She was closer than he knew, a stunner hitting him in the right foot, not enough to knock him out, but to deaden the entire leg. Thalen toppled forward into a stack of crates, unable to react before the ferocious woman had him pinned, tying his arms over his head to the base of a shelf and knocking a tight fist into his left temple when he tried to fight.
“Before you die, Thalen, it will be with the knowledge that there is one more of my people left in the galaxy, and none of yours. So no matter what happens to me…you will lose once and for all.” Phebus dug her finger into the bullet wound on her enemy’s left arm, then delivered another blow to the side of his face.
“It’s not your body, Phebus, or mine,” he hissed as she loosened his trousers and pulled them down just enough to reach what she wanted. “This will mean nothing.”
“It means something to me.” She started pumping away at the male member, which responded more quickly than she hoped. Though common among the female members of her race to force a Taking from captured enemy soldiers to swell their own ranks, there was often difficulty in eliciting the necessary arousal. It probably had something to do with her host and Thalen’s, perhaps something shared between them, despite the screaming; so much screaming in her head.
Stop! STOP! Don’t do this to him! He doesn’t deserve this! Please!
Phebus pulled off the loose-fitting Expedition trousers and non-military issue lace-trimmed panties. She used her mouth to moisten the phallus, feeling her own (well, her host’s) nethers to be rather dry. There was more than a little difficulty in forcing the penis past tense muscle, and a not-insignificant amount of pain. Thalen’s host was well endowed, and her own apparently much out of practice. But blood could be just as effective a lubricant.
Thalen gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, not necessarily just because of the unpleasant grinding on his pelvis, but the incessant shouting of his own host was causing quite the headache.
Stop her! She doesn’t want this! You have to stop her!
But his hands were too tightly bound, his head spinning too much, and frankly, Thalen couldn’t quite bring himself to stop the approaching orgasm. Not that there was any such pleasure for Phebus, which was a mildly pleasing thought as well. He could feel her blood coating his thighs and abdomen. Phebus braced her arms on either side of his ribs, unable to stop the grunt that escaped her lips as she clenched the inner walls, forcing Thalen to cum. Both panted, but Phebus only allowed herself a moment to breathe. Rolling off the last of her mortal enemies, she wiped away the mingled fluids and tugged her clothing back on, wincing at the pain radiating from between her legs.
“Well, Thalen,” she said softly, picking up the 9mm and cocking it. “Show me that final look of defeat. Because I’ve w-”
But before she could finish, there was the sound of someone forcing open the doors far on the other side of storage bay. Cursing, Phebus grabbed the P-90 and turned in the direction of the noise, firing as she went. Thalen was regaining the feeling in his stunned extremity and curled his legs up over his shoulders until he could get his toes under the shelf overhead and push up, straining until he broke it free, toppling the whole unit and freeing his hands. Tugging his pants up, he grabbed his own weapons and disappeared into the darkness of Atlantis.
The war would continue…
Moaning, Elizabeth found herself slowly resurfacing. Sending out tendrils of thought, she found no alien voice echoing back, no one stopping her from wiggling her fingers and toes. But any further movement was restricted by Velcro restraints on her wrists and ankles. Not that she felt a particular need to move anymore; everything hurt.
Turning her head, she saw John upright in bed, playing with his Palm Pilot. “What’s-her-name sure hung in there for a while. Carson had to use the restraints because he was afraid to give you any more sedatives.”
“When did she-?”
“Some time in the middle of the night, kicking and screaming.” The Colonel still wouldn’t look over at her.
“We can talk about it later, Elizabeth.”
“Do they – does anyone know?”
“No.” Firm concentration on his gadget.
She took a shuddering breath. “I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry…”
Now he looked at her, not with anger or disgust, but wide-eyed pity. “This is not your fault, Elizabeth, don’t you dare think that-”
“Good morning, then, how’re we feelin’?” The Chief Medical Officer’s chipper greeting made both of them flinch, which did not escape his attention. “That well, then? Okay, but maybe you’d feel a sight better if I took these off, Dr Weir?” Beckett moved to her side and undid the restraints, allowing her to see the deep bruising left from the fight Phebus put up in her final hours. “Are ya in much pain, Elizabeth?”
She shook her head, ignoring the vertigo that ensued. “No Carson, I’m fine. When can I go?”
“Oh, not for a while yet, love. I want ta monitor your vitals and EEG for another day at least, ta make sure there’s no lingerin’ effects. And I need ta finish yer physical without all the thrashin’ ya were puttin’ up last night.”
“There’s really no need, Carson, I’m fine, I can tell.” Elizabeth felt the desperation creeping into her voice. Beckett might not have noticed, but John did.
“How about this, Doc,” he offered, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Why don’t you let Dr Weir and I go grab something to eat, walk around a bit, test things out, and then come back?”
Carson hesitated. “Well, now, I don’t really know-”
“Did you find anything wrong with us?” John demanded.
“Then see, there you go.” John took off the various monitors stuck to his skin and got to his feet. “We’ll be back in an hour.”
Sensing the Doctor’s defeat, Elizabeth started to remove her own monitors, but had to fight to keep the pain she felt from showing on her face. She went in the back and pulled the curtain before Carson could say anything and changed into the clothes she’d been brought in wearing. The blood had dried and worn off as Phebus continued her fight, but Elizabeth’s hands shook as she pulled on the damning evidence of her crimes. It took every ounce of self-control to stop the scream that so badly wanted to be released. Grasping a bruised wrist and squeezing tightly created just enough focal discomfort to distract her.
“Lizbeth, you ready to go?” John called from the other side of the curtain.
“Yeah, coming,” she answered with more cheer than she thought possible. Pulling back the privacy screen, she found John proffering an arm for her to take. “Thank you, Colonel.” False smile.
He knew. He could tell just how hard it was for her to walk and was willing to help her hide it.
“One hour!” Carson called after them as they exited the infirmary.
John waved in response, but continued on his course out and down the corridor. They walked in silence to the nearest transporter, where Elizabeth finally whispered, “Please, John, I can’t-”
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to,” he promised, pressing the icon closest to the living quarters. Looking down, he saw Elizabeth once more digging into a bruised wrist. “Hey, stop that.”
“I – I can’t.” She only stopped when he interlocked the fingers of his left hand with her right and held it tightly to his side.
The transport opened, and it was another five minutes of uncomfortable walking before they reached Elizabeth’s room, fortunately passing no one, as it was nearing lunch. Palming open her door, she made it all of three steps before collapsing to her knees, her descent halted by John’s firm grip on her.
“Hey, now, Lizbeth it’s okay,” he said, kneeling down next to her and pulling her into a fierce hug as she began to sob uncontrollably. But realization of who was holding her made her jerk backwards, throwing him off and scrambling for the far side of the room, sinking down into the corner, knees pulled to her chest.
“John, please, just go,” she begged, holding up her hands as if they could shield him from having to look at her.
“You have to know I’m not going to do that,” he told her, inching closer.
“After what I did to you? John, I raped you!”
“No!” This was said so fiercely, she felt herself freeze. “You did no such thing. Phebus… Phebus raped you, Elizabeth. No matter what you think, you did nothing wrong. You were her victim.” Slowly, John made his way across the room, but stopped a metre away and sat down. “Do you know what I was shouting at Thalen the whole time? I was begging him to find a way to stop her, not because of me, but because of you. I knew what it would do to you.”
She shook her head. “I should have been able to stop her, should have found a way. Letting her control me is no excuse. I have to – I need to turn myself in for trial. The IOA needs to find a replacement-”
“Enough, Elizabeth!” John couldn’t stop himself from closing the distance between them, taking both of her hands in his. “If you want, we can tell someone, but not yet, not until you realize that none of this is your fault. That Phebus is most to blame, and I… I’m not entirely innocent either.”
Her head snapped up and eyes locked on his. “How can you say that? John, you were doubly innocent in this, possessed by Thelan because Phebus – because you trusted me. And you never can again. Nor should you.”
“Elizabeth…” He wasn’t sure what made him say the words, but truth seemed to be the only way to get through to her: “I love you.”
“I love you. Which is why I couldn’t stop…” John looked ready to cry with his own shame. “Thelan wanted no part in what happened; his people detested the practice of the Taking by Phebus’s kind. But it was…you. I saw you, I saw what I’ve wanted for so long. And I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t stop myself because I love you.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “You can’t. You can’t love me. Not after this.”
“I can. I do. Before. After. Always. Let me prove it to you.” Moving closer still, only inches from her, John waited, gave her a chance to turn away from him; but she did not. The kiss was not passionate. It was gentle, loving, lips only lightly tasting lips, meant only to comfort and to reassure. “I love you, Elizabeth,” he breathed.
Her tears came again, partly out of lingering sadness, partly out of a confused joy. “I love you, too, John.” And she kissed him back, a little more forcefully, tongue finding its way into his mouth, tasting him, holding on to him for dear life.
Finally breaking away for breath, John got to his feet and pulled Elizabeth up with him, leading her to the bed. “Come on.” He laid on his side behind her, forming himself around her curled body, right arm draped over her waist to hold her protectively. “Everything will be okay. Just rest. I’m here.”
“Dr Weir? Elizabeth, are ya alright?!”
Carson used his medical override to barge into her room, medical kit in hand, Teyla and Rodney close behind. “Oh, thank god,” he said when both were startled awake. “Ya gave me a fright when ya didn’t come back, and no one saw ya at lunch, and-”
“Beckett, Beckett, chill,” John pleaded, getting out of bed, but holding Elizabeth back. “We just…needed to talk, and we fell asleep, that’s all.”
This was not what the CMO wanted to hear. “I will not ‘chill’, Colonel, ya will both get back to the infirmary right now!”
Looking down at Elizabeth, at the panic in her eyes, John shook his head. “Not right now, Carson, maybe later.”
“That wasn’t a suggestion, Colonel Sheppard!”
John wasn’t giving in. “Look at us – we’re both breathing, both conscious, both not-possessed by aliens. Just…leave us alone for now, Beckett. Please.”
It was likely that no one had ever seen Dr Carson Beckett as angry as he was at that moment. “You – ya both are on medical suspension from duties until I say otherwise! Colonel Caldwell can run this madhouse until ya both come to yer senses!” He expected a fight from the Expedition leaders, and it was damn worrying when he didn’t get one.
“Carson,” Teyla said gently, placing a hand on his arm and pulling him out of the room with an understand nod towards Sheppard.
Sighing, John laid back down and curled himself around Elizabeth once more, propping his head up on his left hand while his right combed through her dark curls, watching the tension ease from her face. “At some point, we’re going to have to deal with all of this.”
“But not today,” Elizabeth whispered.
“Not today,” John echoed.
Nor the next day. Or the day after that.
John would go out to grab food from the mess hall (ignoring the stares and whispers) and bring it back to Elizabeth’s room, where he would have to encourage her to eat every bite. From his quarters he retrieved his portable DVD player and several movies; they didn’t talk, letting The Princess Bride, Die Hard, and Rudy heal the wounds between them. Sometimes John would read from War and Peace, trying on terrible Russian accents to make Elizabeth laugh. And when she slept, he had to hold her, because when he didn’t, the nightmares would come, waking her up in a panic. Sometimes she was in the warehouse again, on top of John, who begged her to stop; other times, John was on top, expression vacant as she pleaded for him to stop. Often their friends were there, watching with disgust.
Carson came by every day, but John never let him in, just reaffirmed that they were both ‘fine’. Rodney came to complain about one thing or another Colonel Caldwell (who had taken up temporary command) wouldn’t let him do, but he also never got past John. Teyla came by and offered to take their laundry, for which Sheppard was immensely grateful. Ronan came by only once to ask him about sparring, and John said he would let him know; the practical Satedan took him at his word. An entire week passed like this. Even John started to worry at the hollowness appearing in Elizabeth’s features and the growing length of her silences. A week without sun, without stepping out of her room, showering only when John pushed her towards the bathroom, speaking only when he started the conversation.
“I need you to talk to Beckett, or at the very least, Dr Heightmeyer,” John said on day eight in the middle of a grilled cheese lunch. Elizabeth looked up from her nibbled sandwich, askance. “Lizbeth, I need you to find a way past this, because until you do, I can’t either.”
And then it hit her, what her own misery had done to him, how much it hurt him. The darkened eyes and faded pallor she saw the in the mirror every day was showing on the Colonel’s face as well. Though he had told Elizabeth he loved her, she didn’t realize how much until this moment, willing himself to follow her into Hell. For the first time in a week, she cried. “I’m sorry, John, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
“I don’t want you to be sorry, Elizabeth.” He reached out to cup her chin and make her eyes meet his. “I never want you to be sorry for this. But I do want you to find a way to be happy again. For me. Please. Because I can’t just sit here and watch you waste away. I love you too much for that.”
She nodded. “I’m sorry – I…Okay. Okay. I can do that.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, giving her a peck on the lips that tasted of warm butter. “Now finish your sandwich.”
“Dr Weir, can I come in?”
So John had sent Heightmeyer first. Probably a good choice. The Colonel himself had left an hour before to check on the city, giving Elizabeth strict instructions: Brush her hair and her teeth, put on a clean shirt, make the bed, and answer the door. She’d gone further, trying to clean the whole room when she realized someone besides John would be in here.
“Come in,” she called, standing in the middle of the room, hands clasped professionally behind her back, diplomatic smile on her face. “Dr Heightmeyer, thank you for coming.”
“To be honest, Elizabeth, Carson was about a day away from grabbing me and a team of Marines to kick in the door and drag you back to the infirmary. So thank you for not letting it come to that.” The psychologist’s eyes wandered around the room, taking it all in before settling back on her patient, unhappy with what she saw. “Is there somewhere you prefer to sit?”
Holding a hand out, Elizabeth indicated towards the small desk that doubled as a dinner table that she and John had been using (the dirty plates and empty water bottles currently stashed under the bed). “Can I get you anything, Kate? Coffee? Tea?”
“You could sit down, Elizabeth, and stop pretending that everything is okay.” Kate was never one to mince words. “We need to work out a plan to ease you back into a normal routine. You have no idea what your self-imposed isolation has done to Atlantis.”
“I – what?”
“You love Atlantis, Elizabeth, but a city can’t love you back; its people do, though. I never encourage the worship or heroes or idols, but that is what you are here. Even I can’t help being in awe of you at time. Yet now you’ve cut off not only the friends who care about you, but the people who look to you every day as the embodiment of our mission here. People who never came to see me before suddenly feel like they need to talk, their fears and anxieties bubbling to the surface. You’re filling my scheduled, Dr Weir, and depleting our supply of Benzos and SSRIs.”
Feeling her knees go weak, Elizabeth dropped into the other chair, burying her face in her hands and struggling for control. Ego had never made her shy too far from the admiration of others; it was especially helpful at the negotiating table. But she remembered back to her father’s death, how her mother, the woman she most admired in the world, had crumpled for a time, just adding to the pain of her father's loss. Now she had done the same to over a hundred people, all suffering in their own way. “You’re right, Kate. Of course you’re right. I’m sorry for not realizing it sooner. I need to get back to work, stop hiding from everyone.”
“Absolutely not.” Kate’s firm tone was startling.
“I don’t understand. Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“Absolutely not,” she repeated. “I don’t care if or when you go back to work, as long as it’s not until you are ready. And you’re not going to be ready until you face whatever happened when you were possessed by Phebus, because I know for damn sure there’s more than what’s in Colonel Caldwell’s report, or Carson’s.”
“I… I don’t remember what happened.”
“That is a lie.”
“Dr Weir, John Sheppard came to me an hour ago and told me what happened.”
Elizabeth’s heart stopped and her lungs froze, her eyes losing all focus and she willed the world to wind down and end right here.
“Breathe, Elizabeth.” Somehow Kate had moved around the desk and was crouching in front of the woman-turned-statue, rubbing a hand across her knee to bring her back to the present. “Just breathe. And don’t be mad at the Colonel; he had to tell me, not just so that I would understand you, but so that I can help him as well. I think the both of you are stewing in this shared sense of guilt, that you both feel responsible for what happened to the other rather accepting that you were victims.”
“It was my fault,” Weir hissed, clenching her fists to feel the ragged, chewed nails dig into soft flesh. “I wasn’t cautious enough when we opened the life pod. I wasn’t strong enough to stop Phebus from tricking John into being Thalen’s host. I wasn’t strong enough to stop her from…raping my best friend in this galaxy. And I wasn’t strong enough to move past it, dragging him down with me.”
Taking Elizabeth’s hands in her own, Kate worked the fingers loose, palms keeping her patient’s own open and flat. “Does it make you feel better to say that out loud? I know it’s what you think, what you feel, and no reassurances from me or anyone else is going to help. You’re going to have to learn to forgive yourself. Do you think you might have stopped Phebus if you had a stronger will? What about John? He couldn’t stop Thalen. Do you think that he’s weak?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then why do you think you should have been able to do what he could not?” Silence was the only answer. “If things has been reversed, if Thalen had raped you, would you blame John?”
“I think you know I wouldn’t. But I also know he wouldn’t be able to stop hating himself for it.”
“You would do everything in your power to convince him otherwise, though, wouldn’t you?” Weir nodded. Of course. It was the same reason she had invited Caldwell to see the stasis pod opened, to let him know she didn’t blame him for what the Trust did. “Why did Phebus rape Thalen?”
It was the right way to phrase the question, to remove Elizabeth from the equation. “Phebus came from a matriarchal society. As the numbers on her planet began to dwindle, it was common for female soldiers to take genetic material from Thalen’s people, not just to keep their genetic pool diversified, but the belief that it would humiliate the enemy to have their own children fighting against them; that every time they saw one of her kind across the battlefield, they might pause and wonder if the soldier they were about to kill was a relative spawned from a Taking. It was…highly effective.”
Kate nodded slowly. “I can see that it would be. And in a matriarchal society, the father wouldn’t be of much consequence, just that the mother was one of Phebus’s people. To them it wasn’t a crime, it was a matter of survival, of winning the war, which I think we can all admit both sides took to extremes.”
“There are still several matrilineal societies on Earth, such as the Navajo tribe in America, the Nubians in Africa, and even traditional Judaism. Before DNA testing, you couldn’t always know who the father was, but you always knew the mother. It’s not that rape wouldn’t be a crime among them, but the child of that violation would never be excluded from the group, as they so often are in patrilineal societies.” Elizabeth stopped her lecture and realized Kate was smiling. “What?”
“It’s just nice to hear you sound like…you. I imagine you were a wonderful teacher back at Georgetown. It would have been interesting to audit your class.” Heightmeyer released Elizabeth’s hands, pleased to see they didn’t resume a fist. “Elizabeth…John said there was a lot of blood. No matter what you think, some part of you was fighting what Phebus did to Thalen. As I understand it, you put up quite a fight when they brought you in; did Carson get a chance to…examine you?”
She shook her head quickly. “No, I’m fine. It’s not necessary.”
“I’m not saying it has to be Carson, or even should be. We can have a female physician-”
“I said no, Kate.”
“Are you still bleeding?” The flinch did not go unnoticed. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“It’s almost stopped,” Elizabeth whispered. “No worse than having a bad period.”
“Even after it stops, you’re probably going to be quite tender for some time.” Silence passed between them. Kate didn’t want to push too hard on the first day, lest she not be invited back. But she was far from done. “Would you like to have dinner with me?”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t – I’m not even really hungry-”
“It wasn’t really a suggestion, Elizabeth. I want you to come to the mess hall with me and eat a full meal. You don’t have to talk to anyone else. We’ll bring Teyla as well, if that makes you more comfortable. Girls’ night. Do this, and I won’t call Carson today.”
The caveat did not go unnoticed. “And tomorrow?”
“We’ll see. Maybe I just extort another dinner date out of you. But don’t forget that Carson has relieved you of your duties. You’re going to have to face him eventually.”
“But not today.”
It was hard not to notice the whispers and stares at dinner, though Teyla and Kate did their best to engage Elizabeth in normal conversation, catching her up on the city’s events. Colonel Caldwell stopped by their table to offer only the briefest of greetings after a look from the Expedition’s psychologist told him he was not welcome to any more than that. When Rodney heard that Elizabeth had made a reappearance, he nearly came running and thrust his tablet under her nose and demanded permission to do something or other. Teyla made to intervene, but Elizabeth didn’t mind dealing with McKay; it made her feel normal. He wasn’t happy (when was he ever?) to hear she did not presently have the authority to authorize what he wanted, and to take it up with Caldwell once again.
“Well, just go apologize to Carson, and I’m sure he’ll reinstate you,” the scientist whined.
“Rodney,” Teyla warned. “Dr Weir has been ordered to take time off.”
“McKAY!” Major Sheppard’s bark carried across the mess hall, rendering instant silence. He was glistening with sweat, a bruise spreading across this left cheek, and the giver, Ronan, stood just behind him, none the worse for their sparing session. “Not. Now.”
“Fine. Of course. It’s not like we’re in the lost city of the Ancient’s to actually discover anything or advance humanity,” Rodney grumbled, but as soon as Ronan took a step towards him, he retreated from the mess hall.
John looked over at Elizabeth, eyes softening immediately. “You okay?”
“I’m okay. If I was actually listening to him, it might actually be an interesting project,” she admitted with a shrug.
He nodded towards her half empty tray. “Is it any good?”
“Not really, no.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “But I was blackmailed into dinner, so I’m making a good faith effort.”
“Colonel,” Kate said sweetly, “Maybe you could get Dr Weir another serving of the Athosian vegetables? She seemed to like those.”
“Yeah, sure. Back in a minute.” John motioned Ronon to follow, but the giant Satedan paused to smile and nod at Elizabeth, a positively warm greeting.
Once the boys were gone, Kate leaned in closer across the table. “Elizabeth, we don’t have to stay if you don’t want to; we can take the rest of your dinner back to your room.”
“No, it’s fine, I don’t mind. The air, if nothing else, is certainly fresher. I should thank you, Teyla, for getting some of my laundry done before things got any worse. A few more days and I might have just suffocated in my own quarters. And who would have noticed the smell of a decomposing corpse in there compared to the present stench?”
It was a morbid comparison, drawing a look of concern from Kate. “Well, then, a thorough Spring Clean should be next on our To Do list.”
Teyla had the same frequent look of confusion she got when John used American idioms. “How will cleaning springs help Elizabeth?”
“Because then she’ll bounce right back,” John interjected, sliding into the chair next to Teyla and setting two bowls in front of Elizabeth; one with roasted vegetables, and one with cubes of red Jell-O. “Dinner isn’t dinner without dessert.”
“Jell-O does not count as a dessert,” Elizabeth grumbled, poking the jiggling mass. “Why do we always have Jell-O? It’s been nearly two years. Can’t we do better?”
The Colonel grinned. “I know what I’m getting you for Christmas!”
“Do I even want to know?”
“Of course you do! An Easy Bake Oven! It’s perfect. And I bet with a few modifications from Rodney, he could make it cook those little cakes a lot faster. A 60-watt light bulb has nothing on a naquadah generated laser.”
“John, you’re the quintessential stereotype of the undomesticated male if you can’t tell the difference between baking and incinerating.”
“Less talking,” Kate ordered, emphasizing with her fork, “More eating.”
Elizabeth took a bite of vegetables, then paused before picking up another, seeming to struggle with her alimentary canal.
“Are you all right, Dr Weir?” Teyla asked.
She finally managed to swallow, but looked a little like the green Jell-O. “I’m fine, just…maybe too much to eat. Or too much of whatever this entrée is.”
Kate pulled the tray away from her. “I think you’d better stop while you’re ahead.”
“Hey, Lizbeth, you coming to movie night?” John called, barging into her office. He stopped at the sight of books on the floor and spilled coffee; Dr Weir was neither clumsy nor slovenly. “Elizabeth?”
Jogging out to the balcony, he arrived just in time to see the last of her dinner go hurling over into the ocean and her knees give out. Gasping for breath, her pulse beating loudly in her ears, Elizabeth didn’t hear the Colonel coming up behind her or his words, just felt the hand on her back rubbing slow, comforting circles. She looked up at him with bleary eyes that couldn’t find a point of focus.
“Yeah, Lizbeth, I’m here,” he whispered, manoeuvring to cradle her in his arms and stand. “That’s the third time this week. It’s not the mess hall food; it’s you. So we’re going to see Beckett.”
She was too weak to fight him, or even ask for the dignity of walking on her own two feet. Everything hurt, and had for days. She’d been vomiting even more than John knew, but didn’t want to see Carson. He’d only just released her back to unrestricted regular duties three weeks ago, and she wasn’t going to give him any excuse to side-line her again. These thoughts finally made her cognizant of where they were going and she started to push against her captor. “No, John, I don’t want-”
“I don’t care what you want at the moment, Lizbeth,” he growled, more angry at himself than her. “I should have done this days ago.”
They ran into Carson on his way out of the infirmary to watch The Great Train Robbery, which wasn’t happening now. “Good God, Elizabeth, what happened?”
“She’s sick, Beckett. Been throwing up all week.”
“And ya didn’t say anythin’ sooner?” the CMO chastised, pointing to a bed in the back where most of the senior staff ended up at some point. The finger monitor showed a slight fever and rapid heartrate. Taking one of Elizabeth’s hands, Carson pressed down on her thumb nail until it was white, then frowning at the slow return of pink. “She’s severely dehydrated.” He called out to one of the nurses: “Shannon, can ya grab me two units of Ringers and potassium, please, and 25 mils of promethazine?”
“What’s that?” John winced as the doctor tried sticking an IV line into the back of Elizabeth’s hands.
“She needs glucose and salts immediately, and potassium to stabilize her heart. Damn,” Carson cursed, failing again to find a solid vein and losing his grip as Elizabeth puller her abused arm away. “Colonel, hold her down. She’s too dehydrated, I need a bigger vessel.”
Awkwardly, John leaned over, pressing down both of Elizabeth’s arms as Carson shoved the large needle in near the clavicle, breathing a sigh of relief when it worked.
“Owwww,” Elizabeth moaned, eyes still closed as she twisted under John’s grip. “You’re crushing my boobs, John.”
“Sorry,” he said, quickly straightening up and wiping his hands on his shirt, as if it would remove the offense.
Carson’s worried frown deepened. “Colonel, could ya step out a minute?”
Though he hesitated, John left. Nothing would be gained in defying Beckett. It had been hard enough patching up their friendship over the last few weeks. They’d not told the doctor much of anything, but had at least submitted to further MRIs to prove their brains were indeed their own brains and agreed to continue seeing Heightmeyer.
Lowering his voice, Carson said softly, “Lemme know if this hurts, lass.” His hands started low, palpating her sunken abdomen, moving from intestines up to stomach, which made her groan unhappily, but the slightest pressure on her breast made Elizabeth gasp, eyes snapping open. Carson brought his lips down until they were inches from her ear, not wanting anyone to hear his question. “Elizabeth, love, I have ta ask: is it possible that ya could be pregnant?” She looked over at him in sheer terror and the heart monitor spiked, which was all the answer he needed. “Aye, then, I’m gonna need ta take some blood.”
“Everything okay?” John called from the other side of the curtain. But the sob he heard escaping from Elizabeth compelled him to step back in. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Elizabeth couldn’t look at him, covering her face with her hands and curling up on her side, trying to stifle her tears. Beckett glared over at the intruder. “Colonel, it’s not really appropriate for ya ta be here right now.”
“I’m sorry, John, I’m sorry,” Elizabeth mumbled, over and over.
Daring Carson to stop him, Sheppard pulled up a chair and sat down in front of the distraught woman, pulling her hands into his own and pressing them to his cheek. “Hey, Lizbeth, look at me. Look at me. We’ve talked about this. You have nothing to be sorry about. Understand? We’re not going down that road again.”
“No, John, you don’t understand,” she sniffed. “You can’t.”
“I can if you let me try.” He leaned in to kiss her forehead, giving her his best reassuring smile, the one he saved for dire circumstances and permission to do something dangerous. “Tell me. Tell me what I can do to help.”
“You’re going to hate me.”
“I never would.”
“Then it’s enough that I hate me.” Her voice faded to breath, her eyes closed, and she drifted off to sleep.
John looked at the doctor, concerned. “Beckett?”
“It’s the Phenergan,” he admitted. “Great for nausea, but an even better sedative.”
“Tell me what’s wrong. Please. It’s been so hard these last few weeks. I thought we were making progress.”
“I’ll tell you, Sheppard, if you tell me: did somethin’ happen between the two of you?” Carson waited, letting the silence grow, then turned to walk out.
“Wait.” John looked down at the woman he loved, still holding her hands. “We…when she was possessed by Phebus…there was a practice among Phebus’s people during the war, for the women to take captured enemy soldiers and…impregnate themselves. It was a cultural and survival thing.”
While Carson knew Elizabeth had mentally collapsed after being released by Phebus, he didn’t understand why until now. “Are ya saying she…raped ya, John?”
“Not Elizabeth. Phebus. And Thalen. It’s absolutely tearing her up, and no matter how many times I tell her it wasn’t her fault, that she’s a victim, too… I thought Kate was getting through to her. I thought we were going to be okay.”
Carson felt a cold dread in his belly, hand gripping the blood sample he still needed to run. “Colonel…John, I have to run a test, but…I think Elizabeth has hyperemesis gravidarum. It’s a form of debilitating morning sickness that could prove quite dangerous if not monitored.” He watched Sheppard’s face move from confusion to shock. “I think she’s pregnant, John.”
Obstetricians were in short supply on Atlantis, not being considered mission critical. And Carson wanted to protect Elizabeth as much as possible. He ran the blood himself, confirming the pregnancy, and quietly brought the city’s only ultrasound machine into the private room where he had John move Elizabeth. Though she was still asleep, John held her hand and watched Beckett move the wand over her lower abdomen until he could find what he was looking for: the rapid flutter of a tiny fetal heart.
“Cool.” John couldn’t think of anything more profound to say, but he meant it reverently. That was his baby, and he wanted it, no matter the price. But Elizabeth? He didn’t know what he’d do if she didn’t want to keep it. “Can you tell what it is yet?”
“No, it’s still a bit too early.” Carson took a wet cloth and wiped the gel from Elizabeth’s pale skin before pulling her shirt back down. “Does it matter to ya?”
“What? No, not at all,” the Colonel insisted. “I just want to know if I should hand out pink or blue cigars.”
“Don’t ya think you ought to wait and see what Elizabeth has ta say about it?”
It was a stinging reminder of his own fears. “Of course, it’s just…I’ll do anything, Carson.”
The Doctor softened. “You really want this, don’t ya?”
“More than anything I think I’ve ever wanted.” John’s fingers tenderly brushed over her red shirt. “I know what happened with Phebus and Thalen was traumatic, and I’m sorry it happened that way. But I’m not sorry about the baby.”
“Does she know?” Beckett took down the first emptied IV bag and hung the second. “That ya love her?”
“I’ve told her every day since we woke up ourselves again. I’m almost beginning to think she believes it.”
“I see. And does she love you, John?”
He nodded. “I think so. Probably more than she’d ever admit to herself. Because loving me might mean loving Atlantis less.”
Carson sighed. “And now she might have to pick between you, the baby, and Atlantis.” Unfurling a sheet, he covered his patient’s lower half, then started working off her shoes and trousers. “You don’t have to stay here for this, Colonel, I’d just rather not call in a nurse right now. The fewer people who know at the moment, the better.”
“No it’s ok, I want to help.” John took the clothing a folded it neatly before setting it on a nearby table. “Thank you, Carson…for helping her. Us.”
“Aye, well, I could’a done a lot more ta help if ya both had trusted me weeks ago.” Pulling on a fresh pair of gloves, Beckett lubricated the end of a catheter and winced at scar tissue that had formed over the vaginal tears during the last seven weeks. It was a miracle she hadn’t developed a secondary infection. He inserted the slim tubing as carefully as possible, but Elizabeth still moaned in her drugged sleep, trying to move away from the hands so intimately invading her.
“Shhhh, it’s ok,” John whispered, leaning down to kiss her forehead and caress her brow with his thumb. “Trust me, you’ll be grateful when you wake up in a dry bed.” She stilled, either because of his words, or because Carson had finally finished. “How long does she need to stay here?”
“At least 48-hours, I think, to make sure her electrolytes have stabilized. Drugs this strong aren’t a long-term solution, but hyperemesis gravidarum doesn’t typically last much beyond the first trimester. For now we can just tell everyone she had the flu. Until she decides what she wants to do.” Carson’s voice dropped into his professional tone. “I trust, Colonel, that you aren’t going to pressure her, that you’ll support whatever she decides.”
“Of course I will,” he promised. He wouldn’t pressure her, but he was going to make sure she knew what he really, really wanted.
Consciousness slowly crept back into her mind. She felt better than she had in days, probably as much because of the drugs as being rehydrated and well rested. But then she remembered why, bolting upright in a panic, hand instinctively moving to the intruder in womb.
“Whoa, whoa, it’s okay.” She hadn’t known John was in the room until he appeared at her side, eyes wide with concern as he gripped her arms. “Okay?”
“Oh god, John-”
“Shhh, don’t say anything right now, just listen.” He sat on the edge of her bed, still holding her tightly, forcing her to return his gaze. “I’m not mad. I’m as far from it as possible. If anything I’m… excited. Deliriously happy. But I also know it’s not my career, not my future on Atlantis at risk. So I guess what I’m saying is… I will be there for you no matter what. And only because I love you.”
Elizabeth’s green eyes moved across his face, looking for any sign of deception, of strained truth. John Sheppard was an honourable man; he would of course stand by any woman he knocked up. Love and duty were probably very difficult for his mind to separate. But in this he seemed incredibly genuine. “You really want this baby? In spite of everything?”
“Yes. And even if I didn’t, could you honestly say that you would get rid of it?”
Looking away as a few tears slipped free, she had to be truthful. “No.”
Gripping her face in his hands, John leaned in to kiss away the tears. “So it’s the best of both worlds. I want it. You want it. I love you. You…tolerate me.”
“John…” Moving her own hands into his wild mane of hair, Elizabeth brought him in for a deep kiss. “I do love you.”
“I hope you’re still saying that 33 weeks from now.” Reminding her off the impending due date killed the mood more than a little. She pulled back from her, folding her hands and looking down with a deep sigh. This, all this, was the easy part. What happened outside the infirmary was going to be much more difficult. “Hey.” John’s finger under her chin forced her gaze back up. “I know I told you I wouldn’t tell you what to do, but there is one exception: Don’t be ashamed. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than the amazing person you are, Dr Elizabeth Weir, leader of the Atlantis Expedition.”
“It’s going to be hard, John. The IOA is going to take this away from me the first chance they get. I’ll be sent back to Earth as soon as they know, and I’ll probably be lucky if they don’t lock me up in the SGC or Area 51 to study the baby for any signs of lingering alien possession.”
Hands contracting into fists, the Colonel knew she was right. “Look, right now, Carson is the only other person outside this room who knows. For now, and tomorrow, and the day after, we just…keep it that way. It’s no one’s business. I do my job, you do yours.”
“We can’t keep this a secret forever.”
“No, but maybe some baggy clothes would help,” he said with a smirk, though it disappeared quickly. “But it will also be a lot harder to take Atlantis away from you if you’ve already been doing what they say pregnancy will keep you from doing. You’re smart, Lizbeth, smarter than me, and in a lot of ways, smarter than Rodney. If anyone can think their way through this, it’s you.”
Smiling, she leaned in for another kiss, but suddenly pulled away, eyes wide. “I’m-” She turned over the side of the bed, dry heaving, but unable to bring anything up. John brushed her hair back out of her face and whispered reassurance that it would soon pass.
“Lizabeth?” Carson’s Scottish brogue called, rushing into the room and the sounds of her being sick. Pulling an already filled syringe from his pocket, he injected her central line. “There now, that should help in a minute.”
Moaning, the tortured woman curled in on herself, covering her face with a pillow. “When is this going to end, Carson?”
“I’m workin’ on it, I promise ya, it won’t last forever. What I gave ya is a lot weaker than yesterday. If possible, I’d like ya ta try some broth or puddin’, just ta put a little somethin’ in yer stomach.”
Elizabeth shook her head under the pillow. “No, please-”
“I’ll go get it,” John volunteered, jumping up and heading for the mess, just as hungry himself.
“God dammit,” Weir hissed, shuddering as she felt her body fight another wave of nausea, but not nearly as bad as before.
“Elizabeth, love?” Carson’s voice just made it through the stuffed cotton, a warm hand on her shoulder. “I need ya ta lay on yer back fer a minutes so I can check a few things.”
Though a distinctive sound of displeasure emanated from beneath the pillow, she complied. “Make it quick, Carson, I really need to use the bathroom.”
“Actually, lass, it’s the catheter makin’ ya feel like that.”
“We had to put a lot of fluids into ya yesterday, and ya weren’t exactly goin’ to be getting’ up in the middle of the night.” Sighing, Beckett pulled the pillow off Dr Weir’s face. “Elizabeth, I’m a doctor. It’s nothin’ I haven’t seen or done before. And if yer goin’ to keep this baby…”
“I am.” There was no hesitation. He was relieved to see that.
“Aye, then, we’ve got to put a plan of care into place. I had some prenatal vitamins sent for the Athosian women; I want ya on those immediately. But I should warn ya, they can make nausea even worse.
Once I’ve got ya stabilized here, I want ya back every week for regular testin’. And Elizabeth,” he took her hand, brow furrowed in genuine concern, “please find someone ta talk to. It doesn’t have to be
Dr Heightmeyer, or me, just…someone who understands, who will listen. Ya haven’t any family here, and I don’t know how ya can tell yer mother without anyone else findin’ out…”
“I understand, Carson. Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Carson was pleased to find her pulse strong and regular, blood pressure within normal limits, and fever gone. He switched out catheter bags and took more blood to test, but was called away by a dislocated shoulder in one of the marines before they could talk further. She was almost asleep when she heard John coming back, joking with one of the nurses that he was immune to Dr Weir’s flu because he stuck in meetings with her every day.
“Good, you’re still awake,” he said softly, setting down the tray nicked from the mess. Most of the contents were obviously for him, but there was plain cream of wheat and orange juice for her.
Elizabeth made a face at the first bite. “Did you put…salt in this?”
“Yeah, Carson said your salts were out of whack.”
“A medical term, I’m sure.”
“You don’t like it?”
“Not really. But it’s mostly a…texture thing.”
“Want my eggs?” He held up the running scramble doused in ketchup and she quickly turned away, trying to block out the smell. “Right. Sorry. Can I get you something else?”
“No, it’s fine.” She smiled weakly at him and took another small bite. “Thank you.”
“What are these?” John asked, picking up the non-descript white bottle Carson had left behind.
“Pre-natal vitamins. Only to be taken with food.”
“Good, then eat up.”
Elizabeth gave him a dubious glare. “Are you going to be this bossy for the next seven month?”
Though John had gone back to living in his own quarters after their post-traumatic hibernation, he found it more and more difficult to be away from Elizabeth. When he wasn’t off world he was either bringing meals to her office, or taking her away from her desk and forcing her to accompany him down to the mess hall. Every appointment with Carson he insisted on attending, watching his child grow on the ultrasound. One evening, with no witnesses about, John followed Elizabeth into her quarters, fishing for a goodnight kiss.
“John…” Elizabeth breathed, feeling his growing erection against her stomach.
He broke away and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to control his body. “I’m sorry-”
“Make love to me.”
Her words made his heart pulse quicken. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t. I promise. It’s my choice this time.”
John Sheppard didn’t need to be told twice. Moving in quickly, he crushed his lips against hers, one arm wrapped around her back, the other running fingers through her curls. This only lasted a minute before he felt her fumbling with his belt, but he instantly stepped back, reminded of the first time this had happened between them. The hurt in her eyes told him Elizabeth remembered as well, bringing her hands chastely back to her sides.
Before she could finish, Sheppard bodily lifted her up and carried her over to the bed. “I said to never be sorry,” he reminded her with a kiss before laying her back. Standing over her, John leisurely removed his clothing, letting her appreciate his muscled form silhouetted against the starlight coming in through the window. Just as slowly he bent to remove her shoes and socks, running a finger up the sole of her foot just to watch Elizabeth twitch. Next came her trousers and underwear, exposing the neatly trimmed dark thatch between her legs. John leaned in to kiss this, tongue touching her clitoris for just a moment, making her squirm, breathing in the scent of her wetness. The kiss moved up to the smooth skin under her navel, current abode of his child. His. He’d put it there, and that thought made him even harder. Working more quickly, he pulled the red shirt over her head and reached underneath to unclasp her bra, exposing the most perfect pink nipples he had ever seen.
“God, Elizabeth.” He said it with the reverence of a prayer, sucking the left nipple between his warm lips while two fingers moved lower, sliding between her lips and two knuckles in, testing her moisture. “I don’t know if I can hold on much longer.”
“I’m ready,” she whispered, spreading her knees for him.
Positioning himself between her legs, John steadied his quivering erection and teased her opening with it for a moment, making Elizabeth mew in disappointment. Despite everything, he was still worried about hurting her again. John pushed in the head first, watching her face, and she nodded for him to continue. A few more inches and she gasped, gripping his shoulders and making him pause while she tried to relax her inner walls. She was still incredibly tight, the warm, wet pressure against his penis the greatest feeling in the world. If the Wraith were attacking Atlantis right now, he wouldn’t stop.
“Keep going,” Elizabeth urged through gritted teeth. “It’ll get better. It’ll be okay. I want to feel all of you filling me.”
Taking a deep breath, John drove himself all the way in, until head impacted cervix, making her cry out suddenly. John immediately pulled back out, but Elizabeth reached for his hips and tried to pull him back in. “Don’t stop, please. I need this.”
“As you wish.” And he thrust all the way in again, making her arch her back. He started slowly, but she raised her hips to meet each thrust, hands gripping his ass, trying to pull him all the way in. She couldn’t help looking down between their bodies, loving the sigh of his enormous member disappearing into her, reappearing, then diving in again. Of all the women on Atlantis, of all the women on Earth, she was the one who had him, she was the one he wanted. John used his forehead to nudge her face back up so that that he could kiss her, could taste the sweetness of Jello and floral of her tea.
“I’m gonna cum,” he growled, slowing his pace. “Do you want me to pull out?”
“No, I always want you to cum inside of me,” she insisted, clenching her inner walls as he increased his thrusts, the sound of skin hitting skin almost as loud as their grunts. Elizabeth gave a shuddering cry and held John tightly to her as she orgasmed, triggering his own, filling the inside of her with a new warmth. He stayed on top of her, panting, stayed inside of her, penis still twitching, and he was the most contented man in the whole of Pegasus.
“I love you, Elizabeth Weir.”
“What do you say to a shopping trip?”
Elizabeth looked up from her computer, surprised; she hadn’t heard Dr Heightmeyer come into her office. Following the updates on the Wraith project, Michael, was keeping her distracted. It was beginning to feel like the whole operation was a bad idea.
“Has someone opened a strip mall in Pegasus that I don’t know about?”
“Teyla is arranging a field trip of sorts to the Markets of Kor’ahe, apparently among the largest in the known galaxy. She says if we can’t find something there, it doesn’t exist.”
“Charged ZPMs?” Elizabeth raised a taunting eyebrow.
“Okay, bad example. But Elizabeth…” The psychologist lowered her voice, more serious. “You’re going to start showing soon, and new clothes are definitely on the To-Do list.”
Kate was the fourth person to know about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, mostly because Beckett was right: she needed someone to talk to who did not have a Y-chromosome. None of the female personnel on Atlantis had children, but at least Kate had counselled women who did; it was the best she could do. Elizabeth had stumbled over her words, fighting her own embarrassment to tell Kate about the baby, only to be surprised by the response: a girly squeal of delight followed by a hug and earnest ‘congratulations!’ It was the first time she received what could be called a ‘normal’ reaction to her pregnancy. But Elizabeth couldn’t help thinking Kate had done it specifically for that reason, to encourage her by demonstrating something other than concern for her future. Nonetheless, the psychologist had attached herself to Dr Weir, as a friend and confidant as much as professional counsellor.
“I really don’t have time, Kate-”
Further argument was suspended by raised hands pleading for additional consideration. “Elizabeth, I’ve seen this before in other professional women, who wanted their child, but couldn’t stop themselves from putting work ahead of all else. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone by working until you go into labour in that chair. Because on that day, you’re going to wake up to this tiny life in your arms and not so much as a onesie to dress them in. And then you really will be in trouble.”
Shaking her head, Elizabeth looked down at the unfinished report. “It doesn’t matter, Kate. They’ll take me away from here long before then. Why bother acquiring things that will just be left behind in six months?”
“Stop, Elizabeth. Stop seeing only a bad outcome to all of this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with preparing for the best. The Wraith could find us again and everyone on Atlantis could be forced to evacuate next week. But that isn’t stopping anyone here from seeing other alternatives. Or filling up two Jumpers with personnel who want to go shopping on Kor’ahe.” Kate grinned wickedly. “And if you don’t go, I’m letting Colonel Sheppard pick out your clothes.”
“He’s going, too?” Elizabeth didn’t recall him saying anything about it.
“Yep. I already talked to him last night. He mentioned your fondness for sheer, silky items, and that he would be delighted to go shopping for you.” Kate could see the Expedition leader faltering in her resolve. Letting John Sheppard go shopping in her stead was the last push to the finish. “Good. Go pack an overnight bag. Teyla said a full trip would require at least five days, but we could make due with 48-hours.”
An hour later Elizabeth was standing sitting behind John in Jumper 3 with Teyla next to her and a dozen excited personnel crowded into the back. There weren’t seatbelt laws in Pegasus, so those who didn’t have a bench seat just plopped down on the floor, duffles in their laps.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Colonel speaking: Welcome aboard Jumper Flight 303 bound for Kor’ahe. Please put all seats and tray tables in their upright position with luggage safely stowed. Your flight time today will be approximately 30 seconds. Your cabin crew consists of-”
“Colonel, would you please just get on with it?” Elizabeth begged
“Spoil sport,” John grumbled, gripping the controls and bringing the Puddlejumper to life.
“That’s for blackmailing me into this trip,” she whispered.
What waited for them on the other side of the wormhole silenced all the gabbing passengers who couldn’t help crowding the forward compartment to look out on Kor’ahe. Colourful tents and stone buildings stretched far to the horizon, nestled in a deep valley between two mountain ranges. Wide boulevards transacted the main sections, branching into smaller streets that became tiny alleys. Flags, lanterns, flashing lights, and fireworks all pulled the eye to different stalls. Giant aqueducts brought ice water down from the glacial lakes to fill the city aquafers. A gas giant hung ever present in the sky, spotted with a dozen tiny moons.
“It’s beautiful,” Kate breathed, eyes wide with wonder.
Teyla smiled. “Is this your first trip off world, Dr Heightmeyer?”
“Technically, yes. But only because I know you mean leaving Atlantis, not Earth.”
“Still an occasion worth celebrating. What is the first thing you want to do?”
“I – I don’t know. What do you suggest?”
Teyla pointed to a wide rock flat off to the right. “Colonel, we should set down over there and secure lodgings first so everyone knows where to meet. There are local maps available detailing the specialties of each market section, such as technology, medicine, agricultural goods, cattle, clothing, construction materials, minerals-”
“How big is all of this?” John asked as he closed in on an open ‘parking’ spot.
“The last time I was here, the end of the Market furthest from the fate was some 23 of your miles down the valley. At its widest point, it is 3-4 miles across.”
“It’s amazing.” Elizabeth couldn’t help the giddy sense of awe. So much of what they’d seen in the Pegasus galaxy had been built on top of ruins, crushed, and built again. “Wait, how do they keep the Wraith away?”
“The system itself is subject to extreme gravitational fluctuations due to multiple gas giants, making it impossible for hive ships to navigate. Darts have come through the Stargate before, but are often shot down by the Market’s defences. People are lost from time to time, I admit, but there has never been a large scale culling that I know of. The Wraith do not bother when there are easier targets.”
“Sounds like paradise,” John said glibly as they touched down. “And there we are. Teyla, lead the way. Everyone make sure they have their buddy.” Grinning, he took Elizabeth’s hand.
Teyla took them to a boarding house that was willing to sleep thirty for the night in exchange for a few of Atlantis’s old computers.
“I’ve never seen anyone so excited about Solitaire,” John mused, tossing his bag on the bed and testing the mattress. He’d quietly arranged with the proprietor for a single room with Elizabeth on the top floor, away from everyone else. “Just wait until they find Minesweeper on there.”
Elizabeth nodded. “We’re lucky. This is the first place we’ve found where we could trade anything other than weapons. We should have come here ages ago.”
“For more reasons than that.” Reaching up, John grabbed the back of her trousers and pulled Elizabeth back onto the bed, then quickly popped up to straddle her. “Maybe we can just stay here and let the girls go shopping for us.”
“Really? And why would we do that?”
“So that I can screw your brains out for the next 48 hours.” Sheppard’s voice was thick with desire as he lowered his lips to kiss her left ear, working his way down her jaw and neck while his hands worked their way up under her shirt, kneading her breasts.
“Ow, ow John!” Elizabeth complained, squirming. “Do you have any idea how sensitive those are right now?”
“Sorry,” he mumbled, burying his head under her shirt to kiss the injured flesh. Some part of Elizabeth’s mind knew they should stop, this wasn’t what they were here to do, but it had been a while, and there was an ache between her legs that longed to be satisfied.
“Fine then, but quickly. I really do want to see the markets.”
John’s fingers were already working the button on her trousers before she’d finished speaking, sliding them down, pleased to see the wet already glistening on her panties as she raised her hips for him to take them off. He stopped, though, as always, to appreciate his handiwork, fingers stroking the skin over her womb and kissing the line from her navel to her pubis. There was a firmness now that hadn’t existed before, a slight rise to the normally flat planes of her abdomen, the signifier of something new and exciting.
“Sorry to intrude, kid, but your mom is just way too sexy to not do this.” Kicking off his own shoes and dropping his kit, John spread Elizabeth’s thighs, took just a moment to appreciate the enticing view, and gently pushed his erection all the way in. She was still tight, but the painful resistance was gone. Her face showed nothing but contentment to have him inside of her, eyes soft and mouth parted to draw a shallow breath. John just watched her back, trying to burn the image into his memory.
“Get moving, Colonel. That’s an order.” God he loved it when she gave him orders. Pulling almost on the way out, he drove into her hard, then again, picking up speed. Elizabeth’s legs came up to encircle his waist, opening herself as wide as possible to him. John buried his head in her neck, sucking at her collarbone and nipping at her ear.
Reaching down, Elizabeth’s fingers found her clit and started to stroke it, but John grabbed her hand and forced it up over her head. “That’s my job,” he growled, reaching down with his thumb to start working the swollen nub in gentle circles, gradually picking up speed with each thrust. “Jesus – God – Lizbeth – Oh – Fuck.” Each word built to his climax, finishing with a drawn out groan. In a surprising move, Elizabeth rolled him over so she was on top, hugging him tightly as she clench her internal muscles around him, bringing herself to orgasm with a small cry and a shudder. John bucked his hips a few more times, drawing a few more strokes of ecstasy for the both of them. They laid together in a tangle of knotted limbs, unwilling to move lest it break the circuit of electricity radiating up through their joined bodies.
“John…” Anything else she had to say for the moment was silenced by a long kiss. She could feel John already growing hard again when she pulled away and raised herself off of him, semen dripping out and down her thighs. “On your feet, soldier. We’re going shopping.”
A wet cloth and a quick rub down, fresh deodorant and a few swipes of the brush made them both presentable again. From his bag, though, John pulled out one more accessory. “Hold still,” he said, wrapping his arms around her from behind to fasten the belt, then sliding his hands down Elizabeth’s thigh to the second clasp meant to keep the holster in place.
“John, you know how I feel about guns.”
“And you know how I feel about you and the baby,” he whispered, cupping his hands over her abdomen. “We’re in a massive city on a world we’ve never visited, no easy way in or out. I don’t expect you to use it; the purpose is just to make others think twice about trying anything.”
“Please, do this for me. Please, Elizabeth.” After a moment of hesitation she finally nodded, and he kissed the back of her head. “Thank you. Thank you.”
Despite the fairly balanced gender ration on Atlantis, it wasn’t hard to miss that two-thirds of Expedition Kor’ahe was female. They all had official requisition lists from their respective departments, but there were also plenty of personal lists, not just for themselves, but from friends as well. Anything that could be parted with had been brought, because anything could be traded in the Market.
John was invited by some of the other guys to go with them, but he begged off, claiming it was his job to stick with Dr Weir. Kate stayed with them as well, feeling responsible for having dragged Elizabeth all the way out here in the first place. Teyla had some trading that needed to be done for her fellow Athosians, but promised to meet them all at the restaurant next to the boarding house for dinner. With a knowing smile, she pointed them in the direction of the clothing quarter.
Elizabeth fingered the dresses and tunics in a thousand colours and patterns, frowning.
“What’s wrong?” Kate asked. She’s already half-filled her Expedition issued back pack with new summer shirts, skirts, sleepwear, sandals, and an adorable sun hat.
“It’s all just…not me,” she explained. “Just give me a pantsuit, an Expedition uniform, and a pair of jeans and I’m good to go. I don’t know how to wear this stuff. I don’t want to.”
Understanding slowly came to Kate. “It’s hard enough to have your body changing from the inside. You don’t want to have to change the outside as well.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I’ll take your word for it. I hadn’t really thought about it, I just don’t want to be running Atlantis wearing a kaftan.”
“So what we need is a tailor.” Kate wasn’t about to give up. “We’ll get some fabrics similar to what we have and see about making maternity versions.”
“Right, so I can look like a Goodyear blimp version of myself,” the unhappy woman grumbled.
“Elizabeth.” There was no missing the chastising tone in John’s voice. His fingers reached out to find hers, reminding her that she was not alone in this. “Let’s just give Dr Heightmeyer’s idea a try.”
A resigned sigh was the closest she could come to agreeing. Moving among hundreds of bolts of cloth, they finally picked out some greys and reds that would made good uniform materials. Some Pegasus underwear and bras were also made to order when John, with a leering look down the front of Elizabeth’s shirt, pointed out that her breasts were already starting to push the confines of her current undergarments. He also talked her into some very thin, but comfortable sleepwear.
Presenting them with a token for the order, the tailor told them come back the following afternoon for the finished product. Kate and John tried to get her to look at some of the baby clothes, but Elizabeth couldn’t bring herself to actually buy any of it. When she wasn’t looking, though, John picked out a few pieces, as well as a rattle and teething ring said to be made of a soft wood with natural analgesic properties. Kate also helped him to pick out a baby blanket, blue and black that shimmered like the night sky over Atlantis.
For lunch they stopped at a stall whose enticing aromas even Elizabeth couldn’t ignore, vegetable dumplings in a thick stew that tasted better than anything she’d eaten in months. Good food seem to cheer her up a little and Elizabeth demanded they bring as much of the dumpling stew back toe Atlantis as possible. This led them further into the food markets, where more dated Expedition tech, and some new seed varieties from the Milky Way, secured a significant amount of dehydrated dumplings and vegetables, and a Pegasus equivalent of PowerBars with a much better taste. All of these Elizabeth had taken to Jumper 3 with Kate as the porters’ guide, realizing only afterwards that it might take two trips to get everyone home.
As dusk was setting in, a small stand down an even smaller alley caught Elizabeth’s eyes, not for its ostentation, but its complete lack of it, a melange of earth tones in a sea of bright colors.
“You must have been great at that game as a kid,” John suggested. “You know, ‘One of these things Ain’t like the others’. Ok, maybe that was a song, but you get what I mean.”
“Hmm, I don’t think I know that one,” Elizabeth admitted, eyes already drawn to the small selection of wares set out on the table. An iridescent metal, composed in dozens of shapes and sizes, some plain circles, others incredibly intricate.
“Greetings, friends.” The old woman behind the stand was herself a collections of browns that so blended into the coverings that Elizabeth hadn’t noticed her at first. “Do you know the Sigils of Toqduer?”
“No, can you explain them to us?” The natural ambassador in Elizabeth was curious, needing to know something she did not know before, to appease even an aged trader.
“The metal comes from deep in the hot geysers of Toqduer, ejected from time to time into the desert around them. An artisan must be apprenticed for twenty cycles before he can start to fashion his own Sigil. It’s not just about the design, but the delicate removal of the outer layers of the Toqmer metal to remove the toxins and reach bio equilibrium.”
John was more than a little confused. “So you…eat them?”
The old woman laughed merrily. “No, my friend, you wear them like so.” Pulling up her ragged sleeves, she showed them forearms not wrinkled with age, but smoothed over iridescent metallic art. “My husband was one of the greatest Sigil artisans of his generation. These are among his last pieces. It is common on Todquer for couples to wear the same sigil.”
“So it’s kinda like getting a piercing and a tattoo at the same time,” John reasoned. “Cool.”
“It’s a beautiful tradition,” Elizabeth agreed, running her fingertips over the woman’s arm. John had never figured Elizabeth for the tattoo type of girl. She didn’t even have her ears pierced. “Look at this one; it’s the 8th symbol, the one that brought us to Pegasus.”
Looking at the half-dollar-sized pattern on the woman’s wrist, John could tell she was right. “Where did your husband learn this one?”
“He was a great devotee of the Ancestors. What you see on the table is mostly inspired by his study of them.”
“John…” She was using the voice, the one he couldn’t resist because it said she wanted something, and he would give her anything.
“You want to bind yourself to me with an alien piece of jewellery implanted in your skin?” He had to ask, just to make sure he was understanding the situation correctly.
“Well, I can’t lose it like a ring, and if you ever leave me, I can just have Carson cut it out, rather than going through the hassle of having a tattoo lasered off. Plus, you can be sure no one else you know will have anything like it.”
“Dr Weir, are you being spontaneous, romantic, daring, and rebellious all at the same time?” John turned her so that she had to look into his eyes. “Who are you and what have you done with Elizabeth Weir?”
She laughed and swatted his hands off of her. “Colonel Sheppard, are you being cautious, stodgy, and practical while gently trying to let me down?”
John turned back to the old woman. “Quick, before she changes her mind. What do you want for a matching pair?”
“What about this?” Elizabeth offered, removing the necklace that had hung around her neck since arriving in Atlantis. John looked ready to object, but she waved him off. “Simon gave it to me. It just became habit to put it on, but…I don’t need it any more. I don’t want it anymore.”
Smiling, the trader took the necklace. “Lovely, lovely. Please, take you pick of the table.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at John, but he demurred. “Lady’s choice.”
Several minutes passed in silence, Elizabeth’s concentration not to be interrupted. Neither John nor the stall keeper felt the need to rush her. This was an important, personal choice, a sign of her love for John and for her Expedition, the future and her past. She wanted to look at it every day and feel her heart fill. “This one.”
To the untrained eye it looked like a poorly crafted snowflake; to those who knew, it was a perfect outline of Atlantis as seen from above. She looked at John, who nodded solemnly. He agreed; it was the perfect choice.
“Just come around here and have a seat,” the woman invited, pulling back part of the stall’s drapes, revealing a low stool and a small shelf of equipment. “I can put it anywhere, but it is traditional among the Toqduer to put the sigils of their union inside the right wrist.”
“Well, I hate to break with tradition,” John said, sitting down first and holding out his right arm. He wanted to make sure it was okay before he let Elizabeth do it.
Taking a cloth that looked like it had seen better day, the woman dipped it in a poultice and rubber the mixture over John’s wrist. At first it was cold, then he couldn’t feet anything. The Atlantean sigil was only a few millimetres thick, not enough to interfere with any blood vessels or tendons. With a practiced eye, it was centred an inch below the heel of his hand, and then a device in to halves placed over the wrist, the other under it. With the simultaneous triggering of a switch on each pad, John heard a hum, felt a bit of pressure, and then nothing.
“What do you think of my husband’s work?”
John touched the two inch metal stencil now implanted in his wrist, rotating it from side to side to watch the light change its colours. The metal moved with him and the skin; there was no stiffness, no pulling at the flesh. “I love it,” he said honestly.
Elizabeth was next, wincing for only a moment when the implant paddles were triggered, but was too enamoured with the final product to care. She held her right hand out to John for him to admire further, and he gently kissed the Atlantis on her wrist.
“I will love, honor, and obey,” he whispered.
“And I will love you even when you can only get one or two of them right,” Elizabeth promised, leaning forward to kiss John lightly on the lips. “No we should get going, Purely-Ceremonial-Husband-of-Mine, because if we’re late to dinner, people will talk.”
“Oh, Lisbeth, they are always going to talk. At least we give them something to talk about.”
“Cheeky,” she chastised, but turned to the old woman and gave her a warm hug. “Thank you for this. I hope I can visit Toqduer one day.”
Tears filled her eyes. “Oh, I wish you could, too, my friend, but the Wraith wiped out the entire planet decades ago. Just a few of us made it to safety.”
“I’m so sorry.” Elizabeth deepened the hug. “But I promise you, my friends and I are doing everything we can to make sure it never happens to another world.”
It was a long walk back to the street their boarding house was on, a trip made in comfortable silence, hand in hand, more aware of each other than the chaotic market around them. As the numbness started to wear off a dull ache started to radiate up their wrists.
“Having second thoughts?” John asked when he noticed Elizabeth eying her sigil.
“I’m just wondering if maybe Carson should take a look as soon as we get back. She talked about a ‘bio-equilibrium’ in the metal, which I assume means there is some organic property that keeps the body from rejecting it. Which means rather than just getting my ears pierced, I’ve…” She couldn’t quite come up with the appropriate metaphor.
“Put a metallic fish in your ear?” her companion offered.
The look she gave John was one of amused concern. “I’m not going to even ask where you came up with that.”
“Well, I mean, it seems appropriate. A fish is alive, you pierce your ears with metal, so this is like…a metal fish, living just under your skin.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I hope you don’t mind if I fervently hope this child has my eloquence rather than yours.”
John gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “I hope this kid is like you in every way.”
“I can’t play football.”
“That’s okay. Believe you me, childhood head injuries don’t bode well for neural development.”
“I’m also not in MENSA.”
“Neither am I. But I bet you could be if you wanted to be.”
“No, I’m bad at math.”
“Oh, well that’s it, then, I guess we can’t be together.
“Colonel Sheppard, this is Cadman, come in please.” John stopped in his track and tapped his ear piece.
“I’m here, Lieutenant, is there a problem?” Elizabeth’s eyes snapped over to him in concern, but after a moment of listening, he shook his head at her. “No, Cadman, I wasn’t aware of the time. We’re on our way back. Just save us a couple of seats and order whatever Teyla suggests. Sheppard out.”
“Have we just been duly chastised by our subordinates for being late?”
“Of course not,” he reassured her. “We’re in charge. That means whenever we arrive anywhere, we are exactly on time.”
“Oh, well if I’d known that was a rule, I wouldn’t always be running around feeling like I’m running behind.”
Leaning over, John gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head, then let go of her hand as they emerged into the large square near their final destination. It wasn’t that he wanted to let go, but for all his reassurances, John was just as afraid – if not more so – that their superiors would take Elizabeth away from him once they found out. Urging her through the front door of the restaurant, the pair were greeted with a cheer and several raised glasses from the rest of the travellers who had been waiting for them to arrive. The next several hours were a blur of food, drinks, and excited discussion of the day’s various sights and wares. When John saw Elizabeth’s eyes getting heavy, he suggested calling it a night to everyone, and offered to take those with bulkier goods out to the Puddlejumpers to stow their things rather than having to deal with at all tomorrow.
Kate took one of Elizabeth’s arms and Teyla the other, guiding her back to their boarding house. The Athosian woman spoke first; “I’m glad to see you happier this evening, Dr Weir.”
“I had fun,” Elizabeth admitted with a smile. “It was a good idea to come here, Teyla. And thank you, Kate, for blackmailing me into it.”
“Any time.” In the light of the lobby, the psychologist suddenly stopped, looking hard at her boss’s chest. “Elizabeth, what happened to your necklace? Did you lose it?”
“No, not at all, I traded it.”
“For what?” Teyla asked. “You’re not carrying anything nearly large enough to seem worth the price of that piece. What it not a gift from someone on Earth?”
“I didn’t need it any longer,” Elizabeth said earnestly, pulling up the sleeve of her jacket. “I decided rather spontaneously to get what I can only describe as the Pegasus galaxy’s idea of a tattoo.” She held out her wrist of inspection. Though the skin was still a little inflamed, it wasn’t as bad as it might have been from an actual tattoo or piercing.
“It’s beautiful,” Kate said, running her fingers over it. “It’s Atlantis, isn’t it?”
“It’s more than that, Dr Heightmeyer.” Teyla locked eyes with Elizabeth, smiling broadly. “It’s a Toqduer Sigil, an art form lost years ago when the Wraith overran the planet. The Toqmer metal it is made from can’t be found anywhere else. Inside the scalding waters heated from the planet’s core, there lives a variety of marine animals. When they die, their bodies harden and absorb the rich minerals in the water. From time to time the pools would boil over, explosively, ejecting chunks of Toqmer. Artisans would remove the more toxic outer layers, reaching the living metal. There is enough biological material remaining to keep the body from rejecting it, allowing it be implanted just under a thin layer of translucent skin that grows over it.”
“Wow,” Kate breathed. “Now I kind of want one.”
Teyla was still looking at Elizabeth. “Well this type and placement in particular is part of a pair, the other sigil being implanted in one’s…spouse.”
“Oh.” The psychologist’s head shot up. “Oh!”
“I suspect if we asked Colonel Sheppard to roll up his sleeves, we would find another.” Putting her hands on the taller woman’s shoulders, Teyla bowed her head, waiting for Dr Weir to reciprocate. “I am very happy for you Elizabeth. And John.”
“We didn’t get married, we just…” Stopping herself, Elizabeth lowered her head to touch the Athosian’s. “Thank you, Teyla.”
“Marriage has many meanings and many ways of marking a joining,” Teyla told her gently. “It does not always require pomp and ceremony, officiants or traditions. Sometimes, Elizabeth, it is enough to simply acknowledge your love for each other.” Taking her bag off of her back, she reached in a pulled out a small package. “I had intended to give this to you later, but now seems as good as any occasion to celebrate.”
Curious, Elizabeth lifted the lid from the simple wooden box and pulled out a miniature Stargate carved from a single piece of black wood. Each gate symbol was delicately painted on in gold, and accurately as far as she could tell. “It’s beautiful, Teyla. The craftsmanship is exquisite.”
“Among the Athosians and many other peoples, it is traditional to hang one of these over your child’s bed, a warning to evil that the Ancestors are watching over your baby.” Teyla smiled at the shocked look on her friend’s face. “Elizabeth, you may have lived in a society that keeps its pregnant women away from daily work, but we never have any such luxury in Pegasus. It’s been obvious for weeks that you are expecting a child, and even if I had not seen you every day, Colonel Sheppard’s behaviour alone would be enough to tell me.”
“Really?” Kate was surprised. But then again, she did not see the pair together as frequently as Teyla, and maybe because she already knew, was inured to any odd behaviour on the Colonel’s part.
“I have seldom seen a man so ready to trip over his own feet to be near a woman,” Teyla pointed out knowingly with a sly smile. “John can hardly stand to be on an off world mission more a moment longer than necessary, and detests any that is overnight. He appears to be obsessed with making sure you and eat and sleep on a schedule, and anywhere he goes with you, he keeps you to his left so he can reach his gun with his right.”
Elizabeth was shocked by the observations. “I… Do you think anyone else has noticed?”
“Not among your expedition members. Ronan has kindly avoided pointing it out to the Colonel, though he does think John is being a bit…ridiculous.”
“That’s an understatement,” Elizabeth agreed with a laugh, then enfolded Teyla in a traditional Milky Way galaxy hug. “Thank you for this.”
Elizabeth was exhausted from all the walking, barely waking when she felt John climb into bed next to her. She was wearing one of the thin night shirts he’d insisted on and felt the heat of his hand against her belly and his breath on the back of her neck, clinging to her like a child with his teddy bear. A teddy bear. Suddenly, more than anything, she felt like she needed one for the baby.
Tomorrow. Surely in all of Kor’ahe there was something akin to a stuffed animal for a child.
She woke to the feeling of John’s erection against her backside and the half-awake man fondling her breasts through the sheer material of her pyjamas. Yawning and stretching, she turned over in his arms to look at his sleepy face, eyes still closed and hair sticking up absolutely everywhere. Smirking, she stuck out her tongue to touch his nose, waking him instantly.
“What? Did you – did you just lick me?” he sputtered.
“Hmmm, yes, I suppose I did. But in my defence, you were groping me.”
Smiling, John reached out to thumb a visible nipple. “Kinda hard not to – awake or asleep – when something so perfect presents itself.”
“I will never understand the male fascination with breasts,” Elizabeth admitted with a sigh.
“Trust me, we love what’s between your legs even more,” his hand crept south, “but it’s a lot harder to see, so we take what we can get.”
“Well, I guess that is a good an explanation as anything.” Elizabeth’s voice was barely audible as she leaned in, this time running her tongue over his lips. “And what are you taking this morning?”
Diving under the sheet, Elizabeth felt rather than saw John crawl between her legs, felt the hands tugging off the little matching shorts that came with her top, and gasped at the feeling of the warm, wet tongue that worked between her folds. One, then two, then three fingers slipped inside, stroking her inner walls, while his mouth nursed her clit like a newborn at the breast, driving her towards orgasm. While she was still shuddering with pleasure, the sheet rose up, John’s head finally appearing as he pushed her legs up over his shoulders. He didn’t blink, watching every little movement of her face as he slowly moved his engorged shaft inside, her muscles instantly contracting around him. She moaned and arched her back, welcoming him in further. Pulling down the collar of her nighty, he took an erect nipple between his lips, sucking ever so gently as he continued to rock into her. An ache built in his testicles, the good kind, forcing him harder, deeper, his breath coming faster, and Elizabeth went with him again, letting out a little cry as his seed exploded inside her. Her hips popped in protest as her legs dropped back onto the bed, but she welcomed the weight of John on top of her, inside of her, and drifted back to sleep, but only for a few moments.
“Come on, Sleeping Beauty, we need showers. Otherwise, people might suspect what we’ve been doing.”
“A lot of people probably know what we’ve been doing.”
“Well, no sense in confirming it for them. Come on.”
Groaning, Elizabeth let John pull her out of bed and into the stone shower stall. Rotating the handle on the wall, warm rain water fell on them from above. Using a local liquid soap, John washed her hair and her back, ran sudsy hands down her torso, taking the sweat of sex with them, massaged more soap into the curls of the hair between her legs, sticky with his cum.
“One more time,” she begged, bracing her hands against the shower wall. John understood, and with a few strokes of his palm, was completely hard again, pushing into her from the back while his hands gripped her crotch in the front, teasing her clit. It only took a minute for the orgasm to hit, making Elizabeth weak in the knees, but he kept her upright, arms wrapped firmly around her. He sucked some of the water off her neck and swallowed it, thirsty, but frozen in the moment, waiting for her to stop quivering before finally drawing back out.
“Maybe I should wash myself,” Elizabeth whispered. “Or we’ll never get out of here.”
They met up with Kate and Teyla, grabbing a breakfast of sweet buns and strong tea from a vendor cart in the square. Today’s goal was the antiquities quarter, where Elizabeth hoped to find more information about Ancient outposts in the galaxy. It was further away than where they’d been the day before, so one of the city’s trollies came in very handy for the journey out. John didn’t ask about Teyla coming along; it became obvious that she knew, which was a relief. He’d wanted to tell her, wanted her to know, but left it up to Elizabeth; it wasn’t for him to tell.
“How’s your wrist?” Kate asked, noticing Elizabeth unconsciously rubbing at it.
“Oh, it’s fine.” She held it out for inspection. The redness of irritation was almost completely gone, her body having adapted quickly. “I’d actually forgotten until I saw it this morning while I was getting dressed. I can’t feel anything from it.”
Heightmeyer dropped into her more professional tone. “Are you going to…hide it from everyone? Keep it covered while you’re out?”
Elizabeth could tell John was listening; he would follow her lead. “I haven’t decided yet. We all know that before too long everyone is going to be looking at something else anyway.”
“And are you ready for that?”
“Are we seriously having a session on a trolley in a city-sized market on an alien planet, Dr Heightmeyer?”
It was hard to miss the hurt look Kate gave her. “Don’t do that, Elizabeth. Don’t distance yourself from the question, because I think you don’t know the answer, or worse, you do know the answer, and it’s ‘No’. If you aren’t ready – and I don’t think you are – then have to let us help you because you can’t keep running from this.”
“Kate.” Teyla’s voice was low, cautioning. She, perhaps more than anyone else, understood what it was for a leader to need to retain the respect of her people. “She will be ready when she is ready.”
Elizabeth spent the rest of the journey looking out the window, preferring to lose herself in the dazzle of the market. At some point John’s fingers crept across the seat and found her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. They had probably gone ten miles before Teyla announced that it was time to leave the trolley. The stalls and buildings here were different, their style obviously taken from that of the Ancients. Elegant lines, coloured glass windows, and the words of the Ancestors carved into walls and steps. Everywhere there books, scrolls, tablets, icons, replicas, a treasure trove of Ancient works only to be matched by Atlantis itself.
“I was told by a trader yesterday that the most authentic pieces from the Ancestors can be found at a place called Agragos.”
“Please, lead the way.” Elizabeth seemed a little more cheerful now, the prospect of new research materials too enticing to let her be distracted by other concerns.
Finding Agragos was actually quite easy; it was one of the largest shops in the district, rising three levels above the street and its façade reminiscent of the Khazneh in Petra.
“I’m pretty sure I saw this in a movie once,” John mumbled as they scaled the steps. "Bad things happened."
“It makes sense, though,” Elizabeth said, running her fingers along the stone as they passed through the entrance. “Petra was said to have been founded over nine thousand years ago. It easily could have been one of the destinations for the Ancients.”
“Salutations, scholars.” A young man materialized from a line of them by the door, dressed in tan tunic and shorts, a thick leather collar around his neck. “I am Satiros, fluent in the language of the Ancestors. What can I help you find?”
John was never a fan of salesmen. “We’re just browsing, thanks.”
Satiros looked confused for a moment, nervous. “I am happy to help translate or explain and materials you are interested in.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “We have no need for a translator, thank you.”
“But we are always happy to have another set of experienced eyes with us,” Teyla added quickly. “Please, take us to the oldest writings you have.”
Looking relieved, Satiros led them deeper into the library.
John was annoyed. “Teyla, we don’t need some guy fishing for a commission to lead us around all the most expensive pieces he can find-”
“If he does not come with us, he will be beaten,” the Athosian woman explained. “If he does not sell us anything, he will not be fed tonight. That collar-” she indicated towards her neck “-marks him as a slave owned by the shop. His job is to keep us from stealing anything, and if he wants to eat, get us to buy something.”
Kate was aghast. “We’ve never come across slaves in Pegasus before.”
“It is not common, but it is practiced. For those fleeing homes ravaged by the Wraith, sometimes slavery is preferable to being fed upon.”
Satiros looked behind him to see if they were still following, forcing an encouraging smile. “This room has some of the oldest records, recovered at great risk from abandoned cities of the Ancestors.”
“Thank you, Satiros,” Elizabeth said warmly. “I can read these texts for myself if you would like to sit down nearby in case we need assistance.”
“Of course.” He bowed and retreated to a small stool by the doorway.
John was fingering his sidearm nervously. “We shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be supporting slavery like this.”
“The ways of Kor’ahe are not ours to change, Colonel Sheppard.” Teyla kept her voice low, perusing the items on the shelves in front of them even though she had no idea what any of the said. “Maybe one day, when we are free of the Wraith, we can work to make everyone in the galaxy free. But for now, we are not in a position to do so. If you want to help, buy something before we go and give Satiros the PowerBar you always keep in your vest.”
Kate nodded her agreement. “She’s right, Colonel. We don’t want to cause trouble in a place where we are vastly outnumbered. Sometimes we make a bigger difference with small kindnesses.” She took the protein bar she’d brought as a snack out of her pocket and handed it to John.
After a bit of hesitation, John took it, then wandered over to the shop assistant and leaned against the wall. “Hey, we might be here a while. Have a snack with me?” Before Satiros could politely decline, half of a peanut-butter/chocolate Powerbar was thrust into his hand. “It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but it always helps to keep me going.”
“Thank you, sir.” The young man took a cautious bite, sorting through the text and flavour for a moment before deciding to attack it more thoroughly, disappearing the entire thing into his mouth before anyone might take it away.
They waited in awkward silence for a while before John’s curiosity got the best of him. “Sooo, how long have you been here?”
“My mother was sold to Agragos when she was forced to flee her home as a child. I myself was born here, so my fluency in the Ancestral language is second to none.”
He had been born a slave, had never known what it was like to not be one. John thought of his own child forced into such a life, and for the first time since arriving on Atlantis, he wished he was home, safe on Earth. “Where is your mother?”
“She died many years ago when a fever swept through the Market. She kept feeding me her rations and was too weak to fight it off.”
“I’m sorry,” John whispered. “I wish-”
“Satiros!” Everyone in the room jumped at the sound of the booming voice that came from the doorway. The size of the man was equivalent to his voice, standing at least three inches taller than John, but several times wider. “What are you doing, boy?”
The young man was quickly back on his feet, but John put a staying hand on his shoulder. “He was doing what I asked him to do.” There was unmistakable contempt in the Colonel’s voice. “I asked him to sit down and talk to me. Do you have a problem with that?”
Though obviously angry, the slave master of Agragos laughed and shook his head. “Not at all, sir, not at all. If you are happy with his service, then I, Chem, am happy. But don’t you need him to help you understand all these marvellous works?”
“I can read them just fine,” Elizabeth interjected, crossing her arms in defiance of the presumption that she could not. “I can read them well enough to know that at least half are bad copies of nothing more than fairy tales and folk lore, Chem. But-” she added, forestalling the giant man’s argument, “not all.” She held up a collection of translucent tablets, recognizable as the same sort of plastic/crystal that comprised many piece of Atlantis. “Can you tell me where you got there?”
The man shrugged. “I’m afraid that those, like everything in Kor’ahe, arrived here after passing through many hands. Who knows from what world they originated.”
“Well take them anyway,” Elizabeth said firmly, “and any more like them.”
“I think there are a few more pieces, yes,” Chem nodded, eying her warily, afraid he was perhaps going to make a bad deal. “What did you have in mind to trade?”
Elizabeth looked over at Teyla, who had been carrying her bag. From inside, Elizabeth pulled out a box containing several data crystals. “Interested?”
Chem’s eyes grew wide and he licked his lips in desire. “Where did you get those?”
“From home,” Elizabeth said cryptically. “Do we have a deal?”
“Yes, my lady, we do indeed.” Chem held his hand out for the box. “Satiros, go grab the rest of the clear tablets from upstairs. Wrap them carefully and bring them down for our friends here.”
“Yessir!” The young man ran from the room on bare feet, and John moved cautiously back to Elizabeth’s side.
“I have never met a woman who was fluent in the language of the Ancestors,” Chem said congenially, filling time while waiting for Satiros to return. “And no one has taken an interest in those tablets for years. Most people prefer the other antique scrolls and texts.”
“That’s because they were more interested in what looked old rather than what was actually old,” Elizabeth said coolly. “The Ancestors would never have used anything as inefficient as pen and paper.”
Chem laughed again, making John finger his run again. “You are indeed a formidable woman of great intelligence, I can tell. Where did you acquire such knowledge of the Ancestors?”
“Like I said: from home.”
“You must come from a very interesting home indeed.” There was nothing friendly in the proprietor’s voice. Before any more could be said, though, Satiros returned with a cloth wrapped bundle, which he handed to John.
“Thanks, kid.” He took the other PowerBar and slipped it into the slave’s pocket. “Hope we see you again when we’re in town.”
“An absolute pleasure doing business with you.” Chem’s bow was just as smooth as his smile; well-rehearsed and utterly fake.
No one on the Atlantis team returned the compliment, just lined up behind Elizabeth and followed her back out to the street.
“I feel like I need a shower,” Kate said, shivering even though the return to sunlight was quickly warming them.
“I myself have felt better about trades in the past,” Teyla agreed. “Dr Weir, I hope there was nothing too sensitive about Atlantis on those date crystals.”
“They’re blank.” A mischievous smile played at Elizabeth’s mouth. “Rodney checked them before we left. I thought they would have value, being made by the Ancients, but figured no one would have the technology to read them. As far as I know, Chem just bought a set of decorative coasters.”
John laughed and put an arm around her waist, planting a kiss on her cheek. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.”
“Only one?” she teased.
Kate felt the gloom of the interior of Agragos lift, happy to see Elizabeth in such a good mood. “And what did we trade a bunch of ten-thousand year old drink coasters for?”
“Well, the first secret to a good trade is making sure the other guy can’t tell just how interested you are in what he’s got. And if what I’ve got turns out to be real, I could have done cartwheels around that room.” Elizabeth stopped and uncovered the first of the tablets. “This here, at the top? It’s the Ancient for what we call zero point energy. The Ancient’s would not have bothered to write anything down unless it was really, really important, something they might need access to in the absence of power. And what better thing to write down than how to restore your power.”
John’s eyes showed a spark of excitement. “Are you saying that these are instructions for making ZPMs?”
“Maybe. I still haven’t seen what Satiros brought down, and I don’t Rodney’s knowledge to follow along. It could be instructions for baking cookies in the shape of a ZPM for all I know.”
“Well, we still better have Beckett on standby when you give these to McKay,” John suggested. “Maybe with a sedative. A big one. Otherwise he might have an aneurysm.”
“If these do turnout to be what we’ve needed all this time, I’ll never have to get Rodney another present. Ever. He’ll probably also never leave his lab again.”
“Worth it,” John said evilly.
Teyla took the tablets back and safely packed them away, uncomfortable with showing them in public. “Before we go back to our section of the Market, Elizabeth, is there anything else here you would like to see?”
“No, we need to get back to the clothing quarter. I have some new clothes to pick up; ones John has already paid for.”
John looked wounded. “I just wanted to make sure you actually got them, otherwise I think you’d try to sneak away without getting the most important thing we came for.”
“Um, I believe Teyla is carrying the most important thing.”
“Alright, second most important thing,” John conceded. “And I only did it to make sure you wouldn’t try to steal my pants later when yours don’t fit.”
“I would look ridiculous.”
“My point exactly.”
Laughing as they hailed the approaching trolley, no one noticed the young man in the leather collar following them.
“So what do you think?”
Kate held up the red shirt not so different from the one Elizabeth was presently wearing, but baggier in the front with extra fabric. It was hard to miss the look of disappointment on Elizabeth’s face.
“I should have just gone with the stupid kaftan…”
“Stop.” John looked over at Teyla and Kate, who nodded in understanding a left the dressing room with the stack of new clothes.
The unhappy woman sighed. “I know you’re trying. I’m sorry, John-”
Further apology was forestalled by his lips enveloping hers for a moment. “Elizabeth,” he whispered, taking her by the waist and turning her to face the mirrored wall. Resting his chin on her shoulder, he took his warm hands and slipped them under her shirt, gently stroking her abdomen. “Look at yourself. You’re beautiful.” His eyes reflected back on hers, loving and sad. “It doesn’t matter what you wear. You will always be beautiful to me. What’s growing inside of you right now will be here before you know it, and when you’re holding our baby, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered to care about clothes.”
Elizabeth’s head lolled to the side, looking away from the mirror and into the corner. “I have to care, John, because the outside of me is the first thing people see. You’re a man; other men will point at my stomach and congratulate you for getting me pregnant. And in the same breath, those men – and more than a few women – will chastise me for allowing myself to fall pregnant.”
“If anyone thinks like that, then they aren’t worthy of your regard in the first place,” John insisted, turning his head into hers and holding tighter. “What can I do? What can I do to make you happy about this?”
“Promise me-” But she stopped herself.
“What? Tell me.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not in your power to make the promise.”
“But I won’t know that for sure until you tell me.” His lips rested against her ear. “Please, Elizabeth; tell me what you need.”
“I need to know that no one will take Atlantis away from me.” A single tear made its way down her cheek, and John kissed it away.
“What if I promise you that everyone who lives on Atlantis will fight tooth and nail to help you stay? What if I promise you that the people who live there will support you no matter the cut of your clothes?” He rubbed his hands against the firmness of her stomach. “Give us a chance to be better than you think we are, Elizabeth. Because frankly, it hurts that you could think so little of us.”
She smiled and turned her face back to him. “Did you change brains with Dr Heightmeyer while I wasn’t looking?”
“She’s a smart lady; you should try listening to her from time to time.” He nuzzled her neck and started to kiss his way down to her collarbone.
“We’re not having sex in a dressing room.” He stopped with an unhappy groan and finally let her go, but she grabbed his arm, stalling his exit. “Thank you, though. And as a poor showing of that thanks…I actually have a job for you.”
“This is Puddlejumper three. We’ll see you folks in about fifteen minutes. Don’t go far.”
Elizabeth tapped her radio. “We’ll be waiting, Colonel. Give our stuff a smooth ride.”
It was obvious that not everyone and their things would fit in the Jumpers for the ride back, so everything was loaded into Jumper 3 to be off loaded in Atlantis, and then John would come back to pick up everyone else. Smiling as she watched the ship fly away over the Market, Elizabeth suddenly remembered the thing she had promised she would find.
“Teyla,” she called, getting the Athosian’s attention. “I forgot to grab something, but I think I know where to find it. I should be back before the Colonel returns, but if not, well, we both know he’ll wait.”
“Dr Weir, are you sure one of us shouldn’t go with you?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I know exactly what I’m getting.” She’d seen it in the square that morning but didn’t want to carry it all day, intending to pick it up when they returned to the boarding house to pack their things.
Looking around the crowded space, Elizabeth was afraid the cart was gone, but finally caught sight of the red flags billowing over top of everyone. It sold only thing: the closest thing to a teddy bear she was likely to find in Pegasus. It looked a bit like someone had taken the head of a panda and put it on the body of a flying squirrel, then dropped it in a box of melted crayons. The odd thing made Elizabeth smile. But it was soft, and huggable, with large sad eyes, rounded ears and a fuzzy tail.
“What do you call this?” she asked the vendor, but he could only shrug.
“No idea. Just something my wife says she saw once as a child. She’s been making them for years.”
“Are they for children?” It was the Pegasus galaxy. Who knew for certain?
“Well, my own seem to like them well enough. You have one?”
“Not just yet.” With most everything on the Jumper, Elizabeth realized she didn’t actually have much on her. “What will you take for one?”
“What about the coat? Winter season’s coming soon and the wife needs a new one.”
Elizabeth hesitated, then remembered she already had another one freshly made, and more likely to fit than the current one. Shrugging it off, she handed over the Expedition jacket without much regret.
“Thanks,” she said, tucking the stuffed animal under her arm and heading back to the shuttle pad.
Elizabeth Weir never made it.
“What do you mean she ‘forgot something’?! What is ‘something’?! And why did you let her go alone?!”
Teyla looked ready to cry, and not because Colonel Sheppard was shouting at her, but because she obviously already blamed herself for Elizabeth’s disappearance. It had been 30 minutes since John returned with the empty Puddlejumper, and Dr Weir did not. In groups of two he ordered them to fan out over the area, and after the first ten minutes radioed Atlantis to send back up.
“John, I’m sorry, I can’t imagine what’s happened.”
He didn’t respond, didn’t look at her, just kept scanning the faces of the square, thinner now with evening approaching. He’d grabbed his P-90 from the Jumper, and a few more for the military personnel, but couldn’t find anyone to shoot. John’s heart was pounding, worse than if he was in an actual firefight, because then he could actually see his enemy; now, everyone was a suspect, but he couldn’t shoot any of them.
On the far side of the square he met up with Kate and Lt Cadman. “Anything?”
Cadman grimaced and shook her head. “No, sir.”
“Colonel Sheppard…” Kate looked uncomfortable, stepping closer and lowering her voice. “John…is it possible she left on her own?”
“What are you saying?”
“What I’m asking is… is it possible Elizabeth… ran away? That she doesn’t want to come back to Atlantis with us?”
Jerking back in surprise, John felt as if the tiny psychologist had just punched him. “No, she… she wouldn’t do that.” Would she? “Elizabeth doesn’t run from anything.” Except what had happened with Phebus and Thalen. “She was okay when we came back.” Wasn’t she? Hadn’t she been okay when they left the tailor’s?
“I’m not saying to stop looking for her,” Kate assured him gently. “I’m just putting it out there as the slightest possibility, John, in case it changes how you look for her. We can ask-”
She didn’t get a chance to finish, though, because John took off running across the square, Cadman instantly jumping into action and following close behind. “Hey! You! Stop!” Everyone in the vicinity seemed to freeze, making it easier for John to circle around in front of the small man in a familiar garment, Cadman taking up position behind.
“What?” The vendor quaked. “What? I don’t have anything!”
“The jacket! Where did you get the jacket?!” John’s finger was already applying light pressure to the trigger, ready to shoot the man the moment he got the information he needed.
“Some lady traded it for one of these!” The terrified man looked down at the pile of odd fluffy creatures on his cart. “Asked if they were for kids.”
“And then what?” John demanded.
“Then she took it and it she left! That was all, I swear!”
“Did you see anyone else?”
“I see all kinds of people!”
This wasn’t getting him anywhere. “Cadman, keep him covered while we find some sort of local authority.” Teyla and Kate were waiting several yards off. “She didn’t run. She was taken.”
Kate nodded sadly. “Did he see someone take her?”
“No, but she…she traded her jacket for one of the stuffed animals.” John looked ready to break, clenching his jaw to hold on. “She got it for the baby, Kate. She didn’t run.”
“I will contact the Kor’ahe constabulary,” Teyla advised, relieved to finally have something useful to do. “They will help us search.”
“Are there any cameras? Any Market security grids?”
“No, I’m afraid nothing so coordinated as that. Vendors protect their own wares at their own expense. Security is geared towards defence against the Wraith and removing criminals from the Market. We will have to trade something for their help.”
“They can have all of goddamn Atlantis if they want it,” John growled. “Go.”
The first thing Elizabeth was aware of was darkness, suffocating heat, and pressure all around her; moving was nearly impossible. Feeling her lungs involuntarily inflate, and the pain in her throat when she tried to swallow, it became obvious that a breath tube had been roughly shoved down her trachea before packing her away. Into what she had been packed, and to where, she couldn’t begin to guess. There was a memory of something soft under her arm, then a sharp pain in her midback, rough hands, and nothingness.
Panic started to rise; Elizabeth hadn’t felt this helpless since Kolya tried to pull her through the Stargate. But John had been there, then, and she had no idea where he was now. As her pulse climbed, she suddenly tasted a change in the air forced into her lungs, and blackness closed in again.
“Colonel. Colonel Sheppard. JOHN!”
Jumping, John realized Teyla had been trying to get his attention for some time. “What?”
Crouching in front of his chair, Teyla rested a hand on his. “John, you haven’t slept more than a few hours in the last five days. There is nothing you can do if you are too exhausted to think. You will only make thing worse.”
For five days he’d led the search through Kor’ahe, bribed and threatened every official into letting him search outgoing cargo, abandoned buildings, and every holding pen in the slave quarter. Ronan was at his side for extra incentive, but no one seemed anxious to make enemies with the Atlantian berserker named Sheppard. With Elizabeth gone, some part of John’s brain knew that he should running Atlantis right now, but that was absolutely not going to happen. McKay and Lorne were muddling along on their end, keeping personal and supplies coming to the Market. Several civilians had volunteer to come help in the search, but their requests were denies lest anyone else go missing.
“John.” Teyla voice drew him back to the present again.
“I can’t, Teyla,” he whispered, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes to clear the weariness. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t stop until I have her back. Because absolutely nothing will be okay again until I do.”
“We won’t stop, John, we’re just suggesting you let yourself rest for a little while. Please. Lay down for a few hours while Ronan and I go back out. You know we’ll call if we find anything.”
He just shook his head. “I can’t.”
Nodding in understanding, Teyla stood back up, resting a hand on his should, a distraction as the other hand pressed an autoinjector to his neck. “Now you can.”
“What did you…” His voice trailed off and he would have fallen out of the chair if Teyla hadn’t held him upright.
“Ronan,” she called, the big Satedan waiting outside the door. Grabbing the Colonel around the middle, he hefted the man over his shoulder and carried him from the command tent set up near the shuttle pad into the back of a Puddlejumper, dropping Sheppard none to gently on a bench.
“Don’t worry, he won’t remember.” Ronan stepped back to let Teyla put a pillow under John’s head and arrange a blanket over him. “How long did Beckett say it would keep him out?”
“At least twelve hours, but with his body so run down, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was longer.”
“He’s going to be mad at you when he wakes up.”
“Likely. But I would rather he was angry at me than at himself.”
“It’s not his fault.”
“I know,” Teyla said softly.
“Hey.” She turned and looked up at Ronan. “It’s not your fault either.”
Nodding in understanding, Teyla led the way back out. They had a meeting arranged with a group of Travellers. Though the Market of Kor’ahe was enormous, with every day that passed it became more and more likely that Elizabeth was no longer on the planet. Using the Travellers to help search would be expensive, but effective.
“We’re being followed,” Ronan said quietly. “We have been for the last three blocks.”
“I noticed. Break away at the next turn and circle around. I think he’ll keep following me.”
Grunting in acknowledgement of the plan, Ronan took the next left, disappearing down a narrow alley while Teyla continued on the main route for several hundred yards. At the next alley she stopped to mindlessly look at a window display until she heard a small cry from behind her. Satisfied, she followed the sound back down the alley, Ronan holding the neck of a very familiar face.
“Satiros! Ronan, let him go.” The young shop assistant leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. The first thing Teyla noticed was the leather collar from round his neck was gone. “Did you run away from Agrigos? Is Chem looking for you?”
Coughing until tears came to his eyes, Satiros shook his head. “No, he let me go. I thought it would be enough to be free, but… I can’t. I can’t live with it.” Reaching into a string sack, he pulled out a familiar looking toy. “Chem told me if I helped him get someone worth even more than me, I could go. I didn’t want to, not really. She was so nice; you all were.”
“Satiros, what have you done?” Teyla demanded.
“I followed you all back to the southeast square. I wasn’t really going to do it, but then she was alone and it was easy.” With a shaking hand, he offered up the colourful stuffed animal. “She dropped this. I thought…you might want it back.”
Ronan grabbed the young man’s shirt and threw him back against the wall. “We don’t want a damn toy, we want Dr Weir!”
Pulling at Ronan’s arms to make him let go, Teyla took Satiros in hand. “Look at me. I know you didn’t want anything bad to happen. You can make this right, Satiros, by telling us everything you know. What did Chem do with Dr Weir?”
“I…I don’t know. He often works as a broker, for treasure hunters who need someone fluent in the Ancestral language. They pay good money for the best. When she picked out those tablets, said she knew about it from home, he figured you must be from somewhere close to the Ancestors.”
“Is Dr Weir still on Kor’ahe?” Teyla demanded.
Satiros shook his head. “No.”
The next time Elizabeth woke, it was to the feeling of someone trying to rip her lungs out through her mouth. Gagging, she felt hands roll her onto her side to wretch up the bile in her stomach.
“Hold her still,” a gruff voice ordered, and then something cold stabbed into her ribs, changing to a burning sensation that made her scream. Well, scream as much as she could for having paralyzed vocal cords.
Her eyes were open, but couldn’t find anything point of focus, just blurs of light and dark. She could feel cold air against all of her, knew that she was naked, wherever she was. Where was John? What was happening?
“Well will you look at that,” the first voice said again.
“What?” This voice more distinctly feminine, but no more friendly.
“She’s a two-fer,” the man said, pressing painfully against Elizabeth’s abdomen. “Looks like she’s due in another 170 days or so.”
“Yeah, seems fine. Good deal. Chem obviously didn’t know about the baby.”
“Well, let’s hope she’s just as good as that fat old thief says.” Thick fingers pried open Elizabeth’s mouth, probing her teeth and gums. “She certainly looks like she grew up somewhere other than a nomadic shit hole. Huh, even has a Toqmer sigil, not sure of what. Might be the city of the Ancestors.”
“Think anyone will come looking for her? The father, maybe?”
“If he cared that much, he wouldn’t have left her running around Kor’ahe on her own. And Chem got her packed away probably before anyone even noticed she was gone.”
Tears came to Elizabeth’s eyes. John? Where are you?
“She’s crying. Must be able to hear you.” Mr Gruff’s assessment was followed by the sting of a needle. “That should keep her out until we get to Magarus.” A hand roughly grabbed Elizabeth’s exposed breast and tweaked the nipple. “Pretty enough, even if she isn’t a good translator.”
A snort of disgust came from the woman. “Dyros, is there anything you won’t fuck?”
The answering laugh made her blood run cold. “My dear Firra, what’s the point of life if not eating, drinking, and fucking?”
Elizabeth was glad when the darkness claimed her again.
“How could you let things get so out of hand, Major?!”
Evan Lorne remained rigidly at attention while Colonel Caldwell continued to rant. The Daedalus had arrived to an Atlantis operating at a barely controlled state of chaos for three weeks. While basic maintenance was being done all other work, exploration, and off-world travel had been diverted to finding Dr Weir.
“Sir, Colonel Sheppard’s orders were quite clear-”
“Colonel Sheppard hasn’t been on base in 23 days! Dr Weir’s kidnapping should have been reported immediately and all personnel recalled. There are procedures to be followed. What is the point of having contingent protocol if you don’t use them?”
Lorne’s eyes continued to focus at some point over Caldwell’s head. “Sir, Colonel Sheppard believed we would be able to recover Dr Weir quickly, that there was no point in alerting the SCG until the situation was resolved.”
“Well, Major, after three weeks, it still hasn’t been resolved. So when exactly was this entire snafu going to be reported?”
“When Colonel Sheppard said it should.” It wasn’t that Lorne wanted to throw his commanding officer under the bus, but showing compliance with Sheppard’s orders seemed a more prudent route than expressing reservations about them.
“Stop playing dumb, Major, you knew perfectly well that Colonel Sheppard’s orders were out of line and that whatever his problem is, he should have been relieved of command.”
“He’s my superior office, Colonel. Only Dr Weir or Dr Beckett could do that.”
Caldwell’s nostrils flared as he took a steadying breath. “Get out, Major. I’ll deal with you later. And send in Dr McKay.”
“Sir!” Lorne snapped a salute and left the office still very much belonging to Dr Weir. Rodney pushed in right past him, having already heard his summons.
“Colonel Caldwell, I know you think-”
“Shut up and listen to me, Dr McKay.” To his credit, Rodney did, and the de facto commander of Atlantis continued. “This circus ends now. I am recalling all military personnel on Kor’ahe as of now. And whatever you and your science teams are supposed to be doing, you will go back to doing.”
“Colonel, you can’t expect-”
“I damn well can expect a continuity of operations on this base. And anyone who feels they can’t is welcome to return to Earth. We still have a mission here.”
Rodney deflated. He was too exhausted to keep fighting. But making sure he stayed on Atlantis was the only way to make sure he could keep looking for Elizabeth. Glaring at Caldwell, he nodded once and left without being dismissed, because he didn’t have to wait for some flyboy to tell him he could go.
John wasn’t there to take the call when the Gate on Kor’ahe opened and Caldwell issued a very succinct order for Lt Cadman to pass along: All personnel were to return to Atlantis within the hour. But it was an order he had no intention of following. Standing in the Jumper, he watched Cadman look away in shame, and none of the other Marines could meet his gaze either. They were good soldiers; they would follow their orders.
“So that’s it then.” John took a deep breath, then reached up and removed the Lieutenant Colonel oak leaves that had adorned his uniform less than a year. He handed these to Cadman, then pulled his side arm. “If you all wouldn’t mind leaving; you can tell Colonel Caldwell I stole the Jumper at gun point.”
“Yessir.” Cadman snapped a salute, and everyone else did as well. There were tears threatening to spill over, but she held them in. “Good hunting, sir.”
The Atlantis troops left, but Ronan and Teyla remained, bags slung over their shoulders.
“We rather figured you would not be returning to Atlantis at Colonel Caldwell’s orders,” Teyla explained.
“So we packed while we waited for you,” Ronan added, holding out John's rucksack.
John nodded his thanks to both, then took his pilot’s seat and keyed in the Gate address for their next lead on Elizabeth. He’d made a promise to himself: John Sheppard would never return to Atlantis unless it was with Elizabeth Weir at his side.
(Having a little fun mangling Latin epithets, a la the Ancients.)
Magarus was a world on the edge of Pegasus, rumoured to hold a massive city that once belonged to the Ancestors. Two weak stars provided 57 hours of dim daylight, 6 hours of darkness. The gravity was heavier than Earth normal, making the body ache more with every passing hour. At least for Elizabeth; Dyros and Firra had the build – and manners – of Vikings. Not real Vikings, but the Hollywood type, with the bad manners and the killing and the raping and the pillaging.
Elizabeth remembered what her body had been forced to do to John’s, remembered the nightmare’s the followed. So she tried to tell herself it was just another bad dream that first night on Magarus when Dyros came into the little closet where she was being kept on the ship, threw her to the floor, and nearly killed her, and the baby. She hadn’t been able to scream, the weight on top of her crushing the air from her lungs. Meaty fingers worked her open, only to be replaced by a cock too big to fit, tearing her apart. It was Firra who found her unconscious and haemorrhaging, who was apparently not unaccustomed to her partner’s ways, because she stopped the bleeding, put in the sutures, hung a blood substitute, and spent the next four days making Dyros miserable.
“You dumb futo! You know what we paid for her?! You’re damn lucky she didn’t lose the fetus. You bleed money like you bleed girls, Dyros! Go fuck something we didn’t pay for!”
“Well, if you weren’t such a cold bitch-”
“I wouldn’t let you near me with that tree trunk between your legs if you were the last man in the galaxy. Now pay attention: Don’t. Fuck. The. Goods.”
To his credit, the barbarian at least appeared to listen. But after four days, Firra threw Elizabeth out into the chill morning and put her to work in the vast ruins, looking for what others had not yet picked over. The city seemed an extension of the mountain range it sat at the base of. Buildings grew taller in height to match the foothills and into the cliffs. The style was unmistakably that of the Ancients, but more crude than Atlantis. It was a long hike to what appeared to be an Ancient research centre.
“Please, if you send me back to my people, I’m sure they’ll give you anything you want.” Elizabeth tried to reason with the harsh woman, believing she had a better chance with Firra than Dyros. “I’m a leader among them, and we have the resources of many worlds at our disposal. I’m sure we could come to some sort of agreement.”
“Listen up my little merx,” Firra hissed, shoving a lantern and a notebook into her hands. “The only thing worth more than what we might find here is the lost city of the Ancestors. Don’t suppose you know where that is?”
Elizabeth bit down hard on her tongue to silence her instincts when desire almost overcame reason. They did not know she was Atlantean, and she could not tell them, because the Wraith and the rest of the galaxy were meant to think them dead. The one thing that might free her from these treasure hunters was the one thing she could not – would not – give them. I’m so sorry, John.
The wall was covered in extensive writings, much if eroded by eons of time. With a heavy sigh, Elizabeth sat in the dust, turned up the lantern, and lost herself in the words of the past. At some point Dyros arrived, but stayed only long enough to toss a canteen at her and leave, but it took a long time for the panic attack to stop. In the bottle she found a viscous liquid that in some ways reminded her of Guinness, probably an efficient food substitute. She couldn’t keep it down, though, and within an hour was on her knees, vomiting until she was nearly unconscious.
“Stupid fucking vilix!” Firra cursed, grasping the back of Elizabeth’s thin jumper and frogmarching her back to the ship. “Wasting our food, wasting our time, wasting our money!” Grabbing the stumbling woman’s neck, she felt a thready heartbeat and clammy skin. “Wasting our fucking medicine. Looks like Dyros gave you more than a bloody ina’sua. Why couldn’t you keep your fucking legs together? DYROS! Get your worthless ass out here and take her back to her room while I see if we’ve got anything to treat her gammy insides. And yours, for that matter, you dumb shit! Didn’t I tell you to watch where you’re sticking it?!”
So much shouting so close to her ear made Elizabeth’s head hurt twice over. Firra’s voice made a distraught Rodney McKay sound like a yogi leading a meditation session. Tossed back onto her thin mattress, Elizabeth curled in on herself and cried. Even when Firra came and jabbed something into her neck, she couldn’t stop, sobbing until she finally fell asleep. Her fevered dreams brought images of John, a sullen, angry John, watching Dyros rape her, and when she miscarried the baby, John slapped her and called her a selfish whore, then disappeared through the Stargate, leaving her behind. Leaving her with him. When Dyros grabbed her again she shot up in terror, panting, but realized she was alone. For now. Elizabeth took her mat to the corner and hid under it until morning.
Firra came back and without a word tossed the mattress aside and held Elizabeth by the neck with one hand, forcing the other down her loose trousers and between her folds. “Fever’s gone, pulse strong.” Pulling the hand back out, she seemed satisfied by her clean fingers. “Infection seems cleared. Back to work, merx. Start earning back what we paid for you, or we sell you to someone else with no interest in anything above your hips.”
The idea that she might be sold as a sex slave brought Elizabeth up short. For now, Firra might protect her from Dyros. She needed to live long enough for John to find her. Getting unsteadily to her feet, Elizabeth nodded her understanding and followed her owner back to the research centre, picking up the notebook where she had dropped it the day before. Firra dropped another canteen by Elizabeth. “Drink it. And keep it down. Or the feeding tube goes back in.”
Nodding again to convey her understanding, Elizabeth resumed the arduous translation, sipping at the liquid meal from time to time. At least she was able to lose herself in the work; this place had been called Vasana, once thriving with Ancients and other inhabitants of Pegasus, naquadah and various precious minerals were mined from the mountains. The gravitational fluctuations of the twin stars were a point of study, looking for a way to harness the constant gravity waves as a source of power. An image of Rodney’s face excited by a new discovery briefly flashed through Elizabeth’s mind, making her smile, but she quickly banished it when her eyes started to sting. Memories were to be hidden away; she could only be in the now, because contemplation of anything else might break her.
The suns had both slipped low when Firra finally came back for her. “What did you learn?”
“What I’ve learned, and what you would understand, might be two different things.”
Considering this for a moment, Firra suddenly delivered a sharp backhand that sent Elizabeth crashing to the ground, left ear ringing. “I bought you because Chem said you were smart, la’dica. But you’d do well not to try to be smart with me.”
Wiping the blood from her split lip, Elizabeth took a steadying breath and looked down at her notes. “This wall is the equivalent of a Mission Statement, a purpose, to remind visitors why the city of Vasana was here. These mountains were – maybe still are – full of naquadah, an element that powered much of the early Ancestor’s technology. What they were trying to learn was how to harness gravitational fluctuations for a power source, like tidal power from the ocean, to free them from reliance on the naquadah. The planet’s position relative to the twin suns gave them the perfect laboratory.”
“And did they succeed?” No one could miss the avarice in Firra’s dark eyes.
But Elizabeth only shrugged. “No idea. This was the purpose. I don’t know of the resolution. But I know I’ve not come across this technology or further mention of it before.”
“Really? And just how much do you know about the Ancestors and their technology?”
Biting the inside of her cheek, Elizabeth realized she had made a mistake. She couldn’t talk to her owners about the Ancients in the same way she spoke with Rodney or Zelenka, with the presumption of mutual understanding, common knowledge. Firra, though, now had the knowledge that her expensive merx knew a whole lot more than just how to translate the lost language. “I have read a lot. It’s why you paid so much for me, isn’t it?”
While it was obvious the other woman didn’t believe her in the slightest, she didn’t pursue the matter further, just pointed in the direction of their camp. They were done for the day. Dyros had made himself useful hauling stone tablets and small icons from around the city. None were likely to fetch any large sums, but volume would make the task worthwhile. It also appeared that between the two, Dyros possessed all the culinary skills. The smell coming from the pot over the fire was almost enticing, but when a bowl of tava beans was handed to Elizabeth, a wave of homesickness clenched her throat closed and she couldn’t eat any of it. Pulling her knees up, she covered her head with her arms, curling into the smallest form possible and burst into tears.
“Will you fucking look at that?” Dyros growled. “No appreciation.”
Firra snorted. “Dyros, there are times I’ve cried at your cooking.”
“Yeah, but that’s after we’ve been out for a few months. This shit is fresh. I thought I was being fucking nice.”
“As apologies go for using your massive dick to welcome her to our little venture…You could have done worse. This is actually quite good. You’ve outdone yourself.”
The giant scooped more into his bowl. “Did you check if her grotas has-?”
“Yeah, she’s clean. But you might want a second dose. Or a third.”
“Sooo, do you think I could have another go?”
“I’m not stitching up her mangled ina’sua again, you horny bastard.”
“I broke her in, it wouldn’t be so bad this time. I'll even warm her up a bit.”
Elizabeth’s head popped up, unable to take it any longer. “If you touch me again, I’ll kill myself and you’ll have nothing.” Her voice didn’t waiver; she absolutely meant it. Death was better than what Dyros had in mind. When – if – John ever found her, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to tell him what happened that first night.
Firra laughed. “Hear that, Dyros? She hates your cooking and your cock enough to rather be dead.”
“She just doesn’t know me well enough yet.”
“Regardless-” Firra lashed out, kicking Elizabeth’s thigh, which blossomed in agony. “Don’t threaten us, futo, and eat your fucking dinner.”
“How much longer are we going to wait, Sheppard?”
“As long as it takes. He’ll be here.”
“You said that the last two times.”
“We have a saying on Earth, Ronon: Third time’s the charm.”
“I don’t get it. The third what?”
“Just eat your lunch and try to look inconspicuous.” John side-eyed the giant Satedan. “Well, as inconspicuous as you can be.”
Seventy-seven days. Elizabeth had been missing for seventy-seven days. After leaving Kor’ahe, the trio crisscrossed the galaxy looking for their likeliest lead: Chem. As soon as the search for Elizabeth Weir had started, the master of Agragos suddenly felt it necessary to take an extended leave. Especially once it became obvious that the Atlanteans had sufficient resources to make his life uncomfortable. They were hounding him from world to world, a trail of acquaintances and trade partners, trying to get ahead of him. Now they were in a tavern on a cold world whose name escaped everyone’s mind.
“You should take your own advice and eat your lunch as well, John.” Teyla was the source of calm reason against John’s desperation and Ronan’s frustration, building every day that they failed to find a lead. “If you continue to weaken, you will not be of any assistance in a confrontation.”
The accusation stung. “Oh really? You think I’m weak? Wanna step outside and test that theory?”
“She could take you, Sheppard,” Ronan rumbled, dipping a large piece of bread into his stew. “McKay could probably even get in a few hits.”
“Now that hurts.” Tearing off a piece of bread, John copied his friend’s eating pattern (flatware apparently an unnecessary commodity in the Pegasus galaxy) and couldn’t help the curl of his lip. “This is…disgusting.”
Ronan shook his head. “It’s fine.”
“I hope I’m there on the day you find something that isn’t ‘fine’, Ronan, because I’m going to get up out of my wheelchair on that day and dance a samba.” From their looks, John could tell neither Athosian nor Satedan had any idea what he was saying. “Look, ok, a samba is-”
Teyla reached out and grabbed his arm, using her eyes to indicate over his right shoulder. Turning ever so slightly, the fat prize sought for so many weeks finally appeared. He tensed, ready to tackle Chem immediately, but Teyla held on; they would both be recognized. So Ronan casually got to his feet and sauntered over to the table Chem had just taken, pulling out a chair and sitting across from the trader who was equally as tall, but significantly fatter. After a few words John couldn’t hear, Chem tried to get up, only to find his hand suddenly impaled against the table, letting out a squeal rather than a scream.
“That’s our cue.” John got up and Teyla went over to the landlord, slipping him some local currency and offering an apology. The tavern quickly emptied, leaving the trio and their quarry. “Hey there, Chem, long time no see.”
“You!” When he tried again to get up from the table, Ronan gave the dagger a little twist and Chem’s knees gave out, dropping him back into his seat. “What do you want?”
“Now why would you even bother to ask that question?” John was at his best flippant-annoyed. “You know exactly what – or who – we’re looking for, and you knew the moment you ran away from Kor’ahe when we came sniffing around your shop. So the sooner you stop pretending that you’re going to leave this table without telling us what we want to know, the sooner you can actually answer my questions and actually leave the table.”
“Why should I tell you anything?” Chem cried. “You’re just going to kill me anyway.”
Folding his hands in front of him, John took a few moments to compose himself. “I admit that I’ve spent the last 54 days contemplating what I would do when we caught up to you, and killing you was definitely near the top of the list. But the woman I am looking for, no matter what, would not forgive me for doing that. She’s that kind of good, one you don’t see too often. So I will make you a deal: you tell me how to find her, and if I find her alive and well, you will never see me again.”
The fat rolls around Chem’s neck quivered as he tried to swallow. “And if she is not?”
“Then she won’t be around to be disappointed in me. And I will find you again, and I can promise you that you will not leave the table again.” John shrugged. “It’s actually that simple. If she’s alive, you live. If she’s not, I ask my friends to step outside and this ends here.”
“Nonono, I will help you, of course. I did not realize how much she was worth to you.”
“‘Worth’?” John echoed with disgust. “You think this is about money? You steal my family and you can only see it as a trade?” He flicked the dagger spearing Chem’s hand, making the man cry out.
“Here’s the other part of this: if I get her back without the baby she’s carrying, I’m still going to come find you. I’m not going to kill you, though, I’m just going to make sure that you never have any children. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, yes. It’s just that the people who have her…” Chem’s voice failed.
“Go on. 'The people who have her' what?” John prompted.
“They are a rough sort. Scavengers of Ancestral sites. They came to me because their last scholar died during a cave in at a dig.”
With his jaw clenched too tightly to speak, Teyla stepped in for John. “And why did they need a scholar? Where were they going?”
“They believed they had found the location of a massive city of the Ancestors, called Vasana. It wasn’t just about artefacts; they believed a great power source could be found there. They needed someone smart, someone who would understand more than just the language, but it really meant, how it applied to technology. I thought… She seemed to know a lot.”
Hands shaking with the urge to strangle the fat man, John slowly got up from the table. “I need some air.” He nodded to Ronan. “Find out everything he knows about Vasana.”
Soon enough, John had to run around the back of the tavern to vomit the little he’d eaten for lunch, and even after his stomach was empty, he couldn’t stop heaving, tears running down his face. How had it gotten this far? How could Elizabeth have been missing for over two months now? How did he expect to find her somewhere in the entirety of the Pegasus galaxy? And what was he going to do once he did find her? His military career was over. He would be lucky if he was out of prison by the time his child was graduating high school. If she was even still pregnant when he found her. If he found her. She had always been so thin; how much abuse could she take from the people Chem sold her to? Those delicate hands weren’t meant to excavate ruins and caves. Was it cold where she went? Because she didn’t have her jacket any longer. Did her clothes even still fit?
“John…” He hadn’t heard Teyla calling his name until he felt her hands on his shoulders, pulling him into a fierce hug. “It will be alright, I promise. We will get her back. And your child.”
“I can’t keep doing this, I can’t handle it, I-”
“Yes you can. Of course you can. Elizabeth is waiting for you, and I know she is doing everything she can to stay alive until you do. She would not quit, John, and neither can you.”
But he wasn’t convinced. “This is all my fault. I pressured her to have the baby. I wanted her to go to Kor’ahe because I thought getting things for the baby would make her happier. I wanted her to get new clothes and stop hiding her pregnancy. She’s gone because I was selfish.”
Pulling back, Teyla sighed and shook her head. “No, John, you’re wrong. Come with me.” Linking he arm with his, she led them back to the Puddlejumper, where Ronan waited on a bench, cleaning the blood from his knife. From her bag on the floor, Teyla pulled out the colourful stuffed animal Satiros had returned. “You said it yourself, John: she got this for the baby. She even traded her jacket for it. Elizabeth would not have done such a thing if she did not want the child. And she was happy when she left to get it, I promise you. You did not force her to do anything she did not want to do.”
Taking the toy in hand, John hugged it to his chest, the last thing Elizabeth had touched. After a moment, he wiped his tears away on its fur and looked at Ronan. “So where are we going next?”
“The Daedalus is ready to beam down the new arrivals, sir.”
Chuck did not make the announcement with any enthusiasm. They all knew who was coming. And why.
“Mr Wolsey, welcome to Atlantis.” Colonel Caldwell did not seem any more pleased than the Gateroom personnel to see the IOA representative and new leader of the Expedition.
“Thank you, Colonel, I only wish it was under better circumstances.” As always, Richard Wolsey did not waste time on the extraneous. “Please have my things taken to my quarters, and I would like to meet with all senior staff in one hour.”
“Of course.” Though they had had their differences, Colonel Caldwell found himself missing Dr Weir and her diplomatic touch. He also doubted his new boss would ever play chess with him late into the night.
In the three months that Elizabeth Weir and Colonel Sheppard had been gone, the entirety of Atlantis had fallen into a dysfunctional malaise. Despite his open threats and quiet pleading, Caldwell had barely been able to keep the city operational. Every team that went off world was distracted by making inquiries of the locals, asking after a woman with dark curls and a tall man whose hair stood every which way. They would go gallivanting off to parts unknown on the flimsiest of leads, only to return under protest, usually with one or more member in need of medical treatment. Issues that had never been a problem before were cropping up: drunkenness, fights, sloppy reporting, missed shifts, gross insubordination, and a significant number of lab accidents, among other things. The verve had gone out of Atlantis, and no one seemed to know how to pull it together again.
Besides Caldwell and Wolsey, Major Lorne, Dr Beckett, Dr McKay, and Dr Heightmeyer were seated in the conference room. Over the last several weeks, Kate had become a de facto member of the senior staff because a significant number of issues had fallen on her shoulders. The normally unflappable woman looked exhausted, and was left dealing with her own sense of guilt in talking Elizabeth into the Kor’ahe trip.
“As I believe we are all familiar with each other’s identities,” Wolsey began, “I feel it’s most prudent to get down to the business of righting this sinking ship, starting with what happened three months ago. I’ve read the Kor’ahe debrief, but I would prefer to have a more personal assessment from those of you here.”
“Actually, sir, Dr Heightmeyer was the only one of us actually on planet at the time,” Lorne pointed out. “And Lt Cadman. If you’d like me to call her.”
“No, Major, that’s not what I’m looking for; not the 'what' happened, but 'why' it happened. I want to know why Dr Weir and Colonel Sheppard were both off world at the same time. I want to know why Dr Weir was taken. I want to know why Colonel Sheppard refused to return to Atlantis, and Teyla and Ronan with him. And I want to know why, with these four people absent, this Expedition has fallen into a barely controlled state of chaos.”
“Said like a man who’s never had a friend,” Rodney grumbled.
Wolsey glared at the scientist. “I’m sorry, Dr McKay, did you say something?”
“And maybe that’s the biggest problem.” Though he tried to catch their eyes, not one of the four Expedition veterans would meet his gaze. “I think there are a lot of things not being said. Things that needed to be said. And whatever all of you are trying to hide, it’s only hurting Dr Weir, Colonel Sheppard, and this entire city.” No one volunteered anything. “Dr Heightmeyer, why don’t you start?”
“I don’t know what you want to hear, Mr Wolsey.” Her response was very cool, bordering on the unfriendly.
“Tell me what you know of Colonel Sheppard’s mental state. Why did he refuse to come back to Atlantis when ordered?”
“He’s extremely dedicated and loyal, Mr Wolsey. He would never leave anyone behind.”
“Oh, fer god’s sake, Kate just tell ‘im!” Carson cried. “Maybe it’ll help!”
She was shocked by her colleague’s outburst. “You can’t honestly suggest breaking Doctor-Patient confidentiality, Carson. It doesn’t matter what galaxy we’re in.”
“It was never gonna be a secret ferever! They would already know if Elizabeth was still here!”
Kate was shaking her head. She was more reluctantly, probably because she knew how much Elizabeth had struggled with the issue herself. “It’s not for us to tell, and you know that.”
“Does someone want to explain what’s the two of you are talking about?” Steven Caldwell demanded.
The first from Carson. The second from Kate. And the explanation, of all people, from Rodney. No one said anything for several seconds, processing the information, and then waiting to see who would finally continue the discussion.
It was Dr Beckett. “How in the world did you know?”
“Katie Brown told me, after one of the girls’ poker nights,” Rodney admitted quietly. “I mean, she didn’t know know, but she suspected. I guess a lot of the women did, but no one wanted to be the one to say anything. No one wanted to see Elizabeth sent back to Earth.”
Wolsey cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap. “I take it, then, that Colonel Sheppard is the father of Dr Weir’s child?”
Somehow feeling both relieved and guilty at having the truth out there, Carson nodded. “It was an accident, of sorts. It happened when they were possessed by the minds of Phebus and Thalen.”
Now Colonel Caldwell was even more confused. “I didn’t think they were actually married. They spent the whole day trying to kill each other.”
“There was a practice among Phebus’s people, called the Taking, when female warriors would take genetic material from capture enemy males, for psychological and population advantages.” Kate didn’t go into detail, letting the other men work it out for themselves.
“Are you saying…?” Richard cleared his throat and tried again. “Did Dr Weir force Colonel Sheppard into…sex?”
“Not Elizabeth and John,” Carson clarified harshly. “Phebus and Thalen. And it was very traumatic for the both of them. Neither would admit to it. I didn’t know until Dr Weir was taken ill by severe morning sickness.”
“Well why didn’t she just get rid of it?” To Steven, it seemed the simplest solution.
“Dr Weir wasn’t going to have a termination just to spare everyone’s feelin’s and appease the IOA!” The suggestion infuriated Beckett. “And Colonel Sheppard…he wanted the baby, too. They both agreed that despite the unfortunate circumstances of the conception, they would raise the child together.”
“And why wasn’t the IOA informed of this as soon as you knew, Dr Beckett?”
“Because it wasn’t anyone’s business!” he snapped. “Both were still perfectly capable of performing their job duties, and I’m sure, in the fullness of time, Dr Weir would have put in for maternity leave.”
“Maybe,” Kate added, “she also hesitated to say anything because she was afraid you would react exactly as you are right now. So I can’t say I blame her.” Each man stared at the psychologist as if she’d sprouted a unicorn horn and suggested attending a square dance. “And Colonel Sheppard obviously agreed, because he never told you anything either.”
“And perhaps if we had been forewarned of Dr Weir’s condition, we might have been able to avoid this entire unfortunate situation.” Now Wolsey found himself at the other end of dubious glares.
Lorne, used to providing the counterbalance to his former CO, couldn’t help the Sheppard-esque scorn in his voice. “Perhaps, sir, with you extensive administration experience, you could enlighten us as to how you would have predicted – and prevented – Dr Weir from being pulled off the streets and sold into slavery?”
“You’re out of line, Major!” Caldwell barked.
Waiting a moment for tempers to cool, Richard continued. “While Dr Weir’s kidnapping was certainly not predictable, Colonel Sheppard’s reaction would have been…had we know. He should have been removed from Kor’ahe immediately and a less emotionally invested party put in charge of the search and rescue operation.”
“Might I suggest,” Kate jumped in, “that you would have had a very difficult time finding someone on Atlantis who met that criteria.”
“Are you saying there is a certain ‘cult of personality’ surrounding Dr Weir, and Colonel Sheppard, and that this is why your entire mission is crumbling?”
“Mr Wolsey, what you call a ‘cult of personality’, I would classify as profound respect, earned time and again at every threat to Atlantis they helped to overcome.”
Rodney was becoming frustrated, both by his delay in returning to work, and in the conversation focusing on matters most unpleasant. “Yes, well now that we’ve established that Colonel Caldwell couldn’t inspire a bunch of housewives at a cake-baking contest, perhaps we could move on to something more useful? Like letting me get back to work, while the rest of you focus on finding Sheppard and Weir so that the rest of my staff goes back to work, too.”
“Dr McKay, Colonel Sheppard is no longer part of this Expedition.” Steven was deadly serious. “He has been AWOL from his post for weeks, after disobeying a direct order from his superior officer to return to base. Finding him is not even remotely a priority.”
“And Dr Weir?” Carson pressed.
Wolsey held up a hand to forestall the Colonel. “That is a slightly more complicated situation. The IOA sympathizes with the Atlantis personnel, but feels too much time has been lost already in fruitless searches. The likelihood that she is even still alive is becoming remote.” Four horrified faces met his from the other side of the conference table. “Look, I understand how you all feel. And I am willing to allow casual inquiries during off world missions, as long as they don’t detract from the primary mission.” A more sympathetic tone came next. “Look, I understand how difficult this is, but I believe Dr Weir would agree with me in this regard. As you have already noted, she put Atlantis before all else.”
His words stung, mostly for their truth. Elizabeth would hate what had become of them, of their mission. But it was why she was in charge, not them. Maybe she could only love Atlantis, but there was nothing to stop them from loving her. It was why John, Teyla, and Ronan were gone, and secretly, each one of them wished they had been able to go, too.
“Alright my little vilix, what have you got for me today?”
Elizabeth Weir once had a name. Firra and Dyros didn’t know it (they had never asked, she had never volunteered) and sometimes she struggled to remember what it sounded like out loud. At night, when she was alone, she tried to remember how John said her name, the way he lovingly elided over the first and third vowels. She thought of Carson, calling her ‘love’ and ‘lass’ with all the kindness in the world; the way Rodney said her name either whining or cajoling because he wanted something. When Teyla said her name, it was melodious, and Ronan almost never said it at all, preferring to let his actions speak. On the worst nights she thoughts of her mother, calling her ‘sweetheart’ and bringing her tea when she was sick. On those nights she cried herself to sleep. She didn’t know how long she’d been on Magarus; at least three lifetimes, yet she was still pregnant. Firra had been forced to give her a looser shirt, which came with a curse and a painful shove into a wall. And in all that time she had never been called anything but merx, la’dica, futo, vilix, none of them flattering derivatives of Ancient, a language she was coming to detest.
“You don’t need this entire assembly.” Elizabeth gestured at the vast machine that filled the mountain cavern, a spot they’d spent days excavating. “I think you can get away with a few key components, and use the information on the data crystals to reconstruct the rest of the housing.”
“Very good,” Firra beamed, looking around appreciatively. “You might end up paying for yourself, merx. Which parts?”
“The two most important ones are the grav-wave nets-” she pointed high into the darkness “-and the particle converter.” This was the large crystalline column at the centre of the machine, something that looked akin to an early ZPM, except twenty times larger.
Firra looked over her shoulder at the scowling man. “You hear that, Dyros?”
“What I hear is this futo and you telling me I’m going to be busting my balls for at least the next two days dismantling this shit.”
“Hey, you’re the one who got to go on a nice vacation to trade those icons and tablets while I was stuck with this little fucking ball of sunshine.” It had been a relief, having Dyros gone, not watching the door at night and hoping it stayed closed. But she’d also been hungry during those days he was gone, waiting for him to come back with more food. Only when she’d passed out one afternoon did Firra start to give her a little more from the dwindling stores.
“You could have gone instead,” Dyros reminded her.
“Ha, right! You’d have just fucked her sun up to sun down, and I would have come back to zero progress made and this la’dica broken in half.” The description made Dyros grin and Elizabeth shudder. “So go get the shit you need and let’s get this done. It’s getting fucking cold.”
The change in season was coming on quickly. Every day Elizabeth took the blanket from her bed and worked with it wrapped around her, barely holding the chill at bay. When her hands weren’t dirty they were bluish-white. Every muscle hurt from constantly being tensed to generate more body heat, and that tension made the thing inside her kick furiously. She could no longer think of it as a baby, as a piece of herself, as part of some better future; the kicking was the only thing that told her it was still alive, though she didn’t know how. Adipose and muscle had disappeared from every part of her body, leaving only an abdominal protrusion that didn’t seem large enough for how far along gestation was.
“Hey, futo, stop day dreaming!” She hadn’t heard Firra the first time she spoke, so Elizabeth was rewarded with a kick to the same sensitive spot on her thigh what was still bruised from the first kick; Firra took special pleasure in making sure the bruise never healed. “Pull all the data crystals and information you need to rebuild this and make it work.”
“But we don’t know if it ever worked,” Elizabeth pointed out. “And even if it did, this set up will only work in certain gravitational wells like Magarus.”
Grabbing a fistful of shirt and blanket, Firra yanked Elizabeth close, until she was only inches away from her face. “Understand something, my brilliant, beautiful slut.” The whisper of her voice was absolutely terrifying. “If this doesn’t work, it’s only worth a tenth of what a working version would sell for. So if you don’t make it work, we sell you to make up the rest.”
“But I’m not an engineer!” Elizabeth cried. At no point, during all of this, had she been led to believe her job would include making an incredibly old piece of experimental Ancient technology work.
“What about your friends?” Firra smiled at the nerve she’d struck, watching Elizabeth freeze at the mention of her past life. “You said you were valuable to them; would they make the generator work to save your life? What would they trade?”
“Nothing.” She didn’t realize she said the word aloud until she saw the fury on her owner’s face. But she realized it was true. “Nothing,” Elizabeth said again. “How long have I been here? No one has come for me. My people do not negotiate for hostages. It would make them weak. Then more people would be taken for trade, and weaken them more.”
Firra considered this for a moment, but couldn’t deny any of it. Nothing but comets and dust had crossed the monitoring buoys Dyros placed around the star system. No one was looking for the merx. “Well, your people may not be stupid, but they sure are gluttons for punishment.” Firra threw her to the ground. “Dyros, she’s all yours.”
Metal filled her mouth as Elizabeth processed what Firra had just said and adrenaline flooded every cell. Scrambling to get her feet under her, Elizabeth took off running into the darkness.
Dyros scowled. “Shit.”
“Well go fucking get her!” Firra shouted.
“Why? You’re the one who made her run!” He ducked a stone-sized piece of machinery thrown at his head. “Fucking fine. But I’m not running.”
He didn’t run because he knew she wouldn’t get far; she was too weak, too sick, too pregnant. She was also easy to follow in the frosted-over ground. The little vilix had only made it a few city blocks before collapsing, curled round her spasming belly and desperately trying to catch her breath despite the heavy wheezing in her chest. Throwing her over his shoulder like the Vikings of old, Dyros was already fully erect when he got through the ship’s hatch, practically running to his cabin in anticipation.
“This is going to be so good,” he assured her hoarsely, throwing Elizabeth down on the bed and somehow getting her boots and slacks off in one fluid move. “You’ll like it better this time.”
But Elizabeth couldn’t hear him over the sound of her own pulse pounding in her head and the echo of fluid rattling in her lungs as she pulled shallow breaths in through her mouth. Glassy eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, her mind vaguely entertaining itself making constellations out of rivets and pockmarks. Somewhere below her shoulders, someone was trying to pleasure her, trying to elicit a response her body couldn’t give. There was the sound of someone’s frustration, followed by the clearing of a throat and spit hitting skin. That was when sound was superseded by sensation, the sting of sensitive skin stretched too far, the ache of hips being forced to their limit, the agony of a hand squeezing a milk-swollen breast. Someone somewhere was in a lot pain from an unspeakable act, but it wasn’t Elizabeth, because she was stargazing in the backyard with the telescope she’d gotten for her twelfth birthday.
Ronan’s barked missive brought him back to the present. They were in a dirt, crowded trading post near the edge of Pegasus, following up the last lead they had on the traders Dyros and Firra, following their trail to the mythical planet of Magarus. Someplace everyone had apparently heard of, but no one knew exactly where it was. Whatever the two had found that made them think they knew the location, no one else had it. What brought them to Q’ros was the rumour of new artefacts from the Ancestors appearing recently.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” John probably hadn’t heard anything for the last ten minutes, eying every face around them, looking for clues in their clothes and glances and curved mouths.
“We should go, John. There’s nothing here,” Teyla told him gently, a guiding hand on his elbow. “No one here has seen anyone resembling Elizabeth’s description.”
“Yeah…” He was finding it difficult to let go. There was something here…something he was missing, and he could feel it. Some piece of Elizabeth was calling to him, but he couldn’t find it.
Teyla tried again. “John-”
“Wait!” he hissed, holding up his hand, eyes scanning the stalls again. What was it?
A piece of red, a red he’d become familiar with over the last couple of years, a particular shade of red he’s not seen anywhere outside of Atlantis.
“Hey!” The clothing vendor tried to snatch back the shirt grabbed by the wild-eyes man, but was stopped by a giant.
“Where did you get this?!” John screamed, thrusting the red uniform shirt under the terrified man’s bulbous nose. “Answer me! Where did you get this?! Who brought it here?!”
“It-it-it-it was Dyros, an independent!” the poor man cried, trying to move back, but Ronan stood behind him. “He comes here when he and his partner are on digs in this part of the galaxy. Usually he bring things form the Ancestors, but he had a few other items this time as well. It’s just a shirt!”
“Did he have anyone else with him?!”
“No, he was alone!”
Pulling his tactical knife from his belt, John pressed it to the vendor’s throat. “What did he say? Tell me absolutely everything he said.”
Teyla looked nervous. “John, maybe-” She tried to get him to lower the knife, but it didn’t budge.
A thin trickle of blood ran down the man’s scruffy neck. “N-nothing much. Just said the former owner was too big for it now.”
John immediately eased up the pressure, eyes suddenly softening. “So she’s still alive. And the baby. When? When was he here?”
“M-m-maybe seven days ago. You need to talk to the man they call Seune. H-he’s usually there-” a shaking finger pointed at a dilapidated building across the street. “He meets other traders, sells them the Ancestral stuff Dyros brings.”
John had already turned and was running towards the crooked wooden door, Ronan close on his heels. Pausing only a moment to draw his sidearm, Sheppard kicked in the entrance and swept the length of the room. “Seune! Who the hell is Seune?!”
There were about a dozen men in the poor excuse for a restaurant, sitting around mismatched tables and chairs, all eying the intruder with varying degrees of disdain, but not fear. This was apparently not an uncommon occurrence.
“Are you looking for me, young man?”
That came from an impeccably dressed older man with finely sculpted hair held in place with Pegasus-galaxy Brilliantine. He was incredibly disarming, literally, as John lowered his gun without realizing he was doing it. Ronan, however, did not.
“Are you Seune?” the Colonel demanded.
“I’ve been known to use that name.” He gestured towards an empty chair. “Is there anything you would like to discuss? I was just about to eat.”
“It’s not really much of a discussion,” John growled. “There’s only one thing I want to know: Where is the trader known as Dyros?”
Seune looked casually around the room. “Well, I don’t believe he’s here.”
The knife was out again, pinning the elegant hand to the table before his eyes made it back to the Colonel. He didn’t scream so much as open his mouth and freeze in rictus.
“Sorry,” John said, indicating towards the knife. “I’m afraid that’s becoming a bit of a habit wherever I go, but you see, I’ve had an extremely difficult time getting people to talk to me with the seriousness the situation warrants.” Seune’s mouth twitched a little, but no sound came out. “That’s okay, you can’t talk yet, I understand. So let me enlighten you. Several months ago, someone took my family, sold them to a couple of Ancestral artefact dealers names Dyros and Firra. I want them back. And every man who had been introduced to this US Air Force issue field knife has gotten me a little bit closer. Now it’s your turn.”
“Dyros…was here,” Seune whispered, unable to take his eyes off the implement spearing his hand. “He had several Ancestral pieces I’d never seen before; older than anything anyone had seen, I think. He hinted at finding a long lost city. Said he had a new translator, a smart one, who was doing more than finding valuable pieces to sell. He asked who I knew who – who would want a new kind of power. One from, I think, from gravity. From suns.”
“What does that mean?” John’s finger hovered near the knife hilt, but didn’t move it.
“I don’t know! Said he’s be done soon, have the tech, and possibly a new baby for market if the mother stayed healthy!”
Now John froze, trying to process the meaning of the words he’d just heard. What did a baby have to do with Ancient tech? “Elizabeth’s baby?” he whispered, confused, the concept too horrifying to genuinely contemplate. “He’s not selling a – a baby, is he? And you? Do you sell them?” No answer. “Are you selling my baby for Dyros?!”
With one hand John pulled out the knife, and with other, pushed Seune’s chair over. Pinning him to the floor with his knees, the Colonel pressed knife a centimetre into the flesh over Seune’s heart, drawing up a bubble of blood. “You son of a bitch!” His hands shook; he tried to press the knife in further, but he couldn’t; because of her. Because no matter what, she would never forgive him for killing an unarmed man on his back. With an agonized cry, John pulled out the knife and stabbed it into the half-rotten floor boards. “God dammit!”
Teyla was there in an instant, putting an arm around his shoulders and guiding John back outside while Ronan covered them. He would have shot the slave trader, but he remembered what Teyla had said to him once; the Atlanteans had rather strict definitions of murder, and it was something they strongly disapproved of. So he let Seune go. For now.
“Now what? Now what? Now what?” John was near hysterics, repeating the question over and over again.
Teyla knew it was time for a change of plan. “Ronan, take the Colonel to the hotel we passed, near the gate. We’re not leaving Q’ros just yet.”
“OK, but what are you going to do?”
“I think it is time we got some help.”
The time on Atlantis was 0200, and Chuck was alone in the Control room. He’d volunteered to take the third shift because he couldn’t stand being there during the day any more, watching dejected teams come through the Gate with no new information, watching Mr Wolsey and Colonel Caldwell bark orders to personnel who were barely listening. No, this was better. He could drink his coffee, play solitaire, and glance at the dark office and imagine that Dr Weir was there, pulling another all-nighter, something Mr Wolsey had certainly not done yet in his short tenure.
When the Gate suddenly kicked on, he jumped and spilled his coffee. The other thing about third shift was there was almost never anyone coming or going. He’d never realized before just how loud the warning klaxon was and slapped it off. There wasn’t exactly anyone to announce incoming wormhole to, either; the two-man marine watch down on the Gateroom floor were well aware of what was happening and took up defensive positions.
“Atlantis base, this is Teyla, do you read me?”
No incoming traveller, just a radio signal.
Reaching for the transmit button, Chuck wondered what to say. This wasn’t normally his thing. “Teyla, this is Atlantis, over.”
“Chuck, is that you?”
“Um, yes. Can I help you?”
“I hope you can, because we need it, and Dr Weir is running out of time. Are you alone?”
The last question indicated a forthcoming conspiracy, and while he normally avoided the drama that was the off-world teams, the military, and IOA politics, this was different. If he could help put Atlantis back on track and bring her people home, there was nothing he wouldn’t do. Listening to his instructions carefully, Chuck promptly deleted the record of the incoming wormhole and automatically recorded transmission.
Rodney was the first one he woke, Carson the second, and Major Lorne last. Chuck’s inclusion was a matter of necessity; if he stayed, he would be interrogated, and they would be pursued. Thirty minutes after the wormhole shut down, five people boarded Jumper Six and left Atlantis as two stunned Marines watched. No one had told them there was a mission, but there were a lot of things no one told them. It was almost an hour before they realized the sole Control room tech on duty was missing, and ten more minutes before they finally decided to call Major Lorne. When they couldn’t find him, it was time admit they were going to have to call Colonel Caldwell.
“Well…shit. Is this our fault?”
“How could this be our fault? We stop people from coming in, not going out.”
“But maybe sometimes we have to stop people from leaving. Like prisoners.”
“Are there any prisoners on Atlantis right now?”
“Are personnel to be considered prisoners?”
“I hope not.”
“Then what the fuck were we supposed to do? It’s not like we were checking departure tickets.”
“Do you think Colonel Caldwell will see it that way?”
“Fuck no, man. We’re screwed.”
The reunion was bittersweet. Carson hugged Teyla without thinking about it, relieved at least one of his friends was alive and well. Not that Ronan wasn’t, but the Satedan didn’t need a hug.
“Thank you, all of you, for taking this risk,” she started. “We’ve been on our own for so long, and while we think we’re close, Colonel Sheppard cannot go on in his current state, and I believe we have very little time remaining to find Dr Weir. Earlier today we spoke to a trader who has already been contacted regarding the possibility of…selling her baby.”
“Oh my god.” The Pegasus galaxy always seemed to find a new low for Dr Beckett.
“But that means she’s still alive,” Major Lorne pointed out. “And that she’s still pregnant.”
Teyla nodded. “That is true. But we also have reason to believe that she is not well, that she is being used by very harsh individuals. It is unlikely she can carry the baby to term. We must find her soon.”
“What if we…waited?” Rodney suggested. “Hear me out. What if we waited for this guy to come back with the baby to sell it? Then couldn’t we get both at once on familiar ground?’
Carson shook his head. “Yer assumin’ both Elizabeth and the baby would be healthy enough ta survive without medical intervention, Rodney. And that’s not an assumption I’m willin’ ta make. Elizabeth already had a suboptimal BMI when she was taken, and I doubt she’s eaten any better over the last four months. Malnutrition is invitin’ all kinds of prenatal and postnatal complications.”
Evan Lorne looked around the dim market and didn’t like the looks they were getting from people. “Perhaps we can take this inside and somewhere more private while we work out the details of what we know and what we need.”
Nodding agreement, Teyla ushered them into the nameless hotel where Colonel Sheppard was sleeping. The proprietor raised his brow in surprise at so many people disappearing into a single room, but decided it was none of his business.
“Good lord, he looks awful,” Carson noted upon seeing John for the first time in four months. The pale skin and flushed cheeks hinted at a fever taking hold. Opening his medkit, he hung a bag of saline from the headboard and started an IV. “I’m givin’ the Colonel a vitamin cocktail and broad spectrum antibiotic. How’re the two of you feelin’?”
“We are fine,” Teyla assured.
“Yeah, because we’ve actually had something to eat and more than a few hours of sleep since leaving Atlantis,” Ronan grumbled. “Sheppard seems more interested in dying than saving Dr Weir.”
“Ronan, you know that’s not true,” the Athosian chided. “He feels responsible and doesn’t know how to regain control.”
Lorne decided to bring them back to focus. “Do we know exactly where we’re going yet, or what we’re doing when we get there?”
Teyla sighed. “Not exactly. We…convinced the trader Seune to give us the remnants of what Dyros had left. Rodney, we were hoping you might be able to decipher some of it.” She handed him a heavy bag of tablets and data crystals. “We know he did not come through a Stargate, but uses a ship, so we cannot trace his path.”
“What’s this then?” Carson asked suddenly, picking up John’s arm and turning it over to reveal the Toqduer sigil on the Colonel’s wrist. “It’s givin’ off the strangest bio-readin’s.”
“It is a bonding mark made of Toqmer metal,” Teyla explained, only to find five sets of blank gazes waiting for more. “It is made of a biometal from Toqduer, a planet wiped out by the Wraith decades ago. Implantation of patterns in the skin was a common art form. John and Elizabeth had matching sigils placed while on Kor’ahe.”
Chuck spent more time with Atlantis’s sensors than anyone and saw the universe as a pattern of overlapping signals, energy, radiation, gravity. “Is it something distinctive enough we could scan for it?” He looked over at Drs Beckett and McKay, who looked at each other, eyes growing wide.
“I’ve never seen anythin’ like is afore.”
“Isolate it from the rest of Sheppard’s bioreadings,” Rodney demanded, then nodded to Chuck. “We need to get to work on one of the Jumper’s, see just how far we can make the scanners go.”
Lorne was incredulous. “We can’t scan a whole corner of the galaxy.”
“No,” Rodney agreed, “but if we can scan a star system, we don’t have to waste time searching every planet. If we don’t find any similar signature, we move on.”
“Every star system?” Ronan was normally dour, but this possibility was distinctly unsettling.
Rodney shook his bag of Ancestral rocks and possible clues. “Hopefully not.”
“You two go get started.” Lorne was taking charge until his CO woke up again. “Ronan, keep an eye on them. I’m not overly fond of the locals I saw. Dr Beckett, make sure the Colonel is in shape for a fight. If not, he’s staying here.”
“If he needs further medical care, should we not send him back to Atlantis?” Teyla asked.
“Not if you want him to ever see Dr Weir again,” the Major said sadly, staring down at the sleeping pilot. “He’s been declared AWOL and charged with gross insubordination and theft of US Air Force property – the Jumper. He will be arrested and sent back to Earth the minute he returns.”
Teyla was shocked. “Are you saying he can never go back to Atlantis?”
Evan shook his head. “For the time being, no.”
“And what about Elizabeth?”
“She’s not under US Air Force jurisdiction, but the IOA will undoubtedly terminate her contract, especially since… They know she’s pregnant.” Under the disapproving gaze of the Athosian, Major Lorne felt a personal shame as a representative of his government. “I’m sorry, Teyla. It came out during the investigation into the Colonel’s desertion of his post.”
“So neither of them can go home,” Teyla whispered, eyes growing watery with disappointment. “Then what was all of this for?”
Evan looked at the iridescent tattoo on Sheppard’s wrist. “It was for her.”
“Gone? What do you mean ‘gone’? All of them?”
Mr Woolsey stood in his office, impeccably dressed in his Atlantis Expedition uniform despite the early hour at which Colonel Caldwell had called him. Backup had been called in to man the Control rooms and guards posted in the Jumper bay to make sure no more disappeared. Radek and some of his team were dragged out of bed to try to figure out what Chuck had done to delete the records that came between 0200 and 0300 hours.
“Mr Woolsey, you know as much as I do at this moment. The Marines on duty alerted me to the fact that shortly after an incoming wormhole, in which no one came through the Gate, Chuck disappeared and a Jumper departed. Knowing that Chuck can’t pilot a Jumper, we started rounding up those with the ATA gene to see who was missing.”
“And you’re saying that neither Major Lorne, nor Dr Beckett or Dr McKay can be located?”
“No, sir, but we are still searching the base. Possibly one of them was working late or-”
Richard held up a silencing hand. “Don’t waste your time, Colonel. They’re all gone.”
“There’s only one reason all four of them would have let Atlantis in the dead of night.”
“You’re saying they went after Sheppard?”
“Or Dr Weir.” Woolsey sighed, sitting down in his chair. “This was always going to happen. I should have foreseen it and made contingencies to keep personnel on Atlantis, and not just enemies off it. New measures need to be put in place immediately, Colonel. No one alone in the Control room, no departures without my authorization or yours. And…”
“Suspend off-world operations for the moment until teams can be reorganized. No team with only original Atlantis personnel. I want at least two of your people on each team, to make sure everyone comes back.”
Caldwell was surprised. “You really think we have that big of a problem?”
“Before three hours ago, did you think Major Lorne would go AWOL, taking the Chief Surgeon and Head of Sciences with him?” Silence was the only answer he needed. “Who is next in your chain of command?”
“Until Captain Hillebrand returns, that would be Lt Cadman.”
“Absolutely not.” Woolsey almost smirked. “I imagine she’s actually going to be rather disappointed to learn she’s been left behind. No, Colonel, find someone else until Hillebrand is back. We will reconvene in-” Woolsey looked at his very expensive timepiece, having refused the standard issue Expedition watch “-two hours. And make sure the IDCs for everyone who had abandoned their post is cancelled. In the meantime, I have a very unpleasant call to place to Earth.”
“So they’re really gone?” Laura Cadman said softly. Her head leaned closely in with Radek’s and Dr Heightmeyer’s, though she knew nearby tables were listening as well. All of Atlantis had awaken to the news that four more key personnel had abandoned them in the dead of night.
“Yes. They came for me when they could not find Rodney,” Dr Zelenka explained. “Chuck did something to controls. The marines on duty know there was an incoming wormhole, but there is not a record. And a virus wiped the outgoing wormhole. No one knows where they have gone.”
“I can’t believe Dr Becket would just leave like that.” Cadman felt betrayed that no one had come to get her. She’d been on Kor’ahe when Dr Weir was taken, felt just as responsible. “No note, nothing for us to follow.”
Kate could sympathize. “It probably happened very fast, Laura. There was little time to react, and of everyone who left, Dr Weir probably needs Carson the most.”
“If she’s even alive. Colonel Sheppard or Teyla or Ronan could be hurt,” Radek pointed out. “The question now is, what comes next? All of their IDCs have been locked out. Woolsey and Caldwell will never let them back on Atlantis. Unless it’s in chains.”
“What are you saying, Dr Zelenka?” Cadman asked sharply. “You’re surely not proposing mutiny.”
“I think we’re already past that.” Kate Heightmeyer dropped her voice further. She had been the one listening to disgruntled Atlantis personnel for month now, knew better than anyone the underlying feeling of the city. “People are angry about abandoning the search for Dr Weir, about the charges levelled against Colonel Sheppard. Since Kor’ahe there’s not been a single breakthrough or new alliance; it’s as if everyone agree to bring the Expedition to a standstill without realizing it. But it can’t continue.”
“What do you mean?” Laura tensed, ready for a fight.
“I mean they will start rotating home those who cannot do their jobs any longer. Over a dozen original members have already been rotated home. We will all be replaced.”
“Surely not!” Radek hissed, letting out a string of curses in Czech. “They would be left with no experience, no one who understands this city and its technology!”
“Neither the SGC nor the IOA care about that. It’s about results.”
“They want results?” Radek got an evil gleam in his eye. “This is a collection of the brightest minds from Earth. We can give them results.”
When Sheppard came to, he realized that he felt better than he had in days. Or maybe weeks. The persistent ache in his joints was gone; his back didn’t hurt, his stomach wasn’t cramped. But pain in the centre of his chest, the one that had been there since Kor’ahe, was still there. Opening his eyes, there was a dim light coming in through the window, and a familiar figure asleep in the chair next to him.
Startled awake, the Scotsman smiled broadly. “Colonel, it’s good ta see ya awake. Ya probably didn’t know it, but ya had a rather severe kidney infection. Yer kidneys would ‘ave failed completely if Teyla didn’t call us when she did.”
“What?” John looked around. He wasn’t in Atlantis. So what was Beckett doing here? “Where’s Teyla and Ronan?”
“They went for some breakfast. Ya’ve been unconscious fer two days now.” John threw off the blanket and made to stand, but the doctor was on him immediately, trying to push Sheppard back down. “Colonel, just wait-”
“I have to go,” he growled, ripping the IV line from his arm. “There’s someone who might know where Elizabeth is.”
“We know, John, Teyla already told us all about him, and we think have a plan. And if ya promise ta sit still and eat a protein bar, I’ll tell ya about it.” It wasn’t hard to keep the Colonel in bed because on his attempt to stand, he fell right back into bed. So he sat and listened to Carson’s rundown since leaving Atlantis, methodically chewing a Powerbar he couldn’t taste and drinking a fruity electrolyte mix.
“So you really think this is will help us to find her?” John whispered, staring at the silhouette of Atlantis on his wrist.
“We’re going ta start by searching binary star systems. Rodney was able to figure out that the gravitational wave generator the Ancients were workin’ on was in a system with two stars.”
“Vasana,” John remembered.
“Right, an Ancient city hundreds of thousands of years old, at least. Rodney and Chuck think they’ve worked out a method of scannin’ star systems usin’ the jumpers ta create some sorta reflectin’ pattern between each other. I don’t pretend ta know how the whole thin’ works. But yes, we can find Elizabeth usin’ the bio-signature of this metal.” John nodded, but continued to stare out into nothingness. “Colonel, look at me.” When Sheppard didn’t move, the doctor rearranged his chair to sit right in front of him. “John, I can’t imagine what the last few months have been like fer ya. I know ya feel responsible fer everythin’ that’s happened, but ya need ta let us help ya, in order to help Elizabeth.”
“Promise me something, Carson.” The man’s eyes were still lightyears away while his left thumb absently rubbed the sigil. “Promise me the minute you find her you’ll get on a Jumper and take her back to Atlantis.”
Beckett was immediately on guard. “And what about you, John? Yer comin’, too.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’ll spend the rest of my life in a military prison if I go with you. I knew that the minute I let Kor’ahe. Your job is to get Elizabeth and get her home, no matter what.”
“And what will ya tell yer son?”
The word didn’t make sense at first. John looked at Carson, squinting in confusion. “What?”
“It’s a boy, John. I could tell on the last scan before ya left, didn’t get a change ta tell ya. I don’t what it is ya think yer doin’ after we find Elizabeth…but don’t make me tell that little boy stories about his father in the past-tense.”
“Stop, Carson, just stop,” Sheppard pleased, dropping his face into his hands. “It doesn’t matter now. None of it does, because I can never go back. Saving Elizabeth is the last thing I have to do.”
Realizing there was nothing he could say at the moment, Beckett gave John a reassuring pat on the knee and went to find the rest of his team. Alone again, John laid back down and stared up at the ceiling, looking for constellations in the chipped plaster and paint splatter. At some point in the past, someone had put red on the ceiling, and two round spots, one larger, one smaller, seemed to stand out, flanked by a rusty third spot.
I’m here, John.
“Elizabeth?” he called into the empty room.
Hurry, John. I’m running out of time.
“Please, Elizabeth, where are you?” he begged, standing on the bed and trying to reach the ceiling with his fingertips.
I’m here, John.
“I don’t understand, Lizbeth.” He listened, but there was no other reply. “Elizabeth, come back!”
Ronan was the one who found him that way, clawing at the ceiling and screaming for the woman he loved. Ronan was able to wrestle him onto his back, the commotion drawing the others. Lorne helped him hold down the Colonel while Beckett administered a sedative.
“He’s worse than I thought,” the physician admitted sadly.
“The sooner we find Dr Weir, the sooner he will start to recover,” Teyla said sternly. “We should get him to our Jumper. Dr Becket, do you think you could fly it for us, while Major Lorne flies the other?”
“You want to go now?” Rodney asked, incredulous. “The man’s unconscious.”
“And will remain so whether in the back of a Jumper or in this bed. Are your sensor modifications ready to go or not?”
“Yes ma’am,” Chuck confirmed. “I think I should come in your Jumper so I can make any modifications needed. Dr McKay can handle the other.”
“Agreed.” In John’s current state, command had deferred to Teyla. “Let’s be ready to go within the hour.”
Elizabeth couldn’t move. Not that she wanted to. For three days Firra had left her at the mercy of Dyros, trying to find out where her friends were who could make the gravity generator work. She couldn’t scream any more, couldn’t feel anything, just wished that death would stop taking so long. From time to time she felt the little life in her stir, and she would send it soothing thoughts, promising that it would all be over soon.
Elizabeth, where are you?
“John?” Letting her eyes open and briefly scan the room, she didn’t see anyone.
Elizabeth, we’re coming for you.
“It’s too late, John. I’m sorry, but it’s too late.” She closed her eyes again.
It’s not too late. You need to hold on just a little while longer.
“Go away, John. Let me die in peace.”
“Who’s ‘John’?” Firra was a shadow in the doorway, a looming threat. “One of your friends?” Elizabeth didn’t answer, and the large woman came to sit next to her on a bed stinking of blood and semen and sweat. “It didn’t have to be like this, you know. You brought this on yourself.” Still nothing. Firra pulled back the blanket, watching the cold air pucker her merx’s skin. A rough hand explored her belly, then disappeared into her birth canal, feeling for the cervix. “Still intact, then. Probably not for too much longer, though. You actually wouldn’t be the first Dyros has fucked into breaking her waters. Some overdue ones even welcome it.” Firra wiped her hand 'clean' on the sheet. “Yours is going to be early, though. Hopefully not too early. Dyros lined up a buyer on Q’ros, and he doesn’t broker corpses. We’re almost done disassembling the generator. So keep your legs crossed when Dyros is finished with you and hold it in as long as you can.”
So they were going to sell the baby. Elizabeth wouldn’t let that happen. It wouldn’t take much to kill a new born, just a little pressure to the neck and it would be over; he or she would never be a slave, would never suffer as she had. Poor John, though. Her heart ached for him, for how he must feel having lost them both. She hoped that he would be alright, that he would find a way to move on. At least he still had Atlantis and all of their friends. He would be okay. She needed him to be okay.
“Rest, little vilix. You’ll need it.” Firra threw the soiled blanket over Elizabeth’s naked form and went back to help load the last of their loot. If all went to plan, she'd never have to raid another Ancestral shit hole again.
“Well, scratch this system off the list,” Rodney grumbled, staring at the ruins of several planets orbiting the one remaining star. “We’d have a little more luck with this if the Ancient star maps weren’t so out of date.”
“At least we do not have to waste time with a scan,” Teyla reminded him over the radio. “Where to next?”
“It’s your turn to pick.”
For the last three days, they had developed a system of each Jumper crew alternating the pick for the next binary star system to search. It might have been random, but it made as much sense as anything, having no other process of elimination to pursue.
“This should be the last one before we go back to Q’ros,” Beckett reminded them. “We need proper good and rest and showers. These Jumpers weren’t made for long duration travel.”
“I second the motion,” Lorne said emphatically. There was no denying that the Jumper’s environmental filtration system would no longer keep the smell at bay.
“Well, where to next?” Carson asked, glancing over the list Chuck handed him.
“Let me try,” John said softly, holding out a hand for the computer tablet. He’d not said much of anything during their search, staying huddled in the back of the Jumper, usually asleep.
Carson looked at Teyla, who subtly nodded. “Ok then, Colonel, yer choice.”
John frowned at the list. “Chuck, can you bring up a star map. I need to see the systems, not the names.”
“Uh, sure, Colonel.” Chuck wasn’t sure what difference it would make, but he tapped a few commands into the tablet and handed it back over.
John studied it intently, swiping away those that didn’t match his vision until – “Here.” He held up the screen, showing a large and small sun with a single rusted planet between them. “She’s here.”
Everyone looked at each other, wondering if another fit of madness was about to take hold. Teyla was finally the one who moved forward and took the computer back. “Alright, Colonel. We’ll go here next.”
While Carson fed the gate coordinates to the other Jumper, John stood up and grabbed his tactical vest, checked the pockets, and clipped on his P-90.
“What are you doing, John?” Teyla asked gently.
“We need to be ready to go. She’s waiting for us.” John looked at Teyla curiously. “You don’t believe me.”
The Athosian woman looked away awkwardly. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, John, it’s just… how do you know?”
“She told me. On Q’ros. I just didn’t realize it until now.” Snapping a clip into the 9mm, he tucked it into his holster. “What are you doing, Teyla? Get ready.”
It didn’t hurt to indulge him, so Teyla put on her own tactical gear, then sat expectantly behind Carson, watching him manoeuvre the Jumper delicately through the open Stargate. They emerged in orbit over a planet that felt...old. And isolated. The sky seemed dark, the twin stars dim, as if the universe had turned its back on this little pocket of the galaxy, having no further need of it.
“Beginning scan,” Chuck said softly, transferring his screen to the HUD. The Jumpers flanked the planet slowly, bounding the signal between themselves, just as they’d done every day without succ-
“There!” And John was right. There. A spot of scarlet on the screen, the spot Rodney had promised they would see if they picked up traces of Toqmer.
“Major Lorne, are you seeing this, too?” Teyla asked excitedly over the radio.
“Yes we are. Northern continent, base of a mountain range. Looks like we’re getting some other energy readings as well. There’s someone down on that planet.”
“Not just someone,” John said fiercely. “Elizabeth. Carson, give me the controls.”
“Ahhhhhhh, yessss.” Dyros came, and collapsed atop Elizabeth, burying his face in the dark curls that had grown quite long. “By the Ancestors, you may be one of my favourite futos ever.” He rubbed a hand along her swollen belly. “I’m going to miss this when it’s gone. But maybe we’ll make another.” He lowered his head to a pale nipple and sucked until he was rewarded with warm, sweet liquid. “This current state certainly makes you taste delicious.”
He didn’t mind that she didn’t say anything, that she didn’t look at him, that she didn’t move. Dyros hated crying, wasn’t turned on by pleading, and he could move her loose limbs any which way that elicited the most pleasure. He felt her abdomen stir against his, felt a tiny hand or foot pushing against him, indignant at his violation of their mother. Oh well. At least it meant the little thing was still alive, and therefore still a source of profit. Once they were rid of this one, he could put his own in her, but he probably wouldn’t sell it-
“DYROS!” Firra’s scream over the ship’s intercom killed the last of his erection and the giant reluctantly pulled himself out of his favourite place and got to his feet. “Dyros, futo, get your ass out here now! We have company!”
‘Company’? What the fuck did that mean? No one knew they were here. Right?
And then the world exploded.
They came like death from above. No warning, no radio communication, but extremely precise hits on the engines and weapons. The ship was going nowhere, and they could defend against nothing. Two teams hit two separate hatches, forcing them to either split up or pick only one to defend. Instead they hid in the midsection, listening to shouting and hard boots echo through the metal.
“What do you think they want?” Firra asked, checking the power level on her gun.
“Either our stuff, or our merx, and judging the tech they’re hitting us with, it’s the latter.”
“Then let them fucking have her.”
“What are you saying?”
“That we get the fuck out of here, let them take her, and come back when they’re gone.”
“Works for me,” he agreed, kicking an emergency escape hatch release and jumping through the hull and out into the night, Firra close behind.
Now how did they miss that one left outside? Dyros shot blindly into the darkness, but whoever had come for him seemed to see much better, because two shots, one in each knee, toppled the giant. Firra didn’t waste any time taking off for the ruins, never looking back.
“Wh – who are you?” Dyros asked the masked figure now standing over him, fighting the pain.
“Major Evan Lorne, United States Air Force.” The voice spoke with the same rhythm and intonation as the merx, wore similar clothes to the ones she’d come in.
“What the fuck does that mean?”
Lorne kept his P-90 trained on the hulking man while one foot reached out and applied increasing pressure to one of the leg wounds, watching the beast cry out. “It means that no matter how badly I want to, I can’t kill you.”
“But I can.”
Ronan Dex came out of the darkness, back lit by the ship bleeding light from the open hatch. There was a look on his face that Evan Lorne had never seen before in any man, and it terrified him. Before the Major could say a word, the Satedan warrior aimed his gun at the ground and rendered Dyros a headless corpse.
“Ronan, what have you-”
“I did what you couldn’t. What Sheppard would have, despite what it would cost him. But I could do it. I just wish it hadn’t been so quick.”
“Did you find Dr Weir?” No answer. “Ronan.”
“We should stay out here,” he growled, raising his gun again and shooting the dead scavenger between the legs, leaving a smoking hole.
Lorne couldn't help the shudder that rippled through his muscles.
He’d found her, finally, or what was left of her, splayed naked on a reeking bed, staring up at nothing with dull green eyes shrouded in shadow. Every rib and joint jutted painfully against thin skin, skin covered in welts and bruises from head to toe, welts that looked like teeth marks, bruises that looked like thick fingers and boot heels. There was no doubting what had been done to her, and John sobbed as he gathered her up into his arms, whispering apologies into her ear as he rocked her back and forth, getting no response.
“I need ya to let her go, John, please,” Carson begged, fighting his own tears. The ruined human that laid before him was worse than he’d dared imagine since leaving Atlantis. He already knew that this image, this moment, would haunt him for the rest of his days. “John, ya have to let me look at her.” The doctor looked over at Teyla, pleading for help, unsure what to do. She was the only one who had stayed; everyone else had found someplace else to be, some other bad guy to chase down.
Laying a gentle hand on his shoulder, Teyla leaned down and said gently, “John, you might be hurting her.” That worked. The Colonel stopped, looking up at her in confusion. “You might make Elizabeth’s injuries worse, John, if you do not let Carson examine her.” For the first time, Shepard seemed to realize there were other people in the room.
Sensing his chance, Carson took charge. “Teyla, if you could put that blanket on the floor, and Colonel, of you could move her onto it, this would be a lot easier.” John hesitated, but finally cradled Elizabeth in his arms and gently placed her on the floor, sitting with her head in his lap for a pillow. He couldn’t take his eyes off Elizabeth’s, willing them to spark back to life, to recognize him. Only Teyla saw the deep frown consuming Beckett’s features.
“What can I do to help, Carson?” she asked.
“I just…I…” He shook his head, unable to answer. He settled with an IV first and a mild sedative; her heart was too weak for him to risk anything stronger. To this cocktail he added antibiotics and potassium. Her obviously broken left hand he wrapped in thick bandages to stabilize but didn’t bother to set, unsure just how old the fracture was. Taking out alcohol and clean swabs, he set about disinfecting the wounds that marred her flesh, stopping when he reached the juncture of her legs and fresh tears came. “I can’t…”
Teyla hugged him fiercely. “Elizabeth needs you right now, Carson. She needs you to be the best doctor you can be, for her and for the baby. The shame is not hers, nor yours. You will do what needs to be done because you are a good man and the best healer in this galaxy.”
Carson nodded, slowly pulling himself free from her embrace and steadying his voice, as well as his hands. “Could you hold her knees up and apart, so I can see better? I need to…to sterilize what I can and put in a few sutures. I need to make sure the baby-”
“It’s okay, Carson, do what you have to.”
At some point, Elizabeth’s eyes closed, and John finally looked up from her face to see what Carson was doing. Wordlessly, he gently lowered Elizabeth’s head to the floor and got to his feet.
“John?” Teyla asked. “John, what are you-?”
But he left without responding. And she couldn’t leave Beckett. “Ronan. Major Lorne. Be on the lookout for Colonel Sheppard. He’s armed and I don’t know where he is going.”
Both soldiers were ready and waiting when the furious ghost of a man stormed off the ship, looking with a fevered gaze of madness for prey. Any prey. He saw the headless body on the grass and emptied his gun into it as he approached. Once the chamber clicked empty, he tossed the Glock aside and started to kick the corpse like a punter at the opening play of the Rose Bowl. He only stopped when he fell, the toes of his right foot all broken.
“It’s not enough,” he wept, unable to calm the rage that still threatened to consume him with fire from the inside out. “It’ll never be enough.” So he threw punches at the sack of meat’s torso until Ronan heard the snap of an ulna and finally pulled Sheppard off, holding him on the ground in a bear hug while his friend howled at the injustices of the universe.
Somewhere in the distance, Firra heard the inhuman keen echoing off the Ancient stones of Vasana and she didn’t dare turn back. The Ancestors had come to count the cost of her many thefts, and the price to repay was very high indeed.
“What is the meaning of this?” Caldwell demanded, looking at the stack of handwritten resignation letters and a contingent of nearly every civilian scientist on Atlantis mobbed outside of Woolsey’s office. The IOA director had called the Colonel when the line of personnel had gathered outside his door.
“I should say the meaning is pretty obvious, Colonel. We are at the receiving end of a power play.” Richard leaned back in his chair, mildly amused. “In your parlance, a mutiny.”
“What?” Caldwell tapped his headset. “I need all security teams to report to the control room immediately.”
But Woolsey shook his head. “These are unarmed civilians, Colonel, what exactly are you planning to do? Put them in the brig for quitting their jobs? Force them to work at gun point?”
“It’s what you do with mutineers, sir.”
“But this isn’t a mutiny, Steven; this is a strike action.” He eyed the familiar figures in the front of the line: Dr Zelenka, Dr Heighmeyer, Dr Brown, Dr Biro, Dr Parrish, and on down the line, dozens of people whose name started with “Dr” and whose sudden departure would cripple Atlantis. “It seems that Dr Weir taught her people more than a little about negotiations.”
“This is blackmail,” the Colonel growled, hands reflexively balling into fists. “I might have expected this from Sheppard or McKay, but all of you?”
“We will take that as a compliment,” Radek said with a smile that conveyed no warmth. It was rather galling that Caldwell would think so little of the rest of them.
“I should have you all shot,” Steven barked, looking over at the security officers who kept fingers close to triggers.
Woolsey raised his brow in surprise. “A highly illegal order, Colonel, that I would hope none of your personnel would actually obey.” Getting to his feet, Richard gestured towards the door. “Perhaps we should continue this discussion in the conference room, where we might have a little more space.”
The sea of PhDs parted for their quarry to lead the way, though Woolsey certainly did not appear as anything other than in command of the situation, head held high as he took his seat and invited anyone to take the open ones. Caldwell had followed, taking the seat immediately to his left, while the chief instigators took the rest.
“Perhaps one of you-” he looked from Radek to Kate to Katie Brown first, “would like to start with a concise summary of why every civilian members of the Atlantis Expedition is tendering their resignation? Though I can guess why.”
Kate was the one who had agreed to do the talking, even though the plan was Radek and Cadman’s (who could not participate unless she really did want to be shot). “Mr Woolsey, as it surely must be obvious to you now, the civilian personnel of Atlantis no longer have any confidence in their leadership. We feel that to remain here would needlessly endanger our lives without any assurance of proper military protection.”
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Colonel Caldwell bristled at being dragged into the temper tantrum of civilians.
“It means never leaving anyone behind,” Katie piped in, near tears. She wasn’t sure where her relationship with Rodney stood, but she wanted the chance to tell him she was proud of him for the risk he took. “It means Rodney McKay is braver than you.”
As insults went, that cut rather deep. Woolsey placed a steadying hand on the Colonel’s elbow before the man could leap across the table and sucker punch the tiny woman. “I take it, Dr Brown, you are referring to Dr McKay’s misguided mission to rescue Dr Weir and possibly Colonel Sheppard.”
“I would object to the use of the term ‘misguided’,” Kate said evenly, taking back control. “Had he and the others possessed any confidence in the current leadership, they might have advised you of the plan. For all we know, Dr Weir has been rescued, but because you have deactivated their IDCs, they cannot come home.”
“A common practice when personnel may have been compromised. It’s for the safety of everyone on this base.”
“It’s an excuse to punish them,” Radek shot back. “You would vyhnanství…would exile them for refusing to leave team members behind.”
“They made their choice when they refused to follow orders.” Caldwell was not helping the situation, and Woolsey was beginning to regret letting the man sit in on this.
“What would you have us do, Dr Heightmeyer? Significant resources were expended in the search for Dr Weir to the detriment of the Expedition. How long would you have allowed it to continue?”
“Until we knew what happened to her, one way or another.” Kate made it clear that she – they – all understood that Elizabeth Weir might be dead. “The first lesson Colonel Sheppard taught us when we arrived was that you don’t leave anyone behind. You go after them because it’s the right thing to do. Now, if there was going to be a change in procedure-” this part she had thought out carefully “-then we should have been advised that we should expect to be abandoned when off world. Now that know this is the modus operandi, we are understandably no longer interested in continuing our service here.”
“That is a gross misstatement of the facts, doctor, and you know it.”
“Do we know it, Mr Woolsey, because I sure don’t.” Kate ticked off on her fingers: “First you abandoned Dr Weir. Then you abandoned Colonel Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronan. Now you have abandoned Major Lorne, Rodney, Carson, and Chuck. Who among us is next?”
“They left of their own choosing.”
“Elizabeth Weir sure as hell didn’t.” Though she knew her professional demeanour was slipping, Kate was tired of this repartee, tired of being on the receiving-end of everyone’s unhappiness and frustrations for weeks now.
Richard gently drummed his fingers on the desk, thinking through the next steps. “You realize you can all be replaced, don’t you?”
“Can we?” Radek stepped in now; this was his part of the plan. “Most of us are the foremost experts in our fields. Yes, you can replace us with our less-qualified colleagues, but after we are done telling them how awful it is to work for the IOA, how many do you think will be lining up to sign your non-disclosure agreement. No one on Earth will want to work for you. Atlantis will be city populated by cooks and military personnel who wouldn’t know which end of a data crystal is up.”
“There is no up or down to data crystals, Dr Radek.” Richard had at least learned that much.
“But how many of them know that?”
“And without a civilian presence,” Kate added, “how long will the IOA continue to fund your operations?”
The answer was not long at all, and both Woolsey and Caldwell knew it. The Stargate programme needed IOA funds, and neither the IOA nor Washington would react well to losing out on the vast array of technologies Atlantis could provide. Folding his hands in front him, Woolsey sat a little straighter in his chair. “And what is it you are asking for, in exchange for your continued…contributions to the Atlantis Expedition?”
Now they were getting down to business. “Find Dr Weir.”
“And if we cannot?”
“Keep trying. And you will also reinstate all of the personnel who are currently searching for her.”
“Absolutely not!” Steven Caldwell was barely keeping his anger contained. “Colonel Sheppard and Major Lorne are AWOL, in possession of stolen US Air Force property, and guilty of gross insubordination, among probably a dozen other charges.”
“Puddlejumpers are not the sole property of the Air Force,” Woolsey countered. He didn’t want to undermine his own position, but he also didn’t want to start a precedent for Atlantean property either. “But as for the rest, I am in no position to speak on military matters.”
“But he is.” Kate nodded at the Colonel. “He’s the one who brought the charges.”
“And I’m not dropping them!” Caldwell insisted.
Dr Heightmeyer shrugged. “Then we have nothing further to discuss. Colonel Sheppard and Major Lorne are part of the deal.”
“Before-” Richard held up a staying hand. “Before any final decisions are made, I’m going to need to speak with the IOA and SGC.”
Kate looked over at Radek and Katie, who each nodded in agreement. It was a step in the right direction.
As tired as he was, John couldn’t sleep. If he closed his eyes, Elizabeth might disappear again. Carson was too afraid to move her to the Jumpers and try to reach another planet just yet. But John wouldn’t let her stay in that room of nightmares, either. They had compromised on carefully moving her to another room, nestled onto layers of blankets and pillows. Teyla had helped Carson to clean Elizabeth and dress her in clean clothes that must have belonged to the other woman. While Ronan and Lorne traded off guard duty, Chuck and Rodney were obsessed with the pieces of the device found in the cargo bay. Teyla and Carson stayed nearby, but tried to leave John alone with Elizabeth. After splinting John’s broken arm and foot (blessedly without a word of recrimination) Dr Beckett even gave him the stethoscope from the medkit to listen to the baby’s heartbeat.
“You have no idea how happy I am to see you,” he whispered, running his unbroken left hand down her cool cheek. “And I am so, so proud of you for holding on until we got here. You’re strong, Elizabeth, stronger than me. So I know you’re going to wake up.” Tears slipped free and ran across the bridge of his nose. “I’m so sorry for what happened. It’s all my fault. But if you come back to me, I promise I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to you.” Pulling himself even closer, until his lips were brushing her ear, he added, “You should know…Dyros is dead. He will never, ever hurt you again. No one will ever hurt you again, because I’m going to be at your side forever.”
Reaching down under the covers, he placed a hand on her abdomen, feeling her protruding bellybutton and rubbing it slowly. “It’s a boy, you know. Carson told me. So, I’m kinda sorry about that, because I know what I was like. But I hope, I really hope, that he’s just like you. He’s going to have your curls, your green eyes, and he’s definitely going to have your good sense. And even though I know you try to hide them, I hope he has your freckles, too, because I think they’re adorable. I promise he’ll never play football and get his head knocked around. And he won’t drink any beer until he’s at least thirty. But I am going to take him on Ferris wheels. And you, too.”
Pain clenched ever part of him and John shuddered with the force of his sobs. He wanted to hug her tightly, but knew how delicate she was at the moment. Carson said her bones had grown weak trying to provide calcium for the baby while lacking it for herself. Taking several deep breaths through his nose, John was able to get himself under control. “Here.” Taking the stethoscope, he placed the binaural ends in her ears, then held the bell against her stomach, where Carson had shown him. “That’s our son. That fast thumping is his heart beat. He held on just as long as you did. So maybe we should name him after you. Eli? It’s kinda a two-fer name, not that you have any idea who Eli Manning is. See, he’s a quarterback…”
Sitting in the corridor outside the open hatch, Carson smiled as he listed to Sheppard ramble on about nothing in particular, trying to each the broken woman. He didn’t know the full extent of any head injury, but he worried her current state wasn’t physical. What had been done to Elizabeth… He didn’t have words, just a tumult of feelings fluctuating between anger, horror, disgust, and agony. No language seemed to encompass what he felt, and he knew it was infinitely worse for his friends.
Even worse was the prospect that their troubles were just beginning. While they may have retrieved Elizabeth from the hands of her captors, they had not saved her yet. She needed more help than could possibly be provided anywhere else in Pegasus, and if she remained in a catatonic state, a caesarean section would be needed soon. Beckett had the skills, but not the supplies, especially to keep a premature baby alive. He worried, though, that taking Elizabeth back to Atlantis without John would only make things worse, not better. Though not a man of violence, Carson wished he could punch Colonel Caldwell square in the face for putting them in this impossible position.
“You look like you need this.” He hadn’t heard Teyla come down the corridor. In her hand was a mug containing the very worst of Earth’s cup-based soups, which she could hardly stand, but the Atlantians seemed to have an affinity for.
“Oh, thank ya, love,” he said gratefully, leaning his face into the steam to warm his nose. Without full power, the pirate ship (as he’d come to think of it) was getting quite cold.
“How are they?” she asked, settling down next to him.
“I think John has talked himself to sleep, which is probably fer the best. But Elizabeth…” He sighed and leaned his head back against the wall. “I worry we were too late, Teyla. Even if we saved her physically…”
“You worry that we have lost her soul,” the understanding woman finished, nodding. “Were it anyone else, Carson, I would agree. But not her. Not Elizabeth.”
After three days in the ruins of Vasana, Firra was shocked to see her ship was still sitting where she’d left it. She was cold and hungry, and wondered if her merx’s friends would be open to negotiating her safe passage off Magarus. She already had a plan for telling them Dyros was in charge and she was just another of his victims. It was doubtful the vilix was in any state to tell them anything different. But she didn't want to spend another night in the ruined city that held no food, no warmth, and a bounty of ghosts. As darkness was falling she crept closer, but a smell near the treeline made her stop. It was smell she knew well. The clothes she also knew, despite the rotting corpse having no head. Or genitals.
“You must be the other one.”
The stress of the last few days had dulled her senses, because Firra never saw the hulking man crouched nearby, fierce weapon trained directly at her.
“Did you do this?” She nodded towards her partner’s body.
"You know, I was just as much his victim as-"
"No, you weren't."
Firra licked her dry lips nervously. “Were you her mate?”
“Because they are good people who would never do this, even if it is in their best interest.”
“So you’re their executioner?” Firra sneered.
“No. I’m their friend. But even if I wasn’t, I don’t like rapists breathing the same air I do.”
“Do you intend to kill me, too?”
“They you’ll take me with you.”
“You need me to make the Ancestral device work.”
“You can’t make it work. Only they can.”
So Firra had been right. Her little vilix did have friends with knowledge of ancient technology. “If you leave me here, you might as well be killing me.”
The giant only shrugged, unconcerned. “Not my problem.” He turned to go.
“Wait, tell me… What was – is – her name? Where did she come from?”
Ronan wouldn’t give up Weir’s name; that belonged to her. If she’d never given it up to her captors, then who was he to do so? But he knew how to taunt Firra, what would haunt him as much as her if he’d committed such crimes. “She came from the Ancestors.”
He was rewarded with a final look of terror on the woman’s face before he walked away and left her to her own fate on the lifeless world.
“Are we sure this is worth it?”
“It’s not like there’s anywhere we have to be in a hurry.”
“But if Elizabeth goes into labour-”
“Then we still have the best doctor in the galaxy with us and the best bargaining tool to get us back onto Atlantis.”
Fixing the ship and taking the gravity-based generator with them was Rodney’s idea, and as much as Sheppard and Beckett had fought it at first, anxious to get back to a world with better resources, McKay had a point, and Lorne backed him up on it: If they presented Atlantis (and by proxy the IOA and SGC) with a new power source that would generate limitless energy, even if it was a fraction of a ZPM-s, they could buy their way home. But taking the ship (now nicknamed the HMS Bounty) meant using both Jumpers to power the engines, so there was no taking one through the Stargate anywhere while they remained parked in the cargo bay, hotwired to the central generator.
“How long?” Carson was nervously counting the days. “Elizabeth is already 2-centimeters dilated. She’s not going to make it full term.”
“According to the ship’s computer it took them three weeks to get here from Kor’ahe. But-” Rodney stopped Beckett before he could object. “With the Jumpers powering the engines, I estimate only ten days.”
Ronan wandered into the tiny kitchen (it could hardly be called a mess hall) and leaned against the doorway, watching the meeting in progress. Sheppard gave him in inquisitive look, wondering where he’d been, but the Satedan shook his head.
“Should we not stop somewhere closer?” Teyla asked.
“Kor’ahe is familiar ground, and protected. It also has the best resources for a medical emergency,” Carson pointed out. “In fact, we’ll probably find some of our own medicine there.”
“John?” Teyla prompted. He’d not had any input into the entire discussion; this was one of the few moments he’d not spent at Elizabeth’s side and seemed utterly unconcerned with anything else happening around him.
“Fine, whatever, let’s go.” With that he stood up and disappeared back down the hallway to what had become Elizabeth’s room and resumed his spot curled up next to her, left hand on her belly, lips inches from her ear. “You look a lot better today. I suppose it helps that Teyla is really good at sponge baths. We’ll have to ask her about that some time. Carson said your electrolytes are almost back to normal, but he would be a lot happier if you would eat your own food and he could take out the feeding tube. I can’t imagine it feels great.
“He also says that you’re, um, dilated 2 centimetres already, which means Eli is setting himself up to be a Thanksgiving baby instead of a Christmas baby. Which might be good, because, you know, when you have a birthday in December people are always giving you birthday and Christmas gifts together and you get half as much as everyone else who doesn’t have a birthday in December.
“It would be great, though, if you were actually awake for any of this. We’re heading back to Kor’ahe, taking that thing you found with us. Rodney actually wants to call it the Weir Engine. But that may be because we’re still not sure if it will work, so that way his name isn’t on it if it fails. That means we’re going to be on this ship a little while longer, unfortunately. I wish you didn’t have to stay here. But, hey, I found something in the Jumper.” Reaching behind him, John pulled his rucksack close and from the top, retrieved a slightly battered panda with the body of a flying squirrel and coloured like a melted box of crayons. He held it up for Elizabeth to see.
And she blinked.
A single tear slipped free as a shaking hand rose to touch the soft material.
“Lizbeth?” John got to his knees and let her take the stuffed toy so he could cradle her face between his hands. “Lizbeth, can you hear me? It’s John.”
Her eyes focused on his. He knew she could see him. But she closed them again and tried to turn her head away. “No, sweetheart, no, I’m right here, don’t look away. You’re safe. Everything is going to be okay.” He pulled out his radio. “Carson? Carson, she’s awake!”
There was no response, just the sound of rapid footfalls echoing through the deck. The doctor almost slid past the doorway, grabbing the frame to stop himself and catapulting into the room.
“Elizabeth, lass, how do ya feel?” Fingers pressed to her neck, he was rewarded with a strong, steady pulse. Flashing his penlight in each eye, Carson had never been so happy to see equal and reactive pupils in his career. “Are ya in any pain, love?”
“She won’t say anything,” John whispered, as if she could not hear him. “You said she didn't have a head injury. Is there something wrong with her voice?”
Carson shook his head slowly and sighed, hoping the Colonel understood. “No, lad, I don’t think so. Just give her time. She'll say somthin' when she'd good and ready.” Beckett’s fingers combed through the tangled hair splayed across her pillow and smiled down at her. “Yer gonna be okay, love. I promise.”
The return to Kor’ahe by the HMS Bounty was recorded by Major Lorne (the only person who even thought to chart their progress):
Day One – finally departed Magarus. Dr Weir showed voluntary arm and eye movement. Journey should last approximately ten days.
Day Two – Dr Weir was much the same, but held onto the toy Lt Col Sheppard gave her and won’t let go. Ship is still cold from lack of heating in certain sections; McKay advised not worth repairing for the short duration of our trip.
Day Three – dropped out of hyperspace for twelve hours so Rodney and Chuck could adjust the power relays from the Jumpers to the Bounty’s engines before it exploded. Dr Weir running slight fever and Colonel demanded heating either be entirely repaired or more diverted to Weir’s quarters before resuming hyperspace.
Day Four – big day; Dr Beckett took out Dr Weir’s feeding tube and got her to swallow some broth, but she still won’t respond to anyone. Rodney and Chuck think they have found a way to increase power to Bounty’s engines and get us back to Kor’ahe faster.
Day Five – Lt Col Sheppard rebroke toes when crate fell on foot in cargo bay while looking for food; problems with inertial dampers due to increased engine output. Dr McKay also fell and hyperextended right index finger. Exited hyperspace again so Chuck could reverse yesterday’s modifications under Rodney’s supervision; they are not currently speaking to each other.
Day Six – cooked tava beans found in storage; tried to get Dr Weir to eat some, but she started to cry and hyperventilate, so had to be sedated by Dr Beckett. First sign of any emotion she’s shown. He is concerned she is not getting enough nutrition and the feeding tube will need to be put back; Sheppard has asked for another 24-hours before he does so.
Day Seven – serious trouble; came within range of Wraith Hive ship; Bounty does not have same sensors as a Jumper, so no warning until they were right on top of us. Currently hiding in an asteroid belt using the Jumper shields to extend around the entire ship and protect against micro-meteors. If Hive ship does not leave soon, may have to make a run for it using the cloaked Jumpers. According to Rodney, closest planet with a Stargate would be 35 days.
Day Eight – Wraith Hive ship finally left the system after engaging in fight with another Hive ship. Have resumed hyperspace path to Kor’ahe. Per Sheppard, someone will always be on duty in one of the Jumpers monitoring sensors. No more surprises. Dr Weir has resumed taking in liquids and will eat other foods, but no one will bring her more tava beans. Teyla and Dr Beckett alternate taking her for short walks up and down the corridor until she is tired. The Colonel isn’t allowed until his foot is better.
Day Nine – Ronan admitted at dinner that he saw Dr Weir’s other captor, the woman known as Firra, the night before we left Magarus. She asked to come with us, but he refused. Dr Beckett was upset, advising that Dr Weir would not have left anyone to die on the planet, but no one else appears to feel the same. If a return expedition is sent to further explore Vasana, might see if she is still living and take her to another world for criminal prosecution. If there is such a thing in Pegasus. Have agreed for now that no one will tell Dr Weir what happened to Dyros and Firra.
Day Ten – Dr Weir’s water broke…
It was Carson’s turn to get Elizabeth out of bed and walk around the narrow corridors. Her strength was certainly coming back, not as quickly as he would have liked, but good enough given the circumstances. The deep bruise on her left thigh still made her limp, and he suspected it would actually take months to heal. But without regular movement (and without anything like heparin among his supplies), she ran a risk of developing a blood clot. He’d been worried as hell when she panicked at the sight of tava beans, but seemed to be okay eating other foods; never with any zeal, never with any recognition of what it was or what it tasted like, but then again, none of the food on the Bounty was worth writing home about.
“So Colonel Sheppard said something about naming the wee baby Eli, after you. It’s a fine name, but if ya have any other notions, ya might want ta speak up soon, because everyone else is startin’ ta refer ta him as Eli, too.” Like Teyla and John, Carson would talk to her about nothing in particular, just let the sound of his voice remind Elizabeth that he was here, that she was with a friend, that she was safe. But by unspoken agreement, the other men kept their distance. “Fer all his efforts, though, I think Rodney’s expectin’ ta at least get in as a middle name. Maybe if ya have another, a wee girl, ya can call her Meredith, see how he likes that.”
Reaching the end of the corridor, the doctor slowly turned them about, making sure to keep his support on her left side, and they started back the way they’d come. “Speakin’ a’ Rodney, I don’t know if ya heard him earlier, complainin’ about that silly finger a’ his-”
Elizabeth stopped and drew a sharp breath, clenching Beckett’s arm tightly. “What is it, love?” Carson leaned her against the wall so that he could look at her eyes, the best method of communication he had found from her thus far. “Are ya in pain?” In answer she grunted and curled forward, unable to stay upright. Looking down, the doctor saw a trickle of fluid running down a pant leg. “Oh no.” Carson tapped his radio. “I need some help here!” No need to specify where. Or with whom.
“Elizabeth!” John yelled, storming down the hall first. He practically pushed Carson out of the way and knelt in front of her so that she could see him. “Lizbeth, what is it?”
“Her water’s broken, John.” Carson indicated at the puddle of liquid his knee was currently resting in. “Help me get her back ta her room.”
But with his fractured right ulna and foot, John couldn’t lift her, only hold her upright until the next set of arms arrived; Ronan’s, fortunately. He had Elizabeth in his arms and back to her room before Carson say anything. Another contraction hit, though, and she clung to him, burying her face in his chest to suppress a moan.
“Go find Teyla and any other medical supplies in the Jumpers,” Beckett ordered, working Elizabeth’s fingers free from Ronan’s shirt. “And find out from Rodney how much longer until we reach Kor’ahe. We need to be near a Stargate, need ta be able ta get her ta Atlantis if necessary.”
The giant Satedan seemed relieved to be able to leave the room. Elizabeth finally relaxed back into the blankets, muscle spasms easing. Taking off her soaked trousers, Carson snapped on a clean glove and reached inside to explore her cervix. “She’s completely effaced, but still only 2 centimetres dilated or so.”
“Does that mean the baby is coming?” John asked, mindlessly brushing Elizabeth’s hair with his fingers.
“No, unfortunately, not yet.” Carson frowned as he removed the glove. “And the baby needs ta come soon. Without amniotic fluid in the placenta, the both of them are highly susceptible ta infection, lung infections for the baby, sepsis for them both.”
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t have anythin' to induce labour with, Colonel, there’s not much I can do without Pitocin.”
“What if we walked her around some more?” John suggested.
“This isn’t a movie, it doesn’t work that way,” the frustrated doctor insisted. “And in her weakened state, I don’t want Elizabeth expendin' any more energy than necessary. If she’s not strong enough to push later on, I’ll have no choice but ta do a caesarean.”
“Carson.” Teyla arrived, out of breath, laden with the remainder of the medical supplies from the Jumpers. “What can I do to help?”
“For one, I need more light in here, it’s too bloody dark ta see what I’m doin’. And make sure we have plenty a’ sterilized water.” Carson rifled through the med kits and cursed. “Damn. I’m such an idiot. I didn’t save nearly enough saline for this.”
“Well, can you refill the IV bags or something?”
“They weren’t really designed for that, Colonel.”
“Improvise, Carson!” John’s shout seemed to stir something in Elizabeth, whose eyes looked around in fear and she tried to move away from him. “No, no, Lizbeth, it’s okay. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He kissed her forehead and hugged her tightly to hold her still. But sensing someone else between her legs, air on exposed skin, she panicked, kicking out blindly, catching the doctor square in the chest.
“No, Elizabeth! Stop, it’s just Carson!”
“Nooooooo!” she howled. It was the first thing she’d said since they found her, and it broke their hearts. Beckett grabbed her legs and held them down before he could take another blow. “Noo!”
“Lizbeth, it’s okay, I’m here.” John pulled her away from Carson and into his lap, rocking her like a child. For two weeks he had resisted holding her tightly, listening to the others tell him that he might hurt her, but now he didn’t care. He needed to feel her, needed her to feel him. “I’m here now and everything is going to be okay. You’re going to get through this because you have to.”
“No,” she whispered, trying wiggle out of his grip.
“Yes, now snap out of it!” John barked. Gripping her chin firmly, he forced her to look at him, really, really look at him. “Do you know who I am?”
Her eyes narrowed, confused for a moment. “John?”
His heart absolutely melted and two tears slipped down his cheeks and landed on hers. “Yeah, that’s right, it’s John. Do you know where you are?”
“Atlantis?” Because where else would John be with her but in the city.
“Soon, Lizbeth, we’re going to be home real soon,” he assured her, glancing up at Carson to see if he was just as concerned that she didn’t seem to know where she was.
“Where-?” Her question disappeared into a moan as another contraction hit. This time she turned into John, trying to lose herself in him until the pain passed.
“Elizabeth, Carson is here.” He whispered, trying to be as gentle as possible. “You need to let him examine you. He needs to help.”
Her confusion returned, looking at him with an unfocused gaze. “Why?”
“Sweetheart, you’re having a baby.” It was all he could do not to shake her. Sheppard didn’t know how to get through to her, how to bring her to the present and realize what was happening.
Carson watched sadly; while it seemed like Elizabeth was coming around to some semblance of awareness, it wasn’t enough for her to be able to help herself. “Colonel, I’m gonna give her just a mild sedative, ta bring down her anxiety. It won’t stall the labour, but it’ll let me examine her without her fightin’ me.”
He was asking for permission, because Elizabeth couldn’t give it, and John was teetering on the edge of a breakdown. “She’ll be okay with it?”
“I wouldn’t give it ta her if I thought there was any risk,” Beckett assured him, taking a slim needle out of one kit and filling it with only a few cc’s. “Hold her arm, John,” he instructed, picking out an easy vein in the crook of her elbow. “There now, let’s just give that a few minutes.”
Resting his cheek on the top of her head, John stroked the side of Elizabeth’s abdomen and hummed “I Walk the Line” (surprisingly well), feeling her slowly relax in his arms. “Lizbeth?” She didn’t respond. Looking up at the doctor, he whispered, “Carson, can she do this?”
“I don’t know, John. If she can’t, they will both die; that is a certainty.” His voice was firm; he needed the Colonel to understand. “If I do a caesarean…I may only be able to save one a’ them.”
“What? I don’t understand.” He didn’t want to understand.
“John, if I can only save one…” Beckett prompted.
“No!” John reflexively held Elizabeth tighter. “Carson, you can’t. You can’t make me choose. How am I supposed to do that? You have to save them both!”
Closing the gap between them, the physician rested his hand on Sheppard’s arm. “John…we are lightyears from help, we only have an emergency medical kit, one doctor, and two very ill patients. I want ta save them both, of course I do! But I want ya ta be prepared for the possibility that I can’t. Elizabeth is terribly weak, and the baby is six weeks early. So if I have ta choose…”
“Her.” She was always his first choice, but he didn’t want to say it because he knew it wasn’t what she would want. There was no life without her, though. “It has to be her, Carson, or else… Or else, I don’t know.”
“Yeah, John, I know,” he whispered.
Teyla interrupted any further discussion, clunking into the room with a half dozen lanterns and spotlights liberated from various sources. “Will this be enough?”
“More than enough, lass, thanks. Can ya set them up here around the floor? Except this one-” He grabbed one of the wide spotlights. “Set it on a chair here next ta me, angled down. John, I need ya to let me examine her.” The Colonel hesitated. “Please.”
Reluctantly, John let the doctor arrange Elizabeth on the blankets and watched closely as he pressed firmly around her belly, frowning. “What is it?”
“The baby isn’t where he should be. He needs ta be turned and I haven’t got anythin’ remotely like an ultrasound ta see what I’m doin’. And I’m not a bloody obstetrician. I did it a few time in medical school and not since.”
Teyla placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “I can help, Carson, I saw it done many times by Charin for women in the village.”
“What are you doing?” John asked.
“External cephalic version.” When he didn’t get a response, Beckett actually looked up at John. “I’m gonna turn the baby from the outside by manipulatin’ her stomach, and it’s not gonna be pleasant for her, so I need ya to keep her still and calm. Elizabeth’s contractions have eased fer the moment, but the more she tenses, the harder this’ll be.”
Teyla placed the last lamp on the chair, creating a ring of light in the dim room and knelt next to Elizabeth. “Ready when you are, Carson.”
“Right then, anticlockwise, I think.”
“You think?!” John echoed sharply.
“Relax, Colonel, just an expression. Are ya ready?” He waited until John had a firm grip on Elizabeth’s shoulders, ready to keep her planted against the floor. Clenching his jaw in concentration, Carson dug his fingers deep into the skin over the pubis and pulled up, feeling for a pair of tiny feet. Pushing to his right, Teyla took the bulge from the other end and more gently pulled the head towards herself.
Moaning, Elizabeth tried to sit up, but John held her in place and lowered his head to hers. “Shhhh, sweetheart, they’re just trying to help. It’ll be over soon.”
“Stop,” she pleaded, trying to turn onto her side, but Teyla shifted to sit on one of Elizabeth’s legs while she continued pressing a path for the baby’s head downward. “John, please, stop them.”
Carson was sweating with the effort, not just the force, but the focus to make sure he didn’t hurt either of his patients. “Hold on, love, we’re almost there. Just take a breath.”
“I love you, Lizbeth,” John whispered, kissing her lips as he hovered over her, smothering her next cry. “I’m so proud of you.”
“There,” Beckett pronounced, hands on either side of Elizabeth’s abdomen, holding his work in place. The normally pale skin was red with fingermarks, already starting to bruise. “We just have ta watch ta keep him in place, and once the contractions get stronger, he won’t shift back inta breech.”
“My back hurts,” Elizabeth whined, trying to move again.
The doctor nodded. “Colonel, let her sit up and lean against ya. It’ll help take some of the pressure off her lumbar fer now.”
Pulling her up against his chest, arms wrapped around her belly to feel every movement from within, John and Elizabeth drifted in and out of sleep over the next few hours, while Rodney and Chuck pushed the HMS Bounty to her limits. Ronan and Lorne paced between the bridge and living deck, unsure what to do with themselves until someone ask for help. In the galley, Carson sterilized the old IV bags as best he could and filled them with salt and glucose-enriched water, finally giving Elizabeth the fluids she needed and a medium to start prophylactic antibiotics.
“John, where have you been?” Her voice woke him up again. “How long?” It was more lucid than anything she’d said thus far; the pain was forcing her mind back to an awareness of the present.
“Four months,” he told her reluctantly. “It took us four months. I’m so sorry. I tried, Lizbeth, I tried so hard to find you.”
“I was in the square,” she said softly, head resting against his right collarbone, starring into what seemed a remote past. “I saw this toy I wanted for the baby; it was the closest thing to a teddy bear I could find in the Pegasus galaxy. I know I shouldn’t have left, John, I shouldn’t have gone on my own. I traded my jacket, I wanted it that much; it was the only thing I wanted the whole time we were there. And then…I don’t know what happened; then I was here. And that man…that…he…”
John gripped her tightly, nuzzling her cheek. “Hey, hey, don’t think about it; don’t think about him ever again.”
Elizabeth suddenly seemed self-conscious of being naked from the waist down, trying to pull another blanket around her and move away from John. “You shouldn’t…not after what he did-”
“No.” Sheppard’s voice was sharp. This was what had haunted him ever since the night he found her; not just what was done to her, but how she would feel about it, how she would think he felt about it. Because she felt profaned and repulsive, she assumed he would feel the same about her. “I need you to listen to me; I need you to understand something. You are not responsible for what happened. You are no less beautiful to me now than on the last day I saw you on Kor’ahe, and I absolutely love you now and always. What was done to you changes nothing. Do you understand?”
“No, I don’t.” She hissed as a contraction, stronger than any before, ripped through her middle. “How can you…look at me…” Talking became too difficult.
Strong hands massaged her back, trying to ease the pain. There would be no epidural, and she couldn’t be given any painkillers that might suppress her central nervous system, as it would affect the baby, too. “I can look at you, the same now as before, because I don’t think of you the same way you think of yourself right now. And we have a long time to work that out later. For now, I just want you to focus on the baby.”
She gulped in air as the contraction passed. “Maybe it was karma…the universe taking revenge for what I did when Phoebus-” Another contraction cut her off. They were coming too close together.
“Beckett!” John hollered into his radio, bringing the physician sprinting from his room across the hall where he’s been trying to take a short nap.
“What’s happenin’?” he asked, dropping to his knees in front of the couple and putting on a fresh pair of gloves.
“Her contractions are worse, coming a lot closer now,” John explained.
“Right, let’s hope she’s nearly fully dilated.” Carson tried to move the blanket aside from Elizabeth’s legs, but she held tightly and squeezed her eyes shut through another spasm. “Elizabeth, love, I need ta check-”
“Go away, Carson,” she mumbled, burying her face in her shoulder.
He was surprised to hear something so intelligible and looked at John, worried. “She woke up and she’s been talking about…what happened.”
“Oh.” While having Elizabeth more cogent would make it easier for him to give instructions, it was not making her more rational. Moving cautiously, Beckett rested a hand on her knee. “Lass, I know this is probably the last thing ya want happenin’ right now, and I wish someone else was here ta help. But there isn’t anyone, Elizabeth, and yer goin’ to hurt yerself and yer son if ya don’t let this happen.”
She only shook her head. “I was going to kill him.”
“Who?” John thought she was talking about Dyros.
“The baby,” she whispered. “I was going to kill him so they couldn’t sell him, so he wouldn’t end up like me. And to punish Dyros, because it would cost him money.”
John reflexively clenched his fists, making her flinch. “Elizabeth…you didn’t do anything, did you?”
“No, I never got the chance.” She gritted her teeth through another contraction. “But I had a plan. What kind of monster does that make me? Killing it – him – just to spite someone.”
Carson gave her knee a reassuring squeeze. “Ya weren’t thinkin’ clearly, Elizabeth, and that’s understandable. Ya thought ya were sparin’ him more sufferin’ in the future. Other women have been forced ta do the same. But yer safe now. He’s safe. Ya need to believe that, let yerself feel that.”
But she wasn’t listening any longer, seeming to drift back off to that safe space of nothingness, the pain rippling through her body barely registering. John saw this happening and shook her roughly. “Stay here, Elizabeth, stay with us. You have work to do.”
Taking advantage of the moment, Carson made a quick exam, his hand easily passing inside of her and feeling the hard bulge of a skull. “John, it’s time, she needs ta push.”
Growing frustrated at his inability to reach her, John stood, yanking her up with him. “Come on, Elizabeth! You’ve never given up on anything in your life, now isn’t the time to start! If I have to, I will march you up and down those corridors until Eli falls out!”
She screamed with the next contraction and her knees buckled, but John held her upright. The cry brought Teyla from the galley, who stood beside John and helped to keep the labouring woman on her feet. It was not a traditional position, but it forced Elizabeth to stay present. Carson knelt in front of her, one hand between her legs and another against her abdomen, feeling for every contraction.
“I see the head!” he shouted, cradling it gently. The premature boy had missed out on several weeks of growing, requiring little effort on Elizabeth’s part, her body naturally expelling him. Once Carson slipped a finger inside to free a shoulder, the alabaster form slid out quickly and the doctor almost dropped him. “I got ‘im, let her down.”
The exhausted woman sank to the floor in relief. John continued to hold her while Teyla helped Beckett to tie off and cut the umbilical cord. But he still didn’t make a sound.
“Come on, wee lad, ya can do it. There’s a lot of people waitin’ ta meet ya.” Carson whispered, vigorously rubbing the tiny chest until he was rewarded with a soft cry; just one, but a tinge of pink finally started to perfuse the skin and little fists flailed in anger. “There ya go, that’s it. John, open her shirt.” Undoing the top buttons, Beckett was able to lay the shivering little boy between her breasts. “He needs ta be kept warm until we can check him out at a proper facility. I don’t know how well he’s breathin’.”
“Can you do anything for him now?” Sheppard stroked the soft black head peeking out the of Elizabeth’s shirt. She’d wrapped her arms around him weakly, but looked frightfully pale. “Lizbeth?” No answer. “Elizabeth!”
“Dammit!” Carson cursed, suddenly noticing the blood pooling freely on the blankets. “She’s haemorrhaging! I need ta pack off the uterus and…” He started riffling through one of the medical bags he’d brought from Atlantis, finally dumping the contents on the floor and grabbing an innocuous vial: Cytotec. “Oh, thank god.” Filling a syringe, he injected it into the remnants of her IV. “That might help with coagulation. But it might not be enough. If there’s any part of the placenta left, this won’t stop.”
“What else do you need, Carson?” Teyla handed him sterile cotton bandages, rapidly soaking up blood as they disappeared into the cavity of Elizabeth’s womb.
He shook his head sadly. “I need blood. I need a surgical suite. I need a scanner. In short, I need Atlantis. There’s nothing more I can do for either of them here.”
“I’m B-positive. She’s O. Is anyone else?” John asked desperately.
Carson’s eyes got wide. “Chuck. Get him down here!”
A sense of relief flooded Sheppard. “I knew that guy was useful.”
The Gate tech was also terrified when Lorne marched him into the room and ordered him to sit down next to Elizabeth, looking away as Carson slip a needle into his arm. He didn’t look at his boss, keeping his gaze fixed on the doorway. “Is the baby alright, Colonel?”
“He will be.” John didn’t let any doubt into his voice. “And she will be, too. Thank you, Chuck.”
“Least I could do, sir.” And he meant it. If he could have done more, he would have, but this was not his area of expertise.
“How much longer until we reach Kor’ahe?”
“Dr McKay estimates another twelve hours,” he mumbled, not really wanting to say it.
“He said it would only take ten days!”
“That was before we were corned by the Wraith, sir. And we had to dial the engines back 8 percent a few hours ago to prevent a cascade failure of the relays.” Chuck reflexively clenched and unclenched his right hand to move the blood along faster. “I’m sorry, Colonel.”
“John…?” Elizabeth started to stir as her blood pressure came back up. “Something’s wrong.”
“Shhh, it’s okay,” Sheppard whispered, stroking her brow. “We’re almost home.”
“I’m cold.” She started to bring her left arm back to the bundle on her chest, but stopped when she felt the sting of the needle in her vein. “What’s this?”
John grabbed another blanket and spread it over her. “You lost a bit, so Chuck is helping out.”
Her eyes followed the tube from under the blanket to the arm it was attached to, met with the warm smile she used to see every morning going into her office. “Hello, Dr Weir. Nice to see you again.”
“Chuck, what are you doing here?” What else didn’t she know?
“I got the message on Atlantis, ma’am,” he answered with a shrug. “Things haven’t been great-” A sharp shake of John’s head told him to not go there. “Things haven’t been the same without you, so I thought I could be of some help. Now I’m glad I was here, even if just as a blood donor.”
“He’s just bein’ modest, Elizabeth,” Beckett added, taking the man’s blood pressure again. He didn’t want another patient on his hands. “Chuck has been invaluable in keeping the Bounty runnin’ all this time on power from the Jumpers.”
A small cry from under the blankets alerted them to someone else waking up as well. The one part of Elizabeth that didn’t feel cold was the centre of her chest, a tiny, wiggling bundle of skin reflecting heat back on her. It felt alien, something that wasn’t supposed to be there; the plan had been for him to die, to save him.
“Ya should feed him, Elizabeth,” Carson told her softly, rubbing the baby’s back. “Bein’ premature, he needs the colostrum badly, and it will help to slow yer bleedin’.”
Remembering the feeling of Dyros at her breast, taking what wasn’t his, made her shudder, another panic attack taking hold. “No.” She started hyperventilating, reaching into her she and pulling out the infant, who started to cry in earnest as cold air hit him. “No, I can’t. Take him and go.”
“Elizabeth!” John was shocked, grabbing his son and hurriedly wrapping him in a nearby towel Teyla had brought.
Moving quickly so she couldn’t rip it out herself, Carson pulled the needle from her arm, then Chuck’s, throwing a plaster on it and dismissing the tech with a grateful nod. Elizabeth had curled up on her side, turning her back on them as she fought for every breath. “Lass, yer too weak for me ta give ya a sedative; yer gonna have ta fight through this on yer own accord. But I’m beggin’ ya not to punish the wee lad few what happened.” He’d seen the welts on her breasts, knew exactly why she refused to nurse. “He needs ya now more than ever, to get through this first day.”
Though he was angry at her at first for rejecting their baby, putting him in danger, the moment passed and John knelt next to the mother of his child. “Elizabeth…do you love me?”
The question startled her. She uncovered her face and looked at him earnestly. “Yes, of course.”
“Then if you love me, please feed him.” Sheppard was willing to beg, was willing to manipulate her love for him, whatever it took. Setting the whimpering bundle next to her, he stood back up. “Because I can’t do this without you.”
Carson was shocked. “John, what are ya-?” But the larger man grabbed the collar of his uniform and dragged him out of the room with him, triggering the hatch to close. “Have ya lost yer mind, John? What if she-?”
“She won’t,” John growled, leaning against the wall for support. “She can’t. She’s Elizabeth Weir. She’ll let herself suffer all day long, but no one else in the universe. It’s who she is. I’m just giving her a
chance to realize it again.”
Left alone with pinkish creature who wouldn’t stop fussing, Elizabeth studied the thing that had grown inside of her. He’d kicked off his wrappings and she could tell he had ten fingers and ten toes, tiny hands and feet curled in on each other just like they had been for the last seven and a half months. He was somewhat wrinkled, especially his forehead at the moment, just like hers. The top of his head was a bit funny, a shock a stark black hair standing almost vertical. Just like his father’s. John. This was John’s son, and she loved John. He'd searched half the galaxy for her, taken Dyros and Firra away and brought help. Because he loved her unconditionally. Hesitantly, she let her arms pick up the wailing infant and pushed aside her open shirt, exposing a heavy breast. The moment the warm little mouth found a nipple it grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go, rending him blessedly quiet.
“It’s not your fault,” she whispered to him, stroking the surprisingly soft black hair. “You did the best you could.” She didn’t know if she was walking to him, or herself. At the sound of her voice, an eye opened to look up at her; dark hazel. She felt the gaze of her son evaluating her, taking her into account, and, finding her satisfactory, closed his eyes again.
On the other side of the door, hearing only silence now instead of the breathy cry of the baby, John breathed a sigh of relief. Everything would be alright.
Mr Woolsey didn’t actually know the name of the tech making the announcement. Ling? Liu? So many new personnel had transferred in since his arrival, he couldn’t keep track. “Do you have an IDC?”
“Ummm, I’m not sure, sir.” She looked up, confused. “It looks like one of ours, but it’s not reading as valid.”
He’d been waiting for this. “Try running it through the Deactivate file, Corporal.”
“What? Oh!” The young woman’s eyes grew wide. “This says it’s Dr Carson Beckett, sir.”
Richard nodded grimly. “Open a channel, radio only.”
“-lantis, this is Dr Beckett, do ya copy?”
“To the individual claiming to be Carson Beckett, this is Richard Woolsey, commander of Atlantis base. We are unable to verify your IDC and unable to lower our shield.”
“Don’t ya take that tone with me, ya cheeky bugger! Ya know damn well there isn’t another Scotsman within a million lightyears a’ here!”
“Sure sounds like Dr Beckett,” Colonel Caldwell mumbled. Woolsey hadn’t seen him come into the Control room, but shouldn’t have been surprised that Steven heard the unscheduled activation of the Gate. “What is it you want, Dr Beckett?”
“Colonel Caldwell is there, too?” The disembodied voice sounded disappointed.
“As you are no longer a member of this expedition, Dr Beckett, we are simply indulging you at the moment.” Woolsey took control of the conversation once more. “So as the Colonel asked, what is it you want?”
“Ta send Dr Weir ta Atlantis for medical treatment.”
You could sense everyone in the Control suddenly freeze at the mention of that name. All eyes turned towards the two men who had brokered a temporary truce with the city’s civilian personnel.
Clearing his throat, Woolsey continued. “I believe that could be arranged, Dr Beckett.”
“Don’t play games with me, Woolsey, this is a medical emergency! Will ya lower the shield or not? Because if not, I need ta get back to my patients.”
“‘Patients’-plural, Dr Beckett?”
“Aye, she’s had her baby and the wee lad isn’t doin’ well.”
Richard looked over at the military commander and nodded, who turned away and quietly called his security teams to the Gateroom. Woolsey cleared his throat. “Lower the shield. You’re welcome to come though, Dr Beckett.”
There was no answer, but a moment later the puddle of the event horizon rippled, disgorging a giant Satedan, carrying Elizabeth Weir, and Teyla, with a much smaller bundle in her arms. The Stargate shut itself off and the marines all instinctively lowered their guns. Every breath was held, waiting to see what would come next. Richard took the lead, Steven a step behind. “Where are the others?”
“Safe, where you can’t arrest them,” Ronan growled.
“But not you,” Richard noted. “Sheppard’s idea?”
“Major Lorne’s,” Teyla answered stiffly. “Colonel Sheppard was most upset about letting them go, but at least this way they’ll still be in the same galaxy.”
Caldwell stepped closer to get a better look at the unconscious woman and Ronan reflexively pulled Elizabeth closer to himself. At least Beckett wasn’t lying; this really was a medical emergency. “Go on, get them to the infirmary. Dr Keller is expecting you.”
“Who?” Teyla asked.
“Dr Beckett’s replacement,” Woolsey answered firmly, motioning two marines to escort them to the medical facilities.
Everyone in the halls stopped to watch the small party pass, looks varying from relief to concern to outright tears. They were met by a young woman with sunny brown hair and wide bright eyes that took in everything at once. “Get Dr Weir over to the scanner please,” she ordered Ronan, then held her arms out to Teyla for the baby. “What can you tell me about him?”
Implicitly trusting the woman before her, Teyla handed over the little boy and followed this Dr Keller to an exam bed. “He was born approximately 30 hours ago, six week premature. Dr Beckett says he is worried about a respiratory infection and malnutrition. But he did get Dr Weir to feed him once before she lost consciousness again.”
“He’s only eaten once?” the doctor asked, shocked.
“Things have been very…difficult for Elizabeth,” Teyla tried to explain. “She is likely still bleeding internally. And accepting the child has not been easy. Sometimes her mind is here, sometimes…she does not seem to know where she is or who we are. I am worried that if she is not reunited with John soon, her conditional will continue to deteriorate. He was the only one able to reach her. Without him, I do not think she will continue to care for the child, either.”
Jennifer Keller nodded sadly. “Well, he’s only four pounds, 3 ounces, and his O-2 sats are only 90%. He also appears to have the start of a fever and is definitely jaundiced.” The new CMO turned to the nearest nurse. “Shannon, we need to get him in an incubator now. Start a central line, IV nutrients with a broad spectrum antibiotic and diluted NSAID.” When they had first arrived on Atlantis, there was no such equipment. But after re-establishing contact with Earth, Carson had insisted on one to help with premature Athosian babies; now it would help save John and Elizabeth’s.
“Dr Keller!” Dr Biro called. “You should come see this.”
Looking at the scanner results from Elizabeth, the young doctor frowned. “That’s not good. It looks like we have a part of the placenta still attached to the uterine wall and a bacterial infection that has reached her heart. But I think we’ve caught the endocarditis early; I’m not seeing any valve damage yet. Let’s get her into surgery and stop the bleeding first.”
In the operating theatre there were no words spoken but those absolutely needed. The male members of the medical staff were not asked to attend, out of respect for the woman who once led their city. Keller had never met Elizabeth Weir before, so it was a little easier, but there was no mistaking the effort being put in by Dr Biro and the others to keep their emotions in check. The body in front of them bore all the marks of their worst nightmares. Even after stopping the bleeding in her uterus, Keller was forced to redo Carson’s stitching of the vaginal tearing, reopened by giving birth. The lab tests did not show the expected bacterial infection, but one that was was distinctly a Pegasus galaxy STD, previously found in refugees who passed through Atlantis. If there was any good news in all of this, it was that the bacterium responded well to Earth-based antibiotics. When she was finished, Jennifer looked up to see one of the nurse's gloved hands holding Elizabeth's, even though she knew better than to contaminate the operating field; but the doctor said nothing.
When Woolsey and Steven came by the infirmary a few hours later, they were not met with a warm welcome, finding openly hostile gazes from every woman there.
“Dr Keller, what is the status of your patients?” Richard tried to sound friendly, but it wasn’t very effective at setting anyone at ease.
“They’re still alive.” Pithy. Efficient.
Caldwell was not amused. “Is that all?”
“Would you have me break doctor-patient confidentiality, Colonel? Last time I checked, you were neither friend nor family to Dr Weir, not an emergency contact or even a second cousin twice removed.” The normally friendly physician who had arrived two weeks ago was suddenly anxious for them to go.
“Dr Keller, might I see you in your office?” Woolsey softened his tone. He knew, or at least he suspected, and didn’t want to have the conversation in public.
At first she looked like she would refuse, but Jennifer Keller finally nodded and led him back to what she still thought of as Carson Beckett’s office. “You have to know that my answer to you will not be any different than it was for Colonel Caldwell, so I don’t know what it is you want, Mr Woolsey.”
“Based upon the last two minutes, Dr Keller, I don’t need you to confirm that Dr Weir was physically and sexually abused during her captivity.” Watching her flinch was all the confirmation he needed. “What I want to know is if I need to arrange for her transfer to Earth for more specialized care.”
Jennifer leaned against the desk, refusing to sit or to offer Woolsey a seat. “I don’t believe she’s stable enough for any more Gate travel at the moment. But it is something I will keep in mind for a later date.”
“Doctor, you haven’t been on Atlantis long, and I would hate for your tenure here as Chief Medical Officer to get off to a bad start.”
“I’m only keeping Dr Beckett’s chair warm for him.” Keller’s tone, however, was anything but warm. “I was made to understand that a certain amnesty agreement had been reached to allow Dr Weir’s rescue party to return to Atlantis.”
“A tentative agreement, Dr Keller, meant to keep this city functioning. Frankly… we didn’t expect them to find her alive. Or to return this soon. Nothing has been confirmed with Earth, yet.”
“Are you going back on your word?”
The former lawyer bristled. “I’ve done no such thing. I’m merely saying that there is more work to be done before anyone else returns.”
“It’s been made clear to me that John Sheppard needs to be with his family, and that it is essential to their recovery. I suggest you get back to work on that amnesty, Mr Woolsey.”
He knew he was being dismissed. “I will do my best.”
Steven, in the meantime, had wandered over the incubator where Teyla sat, a hand through one of the ports, gently stroking the tiny boy’s cheek. “How is he?”
“Still weak. He needs his rest, needs time to grow a little more.” She looked up at him pointedly. “He needs his parents.”
“With that hair, there’s no denying he is Sheppard’s boy,” the colonel said gently. “Did they give him a name?”
“John started calling him Eli; he wanted to name him after Elizabeth.” Teyla looked over her shoulder towards the still sedated woman. “But Elizabeth herself has not been in any condition to weigh in on the matter. It is…difficult to tell when she might be. If ever.”
Caldwell nodded his understanding. “What happened out there?”
“It is a very long story, Colonel, and I myself do not know the whole of it. We know that a dealer in Ancestral artefacts on Kor’ahe sold her to two scavengers, Dyros and Firra, who took her to an Ancient city on the edge of the galaxy, Vasana. They believed there was a lost technology, a new kind of power source, located on the planet. Her job was to translate the instructions and advise them on how to disassemble the machine and recreate it elsewhere. We also know that at some point, Dyros contacted a broker to…sell Elizabeth’s baby.”
“What?” Steven was incredulous; surely he had misheard her.
“It is not an uncommon practice. The young man who arranged Elizabeth’s kidnapping was also raised as a slave. And the scavengers would certainly have no use for an infant.” Teyla’s hand came to rest on Eli’s torso, feeling his rapid little breaths and fluttering heart. “That was John’s breaking point. He had barely eaten or slept for months and couldn’t go on.”
“That was when you called for help,” the Colonel finished. Whatever anger he had harboured for the last few weeks was dissolving the more she spoke. If anything, he was more angry at himself. He hadn’t known that the Pegasus galaxy contained things far worse than the Wraith. “What happened to Dyros and Firra?”
“They are dead.” Or as good as.
“And what about the Ancient power generator Dr Weir was working on?”
Teyla eyed the Colonel coolly. She’s wondered when it would come around to this. “It is safe.”
“Are you going to bring it back to Atlantis?”
“Not without Sheppard and the rest, no.”
Caldwell knew he was being strong-armed again. “Well, I guess we’ll see what can be done about that. I’m sure the Air Force and IOA would be willing to make several concessions for such a piece of technology.”
A crash from behind them made every jump. Elizabeth was awake and trying to get out of bed, fighting the nurse trying to stop her. “Let me go! I have to find John!”
“Elizabeth!” Teyla rushed over and firmly pressed the woman back. “Elizabeth, look at me.”
“Teyla? Where are we? Where’s John”
“We are back on Atlantis, in the infirmary.” The Athosian gently brushed Elizabeth’s dishevelled hair back from her face. “Carson sent Ronan and me through with you and the baby for medical help. You were very sick and have been unconscious for nearly a day, Elizabeth.”
“But where’s John?” she insisted tearfully.
“He remained behind on-” Teyla stopped short, aware of being overheard. It had been agreed that until their safety could be guaranteed, she and Ronan would not reveal where the rogue Atlantians or the machine were. “He wanted to come, but can’t just yet.”
“Dr Weir?” A young woman she had never seen before, but dressed in an expedition uniform and wearing a white coat, cautiously approached. “My name is Jennifer Keller. I’ve been helping out while Dr Beckett is away. You needed to have surgery only a short time ago, and you have an infection that went to your heart. It’s really important that you stay in bed and let us take of you right now.”
But the stubborn woman shook her head. “No, I can’t stay. I have to go back for John.”
Keller looked over at Teyla, starting to grasp her description of Elizabeth Weir’s mental state. “I understand you want him to be close by, but Colonel Sheppard told us to take care of you while he’s off world. You and your son.”
Elizabeth looked confused. “My son?”
“Yes, Elizabeth, do you not remember Eli?” From the bag she had come through the Stargate with, Teyla pulled out the strangest stuffed animal Jennifer had ever seen. “Remember this? You got it for the baby.”
Smiling, the new mother seemed to clear a little bit. “Yes, I remember. Where is he?”
“Right here,” Keller said hurriedly, moving out of the way so that Elizabeth could see the incubator. “He needs a little help with his lungs and his liver right now, but he also needs a little help from you, too. His immune system never had much of a chance to develop while he was inside you. But if you nurse him, he will still get some of those antibodies he needs.”
Though she seemed to wince, Elizabeth nodded. “John wanted me to feed him.”
“Then you should,” Teyla assured her. Glaring at Caldwell for a moment for watching this scene unfold, Teyla pulled the curtain, walling the women and infant off from the rest of the infirmary.
Opening the incubator, Jennifer re-swaddled baby Sheppard, who came awake with a little wail, and carefully put him in Elizabeth’s arms. If he had been any larger, she wasn’t sure his mother would have been able to hold him. Unfastening the shoulder snaps of Elizabeth’s surgical gown, Jennifer helped her manoeuvre a breast already dripping from let-down into Eli’s open mouth.
“Well, he’s certainly got that part mastered,” the doctor said happily. “It can be a problem with some preemies, but it looks like we won’t have to worry about him not eating enough. He needs to start putting on weight right away.” Now she frowned. “And so do you, for that matter. I’m surprised you’ve been able to produce any milk at all. The DEXA scan showed a severe weakening of your bones; you’re body has been metabolizing itself to keep this little boy alive. If I brought a lunch tray, do you think you would eat a bit of it for me?”
Elizabeth shrugged noncommittally. Hunger was a feeling for her that had disappeared long ago; eating was something she did to avoid punishment from Firra. The thought of food – and not eating food – made the bruise on her thigh ache. She wondered if it would ever stop.
The HMS Bounty was settled outside the defence perimeter of the Market, close to the Stargate, a position others avoided in case Wraith Darts came through the Gate. In their case, they wanted to get Elizabeth and Eli through to Atlantis as soon as possible. Once Ronan and Teyla had disappeared through the pool of light with his family, John Sheppard went back inside and slept for 17 hours without so much as rolling over. It was the most sleep he’d had without a sedative in over four months. While he slept, the other rebellious Atlantians sat in the galley eating fresh Kor’ahe dumplings Lorne had retrieved from a stall near the Portus Primus.
“Should we call them again?” Rodney asked. Of all of them, he was the most anxious to get back to the safety of Atlantis. “Tell them about the Grav-wave generator, that we’re willing to trade it for our reinstatement?”
Chuck shook his head. “Not yet. Teyla and Ronan will make sure they know what we have. Let Woolsey and Colonel Caldwell stew over it at least another day. And the longer we go without telling them about it ourselves, the more they will want it.”
Carson was surprised. “I had no idea ya had such a Machiavellian streak in ya, lad.”
“I get – I got – to sit in the Control room every day, listening to Colonel Sheppard and Dr Weir talk to the powerbrokers of two different galaxies.” The Canadian technician shrugged. “Kinda hard not to pick up a thing or two.”
“And what do we do if it doesn’t work?” Lorne was being practical. Unlike the rest, he wasn’t a civilian. He, like Sheppard, stood a good chance of winding up in Leavenworth.
“That’s their problem to deal with after we’ve been reinstated,” McKay insisted. “I mean, they can’t just exile us after the fact just because some piece of Ancient technology doesn’t work…Can they?”
“Would it work here?”
Rodney’s head snapped up from his breakfast. “What do you mean?”
“The Kor’ahe system has subject to massive gravitation forces, just like Magarus. If there was anywhere it had a chance of working, it would be here, not Atlantis.”
“You’re talking about a serious commitment,” Lorne cautioned. “It won’t all go back together overnight. And if they did allow us back tomorrow…would you leave it all?”
McKay, however, was far more excited. “The Bounty will never make it back to the Atlantis home system. And we have more resources – raw and scrap – here than we would have on Atlantis. Chuck is right; this is the perfect place for proof of concept.”
“But what a’ Colonel Sheppard?” Carson had very little interest in an energy generator and more in his family of patients. “How long would ya keep him away from Elizabeth and the wee lad?”
“Maybe we can trade him for Dr Zelenka? Like, a prisoner swap.”
Lorne snorted. “I hate to point it out, but Zelenka is not a ‘prisoner’, and right now, Sheppard isn’t either. The point is to make sure he doesn’t become one.”
The astrophysicist waved it off. “We’ll work on those details later. The sooner we master this, the better our bargaining position.”
“We should also make sure we have the cooperation of the local authorities and Council of Merchants,” Chuck added. He had indeed learned a lot from his time watching Dr Weir. “They may be of assistance if they had access to the technology. We need a base of operations, secure trade partners, local labour, and, if it comes to it, protection from Atlantis’s marines if they try to take us by force.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.” Evan Lorne was the only soldier among them. It would be his friends and colleagues coming through the Gate. “We’re not going to start killing our own.”
“Of course not. Just an…added layer of negotiation.”
Carson shook his head. “Lord, son, ya are getting’ good at this.”
“But-” The Major wasn’t going to let them run off chasing deals without tying their laces first. “We don’t do anything without Colonel Sheppard’s say-so.”
John Sheppard was dreaming.
Someone or something was holding him to the floor, forcing him to watch a headless body rape Elizabeth, who kept screaming his name, begging for help. And the whole time there was the sound of a baby crying, but he couldn’t find where it was coming from, couldn’t get to either one. Then the universe fell away, leaving him to fall through the void of nothingness.
He finally woke with a shout when he hit the floor, throwing himself off the bed in a tangle of sheets. Panting, he rolled awkwardly onto his side, freeing one arm, then the other, from the confining bed linens. “She’s safe.” It was his mantra, repeated like a prayer, ever since Ronan had cradled her in his powerful arms and walked through the Stargate. After months of having only Ronan and Teyla at his side, he felt lonely. And his bed felt cold after two weeks of being curled around Elizabeth. She had kept the nightmares at bay, just as he had calmed hers; now he couldn’t help worrying that she was alone and scared.
“Colonel.” Beckett knocked on the door frame gently, his other hand holding a steaming bowl with an enticing aroma that made Sheppard’s stomach growl. At least that part of him was still working normally. “I thought ya could use this, and an update.”
“Have you contacted Atlantis to check on Elizabeth and Eli?” he asked, taking the welcomed meal and shivering as warmth spread through his hands.
“Not just yet. We’re letting them…whet their appetite fer the device, and lettin’ Ronan and Teyla fully assess the situation. No point in all a’ this just ta have ya end up in prison, John.”
“I did what I came to do, Carson. I don’t care what happens to me now. But the rest of you shouldn’t be punished for helping. I’ll do my best to see to that.”
Carson sat on the bed next to him, earnest eyes pleading for understanding. “Lad, not a single one a’ us is worried about ourselves; just you, Elizabeth, and the wee baby. We know what we were doin’ and we can take care a’ ourselves; ya need ta take care a yer family now.”
“But how. Finding Elizabeth is turning out to have been the easiest part of this. It’s rule and regulations and politics that’s finally going to destroy everything.” John sighed, squeezing his eyes tightly shut in an effort to wash away the last of his nightmare. “What’s the difference between the IOA and a couple of pirates? Because so far, I can’t tell the difference.”
“Well, it’s goin’ ta get even harder to tell the difference once we get Chuck’s plan under way, if yer agreeable.”
“Chuck’s plan?” There was no hiding in incredulity in Sheppard’s voice.
“Aye, actually, he’s quite clever. The Kor’ahe system is the perfect place ta test the gravity generator. If we can get it ta work here, we’ll be in a much stronger bargainin’ position ta trade it fer a few pounds a' forgiveness from above.”
“And how long will that take?”
Beckett understood the implications of the question. “I have no idea.”
“Tell me, Colonel, do you think this gravitational tide generator is real?”
“What Carter’s asking,” Jack O’Neill interjected, “is if it’s worth getting on the Daedalus and dragging our brass-heavy butts across two galaxies.”
Steven shifted uncomfortably in front of the monitor, aware that he was under scrutiny on both sides of the Stargate at the moment. “We don’t know enough yet, sir, but I don’t see any reason for them to lie about it. Dr Weir was originally targeted for a reason; those scavengers believed she had a knowledge they needed. And no matter how dire the situation, if Sheppard thought it would buy his team’s safety, and if McKay thought he could make it work, there was every advantage in bringing this device back with them.”
“But you haven’t actually seen any proof,” Sam Carter clarified.
“I don’t even know where it is, ma’am. Teyla and Ronon won’t reveal the location until they have a signed amnesty for all Atlantis personnel who helped to recover Dr Weir.” Caldwell wanted to tell them more, wanted the SGC to just approve the damn deal already and put this all to rest, and not just for his own peace of mind.
“How is she today?” Jack O’Neill had always liked Elizabeth. He’d read the official medical report and needed some time alone with a punching bag before he could face anyone, especially Sam. The Air Force General was compelled to recommend the rogue Lt Colonel Sheppard be dishonourably discharged; Jack O’Neill admitted he would do no different had it been Sam Carter.
“Dr Keller hasn’t needed to sedate her, if that counts as improvement.” Getting information from the CMO, or any of the medical staff, had been rather akin to asking Ronon Dex about his day, and males in general (with the exception of the Satedan) had not been welcomed in the infirmary with any of the usual care and concern.
“And the baby?” Sam pressed.
“Better than his mother at this point. He’s a fighter.”
Jack bristled. “So’s Elizabeth.” He looked at his watch. “The Daedalus is set to depart in 22 hours. We’ll see you in eighteen days, Colonel.”
When the connection cut and the wormhole closed, Steven let out his breath and his shoulders slumped.
“So we’re going to have company,” Richard noted dryly from behind him. “I’ll have someone clean the VIP quarters.”
“Might as well give them mine,” Steven grumbled. “This entire assignment has moved from snafu to full-blown fubar.”
The IOA rep raised a questioning brow. “Believe it or not, Colonel, I do actually know what those acronyms stand for, and if you stand accused of failure on Atlantis, then so do I. You and I were both put in an impossible situation, trying to resolve a problem neither of us have the authority to actually solve. You cannot grant immunity to AWOL airmen, and I cannot arbitrarily restore Dr Weir’s position. We were both sent with orders to stop the search and conserve resources; and I wish I had never followed that directive.”
The Colonel was surprised. “Are you blaming yourself for this?”
“I am honest enough to admit that we gave up too easily; if we had not forced Sheppard out on his own, we might have recovered Elizabeth weeks, if not months ago. And she wouldn’t…” Woolsey looked away, unable to finish his thought.
“But we still have 18 days,” Steven reminded him. “We have 18 days to salvage this. And I’m not talking about our careers; I’m talking about putting this city and a particular family back together before we leave.”
“What did you have in mind?”
Elizabeth was half asleep, vaguely aware of the warmth and weight of her son asleep against her chest, breasts no longer aching with fullness. She’d heard someone come in and slide a tray onto the table next to the bed, but couldn’t bring herself to reach for it just yet. It was a habit established over the last three days; after each feeding of Eli (she’d grown used to the name) someone would bring her a little something to eat. Not a lot; she couldn’t eat more than half a Powerbar or cup of fruit, but as long as she did, Keller and Teyla wouldn’t bother her about eating more. Earth-based foods were easier to keep down, nothing that reminded her of what Dyros cooked.
More of what had happened over the last few weeks was starting to come back to her, and not just the worst parts; those parts she walled off into a part of her mind where it could be observed from the outside, objectively and without emotional attachment. No, what was coming back was John’s arrival, of walks up and down a corridor while gentle voices spoke to her of nothing, of the pain when she went into the labour, of her terror at the tiny life placed in her arms. She was sorry for her reaction, sorry that even now it was a struggle to find any sort of affection for this creature sprung from her womb; but no matter how hard she tried, there was just an emptiness when Eli entered her mind. And if anyone offered her John in exchange for him, she would trade the baby without a second thought.
“Why are you crying, Elizabeth?”
It was Kate’s voice. She hadn’t heard the psychologist enter the room, hadn’t even realized there was moisture on her cheeks until now.
“You don’t have to pretend you’re asleep, either.” So Kate was not going to settle for Elizabeth’s current defence mechanism. Silence and sleep, feigned or otherwise. People thought the former leader of Atlantis had lost her marbles, and at present, she felt no compunction to dissuade them; it was easier this way. “Talk to me Elizabeth. Please.”
“I’m not in the mood, Dr Heightmeyer.” This was the closest Elizabeth had come to sounding like herself in front of anyone else. But she was growing angry at the constant intrusions, the tiptoeing and whispers.
“It can be about anything at all,” Kate encouraged. “The weather.”
“I haven’t been outside in days and there’s no windows,” Elizabeth growled, keeping her eyes closed and gritting her teeth.
“Would you like to know about the weather?”
“Kate.” It was a warning, but a warning that came with fierce tensing of her arms, followed by Eli’s wail of displeasure at having his thin skin bruised.
“Elizabeth, stop!” The psychologist was pulling the infant away, cradling him gently as Keller came running in.
“What happened?” Jennifer took Eli and placed him back in the incubator, checking him over, but finding nothing more than a few red pressure marks.
Realizing what she’d done, Weir curled in on herself and started to sob in earnest. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
“No, of course you didn’t.” Kate was quick to reassure her, rubbing the distraught woman’s back. “You’re just getting stronger, you didn’t realize. He’s ok.”
“I hate this,” she hissed, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes. “I hate all of this. I just want it to stop!”
“It will start getting better when you start talking about it,” Dr Keller reminded her, closing the incubator latch, watching the baby already drift back into slumber. “I know you don’t know me, Dr Weir, but I promise you that nothing will change if you can’t bring yourself to change. And if you’re done getting better, if you’re not going to put any more effort into it… I’m going to have to ask the SGC to identify foster parents who can take Eli.”
Elizabeth snapped up in bed, glaring angrily at the acting CMO. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Jennifer smiled, happy to have found the ‘On’ switch. “Hello there, nice to meet you, Dr Weir.”
“Answer me. What are you going to do with Eli?”
“Elizabeth.” Kate gripped her shoulder from behind, trying to calm her. “We don’t know when John is coming back. And if you can’t take care of Eli, then we have to find someone who will.”
The anger – and energy – seemed to go out of her. “John wanted…”
“This can’t be about what Colonel Sheppard wanted,” Jennifer insisted. “It has to be what you want. No one here will judge you if you don’t want him. We can send him away-”
“No!” Faced with the possibility that she might lose Eli, that she would be deemed unfit to raise her son, terrified her. Speculating about trading him away for John was different from the very real threat suddenly placed before her.
“Tell me something, Elizabeth: if Colonel Sheppard never comes back, would you still want the baby?” Jennifer looked up over her patient’s head at the psychologist, who was remaining silent while the debate played out. “Are you keeping him only because you think that’s what he wants?”
The prospect of a future without John and without his son, was too much. She could at least have one, one who was already here right now. “Don’t take him,” she whispered.
“Okay, then.” From the tray table, Keller took the plate of cold buttered toast and held it out, waiting until Elizabeth finally took it. “Dr Heightmeyer will wait for you to finish eating, and then you’re going to talk to her for no less than half an hour. When she’s done, you are going to let me do a complete physical and you’re not going to fight me on it. Understood?”
Clenching her pale lips in irritation, unused to being blackmailed, Elizabeth had no choice but to concede. “Fine.”
“Excellent.” Keller’s demeanour was suddenly irritatingly cheerful. Elizabeth wondered if she had been a cheerleader in high school. And if she hadn’t, she missed her calling. “Eat up. Time’s a’wasting.”
Elizabeth took a bite of the cold toast and glared at the Physician’s retreating back.
“You’re angry.” Kate’s rather obvious analysis made Elizabeth role her eyes. “You’re angry, but you haven’t really thought about why you’re so angry.”
“You mean I shouldn’t be angry about people butting into my life and constantly telling me what to do and threatening me if I don’t do it?”
The psychologist sighed, placing a hand on Elizabeth’s knee, observing how she flinched, but didn’t retract it. Elizabeth needed to relearn that physical contact was not something to fear. “If what happened to you had happened to anyone else, you would be treating that person the same way we’re treating you now. Your first concern would be for their physical and mental health, and you would do anything to ensure their well-being. But because it’s you, trauma has clouded those rational parts of your mind, leaving only fear, sadness, and anger.
“You are an intelligent woman, incredibly adept at reading others, negotiating with them, using words to turn them in the direction you want them to face. But for months you had to forget you were Dr Elizabeth Weir, reverting to the most primitive of emotions and survival instinct. Being afraid kept you alive, and now that you don’t have to be afraid, that feeling is supplanted by an anger you can’t begin to recognize in yourself.”
The words were hard to hear, but some little part of Elizabeth that remembered who she was before Magarus strained to listened. She licked the remnants of butter from her fingers while Kate waited patiently for a response. “I’m not angry at John.”
“Because you love him. He was the one part of yourself that you didn’t let go of. If he was here now, asking you to do what Dr Keller asked you to do, you would feel differently. Lashing out at the rest of us is the only way you can feel in control.”
“You keep trying to take away my control!” Anger flared again. “You keep making me eat! So did they! I was punished any time I couldn’t keep food down. Eating meant giving in to what they wanted. You want to take away Eli, and so did they! They wanted to sell him, like I had been sold. And you want-” Elizabeth threw off Kate’s hand, her voice catching, “You want to be able to touch me…like he did.”
Heightmeyer held up her hands so that the patient could see both. “Not like him, Elizabeth, not to hurt you. I don’t want you to be afraid of human contact; I want you to be comforted by it. And we really don’t want to take Eli away, but we can’t let you hurt him either, consciously or not. Nor can we let you hurt yourself; if you don’t eat, then we have to take more of your control away and use a feeding tube, which is the last thing I want to do.”
Clenching her fists, Elizabeth closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose, fighting the urge to lash out. “Then what do you want from me?”
“I’m going to want a lot from you, but we’re going to start simple: I want you to pick what you want to eat next, and I want you to hug someone.”
“What, like you? Now?”
Kate smiled and shook her head. “Not me, just someone. Someone you want to hug.”
“What if I don’t want to hug anyone?”
“Don’t worry, you will. And when that moment comes, I don’t want you to freeze up, to stop yourself. Just do it. Remember what it was like to not fear other people.”
“And when it does it stop, Kate? When does it get better?”
“When you let it.”
Elizabeth glowered at her. “That’s a nonsense answer.”
“It’s the truth. Just don’t expect it to happen right away. Recognizing not just that you’re angry, but why you’re angry, is the first step in regaining control.”
“Jumper One to Jumper Two; we’re in position.”
“Wait are you sure you’re Jumper One? I thought we were Jumper One-”
“McKay, it doesn’t matter!” Lorne was tired. Everyone was tired. No one slept more than a few hours at a stretch, working at a frenetic pace to reconstruct the Grav-Wave Generator over the last 16 days.
The Kor’ahe Merchants Council had been very receptive to helping, firstly because it would alleviate their own power issues with the ever-expanding Market, and two, they were desperate to restore their reputation with the inhabitants of the City of the Ancestors. At first the Council had offered them slave labour, which Sheppard refused outright, but Chuck was the one who salvaged the negation by instead offering that the slaves be freed in advance and paid a small wage while working off the balance of their price on the project. When the Colonel still tried to object, Lorne pointed out that the sooner it was completed, the sooner they might be able to return to Atlantis.
“Elizabeth would the hate the idea of this.”
“But Dr Weir isn’t here, sir. That’s whole point.”
So John caved, never saying yes, but dropped his veto. He worked alongside the two dozen labourers every day. Outside the old Market Gates they had erected the central pillar, rebuilding the casing depicted in the Ancient data crystals. Satiros came to offer his services, even after Lorne and Rodney had to hold John down to keep him from killing the young man. Every day Rodney gave him a list of materials to find, and chits from the Council to pay the merchants, and every evening, he returned with pieces of Ancient computers, scraps of naquadah, half-broken superconductors and a hodgepodge of alien circuitry. Then he would stay up half the night helping Rodney to translate the Ancestral texts so they knew what to do the next day.
Now they were ready to deploy the two-square-mile of micro-filament Grav-netting, the mesh that would vibrate in the gravitational currents, stripping energy from the Higgs field and collecting it in two foci that fed a continuous wave of energy to the Central column. As far as Rodney could tell, like the casing of a ZPM, it served as an energy modulator, containing and distributing power evenly, rather than, as Rodney put it, like a hydrogen bomb going off three times per second. Four retrofit satellite would anchor each corner, keeping the ‘Net in a geosynchronous orbit. By Rodney’s calculation, the power generated by the salvaged netting was only 1% of what the central mechanism could actually hold. But for now, it was hundred time more than what the Market needed.
If it worked.
“Ready to release Sat 1…Now!”
Chuck dropped the first corner of the ‘Net, then indicated on the HUD how far Lorne should go before releasing the next.
“Alright, McKay, you’re good to go on your end.”
Rodney sat next to Sheppard, trying to calculate how far they needed to move laterally. “A little more… Just a bit more…”
“McKay!” John barked, not in the mood. “Will you just…stop passenger seat driving! Just hit the damn release button when you need to.”
The astrophysicist muttered something his pilot couldn’t make out, releasing Sat 3 without fanfare. “Right, take us half a mile that way.”
“‘That way’, Rodney? Really? We’re in space. There’s no such direction as ‘that way’.” But Sheppard knew which way he needed to go, taking them to the fourth point on the map.
“And…there goes Sat 4.” Rodney waited. They sat in silence for several moments. “Okay…so we should probably get back to the planet. If things aren’t aligned, when this thing starts putting out an energy wave it might, you know, wipe out several square kilometres.”
Even with inertial dampeners, John still threw them sideways as he brought the Jumper about. “Might have been a good idea to mention that a bit sooner, McKay.”
“Well, uh, I’m tired. I thought I’d told you, but sometimes I don’t know if I’m talking to you or talking to myself.”
John looked over at him wryly. “Yeah, sometimes I don’t know either.”
As the Jumper touched down at their encampment, Sheppard didn’t get up right away, reaching out to take his friend by the wrist. “Rodney…if this doesn’t work, I just want you to know…Thank you. For everything. Thank you for trying. I can…never repay you, or the others, for what you’ve done.”
“John…” This was not Rodney’s forte, but exhaustion lowed his defences enough to make him want to try. “You’re welcome. But honestly…I would have done it anyway. Because if this does work, it’ll be really, really cool.”
Smiling, Sheppard got to his feet and pulled Rodney with him. “Come on, let’s go see what comes next.”
“You might find it all a bit…anticlimactic,” the scientist admitted, kicking a loose stone across the pavement. Twilight had fallen while they were in orbit, and on the other side of the Market wall came the glow of colourful lights and lanterns, because the Market never slept.
Carson was waiting, along with Satiros and every now-free worker; no one wanted to leave until they saw it work. The salvaged Ancient power crystal was in a makeshift silo, designed to insulate from potential radiation, but it wouldn’t save them from any catastrophic failure. A semi-buried tunnel fifty metres long connected the silo to what had become known as the “Command Shed”. The main control console had been taken from Vasana, but it wasn’t very user friendly, so Rodney had rigged four computers to interface with separate functions.
“Soooo.” Carson rocked up on his heels, impatient. “How do we make this work?”
Rodney was buried in one of the screens, typing furiously. “Big red button.”
“Big. Red. Button.” Without looking up, he pointed to a little big red button welded to the Ancient controls.
Now Rodney pasued in his work. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“The original system start-up only worked for those with the ATA gene,” Chuck explained gently. “We needed an On/Off that would work for any one, and be obvious, since we won’t always be here to operate the system. We hope.”
“Right, then, Big Red Button.” Carson looked round the assembled party. “Who gets the honours? We can draw lots or-”
John pushed the button.
“-Or, right, we can jus’ get on with it.”
No one spoke. No one breathed. Watching the main heads-up display that unified inputs from all four terminals, they waited.
“Mckay.” Lorne’s tone carried an edge of warning. “Nothing’s happening.”
“I know, Detective, I know!” Sweat started to appear on Rodney’s brow. It was quite warm in the Shed now. “Maybe we misaligned the ‘Net, or the receiving dish, or the Ancients were wrong and the whole bloody thing never-”
John mashed the Big Red Button a little harder, and the screens jumped to life.
Rodney’s voice jumped an octave. “It works!”
Oh, it did work. Very, very well. Too well.
“We’re starting to red line!” Chuck shouted.
“You think?!” McKay hammered his keyboard, looking for the fault. “It’s too much power coming in, not enough going out!”
“What does that mean for us?” Carson was ready to leap into action, though he wasn’t sure what kind of leaping or action this situation called for.
“It means that in less than two minutes, everything within 20 kilometers of here is going to become a smoking crater!”
“What about the bleed-out relief you said you were putting?!” As tired as he had been, John was on full alert now.
“It’s not working! It’s…Oh no!” Rodney paled. “It’s a physical break in the line, the one that runs out to the hills. We didn’t…I didn’t check that the circuit was complete before turning it on.”
“So what do we do about it?!” John demanded.
“Nothing.” Looking up at John, utter despair filled McKay’s eyes. “I can’t stop it. Not from here. Someone…I need to go into the silo, finish the link.”
“No!” As his friend tried to rise, Sheppard pushed him back down. “No. I’ll go.”
Carson was aghast. “What about Elizabeth? And Eli? John, we didn’t do all this jus’ so you-”
While they were arguing, a lithe figure with a pale scar around his neck disappeared into the hatch that led to the silo. Satiros had always tried to lead a good life; he always obeyed his Master, genuinely tried to assist customers, but to gain his freedom, had done the unforgivable.
When he came face to face with Colonel Sheppard again, he hadn’t run, not because he wasn’t scared, but because he was willing to meet whatever punishment the wronged man heaped upon him. He was disappointed when the others didn’t let Sheppard beat the life out of his pitiful body; instead, he had taxed it beyond reason for the project. And now there was one last thing he could do. Satiros knew the circuit Dr McKay was talking about; he’d helped to find the materials to build it. The part was not in the original design from the Ancestors, but they likely had not needed such a thing.
The closer he got to the hatch at the other end of the corridor, the hotter it became. The first time he touched the door handle his fingers instantly blistered. Cursing, he took off his shirt and wrapped it around his hand, barely able to stand the searing pain that still came through the fabric. As soon as he pulled the heavy titanium open, heat stole all of the air from his lungs. He could feel his flesh beginning to char, and agony in his head as his temperature jumped beyond survivable levels. But he only had to crawl another ten meters to the superconductor plating was not connected from the column base to the outlet circuit. He no longer had any sensation in his hands as he grabbed the plate and wedged it into place.
It was like someone had suddenly blocked out nine-tenths of the sun; the irradiating light dropped, taking much of the heat with it. Satiros smiled a bloody smile, splitting open all the skin that had once been his lips. The light continued to dim, and he became acutely aware of the fact that his lungs were no longer inflating. Maybe that’s why his head was pounding. But his heart wasn’t. That was strange. At least it didn’t hurt, though there was a cold starting to settle over him now. It was a new sensation for him; Kor’ahe was usually a very warm world. Satiros didn’t think he liked the cold.
Everyone in the Command Shed watched the redlines on the HUD drop back into the green, and over two dozen pairs of lungs finally exhaled.
“What did you do?” Sheppard asked, turning to Rodney.
“Nothing.” The man held his hands up as proof that he wasn’t touching anything. “I didn’t do it.”
Chuck’s eyes darted around the crowd. He had become rather adept at counting heads and identifying faces after years of seeing people through the Gate, always looking out for the friend, prepared to count the unfamiliar as a foe. “Where’s Satiros?”