before he could say anything else, she keyed her radio. “Attention all personnel. This is Weir-” Then the ground started to shift, a rumble that reverberated from shoes to scalp. “Stand by for immediate evacuation!”


She ran down the stairs, pulling Everleigh off the supplies and to her feet, calling back to Rodney. “Dial the gate!”


“I can’t, we’ve got an incoming wormhole!”


Peter Grodin looked up from his computer. “It’s Lieutenant Ford’s IDC, ma’am.”


“Let him in, but be prepared to dial back out.” Elizabeth picked up Private Weiland’s backpack, shoving it into her arms. “Get ready to go.”


But more than Ford came through the Stargate, dozens of bedraggled strangers. “Step in folks, move away from the puddle.”


“Major Sheppard!” Weir cried, nearly at her wit's end. “Who are all these people?”


“Survivors from the settlement. We were attacked.” A bit slowly, he realized the entire city was shaking and the Expedition members were scrambling to pack up their computers and grab their bags. “What’s going on?”


“Major, we’re in no condition to help anyone! We can’t even help ourselves. We have to abandon the city because the shield is about to fail and bring the entire ocean crashing in on us.”


“Jinto!” Sheppard pulled one of the boys forward. “Do you have any other Gate addresses where we could go?”


Elizabeth wasn’t about to argue. If the boy could get them out of here, then fine. As the trembling increased, the towers of crates and boxes began to shift. She ran to grab Private Weiland, only to fall to the deck, pulling Everleigh down with her, but Ford got them both back on their feet away from falling debris. Nothing could be heard over the roar coming from below, but there was the sensation of gravity shifting, pulling them all downwards as the city rose upwards. Breaking the surface of the ocean, daylight streamed into the Gate room for the first time in ten millennia.


They were all drawn to the vibrant light coming through the windows, clear and colourful. It was the most beautiful thing Elizabeth had ever seen. “I was hoping for another day. Looks like we just got a whole lot more than that.” She glanced over at her daughter and smiled, relief flooding every cell of her body. “Let’s not waste it.”


For her part, Everleigh was also quite please; the Expedition supplies were hers to play with. And Colonel Sumner never came back through the Gate. With her watchdog gone, life in the Pegasus galaxy just got a little easier.

*******

At the celebration for the Athosians and Expedition members, Weir took an extra cup of the champaign and went in search of her elusive target, whom she found taking inventory in the largest storeroom near what was being designated as the mess hall. “Private Weiland, you haven’t had a drink yet.”


“Technically speaking, Dr Weir, I’m not old enough.”


“As a member of the military, you are.” Elizabeth continued to hold out the steel cup, her peace offering. “But I also suspect you’ve never let age get in the way of a good drink.”


Pausing in her tally and running a quick Pro/Con list over accepting the drink, she finally took the mug and downed everything in one gulp. “L’Chaim.”


Elizabeth decided to build on this small victory. “I am in need of an assistant, Private Weiland, and you and I both know you’re not exactly trained for military tactics on alien planets. So what do you say to reporting to me, instead?”


The teenager laughed bitterly. “I barely have a tenth grade education, Doctor Weir. Of all the egg-heads you have here, I should be last on your list.”


A tight smile creased Weir’s features. “You’re a natural liar, Private, even when it serves no purpose. You dropped out of high school after amassing a small fortune culled from a dozen Fortune 500 businesses by infecting air-gap computers with an accounting worm at the manufacturer in China after passing yourself off as a quality control inspector sent from the American home office. You speak Mandarin fluently, adequate Cantonese, every Romance language, Japanese, German, Greek, and oddly enough, Swedish.”


“They have really good crime novelists, and everyone in the US is missing out.”


“A juvenile correctional facility tested you at an IQ of 180 when you were ten, caught stealing a $3 million Stradivarius violin you couldn’t possibly hope to sell.”


“I wasn’t going to sell it. I just wanted to play it. And I did, for four days, until some rat turned me in at the home for making too much noise.” The arched eyebrow of surprise did not go unnoticed. “What? Felons can’t enjoy music?”


Elizabeth signed and looked at her feet. This wasn’t quite going the way she intended. “I am…sorry for my tone. I can sit across the table from war lords and dictators and find the right words to say, but with you… I’m sorry. I promise to try harder to control my…assumptions about you. I, of all people, should know better.”


Everleigh actually smiled, holding the mug up in mock salute. “Don’t worry about it, Doc. Most people don’t concern themselves with what I think or what I do.”


“They should. They might be surprised.” Elizabeth took back the empty cup. “I’ll tell Major Sheppard you’ll be working with me. I’m sure after a crash course in Ancient-”


The suggestion was waved away. “Already learned it while being held by the NID, among other extra-terrestrial languages.”


“I see.” The Expedition leader tapped the cups together in thought. “Private, do you know why you’re here?”


“It was this or a deep, dark cell. I offered to go to Afghanistan, but they figured I would just disappear within a week. And to be fair, I would have. In about 36 hours.”


“How did they catch you, in the end?”


“I refused to kill a man,” she answered cryptically, turning her back to open another crate.


Elizabeth decided to let it go for the moment. “Right, well, I’ll see you at 0730 tomorrow.”


Once Weir had gone, Everleigh let out a sigh and opened the crate with the white hash on it. “About time. Sorry it took so long, buddy.” Reaching in, she pulled out a small black cat with one eye and a split ear. Unfurling a sleeping bag, Everleigh settled in with an MRE, an iPod, and a copy of The Stand. She fished out the turkey pieces from her dinner and set them on the floor for her furry friend, who happily gobbled them up.


Somewhere in Atlantis there was an assigned room with her name on it, but she wasn’t willing to leave her ad hoc PX to anyone who might wander in. She watched alien stars in no particular pattern while tapping along to Pictures at an Exhibition and drifted off to sleep with the gentle hum of the city calming her mind.