Chapter 1: Ab Initio
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.
Chapter 2: Barba Tenus Sapientes
The morning found her at Weir’s side with a tablet and a long, long list of things that needed to be done. It was boring work, but it kept her in the know; who was where, what was going on, what tomorrow might look like. Only Colonel Sumner has known who she really was, so Major Sheppard overlooked her. Security teams and gate teams had been established back on Earth, and she wasn’t included.
She took the dead plants away, tossing them out into the ocean, but in their place, tried some of the seeds she’d brought; avocado, cherry, and pineapple trees. If they took, she would think about moving them someplace else later. But for now, no one noticed all the ancient dirt pots, just that brittle branches were no longer catching on their clothes in the corridors. Some of the Athosians were interested in what she was doing and she made friends with them; sweet people who didn’t know her past and were genuinely only interested in pleasant conversation and the exchange of knowledge. She promised to let them try the fruits, and even try to grow their own, if they ever got back to land. In return, she learned a great deal about the history of the Pegasus galaxy, the Wraith, and some more friendly neighbours (complete with their Gate addresses).
It may not have been quiet for Dr Weir or Major Sheppard, but Everleigh was rather enjoying easy duties, right up until the morning Sheppard needed a ‘volunteer’, and she was voluntold.
“Weiland, you’re with Ford. Scientist babysitting in the suburbs today.” He tossed her a P90. “Pack a lunch. Ten minutes.”
Elizabeth hesitated. “Major, are you sure-”
“Sorry, Dr Weir, you’re just going to have to take your own notes today. I’ve got three guys down with some sort of nasty rash from their last off world mission. I mean, like, have you ever seen burned cheese on a-”
“It’s not about notes,” she insisted before he could get any more graphic, “just that, maybe she’s not fully prepared for-”
“Hey, if she made it to the Expedition, then she was prepared. Have fun, Private!” And he dipped back out of her office before she could object further.
For her part, Everleigh didn’t show any reticence in cocking the gun and going to find Rodney. It would be good to get to know the outer parts of the city. She’s studied the computer schematics, but knew there was a lot more than what was on them. Little uncharted room and labs kept popping up everywhere.
It was a half-hour hike out to the largest building on the north pier. Rodney looked at Ford and his squad, irritated. “Just, um, stand over there and don’t touch anything.”
Ford rolled his eyes and leaned back against the wall. “You might as well find somewhere to sit, Private. We’ve got all day. And he’s serious about the ‘don’t touch anything’ part; you never know when you’re going to find an open circuit.”
“I’ll stroll the perimeter, sir, just to map the area for any other entrances or points of interest for our Dear Leader.” Everleigh was happy for the quiet, putting her comm link away for the time being. She’d been around too many people for too long. Reaching out, she let her fingers trail the wall, feeling the millennia-old materials, the divots and dents, ripples and railings. The soft hum of the city almost seemed to sing to her, the dim lights calming. She wasn’t sure how far she’d walked when she was startled from her meditation by a change in the metal, a soft, warm panel slightly different from the rest of the corridor. Pausing, Everleigh pressed her hand to the heat sink, which moved a large section of wall, revealing a vast room whose lights flickered on for the first time in over ten thousand years.
It was beautiful; polished wood shelves in long rows holding the treasures and artefacts of a hundred worlds, and untold thousands of data crystals neatly arranged in little boxes by subject. Selecting one at random, Everleigh placed it in one the terminals in a sunken well on the floor.
The lights around her dimmed while a luminous column in front of her coalesced into an older, white-haired man in Ancient garb. “Greetings, Scholar, I am Amaltus, planetary engineer for the Vegras sector. What is your research question?” The hologram spoke in Ancient and it took a moment for Everleigh’s mind to adjust, having rarely heard the language spoken aloud, but her response came easily.
“Hello, Amaltus. I’m actually just looking for a general summary of your work, if you would be so kind.” It was better than admitting she had no idea who he was, and not knowing the program well, she didn’t want to risk insulting a tetchy hologram. Sometimes that was a thing.
“Well, my primary approach always involved an initial assessment: do I need to create an endothermic or exothermic reaction to stabilize planetary temperatures…”
At least it wasn’t boring, and it helped her to improve her Ancient vocabulary. It turned out Amaltus was an early Ancient, back when they were still spreading through the Milky Way, and he had some fascinating ideas on terraforming. He’d engineered many of the worlds that still held human colonies, but just as interesting were his failures, and why those planets had ultimately reverted back to their native state. Three hours passed before Ford and McKay found their missing soldier, deep in conversation with Amaltus and a friendly rival of his, the philosopher Iony, who had her own ideas about the ethics of terraforming.
“What the hell is going on here? Didn’t you hear your radio?” Ford demanded. He was angry, but only because Major Sheppard was angry that he’d lost the Private, and Sheppard was only angry because Elizabeth was irate, giving him the diplomatic version of the ‘I-Told-You-So’ speech. Everleigh took the ear bud out of her pocket and put it back in.
“I told you not to touch anything!” Rodney added, looking around the room, finally processing what he was seeing. “But you did. And the city responded. I didn’t know you had the ATA gene! You’re not on my list! Ford, why isn’t she on my list?”
“I don’t know, Dr McKay, but I do know that if we don’t get back to the central tower now, Major Sheppard will have my commission, and Dr Weir will have your-”
“Right, yes, point taken.” He snapped his fingers at Everleigh. “Come on, let’s go.”
Quirking an eyebrow at the two men, Everleigh turned her attention back to her two tutors, thanking them kindly in Ancient and bidding them farewell. She opted for the longer, more formal parting phrases, just to irritate Rodney. Picking up the two data crystals, she returned them to their respective boxes and slid them back into place. “All done, Dr. McKay.”
“No, not done. One more thing. Come with me.” The chief scientist gripped her arm, but she pulled away with a glare that rather frightened Rodney, so he settled for walking beside her. Back in the lab he’d been exploring, he pointed at a dark terminal. “Turn it on.”
Sitting down with an irritated huff, Everleigh surveyed the interface, then moved her hands across it. Reading the display, she typed in several more commands and the whole room came to life. Smiling to herself, she worked through several more subsystems before finding what she wanted, what Rodney had only suspected about the area. With a groan of old metal against even older metal, the wall panel at the far end of the room receded, revealing a window looking into a cavernous space filled with a massive machine.
“Oh my god.” Rodney pressed himself to the glass, on the verge of tears.
“If you ever get it working again, Dr McKay, maybe you can finally start making your own ZPMs.”
“How?” He whispered, breath fogging the window. “How does it work?”
She shrugged. “Hell if I know. It stopped working before the last Lanteans even abandoned the city. And I’m just a dumb grunt.”
Rodney looked like he would strangle her. “Well then get your ass back to that library and ask someone how to make it work!”
“I doubt it’s that simple.” She looked at her watch. “And it’s going to be dinner soon.”
“How can you think about food at a time like this?!” For Rodney McKay to make such a declaration, the universe was definitely taking a stand on its head.
Everleigh crossed her arms. “You can’t give me orders, either. Only Lieutenant Ford.”
Before he got stuck in the middle of the Private and the Scientist, Ford reached for his ear piece. “Yes sir, we have her now… Yes sir…. No sir, everyone is fine… Actually, Major, Dr McKay wanted to use her to-… Yes sir, I understand.” Aiden levelled his gaze at McKay. “Dr Weir and Major Sheppard want us back. Now. And before you even think of calling them,” he said, stopping Rodney’s hand half halfway to his ear, “Just don’t. Ear drums are hard to regrow when ruptured.”
During the walk back Rodney tried to get as much information out of Everleigh as he could, but was disappointed to learn her conversation with the Ancient holograms had been limited to terraforming and philosophy. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was relieved to see them back, all accounted for and no sign of blood.
“What happened down there?!”
Rodney wasn’t interested in explanations, just results. “You can’t have her any more, Elizabeth, she’s my assistant now. I need her. Make her listen to me. I can fix the city. I can get us enough power to get back to Earth if you just…just make her do what I say!”
“Rodney, bring it down a notch. Or ten,” Elizabeth demanded. “Start from the beginning.”
Everleigh sighed. She's been there; she didn't need to hear it all again. “Do I need to be here for this?”
“Yes!” McKay and Weir shouted, making Private Weiland throw up her hands in surrender and more than a few Gateroom techs jump. Elizabeth pointed towards her office. John and Rodney took the chairs in front of Elizabeth’s desk and Ford made a discrete exit; Everleigh sank to the floor with her back against the wall and took out a handheld solitaire game. “Now, Rodney, one more time.”
To her credit, Elizabeth managed to nod in the right places and mostly follow along with McKay’s rapid fire recall of their afternoon and the discovery of the ZPM lab. “She has the ATA gene, at least as strong as Major Sheppard, and she’s fluent in the Ancient dialect. Why wasn’t I told? Why does the military have her and not me?”
“Rodney, other than I knew she could translate Ancient, I had no idea she possessed the gene. She was part of Colonel Sumner’s detachment, part of the last minutes replacements.” And now she knew why; or part of why. Elizabeth didn’t have the ATA gene, which meant that beautiful boy… Looking at Sheppard and giving the most imperceptible of nods, the Major walked over to Everleigh and grabbed the game out of her hands.
“Hey!” she pouted. “If you’re going to talk about me like I’m not even here, even after demanding I be here, then I shouldn’t have to pretend to be part of this.”
“Get on your feet, Private,” John ordered wearily, gripping the back of her tactical vest and half pulling her upright. “You’re the one who wandered away from your detachment and started this mess. I should be putting you on report.”
“Oh, don’t do that, sir!” Everleigh mocked. “The paperwork is atrocious. You would have to write the report, then read your own report, talk with yourself about it, approve your report, file it so someone can one day read that report and not give a damn about it. Sounds more like a punishment for you than me.”
John bristled. “Hey, if you wanna spend the rest of your natural life glued to Dr McKay’s side every hour of every day, I can make that happen!”
“That’s what I’m asking for,” Rodney reiterated. “Do that.”
“Every glue has a solvent,” Everleigh snapped, trying to wiggle free of John’s grip, which just made him hold on tighter.
“Anyone ever teach you about the virtues of knowing when to be quiet?” the Major asked.
“Absolutely, sir, the same people who taught you.” She could read him a little too well.
“Enough!” Elizabeth shouted, getting up out of her chair and leaning heavily against her desk. “It’s been a long day. Why don’t we start again tomorrow?”
Major Sheppard willed his fist to release the Private, and Rodney’s next words were choked off by a glare from Elizabeth.
On the other hand, Everleigh was harder to silence. “Well, Major, if you’re going to let Dr Weir negotiate a mid-season trade to the science division, you better have a list of firm demands and know what her cut of the deal will be. Who are you hoping for, sir? Dr Zelinka? Or someone cute? What about Dr Heightmeyer?”
“Shut up, Private.” John pushed her towards the door, but didn’t give back the game. Rodney followed her out, and the Major reclaimed his seat. “I like her. If there was a rank below Private, I’d put her there. Then give her a toothbrush and have her spend the rest of this deployment scrubbing the airducts of Atlantis top to bottom.”
“Kinder than giving her to McKay,” Elizabeth smirked, holding out her hand. John reluctantly handed over the game. “I think you don’t like her because she reminds you too much of…you.”
“Hey, I like me just fine. But even I knew when to just shut it.” There was no missing the dubious look coming from across the desk. “Ok, I usually knew when to shut it. I knew. I just didn’t always, you know, do it. I mean, how the hell did she end up here, anyway? Because that -” he stabbed his finger at the closed door “- is not an Expedition volunteer. What the hell was Sumner thinking?”
Contemplating her options for a moment, Elizabeth finally reached into her desk drawer and took out the file she’d held back when John took over as military commander, handing it over. “Sorry about the tea stains.”
Perplexed, the Major took the slim folder and read the two whole pages it contained. “What is this? Why do you have it?”
Elizabeth told him what parts she knew, what she wanted to tell him, about CR-12 and the NID. “General O’Neill believes she was placed her as a spy by the NID. It wasn’t her choice to be here, Major, because this or a deep, dark cell isn’t much of an option. So if she’s a little mouthy, it’s a bit more than just being 19. I’d be bitter, too, frankly.”
Sheppard's eyes grew wide at what he read. “She’s a thief! She ripped off nearly a million dollars using a Superman III computer scheme!” The reference obviously meant nothing to the Expedition leader. “This also says she stole a Stradivarius when she was ten! When I was ten, I took a Hershey bar from a gas station.”
“She only took it to play, not for money.” Elizabeth realized she sounded more defensive than intended. “And the owner got it back in the end.”
Tapping the edge of the folder against his knee, John finally handed it back over with a smile. “Dr Weir: patron saint of peace, knowledge, and lost causes.”
“She’s not a lost cause, John. Not by a long shot.”
A few hours later, when most of the city was settling in to sleep, Elizabeth found her way to storeroom 23-E, using her code to open the door. There, under the window, was a tired teenager splayed out atop a sleeping bag, one hand petting the cat on her chest, the other tapping out rhythms on the floor as her head nodded along to the music being piped into her ears.
“Private? Private Weiland?”
The gun was out from under the pillow and pointed at Weir before she’d finished the name. Her hands shot up and she took a step back, but Everleigh had already dropped the weapon, panting to get her pounding heart back under control. The cat just purred and resettled on the bedding.
“Jesus Christ, Doc, what are you doing? Didn’t anyone warn you about sneaking up on army vets?”
“Well, you’re not really army, and you’re not really a veteran; you’re an NID asset sent to spy on us. And I couldn’t exactly ring the doorbell because there isn’t one. These aren’t your quarters. I had to use internal sensors to find you. Why are you in here? And why is there a cat?”
“No, Candide, from Voltaire. ‘The best of all possible worlds’, ironically speaking. I found him outside the SGC on the last day I saw the sky on Earth, happy as a duck with an old baguette, despite an obviously rough life. Then he just just…followed me back into Cheyenne Mountain.”
“Under your jacket, I presume, after being lured in with a piece of bacon.” Elizabeth smiled and knelt to scratch Candide’s earns. “And then found his way into a crate bound for Atlantis. What are the odds?” Pausing in her ministration to the cat, she lifted the lid off the nearest crate, frowning. “And I see there’s a few other things that accidently fell in as well.” She pulled out an entire case of Toblerone bars. “Did you bring enough for the whole class?”
Everleigh shrugged. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game. But feel free to take a few for yourself, as a token of our mutual understanding.”
“I cannot be bribed, Private. That’s part of what makes me good at my job.” She put the candy bars back and snapped the crate lid shut. “Go to your room – your real, assigned room – and take the cat. We’ll talk about this later. And you’re off inventory duties.”
Wisely holding back any retort this time, Everleigh shoved her things into her duffle and tucked Candide under one arm. At least she’d had to foresight to move several crates to her room and other nooks around Atlantis. She wasn’t losing all of it. Elizabeth followed her all the way to her assigned quarters, stopping at the door.
“Good night, Private,” she said softly, holding out the game she’d come to return in the first place.
Giving only a brief nod of thanks, Everleigh disappeared into her dark room and closed the door.
Chapter 3: Qui Bono
“Elizabeth, where are you?” John hadn’t found her in her office or the mess hall, pretty much the only places she would be this time in the morning.
“I’m in storeroom 23-E,” she reported.
“What are you doing there?”
“Why don’t you come and find out?”
Well, that was either alluring or ominous. Ten minutes later, John was knocking on the door. “Elizabeth? I can’t get in. My code isn’t working.” He heard the sound of someone moving, tripping over something, then another something, a mild curse, and the doors finally opened into a disaster zone.
“Sorry, I changed the code to my personal one so no one else could get in,” she explained, stepping back to let him through. “At least until I finished cataloguing what our clever Private Weiland smuggled to the Pegasus galaxy.”
John’s eye were wide with surprise, and more than a little bit of desire. “Holy crap.”
Stacked into different piles by category, there were hundreds of candy bars, dozens of bottles of booze and beer, tins of extra coffee (ground and instant), MREs, bags of sugar, boxes of protein bars, bricks of ramen noodles, packets of cookies, canned fruits, tinned meats, packets of gum, unopened socks, spare shirts, and more.
“Did she rip off a Costco before we left?” he asked.
“If not that, the SGC quartermaster is certainly going to find his stores depleted at the next inventory check.” Elizabeth actually laughed, shaking her head at the audacity. “She was a last minute addition to the Expedition, not really assigned to anyone or fitting in anywhere. She could load up an entire pallet of crates with whatever she wanted and drag it through the Stargate because everyone else was already designated the approved supplies to bring. And then I put her in charge of inventory because everyone else was too busy and thought it would keep her out of trouble. which is probably exactly what she wanted. My little criminal mastermind.”
“Well, she just continues to be full of pleasant surprises.” John sat on a crate and opened a snack bag of Famous Amos, ignoring the dirty look from Elizabeth.
“Remind me to thank her. How much of this do we have to actually, you know, share? Is there a finder's fee?”
“No, John. We’re going to move this to a more secure location, coded for you and me only, and these things will be used as needed. And I have no doubt they will be needed.” Elizabeth looked around at the mess she’d made. “You’re going to help me pack this back up and relocate it.”
“And what do I get in return?”
After pondering for a moment, Elizabeth picked up a fifth of Jack Daniels and a bag of pretzels.
“Sold!” John hopped up and disappeared the bottle into a pocket and the pretzels under his jacket. “Movie night is going to be awesome this week.”
Everleigh was waiting in Elizabeth’s office, hiding, actually, from Rodney. She glanced up from her game when Dr Weir finally arrived, looking a bit like she’d just come from the gym after two hours of moving boxes. “Are you keeping all my stuff?”
“You can keep the cat. And the cat food. We’re not that desperate yet.” Dr Weir took her seat and reclined back, contemplating the young woman. “I should probably thank you for bringing it all, authorized or not. But I’m not going to allow you to operate the biggest black market in the Pegasus galaxy.”
Everleigh could only shrug. “It’ll happen with or without me. Human nature. Someone always has a need, and someone else always has a way. I bet I get a lot of it back.”
“Private Weiland, there is such a thing as too much honesty. Is there any chance, just for my sake, for my own ego as leader of Atlantis, that you could at least pretend that you are going to follow the rules?”
“Not really my style.”
“All styles eventually go out of fashion, you know.”
“And yet we’ve been wearing denim for over a hundred years.”
“Enough. Just…pretend.” Looking over at her door in relief, she nodded to the new arrival. “Major Sheppard. Are you ready for the first day of Atlantis flight school?”
It turned out the bottle of Jack has cost him a little more than just moving half a ton of supplies. “Absolutely. Parachute is packed, along with a backup. Come on, Private, let’s go see what your genes can do.”
“I’m wearing khakis, sir,” she grumbled, glaring at Weir. “Is this about the cat?”
Elizabeth shook her head, exasperated. “Go. Fly. Safely.”
John squinted at the Expedition leader, confused. “What cat?”
For the rest of the day, John sat next to Everleigh, taking her through the basics of the Puddlejumper, declaring her a natural. It was the longest continuous period he’d spent in her presence, and despite the contentious conversation they’d had the day before, decided he genuinely did like her and wouldn’t condemn her to being Rodney’s lab rat.
Looking over at her, he noticed her eyes barely open. “Hey, I know it’s been a long day, Private, but flying is generally done with one’s eyes open.”
“I can see just fine, Major.”
“You can see the inside of your eye lids, and I would prefer if you looked at the damn Heads Up Display so we don’t end up in the water!”
Deciding it was easier to show than explain that she could still see the HUD with her eyes closed, Everleigh executed a perfect barrel roll without looking, pulling up only ten meters above the ocean.
“How did you do that?” John breathed, grasping the consul with white knuckles, even though the inertial dampers had kept gravity directed downward on the Jumper.
“Can’t you?” Everleigh finally opened her eyes and looked over at him curiously. “Everything is already connected in your mind. But it’s more than just you telling the computer what to do. It’s always giving feedback if you just listen.”
“Well, I’ll have to give that a try. Another day. With clean shorts.” Slowly releasing his death grip and trying to relax, the Major gestured to the horizon. “Take us home. With your eyes open. I think I’ve had about all I can take today.”
Private Everleigh Weiland was entered into the record as a qualified Puddlejumper pilot, intra-planet only. Elizabeth agreed that she was not to be used for combat missions; glorified taxi driver only, moving people and goods.
Later that night, while Elizabeth was returning to her quarters, her ears picked up on the sound of laughter echoing down the corridor from the Athosian wing. Curious, she followed it to one of the recreation rooms. Everleigh was seated on the floor in a circle with Jinto and his friends, bouncing a sock tied to a string. In the centre was Candide, crouched in attack mode, giving his tail three twitches, then pouncing, to the squeals of delighted children.
“Do you really have gats everywhere on earth?” Jinto asked, laying on his stomach to pet Candide’s fluffed tail.
“Millions of cats,” Everleigh confirmed, passing the sock to another child. “They’ve been part of our civilization for thousands of years. Some think they’re mystical, able to see ghosts, a gateway to the world of the dead. Great kings used to preserve their favourite cats in elaborate burials. Others have vast temples were cats are allowed to roam, fed by monks and visitors as part of their offerings.”
“I wish we had gats,” one little girl sighed sadly, wiggling her fingers to get Candide’s attention.
“Cats,” Everleigh corrected. Candide seemed to have exhausted himself, flopping on his side to let gentle little hands pet him, sending him into a loud fit of purring pleasure.
“Why does he make that sound?” Jinto rested his fingers on Candide’s chest, feeling it vibrate.
“To show you that he’s happy. And happy is good for him; purring helps him to heal and boosts his immune system. It’s too bad humans can’t purr.”
“Yeah, but we can sing, and isn’t thank kind of the same thing?”
“Hmm, I never thought about it that way, but you might be right. Maybe you can do a scientific study of that one day, Jinto.”
The littlest was the first to yawn, and like a growing wave, everyone, including Everleigh, yawned. Elizabeth decided it was time to step in. “Okay, then, I think that’s enough fun for one night. Private Weiland has a long day tomorrow, so off to bed, all of you.” Groaning, the kids got to their feet and shuffled off to their own respective rooms, while Everleigh stood a bit stiffly, cradling the limp cat like an infant. “That includes you, Private. No games, no books, just bed.” Echoes of her own father’s bedtime admonition made Elizabeth’s heart heavy.
“I’m still functioning on a teenage sleep schedule. Evolutionarily, anything before 2:00 AM is just unnatural, and I’ll be stuck this way until my mid-twenties, when my pre-frontal cortex finishes developing. Incidentally, it also leaves me prone to rather poor decision making while I try to prove my value and bravery to tribal elders.”
Elizabeth scratched Candide’s exposed belly. “Well, until you’ve reached proper senescence, I guess your elders will have to assist in your decision-making. Like go to bed. And stop flying with your eyes closed.”
“He told you about that, did he?”
“Major Sheppard didn’t have any grey hair this morning. I can’t say the same when I saw him at dinner.” Smiling, Elizabeth reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her daughter’s ear before she could stop her hand. “You don’t have to prove your value or your bravery to anyone. They’d be fools not to see it right away. Good night, Evy.”
No one had called Everleigh ‘Evy’ since she left her group home in Columbus three years ago. It was oddly comforting. And it made her feel all the worse about her assignment from the NID and the deal she made with Kinsey. “Good night, Dr Weir.”
Hiding in Weir’s office or in the store room was no longer an option. Everleigh had to split her time between helping Rodney with his experiments (which included long hours in the library), research and translations for Elizabeth, and shuttling people and goods between the city and newly settled mainland. The last was her favourite way to spend the day, always lasting longer than scheduled.
The Athosian children loved to meet her Puddlejumper, waiting for Candide and chocolate. The latter she even had a plan for: cocoa tree seedlings were already sprouting in her makeshift greenhouse on one of the balconies, along with sugar cane, coffee trees, and tea bushes. The Athosians were anxious to try their hand at growing these exotic foodstuffs, which presented fantastic future trading opportunities if they succeeded. Nothing like chocolate existed in Pegasus, but after the arrival of the Terrans, the children did not want to imagine a future without it.
“I admit,” Elizabeth said one evening as Everleigh finished delivering her agriculture report from the mainland. “For as dubious as some of your contraband choices may have been, the seeds were a good idea.”
“Everything but the vegetables will take years to be ready, though,” the young woman said bitterly, standing up and stretching out the kinks. “And in a couple of weeks, we’re going to start having serious food shortages. Nothing the Athosians planted are ready yet. It’s going to be hard to keep them fed as well.”
“We have time,” Weir said absently, but something made her stop and look more closely at her adjunct. “Come here, Evy.”
“What? I am here.”
Elizabeth pointed to a spot beside her. “Come here now, Private Weiland.”
Growling in annoyance, Everleigh circled around the desk and stood mockingly at attention. “Ma’am, yes ma’am.”
Without preamble, Elizabeth pulled up the side of Everleigh’s shirt and ran her fingers over the jutting ribs, noticed the safety pins holding up the loose military trousers hanging on protruding hipbones. “Evy, when was the last time you ate?”
“I eat every day, Dr Weir,” she said tersely, pulling her shirt back down and stepping away.
“Clearly not enough. You’re going to see Carson first thing in the morning, after breakfast.” Grabbing Everleigh’s thin wrist before she could pick up her tablet, Elizabeth demanded, “How much weight have you lost since we got here?”
“I didn’t bring a scale with me. And it doesn’t matter. I’m fine. I’m just…getting ahead of the game. It’s the rest of you who are going to have problems.”
Everleigh pulled her hand free and picked up her tablet, shoving it at the Expedition leader. “I see the numbers every day. We’re running out of food and have no steady source for replenishing supplies. What I brought wouldn’t feed everyone for even a week. Most of this galaxy can barely feed its own limited population; their hand-to-mouth existence doesn’t account for our added numbers. The sooner you start to reduce your caloric intake, the longer your metabolism will have to adapt, buying us more time.”
Dr Weir put down the tablet without looking. She knew the numbers well enough. “We are not going to starve, Everleigh, I promise you.”
“You’ve never been hungry, Dr Weir.” She held up a hand to forestall any argument. “Sure, maybe you missed some meals during intense negotiations, but you’ve never gone five, six, seven days without a meal. It stops you from ever feeling truly hungry eventually. That part of your brain just goes numb. So whatever I don’t eat now can be used later. And I’m not bothered by that.”
Closing her eyes to forestall any tears, Elizabeth had a hard time speaking past the tightness in her throat. “Why? Didn’t anyone ever take care of you growing up?”
“Nope.” The answer was surprisingly flippant, but noticing her boss on the verge of tears, Everleigh instantly regretted it. She looked around to make sure no one could see, and blame her. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Everything is fine. I’m fine.”
“No, everything is not fine. This –“ She waved in Everleigh’s general direction “– is not fine. I have one job, and that is to keep everyone on this expedition safe, and right now it feels like I’m failing.”
“But we’re here, and we’re alive. Maybe you need to lower your definition of success just a little. I heard a teacher tell my Social Worker that once. I thought it was pretty good advice.” The direction of the conversation was not having the desired effect. “Look, you’re a diplomat; you, of all people, should know there’s no such thing as perfect.”
“But it doesn’t mean we stop working towards better.” Elizabeth shut off her computer and stood up, eyes clear. “And I can fix this. We will find food.”
The next morning, Dr Weir called her senior staff together with only one topic: the future of feeding Atlantis. Whether it be through trade or newer, faster crops for the Athosians, there was nothing off the table. She was also willing to part with more of their dwindling resources, because things like medical supplies didn’t matter if everyone was hungry. John was sent to the Genii at Teyla’s suggestion, Sgt Bates to see the Manerians, and Everleigh frog-marched down to medical by Weir with a demand for a full work up from Carson.
“How is she?” Elizabeth asked when he sat down across from her that afternoon.
“Well, for as underweight as she is, I can’t find anything wrong with her.” The CMO handed over his notes. “Cardiac, liver, and kidney functions are all within normal limits, which for a BMI of less than 16, is rather unusual. The only word I can think of is ‘resilient’. She’ll survive better than the rest of us when rationing starts.”
“‘If’, Carson, not ‘when’, and I’m not letting it come to that,” she insisted, unconsciously balling her fists. “And even if she is fine, I’d prefer you didn’t actually tell her that and ordered a 2,000-calorie diet.”
“Oh, aye, that I’ve done. She’s stuck in medical right now until she finishes lunch. It’s a bit difficult finding adequate protein substitutes, though. Did ya know she was vegetarian?”
“Hmm, no, I didn’t. I’ll have to keep that in mind. Thank you, Carson” She noticed the physician not making ready to leave, the minute movements of muscles around his mouth (something she’d seen at the negotiating table many times before) as he contemplated saying something he didn’t want to. “What is it?”
“Elizabeth…what do ye know about Private Weiland?”
The question made her heart skip a beat and a chill ran through her spine. “No more than what is in her file. Why?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “There’s limits to what I can say. We may be in another galaxy, but I feel like doctor-patient confidentiality still applies. It’s jus’ tha’ I feel like…like someone should know. There no family on file, no background, no medical history, jus’ a set of vitals, an EKG, and no known drug allergies. It’s woefully incomplete. Someone was not doin’ their bloody job at the SGC. But I can tell ya her life has not been sunshine and rainbows. X-rays show a score of broken bones, scars everywhere, some that look like cigarette burns, some that look self-inflicted. Jus’ how did someone like her end up here?”
This was what she’d dread knowing, what she’d hoped not to hear. Maybe she’d been hungry and a bit neglected growing up, certainly lacking in any moral direction, but it all seemed bearable as long as her daughter hadn’t suffered, hadn’t fallen prey to all the worst parts of the American fostering system. The fantasy of a happy little girl – maybe not always happy, but knowing at least a little happiness – finally collapsed. The wall she’d been maintaining cracked, and Elizabeth buried her face in her hands, trying to stifle a sob. “It’s my fault, Carson.”
“Wha’ are ya talkin’ about, Elizabeth? These injuries are years old-”
“It is!” she shouted, abruptly standing up and walking out to the balcony where no one else could see. Squeezing the railing, she lowered her head and counted ten steady breaths, the same technique she used every time a negotiation started to get the better of her. She sensed Beckett to her right, maintaining a professional distance, but unmoving until he had answers. “When I was fifteen, I talked my friend Carrie into going to a house party organized by one of the seniors. I had this new outfit – very 80s chic, terribly embarrassing to think of now – and I was going to go to that party and show everyone I was more than just a library troll. We told our parents we were working on a research project; who wouldn’t believe that of me? When we got there…I saw this boy, this beautiful boy, with eyes like the ocean…”
“Oh my god,” Carson breathed.
“I did this to my daughter, Carson, I let them take her. Every fracture, every scar, that’s my fault, for being stupid. And weak.”
His heart broke for her, and no professional detachment was going to stop him from folding her into his arms. “No, lass, no, this is not yer fault. Ya were hardly more than a child yerself and thought ya were doing the right thing; ya could not have known.”
“But I did know, I knew it was wrong, but I signed those papers anyway, and didn’t fight hard enough when it was over. And everything I’ve done since was to atone for that mistake, to make the world safe enough for mothers to keep their children.”
“And ya have, Elizabeth, ya’ve done amazing things. Look where ya’are; look where she is! Despite everythin’ ya’ve both ended up here, together, in the lost city of Atlantis in the Pegasus galaxy. She is alive and well, and I have every confidence that ya’ll keep her – all of us – that way.” Pulling back, Carson still held her shoulders, making sure she was listening closely. “I want ya to talk with Dr Heightmeyer, sooner rather than later. Everleigh, too.”
“No,” Weird snapped, “she can’t know I’m her mother. No one can, Carson, please. Only General O’Neill knew, because I begged him to remove her from the Expedition. But someone much higher up, someone in the NID, wanted her here, and I still don’t know why.”
“I’m not tellin’ anyone anythin’, Elizabeth. Ya don’t even have to tell Kate; I jus’ want ya to talk to someone, find some way to deal with yer past without having to run out onto balconies. And it wouldn’t matter who Private Weiland’s parents are; she most definitely has some issues that need discussin’, not least of which is food insecurities.”
Elizabeth straightened her spine, putting her leader face back on. “Carson, my time-”
“I can make that an order, Dr Weir. I’ve already ordered Everleigh to report to medical at each meal time, where someone is going to watch her eat a prescribed diet. And I have no doubt I can get Major Sheppard to find an escort to Dr Heightmeye’s office fer ya if-”
“Point made, Dr Beckett, I yield.” Elizabeth turned back to gaze out over the water, letting the view calm her riled soul. It was short lived, though, as Major Sheppard and Rodney came back through the Gate with a proposal for C-4 and tava beans.
Chapter 4: Auribus Teneo Lupum
The mission to secure trade with the Genii failed, but at least Bates was able to succeed with the Manerians. It wasn’t much, but it would stave off any need to ration in the near future. Everleigh wasn’t happy about her meal sentence; she didn’t like feeling full, and she didn’t care for much of the food, either. Fortunately, the infirmary was too busy a place to be watched continuously and parts of a meal could always be slipped into a pocket, saved for Candide, and Athosian, or compost for her potted plants. It was being marched to Dr Heightmeyer’s office that irritated her more, but it wouldn’t be the first time she’d kept a head-shrinker at bay.
Ignoring the proffered hand or warm greeting, Everleigh settled into an overstuffed chair, folded her hands, tilted her head back and closed her eyes. Still feeling over-stuffed from breakfast, a nap seemed like a very nice prospect.
“You don’t believe you should be here, that this is just a punishment,” Kate said after several minutes of silence. “You have a genius-level IQ and feel like I’m too stupid to understand the well-thought-out reasons you have for everything you do. But, I’m at least smart enough to realize that, unlike Dr Weir, who insisted you see me. She’s always been a bit hopelessly optimistic.”
This got a twitch out of the Private’s left eye, a thinking tic, so Dr Heightmeyer continued to pick at the topic. “I suppose, though, that being a hopeless optimist makes her good at the job she has, forcing her to find the bright side in everyone and every situation despite of the odds.”
“Optimistic people aren’t necessarily stupid.” Everleigh spoke though she continued to feign sleep. “Some are, sure, not even half clever enough to follow a chain of events to their less-than-ideal outcomes. But others, like Dr Weir, take a very conscientious approach to life, steering events towards the best of all possible worlds, while always maintaining an awareness of the dark at the edges. She’s Voltaire, not Dr Pangloss. A stupid optimist would never have put a self-destruct plan for the city into place.”
“You sound like you admire Dr Weir.”
“No, but I understand how she thinks.”
“But you didn’t say anything until I insulted her.”
“You haven’t made any sort of breakthrough, Dr Heightmeyer, I merely pointed out a flaw in your reasoning. Like nearly everyone else on this base, correcting others is a hobby.”
They lapsed into silence again, irritating Kate. “I have better things to do with my time, Private, people who genuinely need my help.”
“Excellent! I’m glad we agree!” Everleigh popped to her feet and straightened her jacket. “Just mock up some notes and if you need-”
“So, I will tell Drs Beckett and Weir that you aren’t fit for duty and should be confined to quarters.”
Everleigh laughed. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. You can’t threaten me, Doc, I lived in a group home most of my life. Being alone in a room is an unparalleled delight few appreciate.”
“But I can take your cat.” Kate watched the smirk drop for the girl’s face. “Ah, there we go. Now what I have to say actually matters. Want to start again?”
Defiantly crossing her arms, Everleigh contemplated the threat for a moment before finally retaking her seat. “What do you want?”
Leaning forward, trying to close the distance between them, Kate tried to project the earnestness she felt. “I just want you to talk to me. I want you to tell me about every broken bone, every scar, every nightmare, every time someone hurt you emotionally, physically…sexually.” The grimace Everleigh made did not go unnoticed.
“Can’t you get your voyeuristic thrills from a Thomas Harris book or letters to Cosmo?”
“This isn’t about voyeurism, it’s about unburdening your soul and living in the light, maybe not free of the past, but not dragged down by it. I want to retrain your mind and its responses to the world. I don’t want you to look at a plate of food and have the first thought be to save it for scarcity later. If someone offers you help, I don’t want you to immediately distrust it as a ploy to get something over on you.”
“You want me to change, to be someone like you based upon the presumption that by your standards there is something wrong with me, that if one thing is wrong, then all of me must be flawed. How arrogant.”
The psychologist refused to rise to the bait. “Everleigh, you were starving yourself.”
“No, I was making sure I live longer than the others here. You will find that I am a highly motivated survivalist. And I don’t see you accusing Major Sheppard or the Marines of being self-destructive whenever they grab a gun and jump through the Stargate. What makes them somehow more acceptable than me?”
Kate pursed her lips in thought. “If you give me some time to think about it, I’m sure I can come up with a really good answer. But in the meantime, why don’t we move to something else, like, what’s your favourite game? Do you play chess?”
“Never learned. You know blackjack?”
“Half the people on Atlantis can count cards. I’m not a stupid optimist, Private.” Shifting her seat from across Everleigh to next to her, Kate took the girl’s left hand in hers, gripping more tightly than in a friendly manner, and reached into Everleigh’s jacket pocket, pulling out a biscuit. “I’m not stupid in general.”
Dr Weir didn’t present as a much better patient. The diplomat in her couldn’t stop negotiating with Kate, telling the psychologist what she thought she wanted to hear while keeping to herself those things she wanted held close. Carson swore he wouldn’t tell anyone her secret, and Elizabeth wanted to keep it that way. But it made talking about other things, her fears about failing the city and her people, the death of her father, missing her mother, easier in comparison; one dark piece of her past in exchange for a score of other concerns poured forth.
The change in diet did seem to have the desired effect on Everleigh, though, who took to training with Teyla, refining her own blunt, brutal street fighting into something more elegant. The meditation that followed their practice sessions also helped; the teenager didn’t snap sarcastic as frequently, even as Rodney demanded more of her time trying to get the ZPM lab up and running. It seemed, though, that the Ancients had deliberately disabled the systems to prevent the technology from ever falling into Wraith hands should they succeed in taking the city. What she was more interested in doing was finding ways for produce food on Atlantis, based upon the simple thesis that the Ancients must have eaten something. Agriculture, though, was apparently not one of their primary areas of interest and the Library was not forthcoming with too much information. Every chance she got she flew to the mainland to check in with the Athosians and their crops; nothing from Earth had yet reached maturity, and the most disappointingly of all, the sweet corn had failed to develop in the native soil at all.
“You’re more upset than I expected about the corn,” Dr Heightmeyer commented during their weekly session (having made enough progress to decrease from every other day). “You’ve had plenty of other successes.”
“I just…wanted the corn,” Everleigh groused, staring up at the ceiling while she absently fidgeted with a tablet stylus.
“But why? People here are more excited about other prospective crops. Well, except Dr McKay, who is thinking of secretly poisoning the lemon and orange trees.”
“If he does, I’m putting concentrated lime juice in his coffee.”
“Well, I’ll make sure it doesn’t come to that.” Kate let her patient think on the question some more before prodding further. “They grow a lot of corn in Ohio, don’t they?”
“Yeah. In the fall you can hardly drive down a country road without finding some farmer or Amish selling it from a stand. And even in the city the grocery stores are flooded with it. The floors in the produce section are covered in husks and corn silk from people peeling them back to stick a thumbnail in a kernel and test how juicy it is. Got to watch you don’t catch it in the eye.” Everleigh actually smiled at the memory, her stylus-wielding hand coming to rest on her abdomen. “No one really eats corn any other time of the year. That yellow crap that comes out of cans and frozen bags is no better than cattle feed. True sweet corn is white, and doesn’t need any butter or salt, you just eat it the way it is. Unless you go to the Ohio State Fair. There they put the whole ear on a grill, then shed the husk, drip it in a vat of melted butter, and roll it in salt. There’s just…nothing else like it.”
Now even Kate was rather regretting the failure of the corn. “Do you miss home?”
“I didn’t have a home, Doctor, I was a ward of the State.” The stylus started to bounce around again. “Sweet corn was cheap in the fall. Every year the State took us to the Fair to make us feel like normal children. That corn was one of the few things I enjoyed eating. No one ever tried to take it from you because it was just corn.”
Heightmeyer reached out to still the fidgeting hand and set it calmingly back on Everleigh. “I think that’s enough for today.” Who knew there was so much to learn about someone from corn?
“Can I borrow Private Weiland for the afternoon?” Carson asked, making Elizabeth and Everleigh look up from their respective tablets. They were trying to make headway on an article in an Ancient dialect that might be connected to the development of ZPMs. “I need to go to the mainland to administer some vaccines to the Athosian children and Major Sheppard is already out in Jumper 1.”
The young woman looked at Elizabeth, eyes wide and hopeful for a reprieve from the confines of Atlantis. She hadn’t been to the mainland in nearly three weeks and was desperate to get out. There was no way Elizabeth could say no. “Go on. Just be back before dark.”
Everleigh didn’t even bother to grab Candide for this trip. She removed some chocolate bars from Elizabeth’s desk – who knew exactly who the intended recipients were – and ran up to the Jumper bay, activating the Puddlejumper before Carson was even seated. Ever since the Private had been cleared by Sheppard to fly, Carson had been happy to relinquish piloting himself in favour of someone much more qualified.
What was supposed to be an afternoon of fun with the Athosian kids turned out quite differently once reports of The Storm from Hell (as Dr McKay called it) came over the radio. Everleigh joined the farmers in trying to secure their buildings and their crops. She looked desperately at the greenhouses she’s helped them set up for the more sensitive seedlings, but other than throwing tarps over them, she couldn’t think of what to do. Even when the rest of the settlement was cleared and the rain was coming down heavily, she kept working, using every rope and stake she could find to secure the tarps and reinforce structures.
When the tree came down, Everleigh was stunned, not sure how she’d ended up face down in the mud with a lancing pain in her left side. She’d been lucky; it was only a glancing blow from a branch. Any closer and her skull would have been crushed. Staggering to her feet, Everleigh hobbled back to the Jumper, just as the last of the Athosian hunters finally returned. But Carson insisted they stay put, and even Everleigh had to admit a lack of confidence in flying through the storm.
“It’s cosy,” the Scottish doctor insisted.
“It’s cold,” Everleigh countered, ditching her soaked jacket and using one of the scratchy wool army blankets to absorb more water from her shirt and trousers. Her shoes she ditched altogether and from her socks she wrung out at least half a cup of liquid.
“What the hell happened to yer arm?” Carson asked, grabbing hold of her left bicep, which was bruised and bleeding. She hadn’t noticed through the wet of the rain, and the pain in her ribs was blocking out any other discomforts.
“Oh, I got caught by a falling branch,” she admitted. “Didn’t think it was that bad.”
“Well, hold still while I at least wrap it up and stop the bleedin’. That’ll need sutures when we get back. Anythin’ else hurt?” He was already running his fingers through her hair, looking for skull fractures, before finishing the question.
“Nope, I’m fine.” Exhausted, she leaned back against the bench up to take a nap, hardly noticing Carson’s ministrations, until she heard Sheppard on the comms.
“We’ve got a situation here. From what I can ascertain, a small Genii strike force has gated in. They’ve got Weir and McKay hostage.”
Everleigh looked at Ford. “Tell him we’re on our way.” No ‘sir’, no ‘Lieutenant’; this wasn’t about rank, this was about skill. She could fly the Jumper and he could not.
Carson was horrified. “Take a look outside, Private. We’re not flyin’ through this.”
“Yes, we are.”
“It was a bad idea an hour ago, - it’s an idiotic one now,” he insisted.
Everleigh grabbed hold of the controls. “Idiocy is my speciality, Doctor Beckett.”
“I am ordering ya to stand down, Private!” He barked, then looked over at Ford. “Lieutenant, we can’t help if we’re dead. And I don’t think she can fly with that arm.”
“Doctor Beckett is right,” Teyla added, looking back at the three Athosian passengers, trying to reassure them.
Grimacing, Ford looked down at his feet. “Stand down, Private. We wait.”
“How can you say that? It’s Doctor Weir and Doctor McKay! Major Sheppard is on his own!”
Growling in anger, Everleigh punched the side of the Jumper – hard – and disappeared into the back before she felt the need to hit anyone else, unable to look at the officers any longer. Cowards. She could make it. She knew that she could.
And when the eye of the storm hit, she took her chance. “We’re going. Now.” Though she didn’t close her eyes, Everleigh didn’t hear anything Ford or Beckett said, listening to the Jumper as she navigated the high winds and charged air. Physical discomfort disappeared into pure mental focus.
“Remain here and be still,” Teyla ordered the Athosians. “I will return for you.”
“You too, Private,” Carson ordered, pointing Everleigh back towards the Jumper.
“No,” she hissed.
“No,” Ford echoed. “If anyone stays, it should be you, Dr Beckett, not an actual trained member of the US military.”
“She’s not a bloody member of the US military!” Carson said before he could stop himself, earning a look of horror and anger from Everleigh. How did he know?
“I don’t have time for this,” the Lieutenant growled. “I need you to shut up and follow me to the armoury. Now. We can discuss the rest later with Major Sheppard. Once we find him.”
Glaring at the CMO, Everleigh kept to Ford’s right (protecting her weakened left), a boot knife clutched in her hand until she could replace it with a P-90.
“Which naqahdah generator would power the third grounding station?” Teyla asked, looking at all three and hoping one of them knew.
Everleigh closed her eyes and tried to think. “This one.” The others stepped into the transport, just as she backed out. “Go get Major Sheppard. I’m going to clear the control room. That’s where they’ll head next”
“Private, wait!” Carson called, but the doors closed and they were transported away.
Still barefoot, Everleigh moved swiftly through the corridors of Atlantis without making a sound. It was dark, but she could feel every step, see as clearly as she could when her eyes were closed in the Jumper. She could sense the one around the corner, near the entrance from the control room, hitting him with three shots before he could even turn, ducking away as his partner fired, then crouching low and hitting him with another short burst.
It was Kolya she was waiting for, though, crouched in the shadows, but she couldn’t get a clean shot, not with his hostages in front. She planned to get him from behind, but he saw the bodies, he knew, and was ready the moment she stepped behind him, delivering a backwards spin kick she’s not expected from someone his age. It hit the broken ribs, keeping her from getting up as quickly as she normally would, suddenly unable to breathe.
“Everleigh!” Elizabeth cried, just as Kolya put a shot through low centre mass, throwing the young woman backwards. “No!” Throwing off the grip of a Genii, Elizabeth ran forward and sank to her knees, pressing her hand over the spreading circle of blood. “Help me, please.”
Kolya stood over them both, gun aimed at Everleigh’s head. While several deprecating epithets came to mind, she couldn’t find the breath to throw them at him. After a moment of contemplation, though, Kolya holstered his gun. “Raise the shield, Dr Weir, and she may yet live. If you don’t, you know she’ll die.” He motioned to of his guards to pick up their newly acquired prisoner. “Bring her. Dr Weir can measure the time she left by the blood pooling on the floor.”
“I’m sorry, Evy, I’m sorry,” Elizabeth whispered. But her daughter smiled a red-toothed grin and mouthed two words: They’re coming. She and McKay just needed to keep the Genii at bay a little longer.
“You need to keep stalling,” Weir whispered to Rodney as he sat at the controls.
“What for?” He wasn’t in the mood to keep putting off what desperately needed to be done: raising Atlantis’s shield.
“Major Sheppard is still out there. If you activate-”
“Now, McKay!” Kolya shouted.
“It’s done,” Rodney assured his captor. “Dr Weir, I need to enter your codes now.”
Elizabeth straightened, “Yes, of course,” and proceeded to rattle off a string of nonsense, her eyes focused on the spot on the floor where Everleigh had been dropped. Once she couldn’t think of any more, she left it to Rodney to make up the rest, moving back to her daughter’s side, adding her hands to the pressure trying to hold in the blood.
“Who is she to you?” Kolya asked, distracted from McKay for a moment.
“Private Weiland. I care about all of my people,” Elizabeth said carefully, not wanting to make things any worse. “Haven’t you killed enough of them already?”
“Not nearly,” he whispered, taking the toe of his boot and pressing down on Everleigh’s bandaged arm, bringing fresh blood to the surface.
“Stop!” Elizabeth cried, trying to push him away and only earning a backhand to the side of her head, making the world spin for a moment.
“A massive wave is approaching from the West!” Ladon shouted, bringing everyone back to the current dire situation. “Without the shields-”
“McKay!” Kolya barked.
“We’re starting to get hits on the northern pier,” Rodney announced. “Routing power to the corridor now!” And now. And now. And still nothing. “Okay, this is a problem.”
Rodney and Kolya continued to shout at each other, then came the sound of skin impacting on skin, and Elizabeth turned to see Rodney holding the side of his face.
A rising anger was starting to replace every sense of dread and cooperation that had tempered her words thus far. “This was a long shot at best!” Her whole body quivered with the force of her words. “Why else would we evacuate the city?! It was always our intention to dial out in case this didn’t work! Within minutes, Atlantis will fail!” Everleigh moaned in pain, and Elizabeth eased up, not realizing how hard she was pushing down on the bullet wound. “You can leave and survive or you can go down with the city. You choose!”
Not acting any longer, but genuinely conceding he might have failed, Rodney added, “We’re just not getting enough power to the shield generators.”
Shouting now was a matter of being heard over the storm. “Are you really going to sacrifice the lives of all of your men on the off-chance that this city won’t be completely destroyed?”
Kolya looked between Elizabeth and Rodney, then finally nodded to Ladon. “Open the Stargate. Start evacuating the remaining men.”
“You’re making the right decision,” Elizabeth said, then instantly regretted it as Kolya spun on her with ice in his gaze.
“You’re coming with us.”
“What?!” Elizabeth fought the strong arms grabbing her, pulling her away from Everleigh, but Kolya waived two other men to pick up the unconscious girl. “Bring that one, too.”
“No!” Elizabeth cried, kicking out violently, but only hitting air. “Just leave her alone!”
“You’ll all serve the Genii as payment for what you’ve done.”
“Seriously, this is a bad idea,” McKay wailed. “You saw what happened to my last plan! This is not what you-”
Gunfire erupted, dropping most of the Genii soldiers, and Elizabeth felt the air forced out of her lungs as Kolya grabbed her under the ribs and whipped her around as a human shield.
“You’re not going anywhere,” John growled.
“Major, just get Everleigh!” Elizabeth demanded, struggling to keep her feet under her. "Go!"
Sheppard didn’t flinch. “I will shoot you if you don’t let her go.”
“And risk hurting Doctor Weir?” Kolya taunted, continuing to back up.
The desperate look in Elizabeth’s eyes felt like a punch to the heart. “I’m not aiming at her.”
Guessing where he was most likely trying to target, Elizabeth bent as far to her right as the arm around her would allow, then suddenly felt herself dropping to the floor at the same time she heard the shot. She tried to get to her feet, tripping once, and then John was there, hauling her back upright.
“Sorry about that,” he said quietly, finally noticing she was covered in blood. “I had to…Are you alright?”
All John wanted to do was fold her into his arms and hear her say ‘yes’, but she pushed passed him and sank to the floor where Everleigh had fallen, pulling her close and covering the seeping hole once again. “Where’s Dr Beckett and the others?”
“They’re coming,” John said, pulling the field dressing out of his tactical vest and wrapping it around Everleigh’s abdomen.
“Well they need to hurry up because we have about two and half minutes before the tsunami hits Atlantis!” Rodney shouted.
“Then we give them two minutes!” the Major snapped back, then lowered his voice again. “Elizabeth, what happened?”
“Kolya, he…” The words became caught in her throat, and John reached out to cover her shaking hands with his. “She got two of them before Kolya shot her. She was already down from that kick, he didn’t have to-”
“Hey, hey, you’re both going to be okay. Okay?” Elizabeth could only nod, not really believing him. “She’s a tough kid, and Carson will be here soon.”
Rodney was not so patient, though. “There’s no more time! We either lose them, or we lose the city!”
Any further argument was cut off, though, when the control room door opened and Teyla and Sora dragged a half-conscious Beckett in between them.
Taking it on faith that it would work, John took the steps two at a time and lifted the CMO’s bloodied face, trying to see his eyes. “Carson. Carson! Can you think? We need your help. Weiland’s been shot.”
Fighting away the darkness that wanted to take his mind once again, Beckett forced his knees to straighten and take his own weight. “There’s a, um, an emergency medical kit in the Jumper.”
“Got it!” Ford volunteered, running off towards the Jumper bay.
John helped Carson down the steps, but his senses were already starting to return. “How long ago was she shot?” he asked, one hand taking her carotid pulse while the other took her peripheral. He could feel almost nothing in the wrist.
“Maybe ten minutes,” Elizabeth said, “But I think she was already hurt-”
“Aye, she was hit by some flyin’ debris on the mainland,” Beckett confirmed, pulling the arm dressing away to assess if there was any further damage. The outline of a boot print did not escape his notice. “I’m so sorry, Elizabeth. She ran before we could stop her-”
“It’s no one’s fault but the Genii.” Looking up at the control deck, Weir’s glare at Sora might have been enough to stop the heart of a weaker individual. “And mine.”
“No, of course not-”
“I should have recalled her, recalled all of you, first thing, and sent her to the Manarians with the initial evacuation group.” The thickness in her throat was making words difficult. "Carson, if she...dies-"
“No. No one saw this comin’, Elizabeth,” Carson said gently. “That kinda happens a lot around here. And I promise ya, she's not goin' ta die.”
“Got it, Doc!” Ford practically threw the medical pack at him. “What can I do to help?”
“See if you can find some blankets, some torches, anythin’ to make this bloody place warmer and brighter.” The Lieutenant dispatched once again, Beckett motioned John over. “Help me move her so her feet are propped up on the steps and more blood gets back to her brain.”
Gripping Everleigh’s shoulders while Elizabeth took her feet, John rotated her and pulled a few meters into the recommended position, waking her back up with an agonizing scream and blindly trying to throw off her attackers.
“Shhhshhshh, Evy, it’s alright,” Elizabeth soothed, gripping her daughter’s head tightly to her chest. “It’s just us. Dr Beckett is here to help.”
“Aye, jus’ hold on,” he reassured, jabbing an ampule of morphine into Everleigh’s shoulder. “That should help a wee bit.” Carson watched her glassy eyes lose focus and close, all fight gone out of her. “Right then.” Taking out a pair of scissors, he made quick work of her shirt and bra. “Oh god.”
“What?” Fear felt like it would stop Elizabeth’s heart if it gripped any tighter.
Carson probed the deep purple bruise along the girl’s left side. “Her ribs are definitely broken. I think one has punctured her lung. Here, sit her up for a moment,” he ordered Weir and Sheppard, “I need ta wrap her ribs before it gets any worse. At least the lung’s not collapsed.”
This time, Everleigh didn’t wake as she was moved; the silence was somehow worse. John kept his eyes averted, trying to be equal parts helpful and respectful of the young woman’s modesty. Once Beckett had finished, it looked like the latest in tube-top fashion. Ford returned with a stack of blankets after another trip to the Jumper bay, and one was placed under Everleigh before laying her back down.
“Give me yer arm, Elizabeth,” Carson demanded, pulling tubing from his kit.
“She needs blood, yers will do, so give me yer bloody arm.” He was less than gentle stabbing the large needle into the crook of her arm, but field transfusion kits weren’t made for comfort. Waiting until blood started to flow from the other end, the surgeon stabbed the second needle into Everleigh’s arm. “There, now, that should help to hold her until we can get to medical.”
“Thank you, Carson,” Elizabeth whispered, unconsciously running her fingers through Everleigh’s damp curls. “Will she be alright?”
“Aye, I think so, but she needs surgery as soon as possible.” Getting back to his feet, a wave of nausea washed over him. Definitely a concussion. “Jus’ stay like that for a few minutes while I go check the others.”
Alone now, John looked at Elizabeth to ask the question he desperately needed an answer to. “Are you sure you’re okay? Kolya…did he?... He didn’t-”
“I’m fine, John, nothing more than some bruises, and-” after a roll of the neck “-a headache. I promise,” she added after catching the worry in his features. “But…thank you, John. Thank you for coming for us.”
“All part of the service,” he said with a cheeky grin, trying to lighten her mood. Reaching out with his thumb, he wiped away a spot of blood from Everleigh’s cheek. “She’s a good kid, Elizabeth. She’s lucky to have you.”
Dr Weir froze, snapping her head up to meet his eyes. “What do you mean?”
John lowered his voice even further, though there was no risk of the other’s hearing him over the storm. “I mean, in spite of everything she went through, what I think you both went through, you’ve both got a second chance here. Does she even know who you are to her?” The shocked looked on his civilian leader’s face made this more awkward.
“Who…? Did Jack? Or Carson-”
“I could have been in MENSA,” Major Sheppard confessed, reaching out to gently take her free hand in his, stroking the back of her knuckles with his thumb. “No one had to tell me anything, Elizabeth. You are a very kind, thoughtful person who would probably take a bullet for anyone, except probably Dr Kavanaugh, and only Rodney if it was really, really necessary. But I think you would put yourself and every other inhabitant of Atlantis between a bullet and Everleigh Weiland. She has your eyes, your smile – when she bothers to smile – your curls, even your hands.” John let go of her hand, placing it back over Everleigh’s, and she was shocked to realize that he was right. “It’s none of my business what happened in your past, but I just want you to know that I’ll help you with her, any way I can. She never should have been sent here, never volunteered to be stuck in another galaxy with life-sucking aliens and gun-toting Amish. She’s just…a kid." His words faded to mere breath. "I’ll protect the both of you.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help the tears that started again, but smiled at the Major. “Thank you. You don’t know what that means to-” Swaying a little, Elizabeth’s pallor suddenly took on a distinctively grey tone.
“Whoa whoa whoa, you okay?” John asked for the third time, grabbing her shoulder to steady her, then looked at the blood flowing out of her arm. “How long did Beckett say to leave that in?”
“I’m fine,” she muttered, struggling to keep her eyes open. “She needs it more.”
“No, that’s enough,” he insisted, pulling out the needle before she could stop him. “Carson, get over here!”
Coming back down, Carson sat on a step and put his fingers against Elizabeth’s neck. “Dammit, weak and rapid. She bled out faster than I expected; probably all the adrenaline. She needs saline to bring up her pressure.” John was already handing over the IV bag from the kit. “And another for Private Weiland.”
“McKay, how much longer?” John called up to the man still glued to his control panel.
“Call it thirty more minutes, minimum, before we can disconnect the conduits. And the corridors are going to be hot for several more minutes after that.”
That wasn’t what the Major wanted to hear. “Just…see if there’s a way to get a clear path to the infirmary. We don’t need anyplace else, just that.”
“This isn’t a Scalextric set, Major, you can’t just move pieces around! It was an all or nothing deal, and a hard enough bargain at that!”
“All I’m saying is…try. Please.” The last word caught Rodney’s attention.
“I can try.”
A voice almost too faint to be heard whispered up from the floor. “Wait…”
“No, Everleigh, stop movin’ lass,” Carson demanded, pushing her shoulders back to the deck.
“Wait…” she said again, a little stronger, taking both hands a laying them flat against the floor and closing her eyes.
“What does she mean by that?” Sheppard asked, looking at the perplexed doctor. “Wait for what?”
“Hey, are any of you touching anything?” Rodney called down. “Because whatever you’re doing, stop it! We’re losing current to the east corridor.”
“We’re not touchin’ anythin’, Rodney-”
“No, wait, keep doing what you’re doing!” Excitement rose in his voice.
“We’re still not doing anything, McKay,” Sheppard yelled.
But the scientist wasn’t listening. “Genius. Why didn’t I think of that? Drop the bulkhead doors and use a magnetic current to redirect the electricity.”
“Rodney, what is happening?” Teyla demanded, seeing that the others weren’t getting answers any time soon.
“A path to the infirmary.”
Elizabeth looked back down at her daughter, noticing for the first time blood trickling out of her eyes. “Oh my god. Evy! Stop! Whatever you’re doing, stop!”
Taking a single deep breath, she lifted her hands from the floor, and then went completely limp.
“She’s crashin’,” the doctor said, pulling out an auto injector of epinephrine and ramming it into the girl’s chest. “Rodney, are we clear?!”
“Um, yes, I think so. Maybe. Definitely maybe!”
“Let’s go,” John commanded, taking the Private up in his arms, half hearing Beckett’s call to be careful of her ribs. Pausing at the exit, feeling heat radiating from the walls, John looked around, spotting what he needed. Kicking the spent shell casing down the corridor, he looks for any sparks. Nothing. “Okay,” he said, glancing back at Carson and Elizabeth. “It’s okay. This will work.”
Elizabeth woke to the feeling of a hand on her shoulder and warm breath against her ear. “Hey, the others are coming back,” John whispered.
Forcing her eyes open, Weir smiled and accepted his help to sit up from the infirmary bed next to Everleigh’s, where she had passed the night. “Thank you, John.”
“That’s quite the shiner you’ve got there,” he noted, his fingertips gently probing the bruise under her right eye and spreading back to her ear. “Maybe I should have Ford pop me a couple of times in the face. I’d hate for everyone to think I didn’t work as hard to save Atlantis as you and Rodney and Everleigh, hell, even Carson.”
“But we all survived thanks to you,” she reminded him. “Just tell them you don’t have any bruises because you’re better at Atlantis-defending than the rest of us.”
John turned and looked at the unconscious girl in the next bed. “I don’t know about that. Rodeny swears he didn’t do anything to divert the energy from here. I think we might have to ask her about it. And,” he reached out to take Elizabeth’s hand, “I hope you’ll tell me about her father. Because it might answer a few more questions.”
“You said my past was none of your business,” Elizabeth reminded him, hurt that he’d forgotten the promise already.
“That was before I watched your daughter lay her hands on the floor of Atlantis and redirect a million volts of electricity.” Cupping her chin and lifting her head so that she would look at him, John planted a reassuring kiss just over her bruised eye. “But when you’re ready.”
Elizabeth smiled, feeling warmth spread out from where his lips had touched. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell you what you want to know. Her father is just a name and the memory of beautiful blue eyes. And alcohol.”
Trying not to laugh, John smiled back. “Without alcohol, the human race would likely not have spread much beyond Africa. Hell, I’m pretty sure that’s how I got here. It’s okay to be normal, Elizabeth.”
“It’s a fine line I’ve been walking my whole life; it’s hard to want to be both normal and extraordinary at the same time. I wanted to be first at everything, and still invited to all the parties.”
“Maybe extraordinary people want to be normal because they can’t help being extraordinary all of the time. It’s not an easy lot to have been cast. And I would say you won the whole hand of extraordinary.”
“I think you’re mixing metaphors, Major.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure where that one was going.” Taking Elizabeth by the waist, John eased her off the bed and onto the floor. Something had changed between them in the last 24-hours; barriers dropped, lines crossed, secrets shared. He touched her in ways he wouldn’t have before, and she was accepting of them without a second thought. “Come on, we have to get this briefing underway, and there are repairs to be made all over the city. You can come back after dinner and resuming your exciting viewing of an unconscious teenager.”
“Well, at least she’s quiet. And doing what she’s supposed to,” Elizabeth mused, adjusting the blankets to cover an exposed toe. “John, before this meeting starts, I have to ask: where are her shoes?”
“I thought you had them?”
There was a low groan, and then a second one. Then the sliver of a green eyes trying to open against the bright lights of the infirmary.
Beckett tapped his comm. “Dr Weir, you asked to be notified when Everleigh woke up, and, well, she’s wakin’ up from the looks of it.”
“I’ll be right down,” the relieved voice in his ear said.
Gagging sounds forced Carson to turn around. “No, wait-” But Everleigh had succeeded in pulling out her NG tube, eyes watering with the effort and fighting to control the urge to vomit. “I would have done that for ya a lot easier if ya’d just waited.” Grabbing a cup, he filled it with water and held it near her lips. “Here, drink this. And don’t pull out anythin’ else!”
She choked on the first sip, coughing water all over the blanket and waving off the offer of any more. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” she managed to get out.
“Lass, ya have four broken ribs, a six inch incision in yer belly, and 30 centimetres less bowel than ya did five days ago. Yer anything but fine and there’s no point in puttin’ on an act fer me, because I’m the sod that had to put ya back together. So will ya jus’ sit there and bloody well behave?”
“Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” John said, following Elizabeth into the infirmary. “If she’s misbehaving, it means she’s fine.”
“Stop that,” Weir told him sternly, slapping his arm, but she smiled broadly at Everleigh. “It’s good to see you up. How do you feel?”
“I’m fine,” the young woman insisted, though she could barely get out more than a croak. “When can I go? I have to feed Candide.”
“If ya set one foot off that bed, I’ll strap ya to it fer another week,” the chief surgeon barked.
“And Rodney is taking care of the cat, no worries there,” Elizabeth reassured her. “In fact, you might have a hard time getting him to give Candide back.”
But Everleigh didn’t look reassured. “Please, I don’t want to stay here. I promise to stay in bed, in my own bed.”
“Absolutely not!” Carson raised a warning finger. “You stay right where ya are. Yer body is still fightin’ off the peritonitis from the ruptured bowel, and I still want to monitor ya for any further encephalitis. Bleedin’ brains aren’t exactly good fer yer health.”
Everyone got quiet and Elizabeth reached out to brush back some of the wild mane that had developed after five days in bed. “Everleigh, what happened in the Gate room, after the shields were raised? You told us to ‘wait’, and then a path to the infirmary cleared. What did you do?”
But she only shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t really remember anything after being shot.”
Studying her eyes carefully, Elizabeth decided she didn’t believe Everleigh, but the rest of the discussion could wait. “Okay, then. You’re staying here, though, and doing what Carson says.” Holding out a hand, Sheppard pulled the solitaire game out of his pocket and handed it to Dr Weir, who handed it to Everleigh. “Use this to pass the time.”
“And I have your shoes,” John added. “Found them in the Jumper. I’m not allowed to give them back until Carson says so.”
Everleigh tried to stifle the yawn that crept up through her jaw, but there was no stopping the autonomic nervous system. “Fine. I’ll stay another night. But it was just a basic end-to-end anastomosis. Dr Beckett could probably do it in his sleep.”
Carson lifted his brow in surprise. “Have ya been readin’ yer chart, ya cheeky monkey?"
“Nope, I just watched a lot of TV.” Snuggling back down into her bed, Everleigh closed her eyes, staying awake just long enough to add, “But I did take an appendix out of a Chinese student once…”
All three watched, waiting for further explanation, but none came.
“I think a night in the pub with her would be a most interestin’ experience,” Beckett finally said.
“Not until she’s old enough,” Elizabeth warned.
“Aye, well in Scotland she would be!” Looking at her vitals one more time, the doctor was satisfied and went back to his other patients.
Elizabeth fidgeted with the blanket. Finding it wet, she tossed it aside and took another off an empty bed, covering Everleigh up to her chin. John finally put a calming hand on her shoulder and pulled her away, lest she wake the girl again. “It’s okay. I’m okay,” she whispered.
“No, you’re not,” John said quietly, steering her out of the infirmary and not back towards her office, but the personnel quarters, specifically hers. “You’re exhausted beyond all reason. You’ve hardly slept since the Genii left. And if you think no one has noticed… Teyla saw you using your stylus to stir your tea. Rodney says you fell asleep when he tried to brief you about the flooding status. You called Chuck “Cluck” this morning, and Radek saw you literally walk into a doorframe. So no, you’re not fine. You need to sleep. In your bed. Not your office, not in the infirmary, but properly. In bed,” he emphasized, directing her to the desired location and applying just enough pressure to her arms that she sat down on the mattress.
Unexpectedly, Elizabeth laughed at him. “You sound like a fortune cookie.”
“What?” John placed his palm against her forehead, but didn’t find any signs of fever.
“Didn’t you ever play that game with your friends? You get a fortune cookie and read it out loud to the table, but you have to add ‘in bed’ to end of it.” Elizabeth kicked her shoes off and let John tuck her in, pulling the thin blanket up to her shoulders and brushing her hair back. Déjà vu.
“Well, on our next trip to Earth,” he whispered, “you’ll have to take me out to a Chinese restaurant and show me.”
“If we ever get back to Earth.” There was pain and doubt in her voice.
“Hey. None of that from my Extreme Optimist.” John kissed her hair before straightening up. “Good night.”
Elizabeth looked at the clock before closing her eyes. “Good afternoon.”
Dr Beckett only managed to hold Everleigh another 48-hours until she came up with an ingenious way to get him to release her: Singing This is the Song the Doesn’t End for twenty straight minutes.
“You, young lady,” he grumbled, removing the IV line, “are diabolical in extremis.”
“I think you mean diabolical genius,” she grinned, hopping down in her bare feet and taking off at a run before he could change his mind.
Candide was still missing from her quarters, but she was able to take a very long, very refreshing shower, running her fingers down the staples holding her insides together. Though it was late in the afternoon, she didn’t want to sit in her quarters doing nothing. Donning a clean uniform, Everleigh went to find something to do, though Major Sheppard was at the top of this list because she still didn’t have any shoes.
“Hi Chuck!” she called when she got in the Gateroom, skipping past him and into Elizabeth’s office, but the look on her face immediately dampened her joy.
“Dr Beckett told me he released you, for the good of his staff’s sanity.” Elizabeth leaned back in her chair, studying the young woman in front of her. “I would have preferred you stayed at least another day, but barring that, you will go see Beckett every day after lunch to let him check your progress.”
“I’m fine, I promise!” Everleigh whined. “I’ve always healed quickly. There was no reason to stay any longer and let him keep trying to pump me full of drugs.”
“Nonetheless, you disobeyed me and annoyed Carson, and for this, you must be punished.” There was a slight tic of amusement in the corner of Elizabeth’s mouth. “So, Major Sheppard is still off world, incommunicado, and I don’t know where he put your shoes. No shoes, no service. Instead, you’re going to go see Dr Heightmeyer in-” she looked at her father’s pocket watch “-ten minutes. And then you’re going back to your room to rest.”
“You’re sending me to my room?!” Everleigh was aghast. “And then what? Am I grounded?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. Until Major Sheppard and Dr Beckett clear you, you’re flight status has been revoked.”
The teenager threw up her arms and cast her eyes heavenward, frustrated. “Ancients, save me from the good intentions of your followers!” Looking back at Weir, she tried a different tactic. “Haven’t you ever been fine, but no one would listen to you? You wanted to keep going, but everyone else just got in the way?”
The ghost of a kiss on her forehead made Elizabeth smile. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. More than once. But I had good friends and people who loved me wise enough to know I wasn’t really fine. So,” she looked at the watch again, “you now have seven minutes to get to Dr Heightmeyer’s office.” Reaching into her desk drawer, though, a Toblerone bar materialized. A peace offering. “A token of our mutual understanding.”
A rather fluid curse in Mandarin escaped Everleigh’s lips as she had her own bribery phrase thrown back at her, but she took the chocolate and trotted off to Kate, as ordered. Maybe today they could talk about shoes.
When the Ancient nanovirus was released, Everleigh was still grounded, but at least she had her shoes back. She watched Dr Weir fight with Major Sheppard – and herself – over the best way to stop its spread. And when Bates overrode her command to keep John locked in the gym, the look on the Expedition leader’s face made Everleigh shiver.
“He’s just trying to save us,” she whispered, touching Elizabeth’s elbow. Whether the ‘us’ was Atlantis, or just the two of them, was left up for debate.
Nonetheless, it was more than a breach of protocol; it was a breach of trust between Elizabeth and John, and a friendship hung tenuously in the balance.
“What are you going to do?” Everleigh asked, putting her breakfast tray down across from her CO, who gave her a curious look. “How are you going to make up for disobeying her orders and weakening her position in front of everyone?”
John sighed and pit down his forkful of hash browns. “Private Weiland, this isn’t exactly appropriate mealtime conversation.”
“I’ll give you my bacon. It’s the last in Atlantis.”
“You don’t even eat bacon!”
“No, but it came with the MRE, and it’s my ration and technically mine to do with as I please. I could always give it to Dr McKay-”
“You wouldn’t dare.” John reached over and plucked the offending meat off her plate and quickly showing both pieces into his mouth before anyone else saw. “So,” he said, talking around the mouthful. “Do you have any suggestions? Fruit basket? Tea set? Supplies in Pegasus are limited.”
“Maybe we can start with a momentary spark of enlightenment, Major.” Folding her hands in front of her, Everleigh suddenly looked like a presidential candidate about to make opening remarks at a Primary debate. “You come from a traditional command chain, one that has distinct rules regarding not just orders, but respect. While we might both agree that respect is earned, a superior officer starts with the advantage of presumed respect by virtue of their seniority. Now, you have, to the best of my knowledge, never been a woman in a roomful of warlords, having to walk the razor’s edge of being respectful while demanding respect from men who have no reason to give it. So please don’t take this the wrong way, but that makes Dr Weir a far more impressive leader than you.” Everleigh sipped her tea and let him digest part one if the day’s lesson. “As part of that narrow walk, she respects you as a friend and colleague, thinking that you also respected her. That makes your disregard of her orders all the worse, and you dragged Teyla and Bates into that disregard as well. A very public disgrace is going to require an equally public mea culpa.”
John winced. Suddenly, the bacon didn’t seem worth it. In fact, none of his breakfast seemed to be sitting well. “Fruit basket presented in the Gateroom by a Mariachi band?”
“Getting warmer. But I suspect that at some point, you are going to have to give her something you’d rather not; restoring balance means her overriding you on a military matter. I suspect it will involve letting her go off world with something less than half of the Marines in Atlantis.”
“I think I’d rather be publicly flogged in the Gateroom by a sad clown while the Mariachi band played the Macharena.”
“Which is why you must allow it,” she said evenly. “Disobeying orders is one thing; stopping Elizabeth Weir from doing what she feels is her duty to this city and its inhabitants is quite another, one that deserves no less than the hangman’s noose as far as I’m concerned.” Everleigh gave him a knowing smile. “Thus endeth the lesson. Sir.”
With that, she made to leave, but John’s hand shot out, grabbing the edge of her tray. “Down Private. I listened to you. Now you listen to me. Dr Beckett may have released you from supervised meals, but you are not trading away the rest of your breakfast for more opportunities to pontificate.” There was a rather protected battle of wills – seven or eight very long seconds of deadlocked glares – before Everleigh relented and sat back down. “Good. Eat. Dr Weir doesn’t need anything more to worry about. And between bites you can tell me more about yourself.”
“Quid pro quo?”
“As long as you don’t tell me a story about living on a farm during the spring slaughter or the lambs. I’ve seen that one.”
“Oh, no sir, I grew up on a moisture farm in a galaxy rather far from here, with a pet bantha and two droids for friends.”
“So you have the orphan theme down pretty well,” John smirked, but something in her eyes made him change his tone. “Not really all it’s cracked up to be, is it?”
“Definitely doesn’t make heroes of us all. Doesn’t come with any special powers, either.”
“Are you sure about?” John sipped his cold coffee and waited, but she chose to ignore that particular baited hook. “So, do you resent it? Everything you didn’t have?”
“Too right, I do. I get dumped because some idiot teenager couldn’t keep her pants on, while everyone else gets someone to call Mom, another to call Dad, eighteen solid years of loving care, new clothes, shoes, toys with their names on the tags at Christmas and birthdays, Easter baskets and Halloween costumes, dogs and cats and rabbits, refrigerators and pantries that can be opened at will, chores and weekly allowances. So yeah, Major, I resent the hell out of it.”
Sheppard drummed his fingers on the table top, thinking about his own childhood, and some of the soldiers he’d known. “A lot of kids not in the foster system don’t get any of those things either. Some even less. Some don’t survive their childhoods at all. Not that it makes what happened to you right, just that… what we call traditional isn’t always better.”
“You speak like a man whose seen the other side of the pasture and found the grass just as brown and dead.”
He wasn’t sticking that particular hook in his mouth either. “What would you say to your mother if you could meet her now?”
“My mother is probably dead or locked up for cooking meth in her trailer to supplement her income as the local whore.”
John grimaced. “Not all teenage mothers end up like that, Private.”
“Then I would say ‘What the fuck?’ Why was I so goddam disposable? Why didn’t you abort me or keep me, rather than dropping me into the purgatory of being an unperson?”
“Maybe…maybe she just wanted to give you a chance at something better. I’m sure she didn’t know what happened to you, would probably do anything to change the past. They probably told her a nice family was going to take you. But life isn’t fair Private; just more fair than death.”
Pausing in thought, Everleigh pointed her fork at him. “I know that one, Major. One of these days, you’re going to run into a situation for which Hollywood doesn’t have an answer. Then what?”
“Bollywood?” he suggested, but didn’t let her harsh assessment go. “Look, Private, I can’t pretend to know what your life was like up until now, but I do know what it’s like to be angry all the time about a past you can’t change, and it doesn’t help anything. Ever. Your mother – whoever she was – loved you enough to let you go, rather than keep you in her meth-cooking trailer, or whatever. She tried, for you. And because the world isn’t Hollywood, trying is all we can do. It just doesn’t always work. And that-” he said proudly “-you won’t find in any script.”
“Perhaps,” she conceded, standing up with her now empty tray. “But maybe it’s my pessimistic contrariness that keeps me alive.”
“I’m just saying, you might want to try witty sarcasticism for a change.”
Rolling her eyes, Everleigh shook her head in the negative. “One of you is enough, sir. I don’t think Dr Weir, or the whole of Pegasus, could handle two.”
The next couple of weeks were quiet, probably the quietest Atlantis had experienced since the Expedition’s arrival. They harvested what could be salvaged of the Athosian crops after the storm and repaired the homes and greenhouses. Carson agreed to let Everleigh work half-days after the staples came out, but her Puddlejumper always managed to be late up until Major Sheppard threatened to take her shoes again and insisted on going on the next flight out.
After offloading passengers and a few medical supplies, Everleigh decided to walk the perimieter of the settlement, now almost completely restored. At the edge of the trees, an old man and an apprentice were taking earthen pottery out of a kiln and setting them to cool in fine sand.
“These are very beautiful,” she said, crouching down to look at some of the completed ones with glazes that seemed to possess every earthtone imaginable. “How does the clay here compare to your old home?”
“Actually,” the potter said with a wink, “it’s even better than what I used to work with. Far fewer impurities in this Atlantean soil, though I did have a period of time learning to adjust the firing time and temperature.”
“I would say you succeeded admirably. What would you trade for one?” She asked, catching site of a low, wide bowl that looked perfect for holding fruit. Then she had an even better idea. “In fact, what would you trade for two?”
Twenty minutes later, Sheppard called over the radio that it was time to head home. The farmers had finished loading several sacks of dried grains and fresh vegetables into the Jumper and the Major was standing by the hatch, looking bored. He noticed his co-pilot, though, looking rather pleased with herself.
“I have a partial solution to our earlier discussion, sir.”
His brow rose in surprise. “You…figured out how to use tava beans for popcorn?”
“Uh, yeah, no, not that one. The one you would rather forget. Bacon and Mariachi bands.” She handed him an oilcloth bundle, watching with glee as he unwrapped the pot.
“It’s not for you, idiot – Major. It’s for Dr Weir. Tomorrow is her birthday. But don’t tell her I told you, or she’ll know I read all the personnel files.”
“Hmm, ok, it’s not a bad idea. And if no one sees me give it to her, then she’ll know I can be trusted to know it’s her birthday and not bring a Mariachi band to Gateroom to sing.” He suddenly stopped, suspicious. “Wait – did you read my file?”
“You’ll find out on your next birthday. And you owe me a tactical knife, a fifth of scotch, and two Hershey bars for the apprentice.”
“Orrr…we forget the ‘Major Idiot’ comment, I don’t report you for blatant misuse of Expedition supplies for personal appropriation, an¬d-” he looked ready to crow, “-I don’t tell Dr Weir you’ve been snooping around her files.”
“Or we call it even, yes sir.”
Elizabeth stood on what she’d come to think of as ‘her’ balcony and took a deep breath of salty air, letting a little surge of energy run through all her nerve endings. It seemed a bittersweet day, trading home and family for this absolutely spectacular view. Hearing the door open, she knew who it would it be without really needing to look. “Hey, John.”
“There you are,” he said with a smile.
“Here I am; just needed a little outside time.” She looked at him decked out in full field kit. “I thought you were off exploring the city.”
“About to.” From a smaller bag attached to his pack, John pulled out the cloth bundle and held it in front of her. “Picked this up on the mainland. The Athosians made it.” He could see her anticipating the next words. “Happy Birthday.”
When she leaned in to take it, John took the opportunity to steal a quick kiss, closer to the corner of her mouth than cheek. Elizabeth seemed equal parts annoyed with him and genuinely pleased; maybe a little more of the latter. Unwrapping her gift, her smile grew. “It’s beautiful.” Back to the former feeling: “How did you find out?”
“Mum’s the word,” he said quietly, rather pleased with the subtext, but she didn’t seem to notice, eyes focused again on the pottery, taking in its details. “I’ll see you later. We’re having cake for dinner.”
“No we’re not!” she called after him.
Any thoughts of dinner, though, vanished with the appearance of the 10,000-year old woman, or more precisely, a 10,000-year old Dr Elizabeth Weir with an incredible story to tell, ten millennia in the making. Rodney and John were asleep; only Elizabeth was there when her alternate self awoke for the last time.
“Damn, fell asleep again.”
“Well, you’re not the only one.” Elizabeth gestured towards the sleeping boys. “I wish there was more we could do for you. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, losing not just your entire crew, but knowing Everleigh had died as well.”
Weir the Elder was confused. “Who?”
“Wait, was Everleigh Weiland not on the Expedition? Did General O’Neill manage to keep her at the SCG?” The perplexed look on the woman’s face remained. “Evy? My – our – daughter.”
The dying woman shook her head. “I may be as old as an Ancient, but I haven’t forgotten anything of my life. I would remember if I’d had children.”
“You…didn’t go to that party after our fifteenth birthday wearing that ridiculous outfit? You didn’t meet James and…”
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t know how we could have had such a significant change so early on in life, yet still ended up here on Atlantis. But you have a daughter? Here now?”
“Yes. Would you like to meet her?”
“Very much so.”
Elizabeth tapped her headset, hoping she wouldn’t wake the others. “Private Weiland, can you report to the infirmary please. With medicinal relief.”
A groggy voice answered back. “What kind?”
“Reeces cups, I think. Thank you.” She smiled at her alternate self. “It’s been a very, very long time since you’ve had our favourite candy. And maybe… I’m trying to buy your silence. You see… I didn’t raise her. Everleigh, well, she doesn’t know who I am, so if you could…”
Smiling in understanding, she gave Elizabeth’s arm a reassuring pat. “She’s not really mine, so it’s not my secret to tell. Look at you. Always worrying. You put too much pressure on yourself. Remember that miserable Baltic negotiation, what Simon said to us?”
“‘Breathe’, among other things,”
“You can’t change the past… Well, ok, I did, but so that you don’t have to. Enjoy the moment, what’s here right now. The sun, the breeze, our birthday.”
“Sheppard,” Elizabeth growled, shaking her head, but with a smile.
“I’m just saying, stop being so damned hard on yourself. Life is fast. And Sheppard is cute,” the elder said with a twinkle in her eye. “Maybe one day you’ll even tell him so.”
Before Elizabeth could respond the infirmary doors opened and Everleigh sauntered in, baggy sweatpants, tank top and bare feet, ready to get back into bed. Snapping a sloppy salute, she held out a twin pack of Reece’s cups. “Reporting as ordered, ma’am, with what, you should know, are the last peanut butter cups in the Pegasus Galaxy.”
“I don’t believe for a moment you haven’t squirrelled some away to bribe me with at a later date.” She snagged the candy before Everleigh could withdrawal it in protest of her impugned character. “But we’ll save those for a real emergency. For the moment, though: Private Everleigh Weiland, Dr Elizabeth Weir.”
Holding out a shaking hand, Everleigh was quick to grab it and give a gentle shake. “Such a pleasure to meet you, Everleigh, though you seem awfully young to be here. What do you think of fair Atlantis so far?”
The girl shrugged. “I was conscripted, but it’s not so bad. Always something new and exciting to run to, or from, but you’re only allowed to have fun if you have shoes.” She gave the younger Weir a pointed look at this.
“Ah, well, you never know what the future – or the pat – may bring. Take it all with a gram of patience and a pinch of grace.”
“The alliteration would have worked better the other way around,” Everleigh smirked, to the other woman’s amusement. “But I’ll keep that in mind. It was nice to meet you, and, uh, thanks for saving us all. Seems worth more than a Reece’s.”
“It was all worth it, Private. Thank you for sharing your candy stash.” Everleigh yawned, making the other Weir yawn in return, realizing how late it was, and how little time she had left. “Go to bed, now. Your – Elizabeth and I have more to discuss.”
Nodding in thanks, Everleigh turned about and walked silently back out.
“She’s beautiful,” Weir Senior said, rheumy eyes shimmering in the dim light. She didn’t have the energy to eat the peanut butter cup, keeping it next to her hand as if she was only waiting to eat it later. “You’re so lucky to have her. And John and the rest.”
“I know,” Elizabeth whispered. “But please, tell me the rest.”
“Of course, yes,” Taking a deep breath, the old woman let her gaze move from Elizabeth into the past. “He gave me instructions on how to rotate the Z.P.M.s and put myself back into stasis. He said it would be like a deep, dreamless sleep. And every 3.3-thousand years I would wake. The chance of success was remote, but I had to try. In case I failed to wake, though, he put a failsafe mechanism in place to protect the city: If ever the power fell to critical levels, the mechanism holding the city to the ocean floor would release and Atlantis would rise to the surface.”
“What’s all that?” she asked quietly, hoping no one else would notice her presence.
He had a Cheshire grin, one she suspected his peers did not appreciate. “My research.”
Realization was quick to dawn on her. “You’re going to build another time ship.”
“Doubt I’ll succeed, seeing that the Council will be watching my every move.”
While he may have had doubts, she did not. “I’m sure you’ll find a way.”
“I’ve blocked all addresses to the Gate except Earth. You will be safe.” Not just her past self in the future, but also while she slept. None would intrude upon Atlantis until the time was right.
“Thank you,” she told him, feeling more relief than she should before a 10,000-year journey home that could only end in her death. But one life for all the rest? It was an easy choice.
“Thank you,” he echoed, “for giving me hope that Atlantis will survive another ten thousand years. 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.
“But I never did see him again,” the elder woman sighed.
Her younger self, though, felt something cold in the pit of her stomach, a growing suspicion. “It worked, the stasis, the failsafes…” Oh, those failsafes. “You gave up your entire life.” And she gave up more.
“No, because we are the same person. The best part of my life, it’s just beginning. I’m exploring a new galaxy. I have years ahead of my still.” She reached up to stroke her younger, smoother cheek. “I have a whole family, right here now. I can’t imagine a fuller life than this. Trust yourself, Elizabeth. All that matters is right now. And the note…”
And whatever else she had to say was lost to the final sleep. Too much time had passed. The asystole alarm woke John, who sprung up from his chairs to come stand next to his Elizabeth. Reaching out, he turned off the cardiac monitor, but couldn’t tear his gaze away from the younger woman next to him.
“She gave up everything,” Elizabeth whispered, finally releasing her duplicate’s hand to wipe a bit of moisture from her eyes. “She slept the whole of her life away, hoping Janus was right. Janus…”
“Hey, are you okay?” John whispered, tilting his head so that it almost rested on hers.
“No.” Her voice was flinty and she gave herself a physical shake that forced the Major back a bit. “I need to go check on something. Get with Rodney and see if you can figure out what her note means. It’s important.”
“Elizabeth, where are you-?” But John didn’t get to finish as she spun and nearly ran from the infirmary, seeking the nearest transport that would get her to the library of the Ancients.
Early on, Everleigh had uncovered a librarian programme and kept it active for the use of the non-ATA personnel and gave it a multi-lingual interface since most couldn’t speak or read Ancient. She did this mostly for her own sanity so she wouldn’t have to always go with whichever scientist or engineer had a question. Materializing into existence at her arrival, the Ancient librarian started his normal welcoming preamble, but she cut him off.
“I need you to bring up any records you have for Janus, among the last inhabitants of Atlantis, not more than ten thousand years ago.”
“You are Doctor Elizabeth Weir, yes?” It was a silly question for the library interface to ask, having never before been concerned with who was asking it questions.
“Yes,” she barked, not in the mood for Ancient games.
“You are required to step down into the seminar area and place your hand on the reader for authentication.”
Huffing, she walked over to the pedestal in the circle’s centre and placed her hand on the green light she’s not seen there before. As soon as her fingers touched it, the lights in the rest of the library went dark, making the hologram that appears before her even brighter.
“Hello again, Elizabeth,” he said, “though to be fair, you’ve never known me like this, but rather this.” And in a flash he turned into her beautiful boy, James, with the ocean blue eyes and gentle smile that had made her fifteen-year-old heart skip beats. “I’m leaving you this message before I go so that you will understand why the Z.P.M.s are not the only failsafe I am putting into place.”
In another flash, he returned to his adult form once more. “One day, many, many years from now, I intend to visit you, and try not to be alarmed, but I am giving you a second failsafe to help save Atlantis: a child. There is much in this city that relies upon our genetics for control, and I’m afraid that after ten thousand years, the gene may not be strong enough in the human population any longer to access all of our secrets. Secrets that shouldn’t be kept secret from you, our descendants and inheritors of Atlantis. Protect this child, Elizabeth. She is your future. I wish…” And here he faltered, his smile failing him. “I wish that I could be there for you, and that I could meet my child. But when the others find out what I have done, they will ensure I never see you again, and for that I am deeply sorry.” Looking to his right, the hologram pointed out into the darkness, illuminating one of the data crystal boxes. “I’ve left copies of my research there, separate from the main computers so that no one else could find it. This is all the inheritance I have to offer. I hope it’s enough. Thank you again, Elizabeth, for giving me hope in the future of Atlantis. Good bye.”
The hologram faded away, but Elizabeth still picked up the closest thing to hand – a ceramic coffee cup emblazoned with some university’s crest – and heaved it at the empty air. “You bastard!” And then she sat down and cried until she thought her lungs would burst, crying as hard as she did the day they took her baby away, crying even harder than when her own father had died. It wasn’t just tears of devastation, but unfathomable anger; at Janus for using her as an incubator for Ancient DNA, at her parents for making her sign the papers to give up her daughter, at herself for being the object of use, and she threw a punch before she could stop herself, instantly regretting the act as fire exploded through her hand and a dent appeared in the control column.
But it did the trick; the tears stopped. Taking several deep, calming breaths, she used the sleeve of her shirt to dry her face and headed back to the infirmary, grateful for the darkness and empty corridors, where no one could see. More than anything, she wanted to go to her quarters, but her throbbing, swollen hand made it abundantly clear that was not going to be possible, and she’s rather get the matter dealt with by Carson now, before anyone else came on duty.
Thankfully, someone had already removed the body of her other self, and John and Rodney had gone off to solve the mystery of the note. Only Carson was there, thankfully, filling out all the paperwork that came with someone dying in his care.
One look had him jumping out of his chair and leading her to an empty bed in the back, out of view of the main doors.
“Good lord, lass, what have ya done?” he whispered, fingers probing the tender joints and watching her face to know when he’d reached the most painful spots.
“…I smashed it in a desk drawer.”
“Like hell ya did, Elizabeth, I’ve seen this a dozen times before from the Marines. Animate or inanimate?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“What ya hit: was it animate or inanimate?”
She signed. “In.”
“Well good, at least it means I don’t have to expect a second patient to come through those doors.” Reaching over to the tray next to him, Dr Beckett started to slowly wrap her hand with a practiced skill of not-too-tight. “I don’t think anything’ is broken, but I want to take some x-rays when the swellin’ goes down. I’ll give ya some ibuprofen to help with the pain and inflammation, and a sedative I want ya to take.” He kept wrapping in silence, but stopped and just held her hand. “Do ya want to tell me what has ya so upset?”
“No, not really.”
Carson sighed. “Okay, let me try this another way: tell me what has ya so upset ya tried to break yer own hand, or I’ll go wake up Dr Heightmeyer right now and take ya off active duty until she says otherwise.” Elizabeth continued to stare out into nothing, lost in her own thoughts. “Look, lass, it can’t be easy to look at yer own dyin’ self, yer own mortality-”
“He used me, Carson.” Her voice was thick, fighting another flood of tears that she forestalled by squeezing her broken hand.
“Stop that right now, or I’ll put ya in plaster for a month,” Beckett threatened, forcing her to relax again.
“The Ancient, Janus, after he ascended… He used me when I was just fifteen years old to send an Ancient back to Atlantis. Everleigh was his backup plan. He is Everleigh’s father.”
“Are ya sure, Elizabeth?”
She nodded. “I just found the message he left me in the library. A message I got twenty years too late. He told me to take care of her, that she was the future. And I didn’t.”
Silence fell between them while Carson finished his task, wrapping the bandage a little thicker than he normally would to reduce her flexibility. But he continued to hold her hand, looking at her with compassion. “Do ya wish you’d never had Everleigh?”
Elizabeth was stung by the comment, pulling back from him, at first wanting to vehemently deny it, then suddenly afraid that it might be true. Beckett watched the war raging in Dr Weir’s heart as she tried to find her answer. He knew she had it when she let out a slow breath and tucked a loose piece of hair back behind her ear. “No, I don’t wish that. I just wish that things had been different, that I had kept her, that I had known. At least, Janus could have asked, could have given me a choice…”
“Are ya sayin’ he…he forced ya’, back then?”
“No, not exactly. I willingly went up those stairs with James – a mix of teenage rebellion and raging hormones – but I thought he was just a cute upper classman new at school. But he knew what he was doing, he’d been planning it for ten thousand years. There was no way he was letting me leave that house not pregnant. And when I found out, I looked everywhere for him, but no one remembered him, there were no yearbook pictures, no one knew where James with the blue eyes had gone. And what my parents thought… God, what my parents thought. Now I know why.”
Reaching out, Carson’s thumb wiped away a single tear that had escaped. “There. Better. Maybe knowin’ will help. It explains her little trick with the electricity durin’ the storm. I suspect we haven’t even scratched the surface of what she can do, and she’s probably the least aware of it. But Elizabeth… at some point yer going to have to tell her who you are.”
“I know, I know, I just…don’t know how, after all these years. We have a good relationship now, as Private Weiland and Dr Weir. Telling her will destroy that.”
“Aye, and somethin’ new will grow in its place. That’s how life works.”
Kate Heightmeyer, on the other hand, had a rather different take on things after she got over the initial shock of what Dr Weir had confessed.
“You can’t. We’re alone in a galaxy millions of lightyears from home. Our daily lives are already unstable and dangerous. Don’t make it worse for her, or yourself.”
Elizabeth had asked for an after-dinner appointment. The clock said it was now closing in on midnight. “Would you tell anyone this? Or is it something about her, or me, in particular?”
“I would say…all of it. You. Her. Atlantis. The Wraith.” Kate pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, trying to chase away the creep of exhaustion. She was normally very punctual about going to bed, but this was not normal. “It’s hard for me to tell you why without going into more detail than I’m comfortable with disclosing about another patient.”
“But…I’m her mother.”
“Not according to the law, Elizabeth.” The words stung, but it was the truth. “And she’s not a minor.”
“I know. She’s going to be twenty on her next birthday.” Falling back onto the couch, Elizabeth assumed the pondering position of many patients. Heightmeyer had often contemplated putting something decorative on that particular spot on the ceiling. “I can’t. I can’t come into her life after two decades and present myself as her mother, you’re right. But Carson is also right: if she really is half-Ancient, she needs to be, well, not studied, but guided. She could hurt herself or others if she accidentally triggers the wrong thing.”
“And that is probably true. You may have to look at redirecting her assignments towards more city-focused study than running around in jumpers. But,” and Kate waited until Elizabeth turned her head to look at her before finishing, “Now is not the time to bring her world crashing down. It might make you feel better, but it could destroy her. Maybe the best thing you can do as her mother, is to keep not being her mother and keep being a mentor.”
Sniffing just once, Elizabeth turned her focus back to the panels above her, trying to still her racing mind and process Dr Heightmeyer’s comments. “Is there… anything at all you can tell me about her? Just something about her. Please.”
Pursing her lips in thought, Kate actually chuckled. “She, um, she thinks you – she thinks her mother – is a prostitute living in a trailer park cooking meth.”
For a second, Elizabeth was horrified. But the notion that she was a drug addict living in a broken down trailer, something so dynamically opposite her present life, was so funny she burst into peals of laughter, laughing until she cried. And she kept crying until Kate came over to hold the Expedition leader in a fierce hug, rocking her gently and telling her everything would be alright. She didn’t know if it was true, but she wanted to believe it would be.
“John, I really think I should be the one going to Dagan.”
“Elizabeth, your hand is broken. I don’t want to sound mean and say it makes you a liability, but you’d be, um…a liability.” Sheppard stumbled to the conclusion of his rather awkward argument. Lower his voice, he leaned further over her desk. “I wouldn’t be taking Everleigh with me if I thought it was dangerous, you know that. We’ve been there. Lovely people. But two good hands are better for digging through records and dirt than one.”
“I don’t really need this cast, John, Beckett was just being overly cautious. I can still use my fingers.”
“You also won’t tell me how you really broke it, which makes me suspicious.” He leaned closer, until their faces were hardly separated by more than a nose. “Tell me what really happened, and I’ll let you come, too.”
Engaging in their usual staring contest, Weir was the one who finally relented. “You will check in every four hours and by god, if you’re late even once, I’m sending every marine on Atlantis.”
“How about every eight hours, but I don’t let her stay overnight?”
“Deal.” But she knew she’d been had the minute Sheppard grinned. “No, wait-”
“Too late, you already said ‘deal’.” Picking up his tac vest, he headed out of her office.
“John, how long is a day on Dagan?” she called. He didn’t stop, his team already waiting at the Stargate. “Major, how long is a day?!”
“Dial it up, Chuck!” Sheppard called, taking his P-90 from Ford and clipping it securely to his body, but he did turn back to Elizabeth, standing crossly at her usual perch, still grinning broadly. “It’s 54 hours. That’s the length of a day on Dagan.”
Everleigh was giddy for her first trip off world, trying to skip ahead through the event horizon, but the Major grabbed her vest, handing her back to the Lieutenant, who handed her back to Teyla, and Teyla held on the whole way through. Nothing waited on the other side, though, except the pleasant faces of the Dagans, anxious to find the location of the missing Potentia.
Being stuck in a library, though, was not exactly the adventure Everleigh was expecting. She hadn’t been included on the initial reconnaissance, so she distracted herself with reading old Dagan records while McKay prattled on with a couple of pretty locals. But that was better than Rodney dragging them out into the afternoon sun for field work. Literally. Handed shovels and picks, a grid was established and they set to work digging up a field.
“So what do you think of your first off world trip, Private?” John paused in his work, handing over a bottle of water and taking one for himself.
“Honestly, sir, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I thought there would be more running and shooting; a little less dirt and digging. I wasn’t expecting to be used as an earthmover.”
“You’re young, your back can handle it.” John finished off the rest of the bottle. “And trust me, the less running and shooting, the better; it means less pain and terror and dying. So keep digging. It will be the mid-day rest period soon.”
“Hmm, a whole world that siestas because the days are too long. I think that gives some credence to a rather innate human diurnal cycle that we haven’t evolved beyond.”
Nudging his sunglasses down, John gave her a queer look. “I’m sorry, I can’t tell. Are you Private Weiland or Dr McKay?”
“Screw you, sir.”
“I’m already feeling kinda screwed, Private.”
John rushed over to Ford. “Tell me you found the stone.” Because he really wanted to go back to Atlantis by nightfall for a lengthy shower and 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep in his own bed. The Dagan accommodations had left a little to be desired and his back hurt more than he cared to admit.
“Not quite, sir, but Weiland should see if she can read this.”
Crouching down to brush away more loose soil, Everleigh smiled. “‘Only the Brotherhood of the Fifteen should enter the forbidden chamber of the Quindosim’. Awesomeness. Forbidden places are my specialty.”
Teyla looked around the empty field. “What chamber?”
“Hopefully one that doesn’t require any digging to get to.” He looked over at Allina and Sanir. “Don’t suppose you’ve got some rope?"
The air in the underground chamber was stuffy and stale, tickling Everleigh’s throat. But the wall must hold the answer, the path to the ZPM, their way home. Not that she wanted to go home…
“It’s a Gate address, a six-symbol gate address,” Rodney stated confidently.
“No it’s not,” Everleigh said.
But Allina agreed. “I see them now, yes.”
“Not a Gate address,” she sang, tracing patterns in the dust with her knife.
Sheppard tried to ignore her. “So the ninth stone is on another plant.”
“Nope. Nein. Nyet. Non. Bu-”
“Enough, Weiland!” McKay angrily ran the toe of his boot through her floor doodles. “You’re not the Ancient expert here.”
“Yes I am.”
“Okay, well, yes, technically you are,” he sputtered. “But since you haven’t being paying the least bit of attention, I’m not sure how your inane prattling has anything to contribute!”
Huffing angrily, Everleigh sheathed the tactical blade and got to her feet, pitting her five-nine stature against McKay’s. “It’s not a six-symbol Gate address because there’s no such thing. And the Quindosim would never have entrusted any part of this to someone off world because there was too much risk of it being lost in the chaos of cyclical cullings. Their sense of duty to the Ancients for being entrusted with the Potentia means they would never have delegated any part of that responsibility to another world.”
“Oh, and I suppose you would know this because you talked to the Brotherhood this morning?” Rodney snarked, arms crossed in defiance.
John looked ready to intervene should it come to blows, but Everleigh had learned a long time ago that it was relatively easy to keep calm in the face of anger when you knew yourself to be right. “I know what I read in their archives; the words duty and honour came up frequently. You’re busy trying to solve this by thinking like yourself, instead of thinking like them.”
Whatever would have come next was cut off by the sound of gunfire from above. Pulling his P-90 into readiness and flipping off the safety, John crept towards the shaft leading towards the surface.
“Major Sheppard!” A familiar voice called down. “I’m afraid the Lieutenant has had to step away for a moment.”
“Who’s that?” Rodney asked, voice climbing in fear.
“It can’t be.”
“It sounds like-”
“Kolya?” John ventured.
The older Genii staring down at the looked genuinely pleased with himself. If there were cats, or canaries, in the Pegasus galaxy, he would very much have resembled an old simile. “Surprised?”
“You’re alive.” Sheppard was disappointed.
“As far as I can tell. Did you actually think a single bullet to the shoulder would kill me? I always thought you were smarter than that.”
Before he could stop her, Everleigh stepped into the light, adding her gun to Sheppard’s. “What’d you do to Ford?”
“Ah, Everleigh is it? Now you… you I didn’t expect to see alive again. That was more than a single bullet to the shoulder. Well done.”
Sheppard moved to place himself more firmly between his charge and his enemy. “What do you want, Kolya?”
“The same as you, Major: The lost treasure of the Quindosim.”
“What good does it do you?” Everleigh spat. “It only works on Ancient technology. Giving you a Zero Point Modules is like giving car keys to a squirrel: shiny is fun, but utterly worthless.”
“Private Weiland,” John growled dangerously. “Do you think you could possibly shut the hell up for five minutes and let me handle this?”
“We have an unbelievably large tactical advantage over you.” Kolya was stating the obvious, but felt it needed reiterating. “Now, if you would rather I just cover the mouth of the chamber up and forget about the whole thing, I’m more than willing to consider it.”
Rodney was growing tired of this. “Look, we’re close, but we’re not there yet. The ninth stone is hidden on another planet. All we have is the Gate address.”
“Dr McKay! So wonderful to hear your grating voice again. How’s the arm?”
A visible shudder went through Rodney as he unconsciously clutched his arm. “Do you want to keep trading barbs or do you want to find the ZPM? Lift me out of here. I’ll help you find it, but then you let my team go.”
John looked at the astrophysicist in disgust. “Rodney, please add your name to the shut-the-hell-up-and-let-me-handle-it list.”
“What, you got a better idea?”
Kolya stepped smiled and holstered his gun. “Dr McKay, you, your young protégé, and the Daganians will be lifted out, along with everyone’s weapons and radios. Major Sheppard, you can stay with the Lieutenant, and once we have the ZPM, you can all go home. You have my word.”
“No deal, Kolya.” John moved further between Everleigh and the shaft of light. “You can keep Ford up there and take McKay, along with all our tactical gear.”
“You’re in no position to bargain, Major Sheppard. You have thirty seconds, or I shoot the Lieutenant and you still give me what I want.”
“He’s right, John,” Rodney whispered. “We’ll find it faster if I have Weiland with me to translate. Maybe she’s even right about what, you know, she said earlier. We’ll find it and we’ll all go home.”
The fury on John’s face made the doctor back up. “McKay-!”
“You should listen to him, John,” Kolya advised, backing away from the hole up above. “Dr McKay is as smart as he is annoying.”
Everleigh handed her gun to her CO. “Don’t worry, Major, we’ll be fine. I can take care of Dr McKay. And I know I’m right. We’ll be back soon.”
Sheppard gripped her bicep tightly and whispered in her ear. “If you see the chance to run, Private, you run. Don’t wait for McKay, don’t come back for us. You get to Atlantis, or you get to safety and hide there until we come for you. Understand?”
“But Dr Weir would never forgive me if I-”
“No!” he hissed, squeezing tighter and giving her a shake. “She would never forgive me. So you run just as fast as you can.”
Everleigh searched his eyes, trying to find some meaning, some reason for his orders, but Kolya was growing impatient. “Enough stalling, Major, send up the girl now!”
Slowly letting her back away from him, John watched Everleigh grab hold of the rope as two Genii above quickly pulled her up and back into daylight. Kolya must have heard some of what John had said because he grabbed her immediately and tied her wrists together. Gripping the back of her neck with his large hand, he steered her in the direction of the Stargate, following in Rodney’s path.
“I am genuinely pleased to see you alive, Private Weiland.”
“And I am genuinely disappointed to see you’re not dead, Mr Kolya.”
There was little mirth in his chuckle. “I’m beginning to think inappropriately timed wit is a contagion among you Atlanteans. I’m not sure taking the rest of your medications is going to help with that particular probleem, but I’m sure your mother will trade that much and more to get you back.”
Now Everleigh laughed. “Well, you made a bad bet then, Mr Kolya, because you’re talking to an orphan. You’re not even going to get a ZPM out of this deal; you’ll be lucky if Major Sheppard doesn’t put another bullet in you.”
“Did your mother teach you to lie so fluidly, or is that just common among your people?”
“Are you hard of hearing, or just a bit thick? Which means dumb, by the way, if you need that translated.” She gestured broadly with her tied hands. “Orphan. Me. No family. Only a cat – not that you’d know what that is either. I’m just an expendable red shirt.”
“You appear to be wearing black.”
“Okay, yeah, I’m as bad as the Major when it comes to pop culture metaphors. It’s not my fault the Pegasus galaxy doesn’t pick up anything in syndication. But what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s my job to die so that the main characters stay in play. The only person who would miss me is the bastard on Earth who threw me into this mess. And the cat. Maybe. Cats aren’t really-”
“Don’t waste your breath, Everleigh, I was there when I shot you, in case you’ve forgotten. Elizabeth Weir will give me the whole of Atlantis to get you back.” Stopping dead in her tracks, Kolya increased his grip on her neck. “Keep moving.”
“Listen. To. Me. I don’t have a mother, a father, an uncle or a second cousin! The state raised me in a group home!”
“Stop lying. You are the daughter of Elizabeth Weir and she will give me Atlantis to get you back.” The commander gave her a shove, but Everleigh’s boots were frozen in place and she ended up in the dirt, receiving a kick in the side.
“Hey! Stop!” Rodney cried, running from his guards back to the young woman and throwing his hands up. “Leave her alone, she’s just a kid! Weiland, are you okay?”
“You can stop using that ridiculous name,” Koyla barked. “Changing her name from Weir isn’t going to shield her from the Genii.”
Rodney stared defiantly at Kolya as he helped Everleigh to her feet. “What are you talking about? Her name is Private Weiland, not Weir.”
“Look at me.” Everleigh shook off the hand that cupped her chin, but Kolya grabbed her thick bun and yanked her head around hard so that he could search her eyes. Rather than anger and defiance, he saw fear and confusion. “You say you grew up an orphan.” His voice was quieter than before, reasonable. “But a woman did give birth to you. A woman with your very same eyes who would rather I’d carried her away as a prisoner than let you bleed to death. Are you honestly saying you don’t know your mother is Dr Weir?”
“What?” Rodney looked back and forth between the two. “Private?”
A thousand puzzle pieces came crashing together, from the moment Weir had tried to remove her from the Expedition, to the entire reason she was assigned there by the NID in the first place; the late-night meeting with the old Dr Weir, the orders that always seemed to keep her safer than the rest of the soldiers, and a hundred small kindnesses in between. It had been a very long time since Everleigh had cried, but tears started to spill forth and her mouth quivered as she fought for control. “It can’t be true. It’s not true. She wouldn’t… she couldn’t do that to me. Not tell. Abandon me. She…she…No! No no no NO!” Each ‘no’ rising in volume, and on the last she swung her bound hands, throwing off Kolya’s grip and turning to run, but he caught her in only a few long strides and stopped her flight with a heavy blow to the back of her head, dropping her instantly.
“Pick her up,” Kolya ordered the largest of his men. “Take her to Cowen.”
“No!” Rodney shouted, making a grab for Everleigh, but was hauled up short by a firm hand latching onto his collar. “Look, I need her. The only reason she’s here is because she reads Ancient dialects better than anyone, including me, and what we are looking for is very, very old, and the records are only going to be in a language I can barely read, and you certainly can’t.”
“As I recall, Dr McKay, you kept Weir alive last time by convincing me that you needed her.”
“Because I did! And the same is true now! Look,” he gestured back at his unconscious colleague, “I have no idea who Private Weiland’s parents are. Or were. I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about her at all because all I ever did was, well, use her for my research. And I still need to.”
Kolya thought it over for a moment. While he did not want a repeat of last time, Sheppard was at least safely tucked away in a deep hole. “Fine, bring her. We’ll see if she wakes up in time to be useful. It would have been helpful if you’d stated your case for her usefulness before now.”
The six-symbol Gate address didn’t work, just like Everleigh had said it wouldn’t.
“Ok, so she was right about that,” Rodney mumbled as they headed back to the underground chamber of the Quindosim. “And you interrupted us before she could finish telling me where she thought the ninth piece is. And now she can’t tell us anything, thank you so much.”
Kolya glared at the scientist. “You really need to learn to be less annoying, Dr McKay, especially when you’ve told me someone else is more useful than you.”
“Oh, well, yes, I suppose that’s true, but I’m the only one still conscious.”
The sun was starting to get low in the horizon when they made their way back into the underground chamber. “Wait here,” Kolya ordered his Everleigh-carrier. “If anything happens, you get back to the Gate with her immediately.”
Everleigh heard that part. In fact, she’d been conscious for the last ten minutes. But feigning unconsciousness served her well for the moment. While the rest went descended the ropes, her exhausted guard dropped her rather unceremoniously on the ground, jarring her already aching head. Through narrow slits in her eyes she could see him alternate between staring down the hole for signs of trouble and scanning the horizon. At the sound of the flash-bang, Everleigh kicked the back of the Genii’s legs, sending him tumbling down the shaft, hoping he didn’t land on any of her people.
“Private Weiland, is that you?” Teyla called up. “Are you well?”
“I…” Anything else she could think to say stuck in her throat. What could she say? The immediate threat was over, and soul-crushing truths were overwhelming her again. Backing away from the chamber’s entrance, Everleigh crouched in the shade of a nearby tree and watched her team and the other Daganians climb back out, sans any Genii.
Jogging over, Sheppard knelt in front of her, laying a land on her knee. “Private, you okay?” She only stared ahead with an utterly blank expression. “Everleigh?”
“She, uh, she got a pretty good knock,” Rodney explained, pointing to the side of his head. “Kolya was saying…things.”
“‘Things’?” John echoed. “What kind of ‘things’ was he saying, Rodney?”
Wincing, McKay scratched his brow in hesitation. “Well, um, see, it’s kinda hard to say exactly, what he was saying, or asking, or, well, he was doing both, really-”
“Yeah, uh, there isn’t any chance, is there, that, um, Elizabeth is…is Weiland’s mother, is she?”
Sheppard’s head whipped around and his gun instinctively came up. “Who told him?!”
“I mean I tried to – wait, what? It’s true?!”
The wail that escaped Everleigh seemed inhuman, all the mental barriers finally falling away, a keen that climbed an octave as she gripped her head in agony. Everyone kept their distance, giving her a moment, and trying to process it themselves.
Handing his P-90 over to Ford, John knelt down next to her again, lowering his voice. “Everleigh, I’m really sorry you had to find out this way, I -”
“You knew!” she screamed, pushing him over with more force than he expected. “You KNEW! The Genii KNEW! Did you all know, you mother fucks?!” And then she took off running.
“Everleigh! God dammit!” John got to his feet and took his gun back. “The rest of you get back to Atlantis with the ZPM. Tell them Private Weiland and I were…delayed, but we’ll be close behind.”
Teyla stepped forward. “Perhaps one of us should go with you-”
“No!” he said a bit too harshly, startling her. “I’m sorry, no. I need to handle this. Just give me fifteen minutes.”
Elizabeth was not waiting on her perch, but at the bottom of the steps when the Gate activated. Relief turned to dread when only three of five came through the watery light.
“What happened?!” she cried. “Where’s Colonel Sheppard and Private Weiland?”
“Colonel Sheppard sent us ahead, wanting to finish a few things on Dagan,” Teyla volunteered.
“They’re, um, right behind us, ma’am, just a little delay.” Ford added.
She wasn’t buying it. “Rodney?”
“Yes, what Ford said, right behind us.” Rodney only had on way of lying: to repeat the lie of his co-conspirators.
“My office. Now!” As much as they respected Elizabeth, none of them would ever have said they were afraid of her before now. They followed silently, looking at no one else in the control room, who also managed to look anywhere else. She didn’t actually stop in her office, but continued out to the balcony, putting another set of doors between them and sensitive ears. She kept her backs to them for a moment, trying to calm her racing mind.
“Elizabeth-” Teyla started.
“Are they alive?” It was the first thing she had to know.
“Yes, they are find, or, mostly fine. Colonel Sheppard went to retrieve Private Weiland and sent us ahead with the ZPM,” the Athosian woman explained. “We no longer have it, though, as the Dagan’s did not want us to have such a precious artefact. But I do not believe they would hurt the Colonel or Everleigh.”
Weir turned to face them finally, features stony. “So I ask again: What happened?”
Now Ford stepped in. “The Genii showed up, ma’am, and Kolya got the drop on us, well, me, initially.”
“Kolya?! We need to send a rescue team now!”
“No ma’am, we got away. He’s currently stuck in the bottom of a deep hole, and I don’t think anyone on Dagan will be freeing them any time soon.”
“I’m still waiting for the part where someone tells me what the hell happened to your other two team members.” The look on her face reminded Rodney of Kolya, ready to throw him into the stormy ocean as his men disintegrated against the Gate shield.
Ford and Teyla fell back, leaving Rodney closest, it being only fair that he explain since he was the only witness to what happened earlier that day. “Elizabeth, I’m really sorry, and I’m not quite sure how to say this, but Kolya really wanted Everleigh-” he didn’t fail to notice the colour drain from her face “-because he said that you would give him anything to get her back because she’s your…daughter.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose, held it until she couldn’t distinguish the sound of the ocean from the thrum of her heart, then slowly exhaled. “Where is she?”
“Well, she, um, ran away after Sheppard kind of admitted that it might be true, and I guess she didn’t know anything about it. But don’t worry; she’s probably got a really bad concussion, so Sheppard should be back with her pretty soon.”
“What?” Elizabeth threw up a hand and stopped anyone else from answering. “You know what, never mind. All of you report to Carson to get checked out. I’ll go to Dagan myself.”
Teyla stepped in the path of her exit. “Dr Weir, maybe you should wait. I don’t know if your presence would be of any help. I don’t think she wants to see you.”
That was definitely the wrong thing to say. “Well too damn bad for her.”
Pushing past all three of them, she paused in her office just long enough to grab her jacket from the back of her chair, then shouted at Chuck to dial up Dagan. No one asked any questions. Waiting for the wormhole to open, she reached over and relieved a Marine of his field knife and radio. “Thanks. You’ll get these back shortly.”
The sky on the other side was a dusky purple, another long rotation of the planet coming to an end. Seeing no one, either Daganian or Genii, Elizabeth followed the path away from the Gate and hoped she ran into someone friendly soon.
Had she ever been one to participate in team sports, Everleigh would have been an impressive track athlete. John had to chase her nearly a kilometre before she finally caught her foot on something and hit the ground hard, disappearing into the tall, soft grass that covered the open fields of Dagan.
“Far enough?” he asked as he stood over her, panting.
“Not nearly!” And she surprised him with a swift kick to the knee, then threw herself on him, sitting on John’s chest and pinning his arms with her knees while she pummelled his face with her fists. “You Knew! She knew! The god damn Genii knew! Why am I here? Why did you do this to me?!”
The attack stopped when John used his knees to kick her off, but he didn’t try to pin her or fight her any further. He stayed on his back and tried to catch his breath, unable to breathe his nose. Everleigh laid next to him and cried, which made her head hurt even worse than the torn ligaments in her ankle.
“I need you to understand something,” he finally said. “Your mother would have only been fifteen when she had you, and two decades ago, society wasn’t as big on letting teenage mothers keep their babies. She did the only thing she thought she could do: give you to someone who could provide you with a better life. She never thought you would end up in foster care. And it’s still tearing her apart to this day. When you were shot, she wouldn’t stop giving you her blood until I ripped the needle out of her arm.” He was interrupted by a cough, trying to clear some of the blood running down the back of this throat. “Kolya – he only knew because he took one look at Dr Weir’s reaction to you bleeding out in the control room and knew he could get anything from her for your life.”
The sobs became a little quieter, replaced by the unmistakable sound of hiccups. “That – that doesn’t make up for a lifetime of abandonment.”
“Not a lifetime. That’s what’s still ahead of you. I lost my mother when I wasn’t much older than you, and I have to spend the rest of my life missing her. But you, here, a galaxy away from home, have found the mother who never stopped loving you.” John found the strength to haphazardly throw out an arm, which fell near enough hers to take her hand. “Don’t let the first quarter of your life ruing everything that comes next. You have a second chance – a first chance – at having the family you always wanted. Just being mad is no sort of life. Trust me. I know.”
He listened to the strange combination of hiccups and sobs, occasionally squeezing her hand to remind her that he was there. At least she wasn’t running or hitting and that was a marked improvement.
“Major Sheppard?” the radio crackled. “John, where are you?”
Groaning, he pulled himself into a sitting position. “Yeah, Elizabeth, I copy. We’re in the meadow where the path turns right towards the city, about a kilometre from the Gate.”
“Okay. Do you have Everleigh with you?”
“Yeah, I’ve got her. But if you don’t mind, we’re going to just stay here for a minute. Or ten. Did you bring anyone else with you?”
“No.” There was a long pause. “Is everyone alright?”
“I can categorically attest that we have both been in worse shape before.” Not a lie. Not the whole truth. “Elizabeth, be careful. Kolya-”
“I know. I’ll be there soon.”
In the silence, Dagan’s Dusk birds sang to the emerging stars, breaking themselves into different harmonies, more beautiful than any songbirds on Earth.
“Are you ready for this?” John asked quietly, resisting the urge to lay back down. From his vest he pulled a couple of ibuprofen and downed them without water, then offered two more to Everleigh. “Take them. Your head has to hurt as much as mine.” She didn’t move. “I don’t know who the bigger martyr is: you or Dr Weir.”
The bird song was interrupted by the sound of rustled grass and snapped twigs. “Sheppard? Are you there?”
Taking the flashlight from his vest, John flashed it on and off a few times, signalling their position. Climbing to his feet, he reached down to take Everleigh’s tac knife and P-90. “I’m sure you’ll understand if I hold on to these. For the time being. Or longer.”
Though the light was fading, Elizabeth couldn’t help noticing the rapidly swelling eyes and bloody nose on her military commander. “Oh my god, what happened to your face?”
“You should see the other guy,” he said, pointing him thumb behind him. “Way better looking. Absolutely kicked my ass.”
Kneeling next to Everleigh, who had gone quiet, Elizabeth placed a cool hand on the massive bruise engulfing almost half of her face. “Oh my god, John-!”
“I didn’t do it!” he cried defensively. “Kolya did. She’s the one who beat me up!”
Ignoring him, Weir pushed brushed aside the tangle of curls and tried to wipe away some of the dirt and tears staining Everleigh’s face. “John, could you give us a minute?”
“Normally I would, and I’ve disarmed her, but I’m afraid she might come up swinging.”
“Please, Major. I’ll be fine. If you could just keep watch for any Genii…?”
“Yes, ma’am. Scream if you need anything.”
Once John was out of sight, Elizabeth shifted and awkwardly laid on her side to face Everleigh, voice barely above a whisper. “You were nearly two months early and so, so tiny, no one was really sure you would live. And I haemorrhaged so badly they had their doubts about me. We were both just too young for what was happening to us. So we stayed in the hospital together for ten days, rather than taking you from me right away. You slept on my chest constantly, only waking up to nurse, which they said you wouldn’t be able to do, but you seemed determined to prove everyone wrong. You had these adorable tufts of black hair; I loved running my fingers through them, making your hair stand up. My mother said you looked just like me. And I remember you would only open your eyes when I would practice my Latin with Horace’s Odes.
“When they were sure we’d both live, the social worker came and took you while I slept. My parents had me sign the papers week before; they promised there was a loving family waiting for you. They had to sedate me when I woke up and found you gone. No one cared that I wanted to keep you, only that I not ruin my own life. But it felt ruined anyway. A month later I tried to kill myself, but my mother came home early and found me. When I came out of the coma she was there, crying, begging me to stay.” Elizabeth paused, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. “I was cruel; I told her now she knew what it felt like. But I was wrong; it’s one thing to know you child is alive and elsewhere, and something completely different to watch her die. After you were shot… I know how she felt.
“I never stopped thinking about you. On your birthday every year I would buy a card for you. They’re still in a box back on Earth. After your 18th birthday I tried to find you, but there was no trace anywhere. Now I think I know why, that the NID scrubbed every trace of you from Earth. But I still know you. I still remember. When I saw you in the SGC, I was torn between elation and absolute terror at what was on the other side of the Stargate.” Elizabeth sighed, reaching out to cover the hand identical to her own that had been tracing shapes in the soil. “Say something. Please.”
All those things she’d practiced saying, none of them appropriate to this situation except for one question: “Who is my father?”
“That is…complicated. A complication that I myself only became aware of last week. You and I have both been caught up in something bigger than ourselves. We’ve both been used; it’s no coincidence we ended up on the Expedition together. Someone in the government and the NID knows that I’m your mother, knew it before I did, and made sure that you would come to Atlantis no matter what, in spite of my influence and General O’Neill’s.”
Everleigh’s eyes were half closed, so Elizabeth gently touched her bruised face, bring her back to alertness. “So I need you to understand something, and to believe it: I love you, and have only ever tried to protect you. I have…failed, completely and utterly, in that goal. But I tried.”
“Elizabeth.” Sheppard’s voice over the radio interrupted the quiet. “I don’t want to rush things, but the Genii could send a rescue party for Kolya at any moment. And I haven’t eaten in over twelve hours. And my face hurts.”
“Understood, Major, we’re on our way.” Getting to her feet, Elizabeth dusted off her uniform, then reached to take Everleigh’s arm and pull her upright. She didn’t miss the girl’s tender test of her ankle, deciding it could hold weight well enough and headed back towards the path. Elizabeth hooked an elbow through hers, for support as much as insurance that her daughter wouldn’t bolt again.
John took point, P-90 ready for action, and the rising moons of Dagan kept the path brightly lit; he didn’t think anyone would be able to sneak up on them.
“So,” Elizabeth said quietly, trying to lighten the mood. “Are you ever going to tell me the sort of things you’d practiced telling your mother when you met her?”
“No. It consists primary of invectives and aspersions against your person that would likely earn me a mouthful of bleach and imprisonment in the city brig.”
“I have to admit I found the part about cooking meth in a trailer to be rather entertaining.”
“Don’t forget the whoring.”
“And now that you know I’m none of those things?”
Everleigh stumbled a bit on her bad ankle, but was held firmly up right by her mother and resumed her stride. “This was not a contingency for which I developed a script. Maybe I can think on it another day.”
“And will I need an armed guard while you say it?”
“Quite possibly. And a lot of soap.”
John waited for them at the Gate, Atlantis already dialled and the shield lowered. Everleigh stopped for a moment, taking a few rapid breaths, but Sheppard took hold of her other arm and the walked through the gate together.
“Oh, thank god.” Carson descended the stairs with Kate Heightmeyer. Teyla had thought to call them both in case it was necessary to return to Dagan. “Everyone alri-?” But one looks at their faces stopped him. “No. Right. Okay then, group trip to the infirmary.”
Rodney was hanging around the periphery, anxious to talk about the day’s events. “Um, Elizabeth-”
“Tomorrow, McKay,” she dismissed with a wave.
“Major, if ya’d sit over there,” Dr Beckett instructed. “Private, under the scanner, please. I want ta see how bad that shiner is.”
“And check her right ankle, too,” Elizabeth added, “because she’s not going to tell you how much it actually hurts. Too bullheaded for her own good.”
“I wonder where she gets that from,” John snorted.
“Say something else, Sheppard, and I’ll finish breaking your nose for her.”
For a moment, he considered snappy comeback, but the unsubtle edge in Elizabeth’s voice made him stop. He was the one, after all, who had asked to take Everleigh to Dagan, who had put her in danger in the first place after insisting it was safe, and misleading Elizabeth about how long they would be off world. And it was his fault Kolya had gotten his hands on her, emotionally destroying the youngest member of the Expedition, and its leader.
“Rodney said ya were unconscious for several hours,” Carson explained, “and I’m a bit worried – ah, yep, there it is. Minor skull fracture and a subdural haematoma. How well can ya see out yer right eye?” Everleigh didn’t respond, just staring blankly at the ceiling. “Private, this will go much faster if ya-”
“It’s blurry,” she growled.
“I was afraid of that, intraocular pressure from the swelling, but I’d rather try ice and steroids before anythin’ too invasive.” Moving the scanner down her ankle, a shocked ‘Oh’ escaped.
“What?” Elizabeth asked, moving over to see, as if it would mean anything to her.
“There’s rather significant ligament damage, worse than I thought any human could walk on. She’d have an easier time healin’ from a clean break than this.” Carson grimaced. “I’m not sure that ankle will ever be a’hun’red per cent again.”
Everleigh was tired and grimy and grumpy. “I’m fine, Dr Beckett, just give me a crutch or something and I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“You are not fine!” Elizabeth was exasperated. “Stop saying you’re fine! You’ll cooperate with Carson, or I’ll have him knock you out until next week.”
“Actually, I don’t wanna sedate her until-”
“Carson!” Elizabeth snapped, then clenched her jaw, sorry for it. “It’s just…please make sure she’s going to be alright.”
“I need ta get yer boot off, Everleigh, and I can give ya a little somethin’ more fer the pain before I do. What did ya take on Dagan?”
She shrugged. “Nothing.”
“Nothin’?” Carson looked over at Elizabeth. “Did you give her somethin’?”
“No, I didn’t go through the Gate with anything but a radio and a knife. Why?”
Looking around for a moment, Carson picked up a large-gauge needle from a nearby tray and stuck Everleigh in the calf, earning nothing more than a squint of one eye and a twitch of her foot.
“Carson!” Elizabeth shouted again, grabbing his hand and pulling it away before he could inflict any further damage.
“Don’t worry, Elizabeth,” he said sadly, “she wasn’t bothered a bit, were ya lass?”
Everleigh shrugged. “What’s your point, Dr Beckett? Nothing wrong with a high tolerance for pain.”
“Actually, yes, there’s a lot wrong it,” the physician explained as he undid the laces to her boot and working it off her foot. “Pain is how ya know ta stop, that there’s somethin’ wrong with yer body. Pain helps to keep ya alive.”
“What are you saying, Carson?” Elizabeth took the first boot, and then started on the other one, intent on giving them to Major Sheppard to hide.
With a large roll of ace bandage, Beckett started to immobilize the swollen ankle. “All I’m sayin’ is I want to run further tests. And that yer not leavin’ here until I get some answers. Understand?”
Sometimes, it is extremely difficult to be anything other than a sullen teenager. “No.”
“That was in English,” Weir growled, not in the mood. “Pick another language you want to hear it in so you do understand.”
“Try it. I speak more languages than you do,” Everleigh spat back.
“And yet you haven’t learned a damn-”
“Elizabeth.” Kate had followed them to the infirmary, Teyla having thought ahead enough to call the psychologist. She put a calming hand on the Expedition leader’s arm. “Elizabeth, it’s been a long day for everyone. Why don’t we let Dr Becket do what he needs to and we can talk again tomorrow?”
It wasn’t really a suggestion, or a request. It was a warning; she could leave with Dr Heightmeyer now, or have Carson kick her out. Nodding once, Elizabeth turned and walked out, but Kate stayed.
“Yer not goin’ anywhere tonight, Private,” Carson advised quietly, pulling the privacy curtain. “Why don’t you let Dr Heighmeyer help ya get cleaned up and changed into a gown while I check on the Major.”
John was waiting patiently, kicking his legs like a restless kid as they hung off the side of the bed, trying pretend he hadn’t heard everything. “I just need an ice pack, Carson. I took some Advil back on Dagan.”
“Just hold yer horses, Major,” the physician insisted, using his thumbs to gently probe the bones around John’s face until her got a rather significant wince. “Yeah, that’s an orbital fracture. Not too bad, but if it takes another hit, yer eye might pop out.”
“That’s a joke, right?” John asked. Carson wasn't laughing. It wasn’t a joke. “Right, ok, how long do I have to stay out of the gym? And can I get an eye patch or something?”
Before the sun had come up the next morning, Elizabeth stopped by the infirmary, confirming that her daughter was still there, resting, before heading to her office. She’d hardly slept, and half of yesterday’s work was still waiting to be done before the debriefing on the Dagan fiasco convened. She didn’t actually notice John come into her office until a cup of coffee suddenly appeared between her bent head and the desk top.
“Good morning,” the Major said, perching on the side of her desk. He smiled and looked at her with one black eye, the other covered by a red bandanna tied around his head.
“John… Do I even want to know?”
“Carson said he didn’t have any eye patches, and that if I get hit again, my eye will pop out like one of those stress squeezey things.” She just continued to stare at him, bemused. “You know, it’s just a rubber round body and head, and the head has these eyes and nose that pop out when…it squeaks… Nothing? Really? Well guess what you’re getting in your stocking next Christmas, ‘cause if anyone needs one of those, it’s you.”
Smiling finally, Elizabeth reached up to touch the bruise that spread down his cheek from under the bandanna. “Does it hurt much?”
“You know, for as skinny as she is, that kid packs a hell of a punch. I think Teyla trained her too well. And Carson wouldn’t give me anything more than some aspirin. Just once I’d like him to be a little more generous with the Vicodin.”
Reaching into her desk, Elizabeth pulled out a fifth of bourbon she’d kept hidden away and slid it over to him. “It’s the least I owe you, I guess.”
Bringing it up level to his good eye, John noted that it was actually half empty. “The very least…”
“And could you hide these again.” Elizabeth set the muddy boots in his lap. “She’ll find them in my desk in about 30 seconds.”
“And when do I get to give them back?”
“Not until I tell you.” Elizabeth stared at the hands folded in her lap, trying to find the right words. “John, I know you could have stopped her. You let her do this to you. Why?”
“For you.” Her head snapped up, ready to object, but he reached down and took her hands in his larger one. “It was my fault she was on Dagan, my fault that Kolya got her, my fault that she had to learn about you from the likes of him. She wanted to beat the hell out of someone, and I figured better me than you. Because you’re prettier.” Elizabeth blushed. “I mean, I think I’ve got better hair, but you’ve definitely got the better bone structure, and a more adorable nose”
Chuckling, she took possession of his hand and gave it a quick kiss. “I wish you haven’t, John. You need to let me-”
“No.” He cupped her chin and made his look up at him. “No matter what you think, you don’t deserve this, Elizabeth. You never did anything wrong, for one, no matter what you think. You. Did. Nothing. Wrong. And two, I promised to help you with her, to protect you both. And in this instance, the most beneficial thing was to put this somewhat attractive face between you and her fists.”
“Just… don’t do it again.”
“I would really rather not, but no promises.” He stood up, taking the boots and the half bottle of bourbon. “I’m going to get some breakfast. Come with me.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “We’ve got a meeting in a couple of hours, and I need to-”
“I didn’t end that sentence with a preposition or a question mark. Come with me. We’ll have a pre-meeting before our meeting. As an administrator, I think you can appreciate the benefits of that.”
Quirking an eyebrow at him, Elizabeth finally closed her computer and stood up. “Lead the way,” she invited, but gave John a quick punch in the arm. “As a military leader, I think you can appreciate that. Don’t boss me around, Sheppard.”
“I always will when I have to, Dr Weir.”
The Dagan debrief turned into more than just a bitter recap of the new Quindosim Brotherhood’s reluctance to part with the Potentia: Radek’s discovery of the long-range sensors and the visit by the Wraith dart meant bigger problems were on the horizon.
“We need to get the ZPM manufacturing chamber back on line. Now.” Rodney quickly turned the discussion to his own ends. “For months we’ve let ourselves be distracted by every new little discovery, off-world mission, making friends, attending harvest festivals, when we should have been focusing on one thing: bringing a piece of ten thousand-year-old machinery back online so that we can defend ourselves. Instead of running around Pegasus trying to find ZPMs that might not be depleted, we should be making our own.”
Radek bristled at the accusation. “It’s not that we’ve been doing nothing, Rodney, just because you’re not usually around to see us working. But we still barely understand how the ZPM works; reactivating the machine that makes them is infinitely harder, especially considering that it looks like the Ancients intentionally disabled it. Even if we knew exactly how it operated, we might not be able to piece it all back together!”
“Well, just put Weiland back in the library and don’t let her out until she has the answer!”
“Rodney!” Elizabeth and John chastised in unison, making him flinch, but Elizabeth wasn’t finished. “I don’t disagree that trying to get the ZPM plant online should be a top priority, but you are not putting the entire future of this city on Private Weiland’s shoulders.”
“For godssake, Elizabeth,” the frustrated scientist interjected, “you can use her first name since we all know…you know…”
The temperature in the room dropped to somewhere just above 10-degrees Kelvin and everyone who was not Rodney McKay or Elizabeth Weir dropped their eyes and desperately wished to be absolutely anywhere else. Like a Wraith hive ship. Eventually even Rodney dropped his eyes.
“We will split into three teams,” Elizabeth finally said, pushing them all forward by sheer will. “Major Sheppard will coordinate the Gate teams to resume the search for ZPMs and prepare the Alpha site. Dr McKay will focus on the ZPM manufactory, and Dr Zelinka will lead a team in looking for any other ways to defend Atlantis that does not involve a ZPM or the weapons platform chair. Understood?”
Nodding their assent, everyone grabbed their tablets and practically ran from the conference room except for the chief medical officer.
“Carson, I need you to make sure we’re ready for mass casualties, both here and at the Alpha-”
“Elizabeth, look at me.” Beckett waited patiently until she looked up from her computer. “What Rodney said was out of line. But ya can’t keep a secret in Atlantis any more than ya can keep a goldfish in a sieve, and yer goin’ to have to be patient while the people here adapt ta this paradigm shift. I'm not sayin' a public announcement is necessary, but the worst thin’ ya can do is try ta hide.”
“Carson, I…” she sighed and looked away. “I don’t have time for this. But as much as I hate to admit it, Rodney is also right. We need Everleigh helping on the ZPM project as soon as possible.”
“Well, there I guess I can help ya. Other than keepin’ weight off that ankle, I can’t find anything wrong with her. If I had to guess, either her Ancient DNA somehow controls pain better in some way, or – and this is what I strongly suspect – it’s a psychological condition.”
“What do you mean?”
“The human body is amazin’ in its adaptability. Put someone in a cold environment, and over time, they’re not bothered by cold. Feed someone spicy foods and over time, they’re not bothered by the spice. Subject someone to pain constantly, and… over time they jus’ stop respondin’ ta pain. It’s not a problem with her nerves; some part of her brain knows that there is pain, she’s jus’ not capable of any significant response.”
“Is there a…cure?” she asked quietly.
“Not as such, no, at least not a medical one. This is a job for Dr Heightmeyer, I’m afraid. So while I can let ya have her back ta work, at some point, we’re all goin’ ta have to face what happened on Dagan.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Thank you, Carson. Feel free to discharge her from the infirmary when you feel it’s appropriate.”
“Aye, well, if she starts singin’ I’ll take her to Rodney myself.”
But to Rodney she went anyway, with one shoe and one plaster cast, given a chair, a thermos of precious coffee (weakened to draw out the dwindling supply), and sat in the library, interviewing Ancient after Ancient, trying to piece together the secrets of zero point energy. And getting nowhere. McKay came in person only once, fourteen hours later, asking if she’d finished yet. He was answered with the steel thermos missing his head by approximately three centimetres.
So Radek was sent next to ask for her progress notes. He got them, in the form her tablet hurtling across the room and impacting against the wall next to him. At least he was able to pull the memory card.
After twenty hours, they told on her.
The library was almost completely dark, no holograms running, just the weak illumination of the control pedestal, barely outlining the spread-eagle body on the floor.
“Evy!” Elizabeth cried, stumbling over a chair before reaching her side. “Carson! I need-”
“Stop shouting, I’m fine. I’m just…thinking,” the young woman explained, staring blankly at the ceiling. “Restful thinking, which you’re interrupting.”
“I’m sorry, I had no idea you were still down here. Rodney said… I’m going to kill Rodney, never mind what he said.”
Taking Everleigh’s arm, Weir tried to pull her up. “Come on, we need to get you to the infirmary.”
But the stubborn kid refused to move a muscle. “Thinking. Not hurting. Thinking. Like you told me to. So go away and let me think.”
“And laying on the floor like you just got hit by a Wraith stunner…?”
“This is my thinking pose.”
“Okay then.” Reclining back, Elizabeth laid on the floor next to her, staring at the ceiling as well. After nothing more than a minute, she couldn’t take the silence. “At some point, when this is all over, I hope you and I can sit down and really talk about this.”
Growling, Everleigh sat up and glared at the intruder. “Do you have any idea how hard this is for me?”
“Evy, I know what happened on Dagan-”
“I’m not talking about that!” she snapped. “Like you said: later. No, I’m talking about what I told you months ago: I barely have a 10th grade education, and yet you think I can solve what even the great Rodney McKay cannot.”
“Do not undersell yourself; you’re more intelligent than anyone gives you proper credit for.”
“This is not a matter of intelligence. It’s about experience, about a foundation of knowledge upon which to build that I. Do. Not. Have.” She emphasized each word with a frustrated fist to her knee. “You and McKay and Zelenka don’t seem to understand that I cannot help you. I can remember everything I read, but it’s no substitute for having that education in the first place. To fix the machine, I have to understand how zero point energy works, which quires understanding quantum mechanics, which requires math and physics that I never learned in the first place. This is like trying to build a sky scraper from the top down.”
Weir reached out and forced her fingers into Everleigh’s hand, making her unclench her fist. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. It wasn’t fair to put this on you.”
Moaning, Everleigh pulled her knees up to rest her forehead on them, closing her eyes. “I’m so tired, but I’m too tired to sleep.”
“I can say you at least inherited that honestly,” Elizabeth admitted with a grimace, reaching over and running her fingers through Evy’s hair, something she remembered her own mother doing, trying to get her to sleep. “Maybe Carson can help.”
“No, there’s one more program I want to look at, one of the last Ancients on Atlantis, a scientist name Janus who might have been the one to disable the machine.” Immediately she felt the change, the fingers that froze, the breath that was held. “What is it?”
Elizabeth looked up, trying to keep the tears in, taking several deep breaths through her nose. “Janus… What do you know of him?”
“Not much, he’s just popped up in some of my research. Why?”
Unable to hold it in any longer, Elizabeth grabbed her daughter and pulled her into a tight hug, hanging on for dear life, shuddering with the emotions she could barely contain. Everleigh stiffened, caught off guard at first, but slowly willed her arms to come up and reciprocate. “Janus…” Weir swallowed and tried again. “Janus is the one who saved the first version of me, saved the city.”
“Okay.” It seemed a bit of an overreaction.
“He’s also your father.”
Elizabeth fell painfully back onto her wrists from the force with which Everleigh threw her off, scrambling back and grabbing one of her crutches, struggling to her feet. “What the fuck are you talking about? My dad is just some high school jock, right? Or a nerd, some member of the chess club? Because how in the fuck of ever-fucking hell would my father be an Ancient?! There is no way!”
Holding up her hands in a calming gesture, Elizabeth stayed on her knees. “I swear to you, Everleigh, I didn’t know, not until a few weeks ago. Janus used me, waited for ten thousand years or built another time ship, knowing that one day I would end up here. You were his backup plan to save the city! I am so, so sorry, I didn’t know how to tell you; I can barely come to terms with it myself. I thought a boy named James had ruined my life, and yours, but we were just his tools.”
As hurt as she had been learning the identity of her mother, Everleigh was even angrier to know that her father wasn’t even human, had never intended to raise her or love her, had intentionally created her existence for his own ends, then disappeared back into the ether. With a roar, she raised the crutch and brought it crashing down on one of the ancient library desks, smashing its terminal and screen, denting the metal surface and breaking her aluminium weapon. Collapsing back down to the floor, she could only sob. “What am I?! Why am I here?!”
Crawling over to her, Elizabeth wrapped her arms around the girl again, rocking her gently and planting a kiss on the scar that disappeared into her curls. “You are Everleigh Weiland, and you are my daughter. That’s all that matters.”
“I can’t save us,” she breathed. “I don’t know how.”
“You don’t have to. That’s my job, not yours.”
Gripping the arms that held her, Everleigh couldn’t stop shaking. “I feel like I’m drowning and there’s no way to the surface. I’m just being sucked down deeper…”
“But you’re not. You’re right here. And I’m not letting go.” Someone tried to radio Elizabeth, but she pulled the comm out of her ear; even a Wraith hive ship in orbit didn’t matter right now.
Slowly, the shock passed and Everleigh quit shivering. She rubbed her face against Elizabeth’s shoulder, drying her eyes. “I don’t know how to swim.”
“We all have to learn at some point.”
“No, that wasn’t a metaphor. I really can’t swim. And I live in a city that could sink at any time.”
“Oh.” Wiping away her own tears, Elizabeth rested her forehead against Everleigh’s. “Well, I’m sure we can do something about that in the future. And before you say ‘What future’, I’m telling you, we do have one.”
“Maybe, if Janus’s files can help at all.” With her mother’s help, Everleigh got to her feet and used her remaining crutch to hobble over the shelves. The box of data crystals Janus had left behind was different from the rest, a mahogany wood inlaid with a silver filigree outline of Atlantis.
“Here, let me.” Elizabeth carried it over to the lectern pit, picked out the first crystal and fed it to the pedestal. After sitting in the dark for so long, the light of the hologram was almost blinding.
“Greetings, scholar, I am Janus. Oh – hello again, Elizabeth.”
“You know me?” She asked, perplexed. “I thought you were just an interactive assistant for your research.”
The hologram smiled. “I left a significantly improved version of myself behind, and as soon as I was activated, the city mainframe updated my program with the record of my last days in Atlantis. I'm glad to see our plan worked.”
“Oh my god.” Everleigh stepped into the circle, paler than the photonic form of her father. “You can't be - You’re Janus?”
“Indeed I am. And you’re my daughter, are you not?”
“More than that, you son of a bitch. I’m stuck here because I was meant to be your executioner.”
Elizabeth radioed Carson and begged him to come to the library with a sedative to stop her daughter’s rampage. When the hologram refused to be damaged by the remaining crutch, she settled for bashing the pedestal and scattering the data crystals. It was surprising a bolt of lightning from the gods didn’t strike her down after the volume of blasphemies and profanities hurled at her father’s unholy ghost in a dozen languages. At the negotiating table, Elizabeth had heard a lot of things from a lot of crude men, but nothing compared to what she was hearing now.
Fortunately for all involved, Carson picked up Major Sheppard along the way, the only one capable of pinning Everleigh to the floor while Dr Beckett administered the trazadone.
“I should have killed him,” she whispered, over and over. “I should have just killed him.”
“Killed who?” John asked, picking up the nearly unconscious soldier so they could get out of the ruins of the library.
“Janus,” Elizabeth admitted, carrying the destroyed crutches.
“The Ancient scientist with the time ship?”
“Her father,” Carson volunteered. “Elizabeth didn’t know about it until she found a message he left for her after talkin’ to the older Weir.”
John didn’t hide his shock well. “Oh. I guess I missed that part. Was there a meeting? Hey, maybe we should have, like, a City Bulletin Board or something.”
“John.” Elizabeth’s warning tone made it clear she was not in the mood.
“Sorry.” They walked in silence to the transport, by which point Everleigh had finally lapsed into a dreamless sleep.
“So, do I want to ask why she thinks she should have killed Janus?”
“I would be lying if I said I completely understood. I asked her once how it was the NID came to catch her and stick her on the Expedition. She said it was because she refused to kill a man.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I didn’t really believe her; I thought it was just a joke meant to intimidate me or something. But as soon as she saw Janus, she recognized him as the man she’s been tasked to assassinate.”
“Followed by the screaming and the smashing," John grumbled. "And I thought I had dad issues - Wait, does that mean Janus is alive and living on Earth?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever find out. But this, all of this,” Elizabeth gestured broadly, “can’t be a coincidence. And frankly, all it’s doing is giving me a migraine and insomnia, because we have way too many other concerns at the moment.”
“I can help with that,” Carson offered, fishing around in the pockets of his lab coat before coming up with a couple of pills in blister packs. Elizabeth made to refuse, but the physician tucked them into her jacket pocket first.
“Someone wanna get the door?” pleaded Sheppard, using his head to indicate towards Everleigh’s quarters, his hands being rather full.
“Sorry,” Elizabeth mumbled, waving her hand in front of the sensor. She’d had her biosignature programmed to open any door in Atlantis, which came in quite…handy.
“She should be out at least twelve hours,” Beckett advised, “though she’s shown plenty of resistance to sedatives before, so we might be lucky if she sleeps six or seven. Although without these-” he took the bent crutches, “-she won’t be goin' far.”
“I doubt a little plaster could really stop her.” Sheppard stooped to deposit the Private in her bed while Elizabeth pulled up the covers. “I mean, I had this one once – all I had was a fork, but I-”
“Major, don’t give her any ideas, awake or asleep,” Weir ordered.
“Asleep is where both of ya should be. Hell, I was already asleep when ya called.” Carson pointed towards the door.
“We’re only goin’ to be helpin’ the Wraith if everyone is sleep deprived.”
“Don’t worry, Doc, I’ll make sure she gets where she’s going,” Sheppard promised, placing a hand at the small of Elizabeth’s back and ushered her down the hall towards her own quarters. “Are you gonna be okay?”
“Of course.” She wasn’t sure if she actually meant it or not, but it was the natural thing to say. “I’ve only been surprised by finding out my daughter’s father is an Ancient manipulating our timeline, we have three Wraith hive ships bearing down on us, no power, no defenses, and our best hope is a deranged scientist and depressed teenager.”
“Wait, in terms of ‘deranged scientist’, are you talking about Rodney or Janus?”
They paused outside Elizabeth’s door. “Now that you mention it, I guess it’s a fairly apt description for them both, isn’t it? Maybe I don’t even really know what I’m talking about; the speech centres of my brain are just on autopilot.”
“Maybe you just really need to sleep.” After a moment’s hesitation, John leaned down to give her a quick peck on the lips. “Good night, Elizabeth.”
She was startled for a moment, then took Sheppard’s face between her hands and offered a lingering kiss, eyes closed, breathing in his body wash and cologne, and that little something extra that was all John Sheppard. “Thank you, John.”
The Major didn’t respond, just stood there with a shocked grin on his face while she disappeared into her quarters. Looking up and down the corridor, he was relieved that there were no witnesses, especially as he had to walk rather stiffly back to his own room. At least he could rely on his dreams tonight be sweeter than the dread of the Wraith.
On doctor’s order the next day, Everleigh wasn’t allowed to work. Rodney complained mightily up until Elizabeth marched him down to the disaster zone that was the Ancient library and invited him to bring his pet half-Ancient down himself. If he thought he could. Nope.
So they reconvened in the conference room to discuss their options, besides death with dignity and honour. At least McKay was able to redeem himself there: One last message to Earth, everything compressed into a high density data stream.
Recording the messages for every deceased member of the Expedition was harder than Elizabeth ever thought possible. She had to tell men and women that their children were not coming home, because of her, while her own daughter was still alive. It took a Xanax and fingernails digging into her soft palms to keep her composure while she spoke into the camera.
“Mr and Mrs Markham, my name is Doctor Elizabeth Weir, and your son was a member of my Expedition team…”
“…and her keen curiosity are just some of the qualities your daughter displayed during her duties as a scientist on my team.”
“…very proud of your son, knowing that he died bravely while defending others.”
“We face a terrible enemy and an uncertain future, but if we are never heard from again, know that your loved ones did not face that uncertainty alone. We are facing our future together.”
Unable to face any more of it herself, Elizabeth left her office, wanting a hug more than she could ever remember wanting one in her life. But John was on a reconnaissance mission, her mother and Simon on Earth, and her father long dead.
“Evy?” Knocking on the door, she didn’t get an answer and let herself in. Twisted in the sheets, with Candide asleep on her pillow, Everleigh was still visiting Nod. Tiptoeing further into the room, Elizabeth sat on the floor next to the bed, resting against the nightstand and just watched, her aching heart finally easing, just a little.
“Did you come to tell me Beckett is going to dock my paycheque for the crutches?” a muffled voice asked, and Everleigh finally turned over to face the presence she had sensed coming into her room. “Or did Rodney send you to drag me back to the library.”
“Neither,” Elizabeth reassured, reaching up to brush back some of her daughter’s wild, sleep-styled mane. “Carson threatened bedpan duty to anyone who dared wake you.”
“Mmhmm, then what are you doing here?”
“I’m his boss. He can’t make me. And I just wanted to check on you. I didn’t mean to wake you, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry, my bladder has been trying to wake me up for a while, I think. You might have just saved me from an embarrassing trip to the laundry room.” Groaning, Everleigh threw off the covers and wearily pulled herself upright, with Elizabeth’s help. “Don’t suppose you brought me another crutch? Cane? Wheeley chair?”
“No, sorry, just a shoulder,” and Elizabeth positioned herself under the young woman’s arm, standing slowly and helping her to the bathroom. “I’ll be right out here when you’re done.”
“Well, if you’re going to hang around, I might try to wash up a bit. I think I can smell me, and you know it’s bad when it reaches that point.”
“Go ahead, then. I’d hate for Beckett to have to order a sponge bath. Just be sure to keep the cast dry.”
“Don’t worry, plenty of experience with that,” Everleigh called from the other side of the door, a reminder that Elizabeth didn’t need at the moment.
Wandering around the room, she couldn’t help snooping. In the drawers were standard issue Army BDUs, not a scrap of civilian clothing beyond a distressed pair of jeans, Old Navy t-shirt, and frayed cardigan, probably the clothes she had been captured in over a year ago. There were no pictures, no mementos; the NID hadn’t left her with anything. There was still a gun under her pillow, another in a desk drawer, and several illegal switch blades stashed in various places. There were a few books, all liberated from a library, and a notebook whose contents were all in code. It was a room that could have belonged to anyone, or maybe a better description was a room that belonged to no one. The only mark of personality was an Athosian bowl, similar in style to the pot that Sheppard had given her for her birthday, and Elizabeth wondered if the gift had been John’s idea at all.
Laying back on the bed, Elizabeth rubbed Candide’s ears, pleased to hear the cat’s happy purr; at least she could satisfy someone on Atlantis. Looking overhead, Elizabeth caught sight of a panel over the bed that looked slightly out of place. Standing on the mattress, she gently worked her fingernails under the metal and was rewarded with a *pop* as it came away. Inside the wall, she found several bottles of vodka, Xanax and Percocet, Adderall and Ritalin, another 9mm with six boxes of ammunition, at least a hundred candy bars, and another spiral notebook, this one also in code.
“Find anything you like?”
She hadn’t heard the bathroom door open, turning to see Everleigh balanced on one leg, using the doorframe to keep upright. And her icy glare conveyed every ounce of betrayal she felt.
“What is all this?” Elizabeth whispered, holding up a handful of pill bottles. “Do you take all these? Is that why you never feel anything? Are you high all the time?”
“Is that what you think I am? Just another drug addicted, white trash street hustler?” Everleigh took a step forward, then another, resting weight on her cast. “Because I’m a criminal and a thief, I must also be stoned on the regular?” She took two more steps forward. “It’s not possible that I know the value of those things, in any galaxy, and held them back for a day when we might really need them? Or that from time to time, I need a little help staying up through the night to try to get through the work you and McKay and Sheppard all desperately want done?”
“Oh no you don’t, you don’t get to turn it around and blame us for you using the equivalent of prescription speed to stay up through the night.” Stepping down off the bed, Elizabeth grabbed the trashcan and started dropping pill bottles into it. “You told me not to judge you on your past, but here you are, pretending to not be a stereotype.”
“I’m not!” the young woman cried desperately. “I’m not! Yes, I raided the SGC infirmary, but for trade items, not to feed an addiction. I learned a long time ago that in the absence of currency, drugs and booze make very good alternatives. If you want to take everything, fine; I don’t need it, but you might one day when you run out of C-4 and penicillin to trade away.”
Guilt deflated Elizabeth’s righteous indignation. Setting the bin back down, she walked over and put Everleigh’s arm around her shoulder once more, getting her back to the bed. “I’m sorry. It’s just hard, because I feel like I don’t really know you at all. I don’t know what to think; you’re a mystery to me most of the time.”
“Maybe because I’m just used to being like that. Every secret you keep is one less weapon for someone to use against you.”
“But I’m not your enemy – I’m your mother. Maybe not in any traditional sense, but it’s still true. I don’t want to hurt you; I want to protect you, from the Wraith, the Genii, the NID…from yourself. Because as smart as you are, you’re still really quite bad at that whole good-decision-making process that comes with age.”
“If that was true, Major Sheppard wouldn’t be…Major Sheppard.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Ok, Major Sheppard is a bit of an exception-”
“And really, Dr McKay is probably worse.”
“Yes, well, Rodney-”
“And Lieutenant Ford-”
“Stop, never mind. Maybe it’s not just age, maybe it’s a… Y-chromosome thing. All I’m asking is that you try to be a bit more like…me.” Everleigh raised her brow in a look Elizabeth immediately recognized from herself, and one she’d seen in her own mother before. “Ok, if that’s too much for you, then might I suggest Teyla as worthy of emulation. Could you tolerate that?”
“Sooo, I can’t be more like Major Sheppard?”
Elizabeth smiled. “No, I don’t think so. One of him is more than enough.”
“Yeah, but you like him just the way he is.” There was very little subtext to Everleigh’s tone or the glance she gave the Atlantis Expedition leader, who blushed and looked away.
Changing the subject, Elizabeth told her about the messages to Earth and the video files Lieutenant Ford was putting together. “Is there anyone you want to-”
“No, there’s no one,” Everleigh said quickly. “In fact, if you really wanted to help, you’d write a report telling them I died. Please.”
Elizabeth was shocked. “What? No…why?”
“So that they never come looking for me.”
“Who? The NID? Everleigh, you need to tell me what happened 18 months ago. Who told you to kill Janus? Why did they send you here?”
18 Months Ago
Cuba was a beautiful country; the beaches, the music, the colourful edifices, the parties, the food, the rum, and the warm welcome to those seeking refuge from the US government. The money funnelled to the Cayman Island accounts was more than enough to support her for years to come, until she got bored or thought of something better. Until now, the only beach she’s ever spent time on was the manky shores of Lake Erie during the rare trip to Cedar Point. This was what she’d dreamed of, the escape from the group homes and jail cells, cold winters and bland food, and even worse company.
But it made her sloppy. She didn’t think anyone would be able to trace the money to her, much less actually track her from China to Venezuela to Cuba, where no extradition treaty existed. They came for her in the middle of the night, still drunk from the street party that had popped up just because the weather was pleasant and some team or other had won at the football. She didn’t manage to do anything other than break her own hand against someone’s head before the sedative found its way into her neck and a long, dreamless sleep to follow.
“Wake her up.”
“No need, sir, I think she’s coming around now.”
Thought she intended to ‘come around’ with a fist angled towards the nearest presence she sensed, the restraint on the bed only gave her about six inches of flexibility. “Fuck.”
“She’s got a mouth on her, sir.”
“Well, one can hardly be surprised, given how she was raised.” The voice was one she vaguely recognized, and bleary eyes were finally able to focus on a visage seen more than once on a television: Vice Presidential-Elect Robert Kinsey.
“The hell do you want?” She tried to sound vicious, but it barely came out a whisper, her mouth incredibly dry.
“So many things, my little wildling, but I will start with you.”
If there was a single word she could use to describe the face hovering above her, it would be ‘smarmy’, and Everleigh desperately wanted to smash it. Though she was sure he was too far, she suddenly jerked upwards, trying to break his nose with her forehead, but alas, Kinsey remained unharmed.
“Spirit may have gotten you up to this point, but trust me, you’re going to want to reign it in, Miss Weiland.” He sat next to the gurney and held a packet of papers over her head. “Do you know what all this is?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me anyway, but please-” the word seemed to catch him by surprise “-can you find someone else to narrate? Your voice is like having to listen to Mr Magoo read the phone book.”
Frowning, Kinsey dropped the papers onto her chest. “This says I have the right to take you back to Cuba, Guantanamo Bay to be precise, for funding terrorism and never, ever let you out.”
Silence followed, annoying Everleigh. “You’re a damn season finale; no cliff hanger required.”
“Or, you come to work for me, the NID in particular.”
“Who, or what, is a nid?”
The former Senator was not in the mood to play any longer. “The National Intelligence Department provides civilian oversight of a very particular military program, top secret.”
“Then I’m probably the last person you should tell about it.”
“You are exactly the kind of person I need. There are leadership changes coming to the NID and SGC – I’ll explain that part later – and I want someone on the inside. So, it’s pretty easy: either you sign this immunity deal and come work for me, or I call the plane and you head to Git-mo.” The edge disappeared from Kinsey’s voice, some of the oily politician returning. “You and I both know you’ve been living on borrowed time. I’m offering you the chance to do something more with your life, something exciting, with a steady pay check and no looking over your shoulder. Now what’s so wrong with that?”
At this point, Everleigh would give anything to shut him up and get a drink of water. “Fine, give me the freaking pen.”
The country’s newest VP laughed. “No, darling, it’s not going to be quite that easy. For one, I have no intention of taking a pen to the eye. You won’t sign these in my presence. And two; you may have noticed my friend here, Mr Cole-” the other voice that had been in the room stepped forward “-and his job for the next three weeks is to give you a taste of life in Guantanamo before you make your final decision.”
“Fuck. You.” Everleigh hissed.
Kinsey stood and condescendingly pat her knee. “You first, Miss Weiland. I’ll see you after the inauguration.”
Mr Cole was very, very good at his job. And Everleigh learned a lot about the limits of the human body and mind.
A blow to the abdomen could be tempered by the tensing of muscles; ribs could be tolerable, but the spine didn’t have any padding. On the other hand, breast tissue was actually incredibly sensitive and more than a few hits was nauseating. The only real problem with heavy impacts to the head was the lingering migraines; otherwise, unconsciousness wasn’t all that bad.
Now dignity was a very interesting concert. Everleigh had been deprived of it several times throughout her life, by foster parents, older boys, social workers, the occasional teacher (more than a few of whom genuinely detested her), cops, correctional officers, and more. Being stripped before all Creation for days on end is rather adaptable, and the leers and snide comments easy to ignore when one recognizes the intent is purely psychological. But the insertion of large, abrasive objects against delicate nerves it much harder to block out. Especially when they bring back memories of teenage boys sneaking into girls’ dorms and doing things they ought not to have.
As a child, she remembered having her head forced underwater by an older child at a public swimming pool and had avoided water ever since. Waterboarding was a reminder as to why she’d never learned to swim. But if you were thirsty, it was a temporary relief, up until too much fluid builds up in the lungs. They finally had to stop when she developed pneumonia and her temperature hit 104°. Her three weeks of NID orientation ended strapped to a gurney on IV antibiotics.
Once the fever broke, Mr Cole brought the immunity papers back, along with a blue pen.
“Time’s up, kid. I have to be getting back to…well, you don’t need to know where. But I hope you make the right call. Believe it or not, I’d rather not see you again.”
With a shaking hand, Everleigh took the pen and wrote out some semblance of her name, not quite making it to the ‘d’ before the pen was snatched back. “Mr Cole, I’m not a religious person, but I have no doubt that one day, you and I will meet in Hell on the shores of that fiery lake, and on that day, you’re going to finally have to make amends that will make the last three weeks seem like a holiday in Rome.”
The man smiled indulgently. “Would it surprise you to know that I believe you? Good luck, Miss Weiland.”
And then he was gone. Two muscles-for-hire came in to load her, bed and all, into an ambulance without windows. Pretending to sleep, Everleigh used the spoon liberated from her breakfast tray to quietly work loose the Velcro around her right wrist. Neither man was sitting in the back with her, likely presuming her decrepit state rendered her unfit to fight. More the fool them.
Right hand free, Everleigh tried to relax and feel what was around her: the ambulance had been travelling at high speeds for a while, but now it was slowing down, stopping and starting. The sounds of traffic became more apparent, louder. Preparing her body, building up a reservoir of adrenaline, she waited for the next (presumed) stoplight, then rapidly undid the restraints on her other hand and both ankles, throwing open the ambulance doors and hitting the ground running, still gripping her spoon.
What she hadn’t counted on was the tail car, Mr Muscle #3, who was on Everleigh in seconds, swinging her around by the arm he managed to grab and shoving her head through the rear passenger window, making the world dark again.
The next time she woke, she was in a windowless cell and the newly sworn-in Vice President Kinsey was again waiting.
“For as smart as your profile claims you to be, I think there must be some fundamental flaw in your reasoning.” Grabbing her chin, he turned her head to look at the stitches running from her eye to her ear. “I offered you a fair deal, one I still intend to honor, if you will.” He flicked the healing wound, making her flinch. “Or, I can offer Mr Cole an extension on his contract.”
Everleigh hoped the quailing of her nerves didn’t show at the mention of that name. “You still haven’t told me what you want.”
“What I want should be incredibly easy for you.” He inclined his head towards the laptop and stack of books on the simple metal desk. “There is a language called Ancient. Learn it. Finish the translations by the end of next week, and then we’ll talk again.”
After all that had happened, it seemed too easy. “That’s it?”
“That’s it. I’ll have some food sent down. And don’t forget your medicine. Wouldn’t want the pneumonia coming back.”
While resentment still lingered somewhere close to the surface, plans of sabotage and escape faded into sheer awe of what she was reading. Aliens, Atlantis, spaceships, energy beyond imagination, something called a ‘Stargate’; she slept only when her body shut down, woke covered in papers and books, and picked up right where she left off. For a little while, she could entertain the idea that it was a hoax, but Ockham’s Razor suggested otherwise; there was no reason, no profit, to create such a vast database of information and language for no apparent purpose, and from the technological and scientific aspects she could understand, no reason to believe it was anything other than plausible with real world applications. The video footage was the final clincher.
When Kinsey came next, he brought another computer and another stack of books. “This is Goa’uld and Asgardian. I assume these will be just as easy to get through?”
Everleigh nodded. “Yes, but…how? How is this all possible?”
“What do you mean? The existence of aliens? The Stargate?”
“The secrecy.” There was no sarcasm, only genuine curiosity. “Do you know how I know the Moon landing isn’t fake? Because 10,000 people work for NASA, and you’d be hard pressed to get ten people to keep a secret. A thousand times that? Never. Not in the whole of human history have so many people kept a secret. So how is this all possible?”
“Never underestimate the ability of patriots to keep their own counsel, and crackpots to render themselves unbelievable.” Robert Kinsey seemed amused by this. “You believe because you’re smart, and because you’ve been given to direct evidence. What else is left? Military vets who don’t want to lose their pensions, and civilians who don’t want to end up in padded rooms. And as for those who think the truth is worth more than what they have to lose?” He shrugged. “It’s hard to believe the raving man on the streets who has lost everything because of the government and aliens. It’s a secret very good at keeping itself.”
Slowly, Everleigh nodded. “Evil genius. Not you – just, the whole system in general.”
“Well, back to work, Miss Weiland. We’re on a timetable.”
Time seemed to lose all meaning in that cell. She never saw daylight, just an endless string of languages, mission reports, and a crash course in astrophysics and wormholes, among other things. She became familiar with names like Jack O’Neill, Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Teal’c, Janet Frazier, and more. Her muscles began to atrophy so badly that for an hour each day, they took her to another cell with had only three things: a yoga mat, a bottle of water, and a TV affixed to a wall that showed the same yoga routine each time. As much as the oppositional defiance in her wanted to sit on the mat and do nothing, she found it was actually quite helpful, awakening her senses and giving her several more hours of useful work.
The day everything changed was the day two men came into her cell and handcuffed her, something that hadn’t been done in months, and walked her to a conference room she’d never seen before. Kinsey was there, along with a few others she recognized from NIA and IOA records.
“Forgive the restraints, Miss Weiland, but with the added company, it seemed prudent.” Kinsey pulled out a chair for her, then retook his own. “How is your reading coming?”
“I think I’ve successfully mastered Ancient and several of its dialects, as well as the xenolinguistics provided. I’ve read everything from the SGC going back to the original discovery in Egypt and 1994 mission to Abydos. Is this meant to be my viva voce? Is there a doctorate at the end of this?”
“Not hardly. The point was to see how adept you would be at learning this information, thus gauging your future usefulness at the SGC.” Picking up a remote, Kinsey turned on the projector, bringing up the picture of a middle-aged man with narrow features, large blue eyes, and curly brown hair. “This is James Oldman.”
“I’ve read his name,” Everleigh confirmed. “He’s the current head of the NID.”
“Yes, and he’s become a bit of a problem,” an older woman at the table said, gritting her teeth. “He’s pushing to dissolve the NID in favour of IOA and government oversight.”
“We believe this would be a…mistake.” Kinsey looked around the table for agreement. But refused to say more. There are some things the Vice President of the United States should simply never be heard to say.
“We want you to kill him,” the woman continued.
“Excuse me?” Everleigh couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing.
“Kill. Him.” This came from a man in street clothes who had the unmistakable bearing and haircut of a military officer. “Surely that’s not too difficult for you.”
“I’m a vegetarian!” Everleigh objected.
“We’re not asking you to eat him, Miss Weiland, only to eliminate a threat to national security.”
The months of anger and resentment cam bubbling back to the surface. “But why?! Why do I need to kill him? You all look more than capable.”
“Deniability doesn’t allow for it,” Kinsey finally said. “And none of us would be able to get close to him. But you? We believe you can.”
“Again, why me?”
“We think you…possess the skills and resolve.” Kinsey turned off the projector. “It’s one life, Miss Weiland, in balance against yours and the future of this world. You’ve read the files; you know how close we’ve come to being wiped out before. As long as this man lives, that threat continues. Or, I can arrange for a repeat visit with Mr Cole.”
The older woman at the table actually shuddered at the mention of the name. Apparently Everleigh was not the only one familiar with the man. Her mouth went dry. And it was one life. She’d done bad things before. Surely she could do this. “How do I do it?”
Three nights later, Everleigh was scaling the wrought iron fence that surrounded the Berkshire estate, armed with an unregistered .22, wire clippers, and a cellphone. Breaking and entering was not new, but a house this large was. Nothing, though, indicated external motion sensors, and the jumpsuit provided by her handler was cold, too cold to be read by thermal sensors. Pausing at the treeline, Everleigh rubbed her back against an old oak, trying to scratch the middle of her back where the NID had put her tracker.
Taking a deep breath, she sprinted across the lawn to the fuse box. She let the downstairs remained powered, then told the security system the upper floors were still powered with a bit of wire and a rerouting of the circuit. Looking around, she saw what she wanted: a long board along the plant bed and a garden hose. The hose she threw up around the utility post on the roof, then leaned the board against the house as the steepest angle she could keep it, using the hose to pull herself up the rest of the way to the roof, then rolling under the wires.
Pausing for a breath, she looked up as the stars, the first she’d seen in months, all the brighter for the estate being so far outside the city. It was…nice. And if she did this job, maybe she’d get to see them. Putting her nerves and reservations into a small corner of her mind, Everleigh continued to the nearest window and used a diamond cutter to get through both panes. Only after she’d done it did she realize the window hadn’t even been locked.
Pushing it open, she was grateful to find carpeting on the floor inside, muffling any sound her feet might make. Her shaking hand pulled out the gun, made sure the safety was off, and she made her way to the other wing of the house. It was almost too easy. There were no pets, no one else home; all she needed to do was walk to the bedside, point her gun at the pillow, and pull the trigger.
Everleigh pulled the trigger immediately, then spun around, realizing the voice had come from behind her. There was that face, the kind eyes, the easy smile, apparently completely unconcerned about the weapon pointed in his direction.
“Can I help you?”
Her hand wouldn’t stop shaking. She felt tears being absorbed into her mask and could hear nothing but the beat of her own heart. “Please…please, you were supposed to be in bed. Just go back to bed.”
“Well, now that I’m awake, maybe you’d like to join me for a cup of tea?”
“Come on,” he gestured, heading for the stairs. “I’ll make us a pot of chamomile. And you can bring me up to date on former-Senator Kinsey’s latest machinations.”
He knew; he’d probably been up waiting for her.
“I’m sorry,” Everleigh whispered, dropping the gun. “I’m so sorry.”
Sprinting back the way she came, Everleigh leapt through the window and barely controlled her descent with the hosepipe before taking off into the woods, opposite the direction of the car waiting to pick her up.
Making her way back to New York via both hitching and hiking, Everleigh hired a mob doctor to remove the tracker, only to wake up (unsurprisingly) in her underground cell once more.
“So,” Kinsey said, “You’re no Mr Cole. How…disappointing.” The smile he gave was not pleasant. “However, if you can’t be of any use to me here, then you will be…someplace very far away.”
Chapter 12: Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit
“Five days later I was taken to the SGC,” Everleigh finished quietly. “In here, hidden under the scar tissue-” she pointed to the keloid caused by the bad stitching “-is a data recorder based upon Tokra design. It sees everything through my left eye, hears everything from my left ear. Kinsey and the NID will reclaim it as soon as they get their hands on me, and then they will know everything I do.”
Elizabeth was too stunned to speak. So she hugged the girl, held on for dear life, and waited. After a moment, she felt arms wrap around her, hugging her back. That was all she wanted, what she had come in search of. “I was so worried about you coming to Pegasus, I never considered how dangerous Earth was for you. No wonder you wanted to come so badly.”
Resting her head on Elizabeth’s shoulder, Everleigh whispered, “Do you think he knew? James Oldman? Janus? Did he know who I was that night? Is that why he was so confident I wouldn’t shoot him?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he did,” Weir confirmed, running her hands comfortingly up and down Everleigh’s spine.
“If he did know, then he’s known where I was and who I was.” Bitterness crept to the surface and muscles tensed, ready to strike an invisible enemy. “He knew what Kinsey planned, knew what… knew about Mr Cole. He – he did this to me. On purpose! My own father!”
“Shhhh, no, no, Janus is many things, but he will never be your father.” Elizabeth pushed her daughter back so that green eyes could meet green eyes. “Never call him that. Never think of him like that. Janus may have…he made you, and then disappeared. He’s nothing to you. Or me.”
Sniffing back the rest of her tears, Everleigh composed herself. “For ‘nothing’, he creates an incredible force.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Never underestimate the power of zero.”
“You’re spending too much time with Rodney. Maybe you should spend a little more time at Major Sheppard’s movie nights. Have you ever seen The Princess Bride?”
“John? Can I talk to you a minute?”
“Come in,” Sheppard called, putting his bookmark in War and Peace. Any hope of a pleasant conversation with Elizabeth, though, disappeared when he saw the look on her face and got to his feet. “What is it?”
“I don’t know quite how to ask this,” Elizabeth fidgeted with her hands, a nervous tic he’d seen before. “I need you to do something for me, something that I normally would never ask, but it’s important…”
John took her hands in his, stilling them. “Hey, whatever it is, I’ll do it. Unless it’s my Johnny Cash poster; you can’t have that.”
He was rewarded with a little laugh. “No, you can keep that. What I need you to do is…lie.”
“Ooookay, well, it’s not like it’s something I’ve not done before…”
“More than lie. I need you to write a false mission report, one in which Private Everleigh Weiland is killed. I’ll record a video backing up whatever you write.”
John Sheppard had done many things during his career that he was not always proud of, but the one thing he had never done was file a false report; he had always been honest about what he did, good or bad, and willingly faced the consequences. “I don’t understand, Elizabeth.”
So she told him, about Kinsey and the immunity deal, the NID infighting, about Mr Cole and the neural implant, Janus on Earth as James Oldman, the architect of all their misery. “John, I know we may not survive the next week, that we may never hear from Earth again. But if we do, I need to make sure that the NID never comes looking for her. I’m going to talk to Carson about removing the recorder, but if they ever get her back… John, they tortured her. They did things, things I’ve only heard of in reports from war zones…”
“I’ll do it.” John held her face in his hands, eyes wide and earnest. “I can do it.”
Elizabeth tried to say thank you, but her open mouth found its way to John’s instead, kissing him desperately, running her fingers through his unruly hair and melding herself to him.
“Lizbeth-” John pulled away, concerned. “I’ll do it. You don’t…have to do this.”
Tears came to her eyes at the accusation. “John, I want to do this. I should have done it months ago, but now…now may be the only chance, the only time, we get. So plea-”
Her ‘please’ was silenced with a kiss, and wandering hands trying to pull her shirt up and trousers down at the same time. Warm, calloused palms tried to take in every part of her at once, touching her in ways Simon never had, no man ever had. Strong arms swung her around and onto the bed, a heavy weight covering her like a shield from the world.
And for all that was wrong, all seemed right.
Who in the what now?
“Dr Weir, we’re ready to try dialling Earth.”
Elizabeth moaned and rolled away from the warm body next to her, grabbing her headset from the night stand. Radek’s voice was not the one she wanted to wake up to.
“Dr Zelenka do you think we would be able to delay for an hour?” she asked, hoping her voice sounded more alert than she felt. “There are some last minute additions to the transmission I’d like to look at.”
“Yes, I don’t think that will be a problem. But just so you are aware, Dr McKay has been up all night; I don’t think he’ll sleep until he knows-”
“Thank you, Weir out.”
“So we’ve got a whole hour?” The voice was muffled because his mouth was pressed to the back of her neck. A hand worked its way down from her waist, making her squirm.
“John…” She stopped the hand’s descent, regretfully. “You need to write that report, and I need to shower before recording the last message.”
Lips moved to her earlobe. “Aren’t you the boss? McKay can sit on his hands for an extra five minutes…”
Rolling over on her other side to face him, she smile. “You better make it at least ten.”
“I don’t know if Private Weiland has any family; I didn’t know her as well as I should have and her file was incomplete. But it is my sad duty to report that just yesterday, during a mission to P3X-418, Private Weiland was killed during an engagement with a Wriath scout. She fought bravely, but ultimately, reinforcements did not reach her in time. Though her life was short, I can tell you that she experienced more wonders in her time with my Expedition than others do in a hundred years. I only wish I could have brought her home to you.”
If Everleigh and John had not been standing behind the camera while she recorded the brief death notification, Elizabeth knew she would not have been able to get the words out. Over and over she had to tell herself it was a lie, that everything would be fine. John wrote a brief mission report, and Carson filled out a death certificate. Rodney complained about having to wait and re-compress the data burst with the additional information.
“Thank you, Major,” she told John quietly as they waited in the Gate room to see if their Hail Mary would carry the distance. “I’m sorry you had to do that. I know what your integrity means to you.”
“Trust me, Lizbeth, I won’t be losing any sleep over this one.”
The clank of the Gate’s chevrons locking into place echoed throughout the silent control room, breaths held to see if this SOS/Last Good-bye would work. One-point-three seconds; that was all they needed.
“Message away!” Rodney crowed, the wormhole shutting down in the time it took to make his proclamation. No one else seemed elated, staring sadly at the silenced Gate like the marooned man who has thrown his last bottled message into the ocean tides. “Now…we wait.”
“Get some sleep, Rodney,” Elizabeth ordered, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Everyone else, back to your teams. The Wraith are still coming. Division heads will meet at 1600.”
Balanced on a new pair of crutches Carson had reluctantly provided, Everleigh went to the ZPM lab and sat alone at the controls, willing inspiration to come to her as she scrolled through the fragmented data system. More of it made sense than had weeks before, but it still wasn’t enough. They’d asked only one thing of her, and she couldn’t do it. In her whole life she’d never felt as much the imbecile as she did now.
“Greetings, scholar, how can I assist you?”
Rather unenthusiastically, Everleigh looked at the figure of her father that appeared next to her and tossed a pen through him. “You’ve done more than enough, thank you. But I have to admit, citywide holoprojection from the library is nice. If I’d know you could do that, I’d have made you deal with Rodney yourself weeks ago. But as it is…could you just fuck off, please?”
Janus smiled, amused. “Is that your way of saying you don’t want me to help you to fix the Null Energy Generator?”
Her heart skipped a beat. “Are you saying it’s possible? That we could make new ZPMs?”
“In a way. I’m afraid when we left, we made sure the Wraith would never be able to harness the power of zero point energy. But, with a little work, you could add some more life to the existing module, buy the city a little more time.”
“Let me get Rodney and Zelenka-”
“No, it won’t work for them. It has to be you.” Janus held out his hand. “This is one of the reasons you’re here.”
Everleigh fought the flood of emotions. “But why me? Why am I here?”
Janus only continued to smile. It seemed ridiculous to take the hand of a hologram. But she might finally be able to do something good, something useful. So fine. Reaching out, Everleigh was surprised to find her hand grasped in warmth, the tingle of electricity, and then darkness.
“Security to the ZPM room! Secur-”
Radek’s voice was suddenly cut off with a grunt. Elizabeth shot up out of her chair and rushed out of her office, looking at Chuck. “What the hell’s going on? Is there another Wraith in the city?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. There’s nothing on the sensors.”
“It wouldn’t make any sense, there’s no power left in the ZPM,” Bates said, tapping his ear piece. “I want security teams 3, 4, 6, and 7 on each of the Naquadah generators. No one is to enter those sections until I give the all clear.”
At the same time, Elizabeth was placing a call of her own. “Colonel Sheppard.”
“Already on my way with Teyla and Ford,” he said. “I’ll get back to you in five.”
Waiting outside the door, P-90s at the ready, John’s fingers led them in a silent countdown, at zero and three rushing in, covering left, right, and centre. “What-?”
Radek was on the floor, unconscious, along with one of his assistants. Everleigh was lifting the depleted ZPM out of its cradle.
“Weiland, what the hell are you doing?!” Ford demanded, keeping his gun level as he knelt to make sure the scientist at his feet still had a pulse.
But she didn’t look at him; she didn’t appear to actually see any of them. John unhooked his P-90 and held it out to Teyla. “Everleigh? Hey, kid, you wanna tell me what’s going on here?”
Tucking the crystalline containment form for the zero point energy under one arm, Everleigh headed back out the way she came. John tried to grab her, only to have a green energy field repulse him with a slight sting to his hand.
“She’d got one of those damn shields!” John triggered his head comm. “Beckett, we need a medical team to the ZPM room. And Dr Weir, we could really use your help, too.”
“Because Private Weiland is the one stealing the ZPM.” John looked at his team. “Ford, stay here and wait for Carson. Teyla, go back to the armoury and get the Wraith stunners. If we get a shot, we’re not doing it with a bullet. I’m going to follow for now, and will update you as we go. Keep everyone else out of the way.”
Elizabeth caught up to him ten minutes later, wandering further from the centre of the city. “Has she said anything yet?”
“No. I’m not even sure she can hear me. And trust me, I gave her several perfect openings for more than a few puns and snark during a very one-sided conversation,” John admitted. “Whatever is going on, that’s not Everleigh in there.”
“Where was she before? After the message to Earth, I thought she was going back to her room to rest.”
John shrugged. “No idea. I was hoping you might know. Not sure where she got the personal shield, either. Might have to ask Rodney about that.”
Suddenly, the hallway in front of them slammed shut, one of the watertight bulkhead doors meant to protect the city from flooding.
“Dammit! Bates!” he called, “We just got cut off! Who the hell is sealing off this part of the city?”
“No idea, sir.” The head of security never sounded very happy, but there was an edge in his voice now. “It’s no one in the control room, and it seems to only be the city corridor you’re in. It’s possible the last Wraith let something behind in the computers. We’re running a virus scan of the city operating system now, but without Dr Zelenka-”
“Then go wake up Rodney!” Elizabeth ordered. “In the meantime, keep following Private Weiland. We’re going to look for another way around.”
“Ma’am there are already three more flood doors closed between you and her. I don’t know how you’re going to get past that many.”
John suddenly perked up, taking Elizabeth’s hand. “Come on, I’ve got a better idea.” And they took off at a run, though it was still a kilometre back to the central tower, where Rodney was waiting.
“I think I know where she’s going!” he proclaimed as soon as they stepped off the nearest transport. “Following the path of-”
“Tell us on the way,” John called pointing up. “We’re taking a Jumper.”
Sitting down behind John so that Rodney could sit next to him, Elizabeth fought to catch her breath. She really needed to do something about getting more cardio into her daily routine.
“She’s headed to the ZPM lab,” Rodney explained, touching the Jumper console to bring up a mad of the city on the HUD, pointing to a red blip far out on the north pier. “It’s the only thing that makes sense if she took the ZPM.”
"Oh, there is no 'if' about it." John manoeuvred the ship up the tower and into the daytime sky. “You think she’s figured something out?”
“I don’t see how.” Elizabeth gripped the back of John’s chair so that she could watch their progress. “She told me she had no idea how it worked, that she didn’t have enough education to understand what the Ancient’s were trying to explain.”
“Genius does have its limits when you only have a high school education,” Rodney mumbled. He didn’t like having an IQ the same as an Army private.
“Shut up, McKay,” John growled, dropping the jumper to the deck sharper than he intended. “This is partly your fault. You’re the one who pushed her into researching the ZPMs and the Ancient database.”
“Well, Elizabeth let me-”
“RODNEY!” the Major barked, and that was the end of that particular conversation. Touching down outside the large building, John picked up the stunner Teyla had brought him and led the way to the main entrance. It didn’t open.
“Are we locked out?” Elizabeth asked.
Taking out his tablet, McKay connected it to the door controls, typing in a few commands. “What?” There was a look of consternation, and he did the same again. “What the hell? That should have worked!”
“And yet obviously it didn’t,” John said sarcastically. “So try something else.”
“I don’t think you understand, there is nothing electronic I can do about this!” Holding up the screen, he pointed at a schematic that didn’t really make any sense to the Major. “Something dropped solid titanium posts into the walls behind the doors. They literally cannot open and there is no power to lift them out. The Ancients obviously wanted an analog as well as digital solution to intruders in this particular building. We need a freaking battering ram.”
“Ford, this is Sheppard. I need an acetylene torch, and some C-4 as a back-up. Now.” He looked smugly at Rodney. “How’s that for a battering ram?”
As it turned out…not so effective against Ancient building materials. It took over an hour to get through the door, only to find three more between them and the deep lab. At the last door, Rodney physically put himself between John and the C-4.
“You can’t! You have no idea how delicate the equipment in there might be. Or worse, how volatile. You could blow this whole part of Atlantis apart.”
“Well how the hell to you propose we get in there, then?” John demanded.
“Well, just give me a minute to look over things and-”
Elizabeth reached over and ran her hand across the sensor, opening the door and disappearing into the dark, John close at her heels.
“Or we could just do that,” Rodney admitted, following at a more leisurely pace.
“Evy?” Elizabeth called, moving cautiously through the dim lab. “Everleigh, are you here?”
“Oh, my god, she did it.” Rodney was glued to the window, watching an orange glow from inside the chamber. “How do I-? How? Ah!” Looking around, he found a toggle larger than some of the others, which lifted the ZPM from its cradle in the centre of the machine and deposited it in a little hatch next to the window, like the galaxy’s greatest arcade game. With shaking hands he pulled it through the little door and cradled it like a new born. “Oh you beautiful, beautiful ZPM.”
“John!” Elizabeth cried. “Help me!”
Everleigh was curled up in a corner on the other side of the lab, shivering and clammy, dried blood seeping from eyes and ears.
“What the hell?” A frightening thought occurred to Sheppard. “McKay, are you detecting any radiation or residual energy outputs?”
“No, I don’t think so.” He called up a few items on the machine’s monitors. “No, nothing, the room is clear.”
“Okay, then, okay.” John picked up the young woman carefully. This was becoming an unfortunate habit. “Back to the Jumper. Now.”
Elizabeth sat on the floor of the Jumper, cradling Everleigh’s head. “Rodney, what the hell happened back there?”
“I honestly have no idea, Elizabeth, I’m sorry. But I don’t think the ZPM generator has anything to do with it. If there had been any serious energy spikes, any leaks in containment, I would have detected them. I don’t even know how she did what she did. We both need answers, but we’re going to need her to wake up first.” Rodney stared lovingly at his ZPM. “She really, really needs to wake up.”