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Invasion

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Invasion

 

"Looks like the bone is healing nicely," Carson told John as he slowly ran a scanner over the cast on his left leg. John sat almost dead still on the infirmary bed, and tried to appear calm even though his insides were writhing with disgust. He looked up from the leg, and glared straight at the tall, faceless thing looming behind Carson.

The dark, gelatinous column hovered in place, swaying slightly. Its insides were brownish grey and nearly transparent, apart from a collection of softly glowing golden spheres that travelled slowly up and down its body, like the thing was a creepy lava lamp come to life. From its rounded head, dozens of thin tendrils stretched outwards, their tips disappearing inside Carson's head. Things had really gotten fucked up this time.

"You're lucky the fracture wasn't any more serious," Carson continued. "Just a few weeks more and you should be back on active duty." He sounded more or less normal, but tired, as if he hadn't slept well in days. John felt like he hadn't slept in years, but he had no choice but to stay awake. He also had a massive headache, and painkillers hadn't put even a dent in the pain. His head was buzzing and humming weirdly as well. There was a vague sense of familiarity to it, but the pain made it hard to focus on what it meant. But none of that mattered. John was already beyond tiredness and pain, and running purely on frustration and rage.

He grit his teeth, and though all his instincts were screaming at him to either run or fight, remained motionless. If he didn't, those things might resort to more violent means than tripping him over, and he'd already wasted too much time having his leg treated.

"That's it," Carson announced, completely oblivious to the creature, and put the scanner away. He rubbed his temples for a moment like his head hurt, agitating the things attached to him. A flash of pain crossed his face, but it vanished as soon as the tendrils readjusted themselves. "Don’t put any weight on the leg, and take things easy, doctor's orders," Carson continued, smiling faintly and turning towards John. Following Carson's movement, the alien slid along the floor to keep its position behind him. Only the top part remained visible, and though it had no face, and no eyes, John knew with deadly certainty that the thing was watching him. They all were.

In addition to John there were nine other people in the infirmary, and nine of those creatures, each paired up like puppets and their masters—and it wasn't just here, the situation was the same all over Atlantis. They had been thoroughly and efficiently invaded, and no-one but John seemed to be aware of what had happened.

John noticed that Carson had suddenly gone quiet. He was watching John with puzzled expectation, as if he knew that something was supposed to happen, but wasn't sure what. There was a half-vacant look in his eyes, but he smiled in his usually pleasant way as if nothing was wrong while the thing probed his mind, and it was creepy as hell.

"Thanks, Doc," John replied stiffly, but Carson didn't seem to react to his mood. "I'll be leaving then." He carefully slid down from the bed, grabbed his crutches, and under the eyeless scrutiny of their invaders limped his way out of the infirmary, relieved to get out of there. He wasn't sure how long he could have kept himself from shooting the hell out of something to vent his frustration and anger, and there was no telling what harm that could have done to the people the things were attached to if he hit them.

But if John had even for a second believed that guns could solve this, he would have used them already. He needed a different kind of plan, and for that, he needed Rodney.

 

~~~

 

It would be a simple matter to locate the scientist, since Rodney would no doubt be in the lab, fiddling with the equipment while not being quite sure what he was supposed to do with them. The hard part would be facing him the way he was now.

Before heading for the labs, however, John took a detour through the gate room to check on the situation there.

Everything appeared weirdly normal, with people working at their stations and chatting idly. Chuck was at his console, talking with Radek, who was holding a coffee mug in his hand. The coffee in it looked a day old. Both of them stopped to greet John as he passed by. If it weren't for the blankness of their faces and the creatures alongside them, this could almost have been just another day on Atlantis. John could feel their attention shift toward him. The creatures knew to be wary of him now.

From John's short experience, it seemed that the aliens didn't take over their victims completely, but left their minds dulled and obedient instead. People went about their business as usual, for the most part. They slept, they ate, they worked, but it was all an empty routine. So far the creatures didn't appear to cause any physical harm to anyone either, unless someone like John tried to interfere with whatever they were doing. But that didn’t change the fact they controlled you.

John hobbled along the upper walkway, and looked down at the gate. Even after two days it still remained open, the rippling pond as serene as ever and casting a glow around the room. John had tried shutting it down several times, through several different methods ranging from stealing the Atlantis’ ZPM to smashing the gate control keys. Each attempt at sabotage had been blocked, and the bastards were using the people around John to do it. They hadn't resorted to actual violence—not yet, John thought grimly— but the fact that they’d upped the game to physical contact meant that they weren’t going to just ignore John. Now, if he so much as looked like was going to cause trouble, a wall of blankly smiling people would form in his path. Good thing a smile was easy to fake, and the creatures couldn’t tell the difference from a real one.

So John forced his mouth into a grin, and made his way past all the watchful monsters. Just looking at them twisted a sick knot in John’s stomach. He wanted nothing more than to grab the damn tendrils and rip them out of people’s heads, but there was no telling if that would somehow hurt them. Or worse. But he’d make the bastards pay for what they’d done later.

John left the gate room and lurched down a hallway, cursing under his breath. He kept a watchful eye on any movement, but the usually bustling corridors were now empty and desolate. He hadn’t run across any unattached aliens in a while, but there were bound to be some around. Slow as they were while attached to someone, the creatures moved faster than you could see when they weren't. They wouldn’t have succeeded otherwise.

Everything had happened in a blink of an eye. The gate had opened, Lorne’s IDC had come through as it should, and Chuck had lowered the shield. They’d lost the battle even before Lorne’s team had stepped through. Well, almost, if John had any choice in the matter, and apparently, he did.

John turned a corner, and stepped into a transporter. He was taking the long way around, not simply to mislead any straggling followers, but because he needed to think. For some reason, the creatures avoided John like the plague, and he needed to figure out why. So far he didn’t even have a clue, but John suspected it had something to do with the splitting headache that wouldn't go away. It had started as soon as the first creature had slid through the gate, and the sudden pain had forced John to his knees. That brought up other unpleasant thoughts, and John felt nauseous again.

By the time he’d recovered from the shock of the pain, it had already been too late. He'd been surrounded by those things, and John was forced to sit still as they took over everyone, one by one. Some struggled more than others, but none for long. Some had screamed. The wall around him had at least spared John from the sight of their horrified faces.

He left the transporter and continued along another empty corridor, and tried to pick up speed as best he could with the cast and the crutches.

The creatures had clearly planned on taking over John too along with everyone else, covering him with a writhing mass of tendrils. But whenever they touched John's head, the creatures would shriek and retreat. Eventually, after capturing everyone else, they'd simply given up and let him go.

Rodney had been the first one John had run to, and away from.

John moved on, steeling his resolve for what was to come.

 

~~~

 

As John had expected, Rodney was in the lab by his computer. John stopped at the door, just to watch him, and to get used to the suffocating feeling in his chest.

Rodney's fingers hovered over the keyboard, aimlessly, his brow in puzzled wrinkles. He looked painfully lost. Rodney's 'companion' was there too, standing behind him. It looked slightly larger than some of the others John had seen. Countless thin tendrils extended from the alien to Rodney, crowning his head like a nest of snakes. It clearly took more effort to control a strong, persistent mind such as Rodney's, and the tendrils constantly writhed and shifted as if they were waging a battle with Rodney over his mind. John's hands curled into fists. Anger had always been easy to deal with. It was like a long time friend to him, and John had long ago learned how to turn it into a weapon he could use. His weakness were the feelings he’d always denied he had.

Suddenly Rodney lifted his gaze and noticed John, and for a second he looked just as he had been, eyes alight and his mouth turning up in a crookedly delighted smile.

"John!" Rodney exclaimed, a hand reaching out for him. But then a veil of dullness covered his face, and his arm fell. John's fingers squeezed tighter, nails digging into his palms, and he fought to breathe.

This was the reason John had avoided coming here again for as long as he could. It hurt. Worse than the pain in his head, worse than any gunshot wound or broken bone ever had. To see Rodney like this, so…. Docile, lost, broken.

John had run here as soon as the creatures had let him, only to find Rodney already almost gone. All the essential things that made Rodney who he was, his wit, his intelligence, his take-no-nonsense attitude, his will—it had all been stolen from him.

John had tried talking to Rodney to get a response out of him, and received nothing but an empty stare and lifeless demands for John to calm down. John had threatened Rodney, pleaded with him, screamed at him, hoping his words would somehow get through and help Rodney shake the thing off.

None of it had worked, and after shouting until his voice was hoarse, John had fled. Not because he'd given up—there had to be someway to get through to Rodney, and he would damn well find it—but because somehow he couldn't think straight around Rodney anymore. They had stolen Rodney, not only from himself, but from John, and it had nearly broken John too.

In one crystal clear moment John had understood that the one thing he feared more than anything, was losing Rodney.

"Hey there, buddy, what's up?" John said as casually as he could, and cautiously started to walk over to Rodney. Each unsteady step was harder and heavier than the last.

"Oh, nothing much," Rodney replied vaguely, lifting his hand slowly to his temple and rubbing it rather forcefully. “Just, the usual, I guess.”

"Headache?" John asked, and took a look around. Three other scientists were standing in a more distant corner of the room, but neither they nor their watchdogs seemed to care enough about John to warrant any action, at least not for the time being.

Rodney just nodded in reply, the snake nest on his head rippling disturbingly with the motion. John set his crutches aside and took Rodney's hands into his own. Their warmth was as painful as it was comforting.

"Yeah, me too, got a really nasty one,” John replied and tried to smile, but it ended up as a grimace. Rodney nodded again, and his gaze started drifting toward the keyboard. John already knew that just talking to Rodney wouldn’t help, but he couldn’t stand the silence either, or seeing the state Rodney was in. So he leaned his head against Rodney's, and closed his eyes. What a mess his life was, to get him this close to Rodney only when things got desperate enough.

"Damn it, Rodney," John whispered. He didn't care if he sounded tired or desperate. It was too late to be anything but honest with himself, and Rodney. "I need you. Come back to me."

All John heard was Rodney’s breathing, and the ceaseless buzzing noise inside his head—sounds on the verge of hearing that John could almost make out but never quite succeeded, like a fleeting image in the corner of your eye that disappears as soon as you turn toward it. But then something recognizable pierced through.

"John?"

Rodney's voice was faint at first, and fearful, but it was clearly different from before. John's head snapped up in shock, eyes wide open. The face in front of him was Rodney, all Rodney, and he was looking back at John with full recognition.

"John!" Rodney's sudden cry was sharp, terrified, but also strong, pushing out from him like something held back for too long.

"I'm here, Rodney, I'm here," John tried to soothe him, but Rodney's face remained twisted and distraught. Rodney grabbed John by the arms, fingers digging fiercely into them.

"The gene, John, it's the gene!" Rodney shouted, hurriedly, desperately, as if he knew he was short on time. Only then John noticed how the tendrils closest to Rodney's forehead had come off. They wriggled angrily in the air, but were quickly starting to reattach themselves.

"Atlantis can use it to protect you. You have to get to the chair, you ha—" Rodney's words abruptly cut off, and his eyes dimmed again, staring blankly ahead as the last tendrils dug their way back in. Rodney’s hands flopped to his sides, and he was lost again.

“Fuck fuck FUCK!” John screamed, so angry at himself for not figuring it out sooner. But he had his clue now. The ATA gene. John had the strongest one.

Suddenly it all made sense, the headache, the noise in his head and why it felt familiar. It was the hum of Atlantis, a sound that John had come so accustomed to hearing and feeling that he no longer paid any attention to it. Until now, when it had reached a level so high it made his head hurt.

They knew the ATA gene could activate Ancient devices, and allowed the people who carried it to somehow interact with them, and thus also Atlantis. John had always felt the presence of something in his mind from the moment he set foot on Atlantis, and had come to think of it as the city itself even though there was no proof that there was any sentience in its workings. But John had never thought that the connection went two ways.

“Rodney, you really are a genius,” John said, and laughed a little bitterly when there was no reply to his obvious bait. John had never missed Rodney’s arrogant brilliance as much as he did now.

So Atlantis could somehow use the gene, affect it to prevent the aliens from attaching themselves to John. Why it didn't work with any other gene carrier was unsure, but if the headaches Carson and Rodney had been having were any indication, it wasn't for the lack of trying on Atlantis' part. But apparently, if John came in contact with someone, it temporarily boosted the effect and… John looked up at Rodney.

“Rodney, I’ve got an idea,” John told him and grinned, “but I need some empirical evidence.” Maybe he imagined it, but there was a spark of something deep in Rodney’s eyes.

“Um, okay?” Rodney said, and his expression became slightly worried. But he didn’t move away.

John brought his fingers up to Rodney's temples to test his theory, and gingerly placed them between the jelly-like tendrils. The didn't feel as slimy as they  looked. After a few seconds, the ones closest to his hands began to slowly pull out. Rodney winced a little and hissed quietly, and John quickly removed his hands. So it would hurt. But judging by what the previous contact had revealed, Rodney was definitely still in there somewhere, intact and undamaged. Whether it was because the aliens needed him that way, or because they had actually chosen not to hurt Rodney, John couldn't tell. But he had to give this a try whatever the case.

First, however, he'd need to get Rodney somewhere more private.

John grabbed one of the crutches and put it under his arm, leaving the other behind, then took Rodney's hand and without a word started leading him out of the lab. Rodney looked puzzled, but followed tamely, as did the alien attached to him. They would no doubt be observed, but John hoped they wouldn't be interrupted.

 

~~~

 

As it turned out, John's earlier observations about the creatures held true—as long as he didn't venture too close to certain things, and didn't do anything that could be considered hostile, the things let him do what he wanted. Maybe they thought he was less of a threat now that the cast hindered is movements, so they let him drag Rodney along without a fuss. To John it seemed like they were in a state of waiting.

The creatures hadn’t done anything after they'd invaded Atlantis, and were only interested in keeping the gate open and the captured people pacified. For what reason, John hadn’t been able to work out. He suspected something would come through the gate eventually, or what would be the point otherwise, since the things had Atlantis in their grasp already. But John would worry more about that when the time came. Right now his priority was saving Rodney.

John picked the first empty room with a door he could find—a small storage space with a few boxes strewn around—and dragged Rodney in, then locked the door and took the crystals out of the panel beside it. The aliens might be able to walk through walls for all he knew, but John was willing to bet they couldn't make their human captives do the same. They couldn’t use the others against John if they couldn't reach him. Hopefully, the creatures wouldn't know what was happening before it was too late either.

Leading Rodney to the center of the room, the creature in his wake, John sat Rodney on one of the crates. Then he pushed another one close by, positioning it in front of Rodney, discarded the crutch, and sat down facing him. Rodney kept looking at him, confused, but somehow also curious.

"Rodney," John called to him. "Rodney, I need to ask you something." Slowly, Rodney's brow furrowed, but he became slightly more focused on John, and nodded.

"Rodney, do you trust me?" John asked him. He knew Rodney did, but somehow John couldn't proceed without having some sort of acknowledgement.

"With my life," Rodney replied instantly, and with childlike innocence that was so eerily unlike him. Yet it was without a doubt the truth. Rodney might not be his usual self, but he wouldn’t lie about something like this, and that was all John needed.

"Sorry buddy, but this is gonna hurt,” John said. He didn’t have a choice, so he didn't hesitate.

John shoved his fingers into the writhing mass of tendrils on Rodney’s head, trapping it between his hands. Immediately the creature let out a high pitched screech, a piercing sound somewhere on the edge of human hearing, and John felt like someone was driving nails into his skull. Rodney screamed too and started clawing at John's hands, but John held on as tight as he could. The tendrils around John's fingers started to glow red but he felt no heat. Then they started retreating, withering into black ash as they fell off.

Rodney stopped screaming, but his body suddenly went limp and he collapsed. John quickly pulled him closer, hiding Rodney’s head in his lap and wrapping both arms protectively around it. Trough the haze of pain, John glared at the creature that was still reaching for Rodney.

"Back off, he's mine," John hissed through his teeth. He could already see other creatures pushing through the walls and gathering around them in a tight circle. They reached for Rodney, their tendrils sliding over his back and neck, but unable to touch the sheltered head. The noise they made when they couldn’t made John nauseous and dizzy, and he almost threw up.

“Back off!” John yelled at them. It was futile and stupid, but somehow it helped with the pain. “I’m not letting you bastards anywhere near him again, you hear me!” John could feel Rodney slowly begin to stir.

“Hurts…” he muttered, disoriented, and tried to push John away.

“Hang in there, Rodney” John said and held him tighter. “Just don’t move and you’ll feel better soon, I promise.”

“The chair,” Rodney said, his brain catching up to their last discussion. “You need to—“ He couldn’t finish. Rodney slumped further down, pushing his head against John, groaning loudly. He grabbed John’s shirt with both hands, crumpling the fabric and anchoring himself to John.

“I know,” John replied, and he couldn’t help but smile a little. “It’s the next thing on my list. One, save Rodney, two get to the chair, three, save the day.”

“I’m number one?” Rodney mumbled into John’s shirt. John leaned over him.

“Who else would it be,” John whispered. Whether Rodney heard him or not, he made no reply. They stayed still as the things gradually started to admit their defeat, and the circle began to widen. Eventually most of the creatures left, but a few stayed behind even if they kept their distance. They’d been marked as troublemakers for sure now, and their shadows wouldn’t disappear any time soon.

“You think you can stand?” John asked, eyeing the surroundings. There was only one door, the one they’d come through. If they wanted to get to the chair, they’d have to backtrack to the transporter John had used, and then walk a fair distance in open spaces before they’d reach the chair room. With the cast on his leg there was no way in hell that John would be able to protect Rodney like this, not even if they crawled on the floor. But they might have another kind of chance, if Rodney had the strength for it.

“Probably, though my head still hurts like hell,” Rodney replied, and peeked carefully up at John. “Why?”

“’Cause I’m gonna need you to carry me.”

The thoroughly stunned look on Rodney’s face was the most wonderful thing John had seen all day.

 

~~~

 

It was a miracle they pulled the manoeuvre off, but by sheer luck, lots of persistence, and by using the crates as a makeshift stepladder, John had managed to climb on Rodney’s back while protecting his head. Then they'd put the door crystals back and fled the room.

“This is madness, I’m not built for this kind of labour,” Rodney huffed as he jogged along the corridor, carrying his load. “And how can someone so wiry be so heavy!” But for all his complaining, Rodney was keeping good pace. He’d never been in as bad a shape as he’d claimed, and all the off-world missions had only been and improvement.

“I’ve got a lot of iron in my blood,” John quipped back, and grinned. Their situation was nowhere near funny, but it felt good to be able to talk normally to Rodney, and despite their desperate situation John allowed himself to be happy about it.

Rodney had recovered surprisingly fast after being freed, and though he now apparently shared John’s headache, Rodney was his usual, grumpy, brilliant self. He was also acting surprisingly calmly, and was just as eager and determined as John to get rid of their invaders.

The creatures assigned as their guards were still following them, but hadn’t made any further attempts to get closer. Nonetheless, John kept his upper body as much over Rodney’s head as he could.

“You think they’ll be watching the chair room?” Rodney asked more seriously. “They clearly have a plan of some sort, but even after having one poking my brain I can’t say for sure how intelligent these things actually are.”

“Maybe, but as long as Atlantis can keep them at bay we’ll make it there somehow,” John replied, hoping Rodney was right about the creatures. He just wasn’t sure what he’d do if they were faced with another human shield.

They’d come across a few people with their controllers, standing in their way in a corridor or blocking a doorway. At Rodney’s suggestion, John had pulled out his so far useless gun, and put a few holes in a ceiling or a wall. The one thing the aliens hadn’t counted for, Rodney had explained, was that the human body can sometimes react to stimuli even before we have a chance to think about the danger we’re in. They might be able to control people’s thoughts, but they couldn’t completely suppress their instincts. If someone is shooting at you, your instinct is to run, and they had. The aliens had no choice but to follow if they wanted to keep their prey.

But when John and Rodney finally reached the chair room, they understood why they hadn’t met with any large scale resistance.

Most of the chair was covered by one of the creatures, a larger one. Its long body loomed over the seat, the tendrils from its head pushed deep into the gelpads of the armrests like it was trying to invade the mind of  Atlantis itself.

There was, theoretically, enough room for John to squeeze into and sit down, and the alien would probably move away from him like the rest of them had. But that would mean exposing Rodney to another attack. All the elation John had felt before vanished.

“Guess they’re not as stupid as we thought,” Rodney moaned gloomily. He must have already arrived at the same conclusion as John. With John still on his back, he circled the dais carefully while the creature ignored them and continued its exploration of the chair.

“You can still fit in there,” Rodney said solemnly as he stopped in front of it.

“There has to be another way,” John said, knowing there wouldn’t be. If there was, Rodney would have thought of it already.

“You have no choice, John,” Rodney said and sighed, resigned to his fate. He always picked the worst times to be brave—when John could do nothing to stop him because Rodney was right. “You need to interface directly with Atlantis to take control of its systems and find the information we need. Atlantis can use the gene to help, so the knowledge of how it can do that must be in the database somewhere. Maybe you can even find out if the Ancients have encountered these creatures before, and how they got rid of them.”

“I’m not letting them have you, Rodney,” John said, hoping he could put off the inevitable just a bit longer.

“And you won’t,” Rodney said, suddenly dropping John down and making the choice for him. John fought to find balance, and he couldn’t breathe. One of the aliens following them was already making a beeline for Rodney and he barely had time to turn around and push John away before the tendrils reached him.

“Because you love me, right?” Rodney said, smiling with that lopsided mouth of his, but his eyes showed just how afraid he was.

John didn’t stop to watch the rest. He pushed forward with a roar and dove into the chair.

 

~~~

 

John felt like he was falling for a long time. The usual hardness of the chair had been replaced by something soft and malleable, and John sank right into it and out of consciousness. When he came to, John was floating in darkness. He couldn’t see or feel anything around him, but he sensed something—not one, but two presences.

Atlantis touched John’s mind softly and with familiar vagueness, feeding John with, not exactly words, but impressions of things.

Calmness. No hostility. Misunderstanding. Listen.

The last one had more weight to it, like Atlantis was trying to convey how important it was.

“To what?” John asked. The answer came soon enough.

“To us.”

The words rang like crystal bells, arriving into John’s mind sharp and clear, young and vibrant, yet as old as the universe itself. Fuck. It was them, they were inside his head. He’d forgotten how fast they could move.

“Let me go,” John growled, and tried to struggle out of whatever was holding him, but it was hard when he could neither see nor touch things.

Listen.

John felt Atlantis soothe over his mind again as it repeated the plea, and a calmness he couldn’t resist spread into his body. Had Atlantis been taken over too? Why was it so adamant about this?

“Guess I don’t have much choice, do I,” John replied angrily, and stopped struggling. “Since you’re both ganging up on me.”

“Forgive us,” the alien presence said, and John felt deep sorrow and guilt behind the words, but also urgency. “To survive, we did what we thought was necessary.”

Suddenly John saw flashes of images, of star charts and what seemed like migration routes. The lines spanned the whole Pegasus galaxy. The maps must have been dug up from the Ancient database, whether by the creature or Atlantis, John couldn’t tell. One of the lines passed through the planet Atlantis was on.

“So you’ve been here before,” John said, though he wasn’t sure if he was really speaking anymore, or if all of this was happening in his head.

“Yes.” The single word was laden with layers of mixed emotions that seeped into John’s mind—excitement, inquisitiveness, wonder, wariness, suspicion, fear. Data and images filled John’s vision.

The first meeting between the Ancients and the race of the creatures had gone well. John saw a Lantean ship in space, surrounded by glowing beings that only slightly resembled the dark things that had come to Atlantis. Huge glowing orbs surrounded the vessel, and inside the Ancients watched them in awe. The creatures had recognized another sentient mind, and reached out to them with long tendrils of gold.

Soon after they had formed a mutually beneficial friendship, or so it seemed.

"They found us interesting, so they taught us new things. We learned communication, we grew, we evolved.”

The Ancients learned from and about the creatures, and the creatures from and about the Ancients. They were given access to the gate system so they might travel faster across the galaxy. That helped the creatures with their migration—for eons they had moved between clusters of stars to find others of their kind, to procreate with. Now they could do so within almost an instant. All was well for a long while, but the curiosity of the Ancients knew no bounds.

“What we gave them was never enough to satisfy their hunger. Therefore, to learn all that they could, they would trap us, separate us, spread us apart, not knowing or not caring about the pain and suffering they caused. We learned despair. We learned fear.”

John saw devices with some of the golden creatures trapped inside, while the Ancients examined their structure. Some went even further, and manipulated and twisted their test subjects at their whim. As the creatures grew paler and darker, John felt their anguish and fear. But even after all they had gone through, John sensed no anger in them, no thirst for revenge. Why?

“We wished for nothing but our freedom,” the creature replied to John’s thoughts.

Another map appeared, now without the lines. Instead, there were maybe a dozen isolated dots scattered around the vastness of space.

“We were dying.” Loneliness and longing hung like a weight in John’s bones, crushing him until he couldn’t move.

John didn’t need any further explanation. The Ancients had changed the glowing orb lifeforms too much, had torn them apart for too long. For these creatures as old as the universe, a birth of a new one was a long, fragile process, the intricacies and magnitude of which beings with shorter lifespans would never wholly grasp. Despite their greater intelligence and wisdom, the Ancients hadn’t either.

The sadness John felt was indescribable. He’d been so wrong about these creatures, too blinded by his anger and fear to see beyond the threat before his eyes. It was a very human thing, to divide the world into my people and yours, to draw lines between things and then fight over them. In that sense, the human race still had a long way to go. As did a lot of others in this universe. But it was a hopeful thought that there were beings that had never even needed evolving to get to that level.

Then, another scene appeared. A group of creatures were controlling several of the Ancients who what captured them, in the same exact way they were controlling the people on Atlantis. They had taken over the bodies that held the key to their fate—the gene. All the Ancient devices were keyed to it in one way or the other, so in order to gain their freedom, the creatures had resorted to the only method at their disposal. And that was what they were doing now. All they wanted was to keep their freedom, and they would not risk it again.

“Listen, we’re not like them,” John rushed to explain. “If you showed this to everyone, I’m sure they’d be willing to help you. You don’t have to make slaves of us.”

“There is no time,” the creature replied. “At long last, a new birth is at hand. But do not worry, your people shall be set free, and they will not remember anything once we are gone. And neither will you.” John could sense the discussion was coming to an end, and the alien presence started to retreat. And maybe it was right, maybe humans weren’t ready for this, not as they were now. But that didn’t mean they someday couldn’t be.

“Let me remember,” John hurried to implore the being. “Not where you came from, or where you’ll all be going, but the rest of it.”

The creature hesitated.

“For what purpose would you wish to keep these memories?” it enquired. “Would you rather not forget the pain and fear we caused? Would you not seek revenge?”

“For when you come this way again,” John said. “Because maybe we both still have some learning left to do.”

What do you think we might learn that this encounter hasn’t already revealed?” the creature asked him.

“I think we could both do with a good lesson on trust,” John replied, and he honestly meant it. “Just give us a chance, that’s all I ask.”

There was a long silence. John felt a shift of tension in the air, and for a while he had a weird feeling that something was discussed over his head on a level he could never get on, but then the crystalline voice returned once more.

“We have been persuaded to grant you this wish. Prove you are worth it.”

John made a mental note to thank Atlantis later, for helping out, and for looking out for the future of both races.

We have also been informed that we too need to show our worth in action as well as words. Consider this a… first step.”

The darkness lifted, and the world rushed back in a dizzying torrent of sights, sensations, and sound.

“John, can you hear me? Please answer me, John!”

Rodney was shaking John awake, his fingers painfully tight on John’s shoulders, his voice loud in John’s ears. But the sight of his worried face was the only thing John paid any attention to.

“That’s a good first step,” John muttered, and smiled. Then he grabbed Rodney’s face between his hands, and kissed him. Rodney froze only for a fraction of a second, but then he kissed John back, and all John could think of was why the hell didn’t I do this before and damn this feels good.

He wanted to keep kissing Rodney forever, but something else needed doing first.

“Come on,” John said as he pushed Rodney back a little. “There’s something I’ve got to show you.” They'd be coming through the gate soon.

Rodney groaned and pulled him in for one more fast and hungry kiss before backing off and helping John out of the chair.

“Your sense of timing sucks,” he said sourly, and John loved every irate syllable coming out of that beautiful mouth.

 

~~~

 

Now that he didn’t absolutely have to, Rodney refused to carry John anymore. But he did give John a shoulder to lean on as they staggered though the corridors. They saw no people, and no creatures.

When they finally reached the gate room, something was already past the event horizon. A dark, translucent mass filled the entire ring, pouring out of it like a slow black tidal wave. There were no glowing spheres inside it, just impenetrable, opaque darkness. It flowed and rose, forming a column tall and wide enough to almost fill the whole room. All around on the upper walkways the creatures that had invaded Atlantis started to gather, without their humans and standing in silent rows, waiting.

Once through the gate, the large creature paused. A few moments later a glowing golden sphere emerged from the blue pond of the gate, small enough to fit in within John's palms, then another, then two more—John watched in awe as a few dozen orbs of light drifted out. They looked just like the early form of the creatures he had seen in the visions.

John felt a light touch on his temple. He didn’t freak out as much as he thought he would when the tendril gently entered his head. A tall creature stood by his side, and it was impossible to say if it was the one that John had spoken with in the chair or not. But the crystalline voice was the same.

“Our children,” it voice told him. “Our hope.”

“May they live long and prosper,” John said. It was the best his brain could do at the moment, what with being too busy with all those emotions John had always had trouble with. Somehow he suspected they weren’t all his, but the surge of relief and immense happiness was something he could definitely relate to.

“My people are safe?” John asked.

Sleeping,” the creature replied. “They will wake up unharmed, and remember none of this.” John did his best to trust those words to be true.

The last of the orbs drifted through, and the gate shut down, only to start dialling another sequence. John knew he would forget the symbols, so he didn’t even try remembering them. He turned to look at Rodney. There was a creature next to him too, with only a single tendril touching his head. He didn’t appear to notice. John reached for his hand, and Rodney’s fingers interlocked with his.

“Will he remember anything?” John asked the creature silently in his mind, turning back to the view ahead. The creatures had moved aside enough for the gate to splash open, and now began vanishing through in flashes too fast for the eye to see. All except for the golden spheres and the large one that must either be their parent or their guardian, and the ones beside John and Rodney.

Only the things that really matter,” came a cryptic reply, and John got a feeling he’d just have to settle for that.

The dark guardian and the golden children slowly approached the gate, and slipped through to their next destination. John honestly wished them the best of luck with everything.

"Thank you for listening," was the last thing John heard in his head. Then the creatures let him and Rodney go, and disappeared through the shimmering portal.

The gate shut down, and John’s headache finally disappeared. Suddenly he felt light-headed and blissfully pain free. Apart from his leg though, which was gently throbbing and reminding John of its fractured existence. He would need to see Carson again, and John was willing to bet the doctor had a few choice words for such a disobedient patient. Provided he remembered any of what he’d said earlier.

“So, uhm, what just happened?” Rodney suddenly asked. He was still holding John’s hand, and was now staring at it with a deeply quizzical look on his face.

“Something wonderful,” John replied, looking around the empty gate room. It was hard to believe the last few days had even happened. The others might not even believe him when he’d tell them about this, but John would do his best to convince them. This was too important to forget any second of.

“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you all about it later,” he added after Rodney gave him a demanding stare.

“You most certainly will,” Rodney stated firmly, tilting his head a little, “because while I seem to be missing a significant amount of information regarding our current situation, I definitely remember someone kissing me.”

“Someone?” John asked Rodney, and tugged at the hand holding his.

“Tall, dark, crazy hair. Loves flying and blowing things up,” Rodney listed, smirking as he closed the distance between them, “and also the smartest man in two galaxies.”

Yeah, definitely too important to forget even a second of, John thought as Rodney kissed him, and all was right in the world.

 

~~~ End ~~~