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The Guardian of Atlantis

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Disclaimer: I do not own Stargate: Atlantis. This is a work of fan fiction.


Chapter 1: Forsaken

She had waited patiently for their return.

They were not coming back.

After waiting for nearly 4000 years she finally admitted to herself that they never would.

The crystals that powered the city's shield could keep out the ocean for at least a half dozen more millennia, but she knew that sooner or later they would fail as entropy slowly drained their lives away, as it eventually does to all things and to all life.

It was simple thermodynamics. Everything eventually runs down. Everything eventually dies.

As entropy gradually claimed the crystals one by one she knew that the shield would some day collapse, and when it failed it would implode the city as megatons of seawater rushed in, crushing everything in an instant, and then merciful death would come.

She walked the halls of her beloved city one last time. It was more out of sheer habit than anything else.

During her final tour of the city's great spires and piers she climbed up and walked out onto the roof of the North Tower to gaze out upon the surrounding ocean one last time. She saw shimmering shafts of light that illuminated a school of erita piciasis as they swam past. The brightly colored fish seemed almost close enough to touch, swimming out beyond the arching curve of the shield.

From her vantage point she scanned the sea for her companion, the magna balaena. She knew that it would not be the same great cetacean that she had befriended all those millennia ago, but it would still recognize her from its genetic memory. She had hoped to share a last goodbye with the huge creature but it was not in sight. She sighed, then she went back downstairs where she continued to pace the darkened halls like a living ghost.

Eventually she entered the central spire and climbed up to the gate room. There she lovingly touched the control consoles wrapped in their protective sheets of plastic, then she peered up at the gate. She remained in silent contemplation of it for several minutes, then she finally left.

She re-entered her private sanctuary, located in a remote and well-protected section of the city. There she opened the stasis chamber were she had spent most of her 4000 years. She climbed inside as the translucent door closed behind her. She stood on the pad, glancing down at the small blue crystal next to her right hand. All she needed to do was tap it three times and she would enter a dreamless sleep from which she knew she would never wake up.

She could not ascend. Indeed, it was a basic fact of her existence. And so she made the only choice that was left available to her: She chose to die.

She had previously adjusted the controls to prevent the city from waking her when the power levels dropped too low. It was because there was no point.

As her hand hovered over the command crystal she paused for a moment, thinking back over her sad and mostly solitary life, a life that had begun near the end of the Lantean-Wraith war. Her earliest memories were as a young child eager to please her proud father, who had explained to her that she was a very special little girl, the product of a very important experiment. She remembered how she was placed in the Time Acceleration Chamber where she was brought up to adulthood in less than 12 months, then followed the surgeries and medical tests, all culminating in the final grand experiment as the plethora of medical scanners and recording devices smothered her young body while a dozen anxious scientists watched in breathless anticipation of the very first act of Ascension ever recorded under rigorous scientific conditions, to learn how Ascension actually worked, for the purpose of understanding the mysterious phenomenon so that they could learn to induce it artificially and all flee from the Wraith together.

But the experiment was a failure. She remembered sobbing in her father's arms as he gently consoled her afterward, explaining that she had performed her role wonderfully and that she was not to blame. He had explained that the fault was his own, due mainly to an error that he had made in the design of her genetic blueprint during her initial inception as a zygote. He explained that because of his blunder that she would remain locked in a perpetual pre-ascendant state for the rest of her life.

Because of this the Council had ordered her termination. Her powers were too dangerous, they explained, and she was too emotionally immature to handle them responsibly. Her father had objected and he threatened to quit working for them. As one of their best research scientists the Council still needed him, and so eventually a compromise was reached that would spare her life.

And so, embarrassed at their collective failure yet again, the Ancients fled the city through the gate. The girl was left behind, to guard the city until they returned.

Over the millennia she became like a living ghost, the guardian of a dead city that was built by a dead race.

4000 years was long enough.

She closed her eyes, tapped the blue crystal three times, and she knew no more.


"McKay, this is a very bad idea."

"C'mon, Radek, the power readings are unmistakable. Something is in there."

"Yes, something bad. We shouldn't be doing this."

"What are you afraid of, ghosts? Look, there is nothing left in there but a pile of 10,000 year old Ancient techno-junk. And possibly a spare ZPM or three. We have to check it out."

"But the sign outside clearly said 'Forbidden'"

"Which is precisely why we need to go in there."

"The sign had an X in a circle. That means death, McKay, death!"

McKay finally stood up from his work on the open access panel. He sighed and turned to face his subordinate. "Radek, there's been no power in this whole section for ages, and with all the silt and seaweed, ugh.." He shook a damp glop of green off of his boot. "Yuck. Like I said, this outer section has obviously been flooded for years. It's all totally dead."

"There could be traps!"

"What kind of traps, hmm? We both know that all Ancient technology is energy based, right? No energy, no power. No power, no traps. It's safe now. The booby traps don't work anymore."

"Yes, Rodney, 'booby' traps, the deadly kind of boobies. Those metal plates on the floor of the entrance vestibule to this tower would have killed us!"

"Well, yeah, they could have but they didn't. No power, Radek, no power."

"And those beam turrets..."

"Radek, look at me." Rodney pointed at his face and spoke slowly "N.O. P.O.W.E.R."

"Rodney, I can feel it. There is something in that room. Something that we should not disturb."

"Like what? Ancient ghosts? I'm surprised at you, Radek. That's idiotic even by your standards."

Zelenka ignored the taunt as he checked his hand-held energy scanner. He moved the scanner in front of large imposing double-doors. "Rodney, there is a power reading behind these doors."

McKay glanced over Zelenka's shoulder. "The scanner reads 55 watts. That's less than one light bulb. And the energy signature is consistent with a ZPM in the idle state. That clinches it. We gotta go in there and check it out."

"But the sign warns..."

"Will you just forget the sign already? Yes, yes, this place was well protected once, 10,000 years ago. Not anymore. Just residual power now. Doesn't even keep the lights on. After 10,000 years the batteries for whatever trap or guard bot or protective gizmo that might be behind that door have gone flat. It's kaput now. Inert. Dead. DEAD. All that might be left alive in there now are Ancient ghosts, and those exist only in your fevered Czech brain. Now try to be useful for once and help me take off this access panel."

In the darkened hallway John Sheppard leaned against a wall behind the pair of squabbling scientists. He was wearing a standard black tactical outfit with a P90 strapped to the front.

He yawned. "Can you two Hardy Boys please hurry this up? It's already almost two and I want to get to the mess hall before they close until dinner."

McKay turned around from his work on the access panel. "Don't worry, I'll have this door popped open in a jiffy."

"Good." Sheppard was there only because Elizabeth insisted. Privately he agreed with McKay that Radek's worries were overblown, but he knew better than to say so out loud and give McKay the satisfaction. He yawned again and closed his eyes for a quick catnap.

McKay stood up and inspected the double doors again. "The left panel is bypassed. Radek, help me open the other one. Now, point your light in there and hold it steady. Let me take a look in here. Hmm. Ooh, this one has a combo lock! Heh, finally something interesting... Hmm.. Let's see.."

While holding the light Radek continued to plead with his boss in vain. "Rodney we have found so many dangerous devices and labs in this city, and none of them had warning labels, none! This is the first one with an actual warning sign. Think what that means!"

McKay ignored his plea as he continued to work on the second door lock. "Hand me that battery pack. Let's see, bypass the primary circuit.."

After a minute there was a hiss of air as the double-doors slid open. "Ah, see? Easy. Now let's go find us some ZPMs." McKay stood and lifted the portable lantern from the damp floor, then he walked into the darkness. Zelenka flapped his arms in exasperation and followed him in.

Back out in the hall Sheppard drawled, "You boys call me if you need anything, m'kay?"

"Sure, whatever." McKay eagerly stepped inside and panned the lantern around the room, which was larger than expected. "Hmm. No signs of water damage..."

As he swept the beam back and forth the lamp caught a flash of something white. What was it? He rotated the beam back. It flashed again.

Again something white.

No, someone white.

It was a hooded figure. The figure was wearing all white with an indistinct shape, as if it was wearing a cloak or a sheet. Indeed it looked just like..

Radek said it aloud. "A ghost."

Outside Sheppard's ears perked up. He was instantly alert. He snapped up his P90 and flipped off the safety, turning on the gun's mounted headlamp as he went inside after them.

Suddenly a blinding flash of light dazzled their eyes as the entire room flared up with a bright white light.

The ghostly figure spoke.

"Who are you?"

The voice carried a tone of authority.

McKay held his hands over his eyes as he tried to peer into the blinding white light. Eventually he saw the indistinct outline of a person standing in front of them wearing a white hood.

The authoritative voice spoke again.

"Why are you here?" The voice was female.

As his eyes adapted to the brilliant light he lowered his hands from his face and boggled. Under the hood he saw the face of a young woman with piercing blue eyes and high cheekbones. She had an aquiline nose that gave her a hawk-like visage.

Her piercing eyes were now blazing directly at the trio, showing a combination of surprise and rising anger.

"Why was I awakened?"

Sheppard instinctively took a step in front of McKay and Radek to shield them, his weapon ready.

The figure shifted her gaze to the man holding the weapon. The P90 instantly jumped out of Sheppard's hands, flying high into the air until it clattered on the floor far out of reach.

To his credit Sheppard recovered quickly. Leaving his now-empty hands open while slowly raising them into the air in what he hoped would be recognized as a gesture of surrender he said, "Hi there."

The voice now spoke in a low growl. "You have entered the Forbidden Archives. Take one more step in to this room and your life is forfeit."

Sheppard did an appraisal of the speaker: The figure was crouching slightly, legs and arms apart, hands open, ready to fight. It was a martial arts pose that reminded him of Teyla during one of her many sparring matches where she had kicked his butt. This woman looked like she could easily do the same. Her facial expression was hard and grim, a look that Sheppard recognized. Although she held no visible weapon, he knew that she was ready to kill.

Their lives were now in great danger.

She quickly pulled the white hood tighter over her head as she remained in her battle stance. Sheppard suspected that the hood provided some sort of physical protection. Draped around her body was a long white cape made of the same material, leaving only her arms and calves exposed. He saw that her arms were covered in a thinner version of the same material, with white gloves on her hands that were joined to the garment with no visible seams at the wrists.

Through a small gap in her cape he spotted a shapely and athletic body wearing a tight form-fitting white leotard consisting of the same thinner material, with the top of the garment rising up to protect a long and graceful neck. Circling her blond brow was a silvery metal ring that had intricate lattice work that made her look like a Tolkien princess.

Sheppard kept both arms up in the air as he gave the dangerous-looking woman his most charming and disarming smile. "We are so glad to meet you. As you can see, we are peaceful explorers. My name is John, and.." He took a chance and lowered one of his arms to gesture at the two stunned scientists. ".. over here are my good friends Rodney and Radek. They are the scientists who are exploring your fair city."

The woman began to assess her intruders, tilting her head slightly. She could see that they posed no possible physical threat to her person. Satisfied that there was no immediate danger, she straightened her posture and lowered her arms, allowing her cape to fall back to its normal non-combat position. She pulled down her hood, revealing luxurious shoulder length blond hair that she shook free.

Sheppard liked what he saw. She was stunningly beautiful. His smile brightened.

Meanwhile Zelenka sucked in his breath and whispered, "She is like, like Galadriel.."

McKay nodded dumbly and whispered, "Yeah.. or her younger hotter sister."

Now that Sheppard could see her face clearly, he saw that she did indeed look younger than he had originally estimated, definitely younger than Teyla, perhaps 20 years of age.

He continued to turn on the charm. "I take it that you are our new landlord?"

She spoke simply, "I am the Guardian."

"The Guardian? Hello, very nice to meet you. Like I said we are peaceful explorers. We thought the city was uninhabited. Sorry about that, our mistake really. Kind of silly. I mean, we must look like squatters to you, moving in without your permission, eating Cheetos on your couch, leaving crumbs under the cushions, and I can see why you might be a little upset about that. Again, we really apologize..."

She ignored his rambling mode of speech. "You claim to be explorers. How did you get here? And before you answer know this: I can detect lies."

"Right. Well, we came through the Stargate. Uh, by 'Stargate' we mean that round ring thing in the central tower..."

"The portal."

"Yes, the portal. We came through that."

"That is impossible. The portal is locked to admit only my people upon their return from exile on Terra."

"Terra? Oh you mean Earth? Well, yes. That is where we came from. We came from Earth.

His answer had visibly affected her. "No, that is totally impossible..."

"Honest. We're from Earth. You said you can detect lies, right? Look at me. Am I lying right now?"

She gazed at him. "No, you are not lying." She shook her head, for his answer had clearly upset her. "I still don't believe it. My people? What happened to them?"

She walked up to Sheppard and gazed right into his eyes, her face only inches away. "Who are you really?" She sniffed the air. "Wait, you smell.. Lantean."

Sheppard gulped then nodded, "Uh, yeah. I have some Lantean genes. Say, you must have a pretty good nose to smell that."

She was stunned. "That.. that is even more impossible.."

Sheppard decided to capitalize on her uncertainty. "I guess your people came to Earth and, well, you know, they must have got friendly with the natives, if you know what I mean. It happens. Hey, that means you and I are related! I could be your grandson. Well, your great, great, great, something, great, great grandson, but yeah! So that makes us family, right?"

She was frozen in shock.

"Uh, okay, you might not have kids, my mistake. What I really meant to say was that I am your great, great, great-something nephew. And, hey, you're my great Aunt! You're my Auntie Guardian!"

She felt dizzy. "They survived..? But why no contact? Not once did they dial in to check on the city.. What.. how.. How many years has it been?"

"Hmm?"

She grabbed Sheppard's tunic. "How many years have I been asleep? Tell me!"

"Uh.. we think your people came to Earth about ten thousand years ago, give or take."

She stared, then she pushed him away. She marched over to a wall. She approached a nondescript decoration on the wall and gave it a series of three quick rhythmic taps. A hidden panel opened revealing a status monitor. She began to fiddle with it.

Radek marveled, "There are decorations just like that one all over the city. In the halls, rooms, everywhere..."

McKay's jaw had dropped open. "Those decorations open hidden status panels? Nobody told me that. How come nobody told me that?"

She ignored the two gawking scientists as she brought up the chronometer on the status panel. It confirmed that she had been asleep for 6,000 years.

Her mind reeled. "The power crystals have been running all this time? No.." She tapped the panel again. "How much power is left?"

McKay spoke up, "Uh yeah, the ZPMs were nearly depleted when we got here. Our explorations had drained the last one completely, sorry. Didn't know until it was too late."

She whirled around and addressed Rodney for the first time. "The ocean!"

"Oh yeah, we're on the surface now. The city rose up by itself. Safety feature I bet."

She knew that the city would only do that if it detected the return of Lanteans. "Wait.. so you really did come through the gate from Earth?"

Sheppard nodded as he lowered his hands, "Yeah, we did."

"The city must have detected your Lantean blood.. Raised the city.."

Sheppard snapped his fingers. "Exactly! See? The city accepted us as Lanteans. Raised the city for us. That just confirms it. We're family. It proves it."

The Guardian's mind spun. She was still in shock at the revelation. Interbreeding with lesser races? It was unthinkable.

The Ancients were a prideful people who looked down on the human races as an inferior species. The purity of their genetic line was fundamental to their conceit. Indeed, it was one of the basic commandments of Lantean society, rules that were set forth after the terrible blunders of their ancestors with the genetic manipulation that inadvertently created the Wraith, followed by their creation of the Replicators to stop them with consequences that were even more disastrous. Such acts had brought their race to the brink of extinction. Genetic intermixing of any kind was absolutely forbidden.

Miscegenation was a capital offense. The Law also required the death of the offending human participant as well as the extermination of any spawn that emanated from such a detestable act.

She knew that humans of that era on Earth were not even at the lowest level of civilization. They were level 0, hunter-gatherers.

Her people had mated with cavemen. She felt sick.

"I, need to.. to sit down. I can't believe this.."

Sheppard decided that she needed to know. "I'm sorry. Your people are gone now. They died out long ago."

"I know that. They never came back." She was still shaking her head. "But I thought maybe at least perhaps some of our culture, our history, something, might have survived on Earth.." Her body slumped against the wall. She was crashing.

Sheppard took a chance and gently held her arm, propping her up. She did not resist. She was still in shock.

"Guardian, look at me." Her blue eyes turned to look into his gray-green ones. "Your culture isn't lost. We are here in your city, and right now we are in the middle of a big research project to translate your database. We saved it, at least the public parts that we can access. Your history, customs, everything. It is being preserved for posterity."

"The public database..?"

"Yes! You know, you could really help us with translating it. There are a lot of words and concepts we don't still understand. I think that if you and I work together as a team.." Sheppard made a hand gesture pointing to himself then to her. ".. we can salvage it. Save your culture, your history. Sound like a plan?"

She looked at him with pleading eyes, "Then you really are explorers? You're not here just to plunder my city?"

"No, we're not thieves. We're explorers. We're here to learn, to share our knowledge with yours. To help you, and you can help us. Remember, we're a family now."

She put her hand to her face and sighed, "I know you speak the truth, but this is so much to take in.."

She thought some more, then she came to a decision. She stood up tall and straight and spoke with authority.

"Very well. I will tentatively - tentatively mind you - accept who you claim to be. I will accept you as provisional Lanteans in my role as the Guardian of Atlantis, subject to my learning more about you and your people and what happened to mine."

"That's a deal. Oh, and thank you."

She tapped her tiara. "There, it's done."

Sheppard noticed the tapping gesture. He mimicked it on his own temple. "What's with the tappy thing?"

"Oh. Here." She removed the U-shaped tiara from her brow and showed it to him. "My limiter. It helps me block out your thoughts so that I don't read your mind accidentally. I am prohibited from probing the mind of a fellow Lantean without their explicit consent except in very specific legal situations. I am also not permitted to probe the mind of mere humans - she glanced over at McKay and Zelenka - without good cause; I have more leeway there." She replaced the tiara on her head. "By tapping here I can increase or decrease the level of the mental filter. I just raised the filter up to 90%, which is the normal level when I am among Lanteans. At the 90% level I can only pick up strong or violent emotions..." She gave him a thin-lipped smile. "... such as the deadly thoughts that you had when you were preparing to shoot me."

"Hey, I wasn't gonna shoot you.."

"But you were ready to do so."

"So were you. Ready to kill us, I mean. And I don't need any special mind powers to know that."

She looked away. "True. I was ready to kill you." She turned back. "I apologize."

"Hey, don't sweat it. It's just a misunderstanding among friends. We're family now, right?"

"As I said, I will accept your claim for now. You are the leader of this expedition?"

"Uh, no, that would be Doctor Elizabeth Weir."

"Doctor? Your leader is a civilian?"

"Yeah. This is not military expedition, it's a scientific one. Like I said, we're explorers. I'm simply in charge of security." Then he added, "Say, why don't you and I go visit Elizabeth right now? I think she would be delighted to meet you."

The Guardian sighed, "Yes, I suppose we should go see your leader." She sounded tired.

She then turned away and looked at the monitor again. "10,000 years..."

"Well hey, if it's any consolation, Earth has really changed since then. We've split the atom, gone into outer space.."

"You are a level 4 civilization? Mastered interplanetary travel? That seems surprising to me given your primitive gas-powered projectile weapons."

"Hey, we've been to the Moon."

"And to other planets in your system?"

"Uh, not yet, except in unmanned craft."

"Then you are at best a very low level 4. Borderline primitive."

That raised Sheppard's hackles a bit. He felt obliged to defend his homeworld. "Now wait just a minute, we humans have progressed quite a bit lately. We've mastered the gate system, traveled all over the galaxy.."

"Using the gates of my people, not your own means."

"Uh, yes. But we also now have interplanetary travel..."

"Using our gate ships no doubt."

"Uh yeah, but also other ships that, uh, .."

"That you got from other races. Not your own."

Sheppard was getting flustered. "Well, yeah, we borrow and learn." He looked at Rodney. "C'mon McKay, help me out here."

Rodney spoke up. "Uh, yes, well, we are creating our own ships now, the F-302 based on Goa'uld design, which means.. which means nothing to you of course. Anyway, there's also the X-303 prototype, and the BC-304 but it's still under construction.."

She ignored his rambling. "Fine. So, how many worlds have you populated using our gate system? I would expect that you must have a rapidly expanding interstellar empire by now."

"Uh, no. Just Earth."

"Really? You still live just on your original home planet even with gate travel? No colonies?"

"Well, no.."

"You live on just one world? How can you be so foolish? A single asteroid strike..."

Sheppard was conciliatory. "Okay, I admit maybe we should take your advice on that and spread out a bit. Probably a good idea. Earth is getting kinda crowded."

"It is? What is your population?"

McKay spoke up. "Approximately seven billion."

She stared at him blankly. "I'm sorry, there must be a language problem. Say that again."

"Our planet's population is seven thousand million. Seven times ten to the ninth power."

During the past 30 minutes the Guardian had been hit with three shocking pieces of information. This was the fourth, and it was the most shocking revelation of all.

"You.. wait a moment. Your.. your world has seven thousand million people?"

"Yeah."

She walked away muttering to herself. "No, no, no. I refuse to believe it."

Sheppard chuckled to himself. Finally a fact about 'mere' humanity that blew away even a Lantean. "Earth is a really interesting world. Lot going on there. You should come visit sometime." He pointed at her. "Hey, you come visit with me, I'll take you to go see Las Vegas. You'd love it. There's some really unique architecture there that would give even this city a run for its money."

She ignored him as she continued to think. Then she realized something. She rapidly tapped her fingers on the panel again. "No power, and the gate leads to Earth..." She whirled around and yelled, "The shield!"

McKay had walked up behind them to get a better look at the display panel. "Yeah, kind of a problem." He glanced around the room. "Say, you wouldn't happen to have a few spare ZPMs in this room by any chance?"

"Zed Pee Ems?" She mimicked McKay's Canadian pronunciation.

"Power crystals. Zero Point Modules." He started to explain. "Devices, about this big." He showed with his hands. "They compress a small unit of spacetime in a containment bottle and extract zero point energy from them. The theory behind them is really quite remarkable. You see.."

Sheppard interrupted. "Rodney, you don't need to explain what a ZPM is to her. I am sure that our nice landlady here already knows all about how they work."

"Oh, right, of course." Then his eyes brightened and he eagerly approached the Guardian. "Wait, you know! Of course you know! You know how ZPMs work? How to make them, I mean?"

The Guardian was bemused. The strong sense of fear she sensed from him earlier was now gone, replaced with almost childlike earnestness. Earlier she had marveled at the speed of his thoughts. They were so fast. It reminded her of a Lantean scientist. "Of course. The basic theory of crystal power generation is taught to every Lantean child."

McKay made a silly grin, "Oh yeah. Of course it is. Wow, man, this is so cool. I got like a million questions for you..."

Sheppard put his hand on McKay's shoulder. "Rodney, chill. Our nice new landlady is still trying to get her bearings. Why don't we back off and not bowl her over just yet with the full Rodney, okay?"

Rodney put his hands in his pockets. He looked morose. "Fine."

The Guardian decided to ignore the strange man. She was back to looking at the status display. A graph popped up showing a line that rapidly dwindled to zero. Her eyes widened in alarm. "The crystals, they are all depleted! The city is on the surface?"

Sheppard looked down and put his own hands in his pockets. "Yeah, we're sitting ducks."

"No.."

"Sorry."

"You are explorers. You've been using the gate?"

"Yeah."

"You are exploring other planets in this galaxy?"

"Yep."

She shook her head. "That is not good. The city is vulnerable. You have to stop. Listen to me carefully. There are creatures in this galaxy, terrible monsters, that you must avoid at all costs. They feed on human life energy. You must stop using the gate immediately to avoid attracting their attention."

McKay nodded. "The Wraith. Too late. We've already ran into them."

She stared at him. "You have..?"

"Uh huh."

"Then please tell me that you haven't..."

Sheppard said apologetically, "Sorry, they learned about Atlantis."

Her face switched to Sheppard. "Please.. please tell me you are joking."

"Sorry again."

She blinked her eyes. "So they know?"

"Yeah."

"The Wraith know that you came from Atlantis?"

"Yeah, really sorry there."

She marched in front of Sheppard and grabbed both his shoulders. "Listen to me. This is critically important. The Wraith. Whatever you do, do NOT tell them about Earth. It is absolutely vital they not learn about the size of your population."

Sheppard, McKay, and Zelenka all looked at each other guiltily. The Guardian did not need her mind powers to read the expressions on their glum faces . "Please, tell me you did not.."

Sheppard was fidgeting even more. "Uh.."

"Are you serious? You told them?"

"Sorry again.."

"You, you did? What kind of idiots are you people? I don't believe this. You TOLD them about Earth!? This galaxy has only one gate that can reach your world, this one! Do you have any idea to what lengths the Wraith will go to try to capture my city now? They will stop at nothing, NOTHING to get to your world! They will awaken the dormant hives..."

"Yeah, they already have. Sorry."

"How many hives have they awakened?"

"Uh, all of them, we think."

"All...?"

She was aghast. "You.. you... you are beyond fools." She exploded at them. "Idiots! You grow to a population of 7000 million only to invite the Wraith to feast at the biggest human dinner table in the entire universe? How could you do that your own people!?" She was ranting now. "You have to be the biggest idiots of all time! How can you be that foolish? My people were fools too, yes, I admit it, and they destroyed themselves in their prideful folly, but you.. you.. are even worse! Nobody can be that stupid! How do you people even remember to breathe?"

As she continued her epic rant Zelenka whispered to Sheppard, "She's like a female version of McKay."

Sheppard stepped in front of her and stopped her pacing diatribe. "Look, my commander was captured and interrogated by a Wraith Queen. We didn't know. It was an honest mistake." He looked down. "She started to feed on him."

"You.. you saw it happen? You saw her feeding on your commander?"

"Yeah. I ended up killing him before she could finish."

Her voice softened. "John, you showed him mercy. You did the right thing."

For the first time there was silence in the room.

After a minute she finally spoke again.

"John, we have a problem."

Sheppard nodded. "Yeah, we do."

She looked at him levelly. "You know what must be done."

"Uh, I do?"

"Thanks to your blunder the Wraith could arrive here at any moment."

"Yeah, look, we didn't know, and we're very sorry about that. It's our planet too, our home. We want to fix this problem just as much as you do. So let's work together on this, okay? As a team?"

She had turned away from him again. "Well, you are fortunate to have awakened me."

Her voice sounded bitter as she turned to face him again. "It appears that I will now pay the price for your sins."

Sheppard recognized the look again: hard, grim, determined.

"Excuse me?"

"It is decided. As the Guardian of Atlantis I am now officially taking control of the city. You and your people are to evacuate immediately. I will remain behind and activate the self destruct as soon as you depart."

"Now wait a sec.."

"I said it is decided. The risk to Earth is far too great." She sounded even more bitter now. "Congratulations, John. After 10,000 years of peaceful slumber your foolish actions have condemned my city to its final doom."

"Now hey.."

"You said it yourself. We are 'family' now. Fine, I accept that. Defending and guarding you and your people is now my prime function. Therefore, for your own protection, and for the protection of the seven billion inhabitants of Earth, a population which is greater than the human population of this entire galaxy at least ten times over, I am ordering you and your people to evacuate my city immediately." The three humans stared at her in stunned disbelief.

Secretly she was exhausted. The power reserves in her biopacks were almost entirely depleted from her 6,000 years spent in stasis.

She was putting on an act of imperious leadership mainly for their benefit. It didn't help that she knew that she was a fraud, just like her ancient brethren. Even more so actually. She also knew that much of what was in the 'public' database was actually pure propaganda.

Nevertheless, she was determined to make a proper show of Lantean superiority in front of the human visitors from Earth. She marched magisterially to the double doors like an aristocrat.

She did so despite knowing how fake she really was, how all those thousands of years ago when her people had prepared to leave her behind that she had illegally sensed their mocking thoughts, and from others their pity. She was a fraud created in violation of the Lanteans' most solemn ethics against the artificial genetic manipulation of their own race, all in a desperate attempt to save themselves via forced ascension in order to escape from the genetic monsters that they had inadvertently created in a foolish and quixotic quest to achieve physical immortality. Those monsters had orbited their skies, laying siege upon the last free world in the galaxy. So instead, in their cowardice, they had simply fled the galaxy altogether, leaving all their mistakes behind. Including her.

She reached the doors, then paused, turned, and made a commanding gesture for the three humans to follow her.

"You will take me to your leader now."

She started walking with purpose down the damp hallway. "Your Doctor Weir and I have much to discuss.."

She forced her failing body to keep on walking.

".. and not much time."

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Hungry

"Let's play Humans and Wraiths!"

"I don't like that game. Why do I have to be the Wraith?"

"Because Wraiths don't have souls, dummy. My mom said you don't have one either. That's why you have to be the Wraith."

"You saw the recording. It was a clear case of self-defense – the other children attacked her first."

"The crime is not hers, it is yours. You let her out of the Time Acceleration Chamber without the Council's permission."

"Only because she needed to interact with other children for her social development."

"Why? She has the instructional tapes, the VR simulations, everything she needs to learn how to act in Lantean society."

"Tapes and sims are no substitute for real world experience. We can't just keep her in a box her entire life."

"Her powers are already developing, but fortunately there were no serious injuries to the other children. Why did you not inform the Council that she already had telekinetic abilities?"

"Because then you would have just locked her in that box for good and never let her out. She needs to have some direct contact with other people."

"When we started this experiment you assured me that would not be necessary."

"I know, but I now suspect that there might be an additional component necessary to achieve Ascension, something beyond mere physical and mental readiness, something that we don't yet fully understand..."

"Janus, we both know that's ridiculous. Stop sounding like a mystic from the Age of Myth. Ascension is a simple physical conversion from matter to energy. There is nothing mystical about it. Granted, no one has ascended from the city since the siege began, but you had assured me and the rest of the Council that there was a way besides meditation and the 'releasing of one's burdens' - whatever that means - to induce the brain to enter the pre-Ascension state and begin the process that culminates in total matter-energy conversion. Am I wrong?"

"No, the theory is sound. All we need to do is observe the alpha-wave frequencies and the brainwave interference pattern during a successful Ascension. Once we have that we should have everything we need to be able to replicate and induce it rather easily."

"Good."

"And the girl?"

"Keep her in the Time Acceleration Chamber as we agreed, four more months, 60 to 1 ratio. The Council will destroy the recording of the attack. It never happened."

"Thank you."

"Janus, remember, this is our last hope to escape. If it fails we send a delegation to sue for peace."

"And if that fails too?"

"Exodus."

"Total defeat. There has to be another way."

"What other options do we have?"

"We've already crossed the line, violated our most cherished beliefs, discarded our most basic laws and traditions, all just to survive. If we have to, we can go even further."

"How much further?"

"You won't like it."

"Go on."


McKay and Zelenka trotted to catch up to the Guardian as she marched quickly down the darkened hallway.

Sheppard fell back until he was far enough away to avoid being overheard. He toggled his radio earpiece and whispered into the mic, "Elizabeth, this is Sheppard. Come in."

"Yes Major? How did your exploration of the North Tower go? Find anything interesting?"

"Oh yeah. McKay found something all right. You need to see it."

"Ah, good. I'll be right down."

"No, no need. We'll be bringing it to you."

"To me? I don't understand."

Sheppard quickly explained the situation.

"John, you're kidding."

"I wish I was. She's kinda pissed off too. You're gonna need to use all those fancy diplomatic skills of yours to talk her out of it."

There was silence on the other end. After several moments Elizabeth said quietly, "John, if I can't talk her out of blowing up the city do you think you can stop her?"

Sheppard barked a laugh. "Heh, no. You're gonna need to convince her. No other way."

"Understood. I'll try to think of something. Weir out."

Sheppard adjusted his mic. "Lorne, this is Sheppard."

"Lorne here. I'm alerting the tac team. They should be ready by the time you get to the gate room."

Sheppard hissed into the mic, "No, belay that order. I don't want her to see anyone with a weapon. Assemble the tac team but keep it out of sight."

"Copy. We'll assemble in the stairwells. Lorne out."

"Carson, did you get all that?"

"This is Doctor Beckett. You actually found a living Atlantean? I canna believe it."

"Believe it. She's the real deal. Or at least she claims to be. Carson, I want you to check her out. Medically, I mean. I want to know what her capabilities are."

"You want me to 'check her out'? How in the blazing samhill am I supposed to do that?"

"I dunno.. convince her to go to the infirmary on some excuse or other."

"What kind of excuse?"

"How should I know? You're the doctor. Just wing it. Sheppard out."

Rodney had caught up to the Guardian's fast walking pace. He said excitedly, "So, hey there. Uhm, wow, where to begin.. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

The Guardian sighed, "I doubt I could stop you."

Rodney did not miss a beat. "Okay! For starters, how do you construct a ZPM?"

She said testily, "I don't have time to answer all your questions right now. Perhaps later." She was feeling dizzy and trying hard not to show it. She also had a growing headache.

"Just one question? Please?"

"Rodney.."

"Pleeease?"

He looked so earnest and childlike. She did not have the heart to refuse him. "All right. Just one."

His eyes lit up like a puppy ready to receive a treat. Look at him. He looks so adorable right now.

"So how do you make a ZPM?"

She smiled at him. "It is a simple process. It requires a black hole with certain unique.."

Rodney smacked his fist into his open palm. "I knew it! Only a black hole would have the necessary amount of spacetime deformation to create that much energy. But the gravitational tide would be astronomical. It would stringify anything that got too close. You wouldn't be able to fill up the bottle because the tidal forces would stretch you into a strand of spaghetti before you could even begin the process. How do you avoid that?"

He was speaking so fast. She replied, "You cannot."

"Right. So what's the trick then?"

"As I was about to say, the black hole needs certain unique features that make it possible to.."

".. to create a pocket of gravitational stability so that the bottle could be safely filled! Of course! You would need a second mass that cancels out the black hole's gravitational field so you can get close enough and not get turned into a capellini noodle. But that would require a really enormous mass to counterbalance the gravitational field, something like.."

".. like a second black hole." How can anyone talk that quickly?

"Oh.. oh.. oh course! Nothing else would be strong enough. So simple. But wait, they'd orbit each other incredibly fast, almost lightspeed. That's too fast. You'd splatter yourself due to the centripetal forces before you could even get close."

"Correct. So you find a pair that are orbiting slowly."

"That's impossible. They'd spiral in and collide."

"But not if they were each spinning on their own axis fast enough to deform and twist the surrounding gravitational field..."

Rodney stared ahead. "Oooh..."

The Guardian's smile grew. Rodney was helping her take her mind off her rising nausea and incipient headache. She said indulgently, "Do you think you can figure out the rest now?"

"Wow, wow, wow. Lemmie think. Uh, okay, uh, two black holes each with fast axial rotation. It would twist the spacetime around each black hole like two big adjacent whirlpools. But wait, if they are spinning side-by-side the combined affect would be additive, not subtractive. It would make the combined gravitational vortex even stronger. It's counterproductive."

She said patiently, "Correct again. But not if.." She made a leading motion with her hand, coaxing him to work it out for himself.

"But not if.. not if they were rotating in.. in OPPOSITE directions. Yes!"

"Very good, Rodney. You solved it."

"Of course! Counter-rotation could create a small pocket of gravitational stability were you could approach the black hole and not go all Chef Boyardee. That's ingenious! It's so simple!"

"My, you worked that out quickly. You are a clever man, Rodney."

McKay thrust out his chin proudly. "Of course I am. I'm a genius."

"Yes, you remind me of a Lantean scientist."

McKay blushed a bit. "Thank you for the compliment."

She shook her head. "That was not a compliment."

"Uh, it wasn't?"

"No. What I meant was that you have their pride, their arrogance. I see in you the same bad qualities that killed my race."

McKay's shoulders slumped. "Oh."

She touched his left shoulder. "I apologize, Rodney. I did not mean to give offense." She smiled again. "Truely, it was impressive how quickly you figured that out."

He straightened up. "Well, it comes naturally to me."

McKay then asked her, "So, uhm, do you have a name? Besides 'the Guardian' I mean?"

"No."

"Do you mind if I call you G then? A shorthand?"

"You can call me anything you like."

"Okay, great." Then he added, "So, uhm, where is it?"

"Where is what?"

"The ZPM manufacturing facility."

She looked down. "During the war the Wraith captured one of our battleships. They salvaged a ZPM from it. Realizing its power they tried to capture the facility that made them, and..."

".. and your people triggered the self-destruct and blew up the facility. No, wait, that's not enough. Or rather they.."

"Yes, Rodney, they destroyed the whole thing. They destabilized the delicate gravitational balance between the two black holes with an asteroid made of neutronium, causing the two holes to collide."

Rodney stopped in his tracks. "Whoa. That's a helluva bang."

The Guardian turned to face him. "Indeed. The light from it could be seen across half the galaxy, even in the daylight."

"I bet. But wait, couldn't the Wraith just find another.. Oh. Counter-rotation. That's rare, isn't it? That had to be a chance capture of a star from another system, right? Not just a close binary pair. Wow, the odds of that have to be at least a billion to one..."

"Closer to a quadrillion to one. As far as we know, there are no another closely orbiting counter-rotating black hole pairs anywhere in the universe. It was unique."

"Okay, so why not just find a captured binary pair containing regular stars, and then dump enough matter into both of them to turn them into black holes?"

"That is not as easy as you think, Rodney. To import such an inconceivably large amount of mass into a solar system is beyond our level of hyperspace technology. We can't even create a ship fast enough to travel to another galaxy. Second, even if we could..."

He interrupted her again, "Okay, then find a trinary system with one black hole and two stars, and collide the two stars."

She sighed, "Pushing stars around is not that easy either. It would still not work because the collision would cause a nova or supernova that would hopelessly destabilize the delicate balance of the system. Also, as I was about to say, it still does not solve the basic problem of.."

"What if you opened a gate inside of one of the counter-rotating stars?"

"Rodney, stop! Just let me finish. What I'm trying to tell you is that even starting with two regular stars it would only reduce the odds of finding one such counter-rotating pair in any given galaxy from 1,000,000-to-1 against down to 10,000-to-1 against. We have only visited three galaxies*. I am sorry, but we will never find another."

"Crap. No more ZPMs then?"

She shook her head. "No more ZPMs. However many of them remain now is all that there is and all that will ever be. There will never be any more. I am sorry."

Rodney looked glum again. "I'm just trying to help."

"I know," She tried to cheer him up, "Rodney, you were doing wonderfully to figure all this out so quickly. This is such an interesting conversation. I really enjoy talking with you."

"Yeah, me too."

"Yes, it is a pity that we will not have any more interesting discussions like this."

"We won't?"

"No, because you will be leaving my city very soon.."

Because I have but one last duty to perform..

She sighed quietly.

.. before I die.


Elizabeth Weir was sitting at her office desk. She was in the middle of a private discussion with Carson Beckett when the Guardian strode in to her office. The Guardian did not bother to knock. Sheppard and the two scientists followed in from behind.

Weir quickly stood up intending to greet the Guardian, but the woman in white spoke first.

"You are the leader of your people here?"

Weir said politely, "Hello, my name is Elizabeth Weir. I am in charge of the Atlantis Expedition. I must say, it is an honor to meet you."

The Guardian replied stiffly, "I know that I should say something like, 'The honor is mine' or some other pleasantry. Please forgive me if I do not. I have no training in exchanging false flatteries. I apologize in advance if I offend you with my direct manner of speech. It is not intentional."

Weir took her strange response in stride. "Of course not, and no offense taken." Weir walked around the desk and approached the Guardian. "This is your office then? Would you like to sit down?" She gestured back at her office chair.

"No thank you. This office is for the Gate Keeper and for private meetings with important visitors. I never used it."

"I see. Well then, before we get started, would you like something to eat?"

The Guardian paused, then she said quietly "To.. eat?"

It was a calculated move on Weir's part. Weir spotted the Guardian's reaction. Good.

As Carson expected, the Guardian was obviously famished. A minute earlier Carson had explained his theory to Weir, how the Ancient's public database had called a stasis machine a 'Time Retardation Chamber', a device that slowed down the passage of time but did not stop it. Carson had postulated to Weir that after spending thousands of years in stasis that their new guest would likely be intensely hungry.

However, upon seeing the Guardian, Weir had privately questioned the validity of Carson's theory. It was because the woman looked so young. There was no sign of aging. Was it possible that the Guardian's stasis chamber was designed differently?

But no, the Guardian's reaction to Weir's offer was unmistakable. Weir could see that she was practically starving.

What Weir did not know was that the Guardian's hidden internal biopacks were depleted, and her body had switched to burning its own tissues and limited fat reserves for energy. Her fast metabolism was now a liability that did not give her much time.

With supreme effort the Guardian tried to casually wave off Weir's offer as being unimportant. "Perhaps later. Right now we have more important business to discuss."

Time was now on Weir's side. She slowly walked back to her desk and sat down, taking her time as she did so. She glanced at her nails idly, then she said amiably, "Yes, I understand that you were given the unfortunate news about our contact with the Wraith."

"Yes, it was indeed most unfortunate. In your folly you have awakened the Wraith. Awakened them everywhere. Unified them."

"I know. It was a serious blunder. We are sorry. We didn't know."

"Thanks to your ignorance they now have but a single goal: To reach Earth. We both know that must never be permitted to happen."

"Yes, and I agree."

"You agree? You agree that the gate and the city must be destroyed?"

"Yes, I do."

"Ah, very good. I am glad that we are of one mind on this. Let us proceed then? How much time do you need to complete your evacuation?"

"No."

"Excuse me?"

"We're not leaving. Not yet. Not until we have to."

"Doctor Weir, the Wraith could be here at any moment."

Weir looked at McKay. "Rodney, what do the long range sensors report?"

The Guardian was surprised. "You have the sensors working again?"

Rodney stepped forward. "Uh, yeah, Zelenka and I managed to fix them. According to the sensors there are no hive ships operating within a 400 light year radius of us right now. They seem to be moving randomly from system to system, probably culling."

Weir then asked, "And Rodney, are there any hive ships approaching the city right now?"

"No, not yet."

Weir addressed the Guardian. "Tell me, how fast do hive ships travel?"

"Their hyperdrive design is very inferior. Their ships must drop out of hyperspace at no more than seven light-year intervals for organic hull regeneration, which takes several hours at each stop. At their normal speed it will take them at least two to three weeks to get here, assuming they pause to feed along the way."

Weir picked up her radio. "Grodin, this is Weir. Please respond." She pushed a button that turned on the PA so the rest could listen in.

"Grodin here."

"Grodin, tell me the current status of the self-destruct mechanism. Is it operational?"

"Yes, doctor. It can be armed and fired at any time."

"Thank you, Weir out."

Weir stood up and leaned forward, placing her palms on her desk. "As you can see, we already anticipated you. We have a self-destruct system already in place, fully operational, ready to fire at a moment's notice."

Rodney chuckled, "And with five naquadah generators filled with 300 kilograms of naquadah each, that's a big boom."

The Guardian thought a moment. She walked over to a wall decoration and opened up a hidden status panel to bring up a schematic of the city. "Show me their locations."

Rodney walked up and pointed. "Here, here, here, here, and here."

The Guardian shook her head. "It would break up the piers and sink the city, but a determined Wraith recovery operation could still salvage the gate from the ocean floor. Not enough."

Rodney was incredulous. "The explosion of five naquadah generators is not enough? Okay, how does your self-destruct system work then?"

"It ignites the naquadah that makes up the structure of the entire city itself, its piers and towers, including the naquadah in the gate, which will also explode."

Rodney whistled, "Wow, now that is a big boom. And the generators won't set it all off on their own, just like you can't explode C4 because it just fizzles without a proper detonation cap. Your people must have installed carefully threaded igniters throughout all the main structural members of the city, am I right?"

"Correct again, Rodney."

"So how do you fire it?"

She tapped her head.

"Wow. Uhm, can you give us a way so we can fire it too, you know, if case you get incapacitated or something?"

"I suppose I could give you the instructions on how to ignite it, but I will not give you the instructions on how to disable the mechanism."

"That's cool with me." Rodney turned to the others, "Hey, we're all cool with this, yes?"

Weir spoke up. "All right then. Guardian, are we in agreement?"

The Guardian remained silent.

Weir said, "Guardian, listen to me. We agree with you that the Wraith must be stopped from reaching Earth. And at any cost. But we will wait until the Wraith actually get here. Until that time we intend to stay in the city, and I promise you that we will find a ZPM, and we will raise the city shield once again, and defend your city alongside you. Meanwhile we will do the research that we came here to do, to learn about your people, your technology, your history, your culture, in order to save it and to preserve it for future posterity. In return we promise to be good tenants and help you with your mission to protect the city. What do you say?"

The Guardian appeared to still be thinking. Weir saw that her hand was placed on the back of one of the visitor chairs.

During Weir's conversation Carson had quietly shifted his position to stand next to Sheppard, just outside the office entrance. Sheppard had motioned him over to his side earlier.

He whispered to Carson, "See that? Her hand?"

"Aye, I see it. She can barely stand up."

Sheppard whispered, "If she passes out, do you think you can keep her sedated so we can put her back into the stasis chamber before she wakes up?"

Carson looked at him incredulously. He whispered back, "Are you serious?"

The Guardian whirled around, eyes flashing. "I heard that, John!"

The jig was up. Sheppard was chagrined. "Wow, you got good ears."

Weir spoke up. "John, what's going on back there?"

The Guardian whirled back and faced Weir accusingly. "Your security man was plotting with your medical doctor to incapacitate me, then force me back inside the stasis chamber!"

Weir looked upset. "John, really? Is this true?"

Sheppard raised his hands in mock surrender. "Look, I was just exploring some options with Doctor Beckett. Contingencies only. Nothing more. In case things went south. It's my job. I wasn't gonna actually do it."

The Guardian removed her tiara, approached, and stared into his eyes.

Without moving her gaze from Sheppard she spoke to Weir, who was still standing behind her. "Doctor Weir, please give me permission to scan his mind. This is now a matter of city security. I have the right to request it."

Weir realized she needed to regain the Guardian's trust. "If John agrees, yes."

{ John, I trusted you. }

"Hey, it's not what you think."

{ Do you give me permission to scan your mind then? Do not speak your answer out loud. Just think your response. }

{ You busted me fair and square. Go ahead, dig in. }

{ This will only take a moment. Do not resist or you will injure yourself. }

{ Let's just get this over with. }

Guardian continued to stare at him. John soon closed his eyes.

Several seconds passed.

She saw something that surprised her.

{ Oh. }

The Guardian pulled back and marveled. The expression on her face then became unreadable. She replaced the tiara on her head.

Weir asked, "Well, what is the verdict?"

"Uh, like he said, he was just doing his job. As far as I'm concerned the matter is closed. Let's move on."

"So, do we have an agreement then?"

The Guardian took in a deep breath. "Yes. Your people can stay. For now I will refrain from destroying the city. But remember this: You are guests in *my* city, and I will not take orders from you. However, I will give you all due consideration to any request you might make of me."

Weir responded, "That sounds fair. And the people in my expedition? I'm still in charge of them, yes?"

"Of course. This expedition is yours; they are your people. Now, I might from time to time make a request on some of your people to help me in some endeavor, subject to your permission first, where I hope you will give me the same due consideration to any such request that I give to yours."

"Agreed."

"Good. We will work together then. I will help you in your research as you request it, including any translations of the public database, and I will help you with any labs you wish to explore. However, the Forbidden Archives will remain forbidden. No one is permitted to enter it. Otherwise the city is open to you."

"Thank you." Weir approached and put her out hand. "I look forward to working with you."

The Guardian looked blankly at Weir's outstretched hand, unsure of what she was supposed to do with it. Weir gently moved the Guardian's right hand into her own, grasped it, and shook it slowly.

"This is a human custom, used for agreements, greeting, and friendship."

The Guardian tentatively returned the handshake.

The Guardian then leaned forward and touched her forehead on Weir's own. Weir was caught off guard, but she did not pull away. "And this is our custom for showing friendship and for agreements. It represents the meeting of minds."

Weir recalled Teyla making a similar gesture. "I see. Again, I'm honored."

"And now I am honored as well."

Suddenly there was a gurgling sound. The Guardian tried to cover her stomach.

Rodney asked, "What was that noise?"

The Guardian looked around the room nervously. "What noise? I don't know what you are talking about."

It happened again. "That noise." Rodney pointed at her midsection.

"I didn't hear anything."

Sheppard laughed, "You are such a bad liar. You're worse than McKay."

"Hey!" "No I am not!" McKay and the Guardian had both yelled their objections simultaneously. They looked at each other in embarrassment, then turned away.

Weir smiled. "You must be hungry. Rodney, John, why don't you escort our new friend to the mess hall and find her something to eat?"

The Guardian finally gave in to her body's demands. "Yes.. please.. so hungry.." She collapsed into John's arms.

John deftly caught her. He looked over to Carson, "Well, here's your excuse for an exam."

"Aye. Let's get her to the infirmary."


Carson was looking up at the medical scanner's readout display. Weir, Sheppard, and McKay were standing next to him. The Guardian was still laying unconscious beside them on the hospital cot with an IV in her arm.

John asked, "Well, doctor, what's the verdict?"

Carson crossed his arms as he continued to look up at the scanner. "She is quite remarkable. As far as I can tell she is in perfect health. She is, however, not an Atlantean. At least not a normal one."

"She's not?"

"No. For starters I don't think she has a mother or a father. Her genetic makeup appears to come from at least twenty different genetic donors."

"Are you saying she's a genetic construct? She's artificial?"

"Aye, most definitely."

Weir spoke up. "Wait, I thought that it was strictly forbidden under Lantean law to do that. One of the basic commandments in the late Lantean era was 'Thou Shalt Not Tamper With a Person's Genetics', or something like that."

"Maybe so, but this lass has been tampered with plenty. She's had a lot of surgeries too."

"Like what?"

"Look at this." Carson adjusted the scanner. "See that? Those round hockey-puck shaped discs in the back of her thorax, above the kidneys?"

John peered at the screen. "Yeah. What the heck are those things?"

"As near as I can tell they are biological energy storage packs. They are directly connected to her blood supply and to her nervous system."

"Huh."

"Other parts of her body have been altered as well. See this tube that runs up her arm into her palm where it spreads out to these metallic flanages just under the skin?" He pointed.

"Hmm. That looks like one of those Goa'uld hand devices used by the System Lords. Nasty weapons."

"More likely the Goa'uld had copied those devices from this more organic design. There's some other devices elsewhere too, like this one embedded in her left forearm. I dunna have any idea what they could be though."

"Seems like our girl here is just full of surprises."

Carson nodded. "Her brain is also quite interesting. Even asleep like this she has abnormally high brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. There are also signs of physical restructuring of some of the neural pathways in the brain stem, the medulla oblongata, and the cerebellum. Some very delicate microsurgery there."

McKay made a face. "Ugh, they messed with her brain? Any idea why they did that?"

Carson shrugged. "It could be for any number of reasons. For example, they might have added a kill switch."

"A kill switch?"

"A failsafe, a contingency, in case she gets out of control. Perhaps a word, or a phrase, or some other external stimulus that would kill or incapacitate her instantly if she heard or saw it."

Sheppard said, "Interesting."

"It might trigger something else, maybe some kind of basic autonomous behavior at an instinctive level."

Sheppard asked, "Like what for instance?"

"Like a command that makes her kill the person she is looking at."

"Wow, really?"

"It's possible. She wouldn't even realize she had done it until after it was all over."

Sheppard mused some more, "I'm starting to see why she's keeping us out of those 'Forbidden Archives'.."

Weir touched Sheppard's shoulder. "John, remember, she needs to be able to trust us."

He looked down. "Yeah, I know."

Carson spoke up again. "There is one other thing you should know about her." The other three looked at him expectantly.

He went on. "Remember when we recovered that amputated Wraith arm from Athos? How it indicated that the Wraith have amazing recovery capability and no aging process? Well, she has the same abilities. Her telomeres are capped just like theirs is, and she has the same regenerative ability."

McKay was shocked. "You mean she's part Wraith?"

"Actually I think it's the other way around."

"What do you mean?"

"Her DNA modifications are artificial. In a natural organism most DNA is wasted, junk, due to various random mutations that accumulate over generations. Only a small fraction of natural DNA is useful. The modified sections of her genes have no wasted DNA at all. However the Wraith have several random and useless mutations throughout their genome, indicating a genetic drift away from the original design, whatever it was. The bottom line is that I think she's much closer to the original design than they are."

Weir said, "Wait, are you saying the Ancients *created* the Wraith?"

"Well, it would explain their basic genetic similarity. She feeds off biological energy packs. The Wraith later mutated from the original design to feed directly off humans. I doubt the Ancients made the Wraith on purpose, however."

Weir objected, "But doctor, the Ancient database states that the Wraith evolved over 100,000 years ago, a natural evolutionary accident, a cross between humans and some bug that feeds on life energy...?"

"Well the genetic drift is actually much more recent. I'd say that somebody has their facts mixed up."

Sheppard was still thinking. "Very interesting.."

There was a groan from the hospital bed.

McKay said, "Hey, she's waking up."

The Guardian sat up and put her hand to her head. "Where am I?"

Carson moved next to her bedside. "Lass, you're in the infirmary. You had a hypoglycemic episode and fainted. Blood sugar crash. We're injecting a glucose solution into your vein right now."

She blinked her eyes. "A hypoglycemic episode?"

McKay spoke up. "Oh yeah, I get those all the time, that's why I need to have frequent meals. Sheppard makes fun of me but it's a real condition." He made a face at Sheppard "And you can *die* from it."

She sat up and removed the IV from her arm.

Carson said, "Now wait just a moment. You are in no condition to.."

She ignored him. "I'm fine." She stood up and looked at her hospital gown. "Wait, where are my clothes?"

"Lass, you need to get back in bed.."

Weir put her hand his arm. "Carson, let her go."

"All right. Nurse, bring her kit please."

Sheppard spoke up. "Hey, I imagine you must still be pretty hungry."

The Guardian's eyes widened. "Oh, I'm starving."

McKay asked, "What do you normally eat?"

"Processed yeast. The vats are in the lowest level of the North Tower."

McKay said, "Processed yeast? Yuck."

"Oh no, Rodney, it's very nutritious. It contains all of the body's daily nutritional requirements. The only problem is that after the first thousand years the yeast vats started to acquire a metallic taste. I still don't know why. I've tried and tried but I just can't get rid of it. Rodney, maybe you could help me with that?"

Sheppard said, "You mean you have been eating nothing but processed yeast this whole time?"

"Of course. Why do you look so surprised?"

Sheppard looked at Rodney, who smiled back knowingly. Sheppard then leaned in towards the Guardian and whispered, "How would like to try some Salisbury Steak smothered in gravy with reconstituted mashed potatoes? They taste absolutely amazing."

Sheppard was being facetious. Rodney, however, was not. "Oh it is so good. I can't get enough of it myself. I love hospital food too, and airline food. They say I'm weird that way but believe me, it's heavenly. You'll absolutely love it."

She looked at them both with ravenous eyes. "I want Salisbury Steak and reconstituted mashed potatoes, and I want it right now."

Sheppard held out his elbow. "Let's go!"


She was sitting in the mess hall wearing her white leotard and open cape while devouring a plate of food, with John and Rodney sitting across the table watching with bemused expressions on their faces. She had taken off her white gloves and was shoving globs of mashed potatoes directly into her open mouth with her bare hands.

She tried to speak through a blob of white gooey carbohydrate, "Thish ish sooo gud!"

John spoke with with barely disguised amusement, "Well, I'm glad you like it."

Rodney was rolling his eyes. "That's her fifth serving." She then grabbed a hamburger patty and was getting ready to shove it into her mouth with her bare hands when Sheppard stopped her. She looked at him questioningly.

Sheppard picked up a fork and knife. "Here, use these."

"What are those?"

"Eating utensils. Makes it much easier."

"Oh, I see. I didn't recognize them. We use a furcacultro."

"A furcacultro? What's that?"

"A Lantean food utensil. U-shaped, with a prong ending in a sharp edge for cutting and the second prong scallopped for drinking liquids. The scalloped end includes a serrated edge for impaling food items."

"Hmm. A spork-knife-chopstick combo. Sounds pretty efficient."

The Guardian nodded, "Oh, it is."

Carson whispered to Sheppard, "We found those things in a storage bin. We thought they were Ancient surgical tools."

Sheppard shrugged, "Well, live and learn."

The Guardian picked up the fork and stabbed the piece of hamburger with it, then forced the whole thing into her mouth.

Sheppard remarked, "You keep eating like that and you'll put on weight."

She swallowed the glob of meat then said, "Oh no, I need to eat at least 20,000 calories to replenish my reserves."

McKay whispered to Sheppard, "Gawd. Don't tell her about the blue jello. She'll eat it all."

Her ears perked up. "Blue jello? What's that? Ooh! Can I try some? Please? Please please please?"

McKay slumped down in his chair.

"Aw crap."


A/N:

* The Ancients have visited three galaxies: The Alteran Galaxy (where they originated), the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Pegasus Galaxy.


A/N:

If you have read some of my other fics on FFN you know that I enjoy writing 'what if' tales that explore how events would change if one single fact was altered in the original story. For example, in SAO: Nobody Dies I explored what would be different in Sword Art Online if nobody had actually died while playing the VR game. In The Realization of Haruki Suzumiya I explored what would be different in the world of Haruhi Suzumiya if all the characters had opposite genders. In this story I posit what would be different if a single Lantean had survived the Wraith War.

This type of Atlantis fanfic has been done before, but those stories generally followed the original episodes of the series without much change. This fic is different in that it will instead explore how widely those events would diverge from canon in such a situation (hint: a lot).

Please note that for story reasons some events might occur out of order compared to canon. I will also be bringing in a few characters early (Evan Lorne, Laura Cadman).

As always, thank you for reading.
-HuuskerDu

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: The Destroyer

10,000 years ago.

The Guardian sat on the floor of the deserted gate room. She waited for darkened gate to light up.

She waited and waited.

Another anniversary came and went.

Her father had promised her that he would try to contact her through the gate once a year on the anniversary of the Lanteans' exile to Terra. On the first anniversary she had stood just outside the event horizon's expansion zone with barely contained excitement waiting for the chevrons to light up. The chronometer had counted down: Three, two, one, zero.

She then turned and looked at the gate expectantly.

Nothing happened.

Hours later she was sitting on the floor crosslegged, watching the gate patiently waiting for the blue lights to appear.

Still nothing happened.

So she waited.

And waited.

For three days.

She then reluctantly re-entered the stasis chamber, setting a timer so that she would be ready to greet them at the next anniversary.

The next anniversary was the same.

Had they abandoned her? No, she refused to believe it. They had given her a full complement of rare power crystals - three of them - to power the city shields, precious and irreplaceable energy sources. Surely it was proof that they were planning to return? She held on to that hope.

Another anniversary passed.

Before she entered the stasis chamber again she climbed up the stairs to inspect the gate ships in the main hangar of the central tower, twelve small interplanetary spacecraft that also had amphibious capability. The inspection of the gate ships was not necessary but she checked on them anyway. She did it to reassure herself that her people would not have abandoned and left those ships behind. It was more evidence that they had planned to return.

Another anniversary.

As the years passed she was becoming increasingly worried about the fate of her people. Eventually she dialed Terra in violation of her orders to try to reach them. The lack of any contact made no sense. Surely they would want to know if the city had survived the siege? To know if their plan to hide the city had worked?

It had. After the Council's peace delegation to the Wraith was wiped out, the remaining Atlanteans made a last desperate attempt to escape the siege. Sacrificing their last battleship as a diversion, the great city-ship rose on its mighty engines and tried to flee. The Wraith fleet turned back and gave chase but the city-ship was already on the far side of the planet, where it had activated its hyperdrive engines and jumped into hyperspace. The pursuing Wraith fleet then scattered across in the galaxy in search of them, for they knew there was literally no place left in the galaxy for them to hide.

But the city did not flee. After the fake hyperspace jump the city's survivors quickly and quietly submerged the city deep in the sea. (The Wraith did not know that the city had that capability.) They then shut down all power and fled through the gate to Terra. The Guardian was left behind with instructions to keep the city hidden until they return.

The ruse worked. The city was safely hidden. Surely her people would want to know their plan had succeeded? And yet years had passed with no contact. What had happened to them?

She dialed Terra in violation of her orders. The gate connected. "This is Atlantis Guardian calling Terra Base. Please respond."

Nothing.

"Atlantis Guardian to Terra Base. Please respond."

Nothing.

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

She was tempted to step through the gate and investigate herself, but that would have meant abandoning her mission. If she passed through the gate she might not be able to return. She hesitated, then she closed the portal without entering it.

On the next anniversary she dialed Terra again and the same thing happened.

Several more years passed.

One year she dialed the gate and it failed to connect.

She panicked. She dialed Terra again and again. There was no connection.

She pounded her fists on the gate console. "No! No! Don't leave me like this!"

She tried to think, pacing back and forth. She knew that Terra was currently in the midst of an ice age. Perhaps they had left Terra for a world with a more temperate climate? Yes, that must be the reason. It would change the gate address. Of course. That had to be it.

But if that was so, why didn't her father contact her to let her know?

She suppressed in her mind another and more plausible explanation, that the gate had simply been buried or destroyed. No, she told herself, that was simply not possible. She refused to believe it.

She continued to pace back and forth. She returned to the console and dialed Terra several more times without success.

Eventually she returned to the stasis chamber. After that she stopped waking at each anniversary, knowing that the stasis chamber would automatically revive her if there was any gate activity. She set the timer to wake her in a century.

One day she was awakened unexpectedly. The city's sensors had detected a small approaching ship of Lantean design. She ran excitedly to the underwater docking bay, watching with breathless anticipation as the ship passed through the shield and entered the dock.

A handsome man emerged from the small ship, tall and brash. He said that he was the last survivor of a remote Lantean research outpost. He told her a dramatic tale of his escape from the Wraith in a derelict Lantean runabout, using his Lantean mental powers to activate it and pilot it, and how the ship had guided him to Atlantis.

She was ecstatic to meet another of her kind. He soon entranced her, and she felt as if she was living in a fairy tale. She talked with him excitedly about her father, her people, and their expected return. The possibility of his deception was evident right from the start, but she had suppressed it from her mind just like she did the fate of her people. Instead she allowed herself to fall in love.

One day she caught him trying to escape the city in his ship with two stolen power crystals. He confessed that he was an actually an impostor, a mere thief. His blood was only part Lantean, his mother having long ago been hunted down and exterminated by the Wraith like all the rest of her kind.

She said she already knew he was false. She said she didn't care. She only wanted him to stay.

While she slept that night he tried to kill her in her sleep. The instincts in her hindbrain reacted, and he was already dead before she had finished waking up. She looked at her bloody hands in shock, still not fully realizing what she had done.

She staggered up to the roof of the North Tower carrying his body. There she raged at the heavens: She cursed the Wraith. She cursed herself. She cursed the Ascended who watched and did nothing.

She was alone again with no hope and no future, surrounded on all sides by implacable deathless monsters, monsters who had committed genocide against her race and could never be defeated.

While looking up she screamed a furious oath, inchoate in her rage and fury.

She jumped into a gate ship. She dialed a random address and went through.


The long millennia passed.

Over the ages a legend slowly grew. The Wraith whispered among themselves of a ghostly being that they called The Destroyer. Some said it was the ghost of a betrayed Wraith queen seeking vengeance upon her sisters, others said it was the spirit of a murdered Lantean. According to the myth the being would appear every hundred years or so and the story was always the same: A few Wraith drone soldiers would be found dead inside a random hive ship's landing bay. Then the alarm would sound, followed by a blur and the echoes of screaming Wraith, more dead. The alarm would grow and spread throughout the hive. Chaotic reports would reach the Queen's ears of a mysterious intruder, an entity that seemingly materialized out of thin air only to disappear again. The few witnesses who survived said it was a ferocious female dressed in white.

The path of invisible death and destruction would gradually progress toward the queen's chambers. The queen would then whirl and search her own throne room, where she would finally spot the intruder and hiss a challenge. The intruder would then snarl a challenge in return. Sometimes the queen survived, sometimes she did not. The intruder would then be gone.

Many Wraith had heard of the legend. Even Queen Death herself was familiar with it. However, she knew that the legend of The Destroyer was actually true. It was because one of her own hive ships was recently attacked by the mysterious entity. She had sent her agents to debrief the attacked hive, and the report she received intrigued her. She sent out her human spies to several worlds, secret Wraith worshippers, to try to learn more.

What reached her ears amazed her. A threat and an opportunity.

She gave out instructions to her fleet. A trap was to be set.

What happened next was not known, but The Destroyer was never seen again. Many Wraith believed that Queen Death had slain The Destroyer herself, as befitting her reputation as the greatest of all Wraith queens.

More millennia passed. The galaxy was quiet again.

And so, with every world conquered, and with no more battles to fight, the Wraith continued their long silent slumber in the endless dark.

6,000 years passed by.

One day word came to the Wraith of the discovery of a vast new feeding ground, a planet with billions of delicious fresh human lives to feed upon. The new Queen Death was awakened. She marveled at the news. Atlantis had returned. She gave orders to her allied hives to begin culling human worlds to gather strength.

Again it was a threat..

She smiled to herself while thinking of the old legend.

.. and an opportunity.


Atlantis, present day.

The Guardian was finishing her meal in the expedition's mess hall. McKay had already left, muttering that the blue jello supply was in peril. Meanwhile, Sheppard and Carson Beckett stayed seated at the table to keep her company.

The pair were surprised to hear a rather unlady-like burp from across the table. The Guardian covered her mouth in embarrassment.

Sheppard grinned and said, "You okay over there?"

The Guardian pushed herself away from the table, holding her stomach. "I might have eaten too much."

She stood up, and the two men did the same. Carson said, "Heavens, that's an incredible number of calories for a lass to eat in one meal. You'll need time to rest and digest all that food. Would you like to return to the infirmary?"

The Guardian shook her head, "No thank you. I have a sanctuary where I can rest. I think I shall return there now."

As she was preparing to leave a pair of individuals approached, an athletic looking woman and a tall man. The woman seemed a bit apprehensive, the man particularly so. Sheppard turned and warmly greeted them. "Hey Teyla, hi Halling."

He gestured at the Guardian. "I don't know if you two heard about it yet, but this is our new landlady. I suppose I should do some introductions." He turned back to the Guardian. "Guardian, this is Teyla Emmagan and Halling of the Athosians. Teyla, Halling, this is the Guardian of Atlantis."

The Guardian said, "Hello. You are Athosians? You are from Athos?"

Halling hesitated. Teyla looked at him, then she addressed the Guardian with her head down. "Yes, Anquietas. We are the leaders of our people here."

"I see. So the Athosian people survived the war? I am very happy to hear that." The Guardian explained to Sheppard, "The Athosians were steadfast allies to the end, one of the few who did not forsake us." She turned back. "Greetings, Teyla Emmagan and Halling of the Athosians. You are most welcome here, and thank you."

Teyla's head stayed bowed. "The thanks is ours for your generous and gracious benevolence, Anquietas. Truly, I could not believe my ears when I heard the rumors about your awakening. I am ashamed to admit that I did not believe the rumors until I saw you with my own eyes. Please forgive my lack of faith." She bowed deeper.

The Guardian looked nonplussed. "That is not.."

Then they did something the Guardian did not expect. They knelt down before her, prostrate. Halling started to chant ritualistically, "Ave Anquietas Domivaitus, Ave Anquietas Domivaitus..."

The Guardian was now clearly upset. "What are you doing?"

Teyla looked up. "We are praising and worshipping you, Anquietas."

The Guardian was angry. "Stop that! Get up!" They did. "Please do not do that in my presence. My people are *not* worthy of your worship, believe me. I even less."

Halling protested, "But you are the Anquietas. You are our Creators."

The Guardian made a bitter laugh. "Hardly that. Oh, I can see how you came to believe that little exaggeration. True, we spread the seed of humanity to many worlds and created the gate system, and for those acts and others my people boasted loudly and proudly of their greatness, all while hiding their failures, which were greater still. Believe me when I tell you that we Lanteans are totally unworthy of your honor and reverence."

She then sighed, "I suppose I understand your need to worship, the need to seek contact with and glorify something greater than yourself. After all, it is a unique gift given to the human species."

Teyla said haltingly, "It is? But not by you? Then who, Domivaitus?"

The Guardian ignored her query and instead said angrily, "Stop calling me that! Listen to me. The Ancestors that you worship are now all dead now. Dead, you understand? They killed themselves in the folly of their pride. Do *not* worship them."

The two Athosians were now looking down shamefully at the floor in fear and dread at being admonished by the Anquietas. Halling was trembling.

The Guardian's face softened. She gently put her hand under Teyla's chin and lifted it up. "Teyla Emmagan, look at me." The Guardian gave Teyla a gentle smile. "I am not a goddess, only a woman of flesh and blood, no different than you."

"Then how should we address you?"

"Simply as the Guardian." Then she added, "Or better yet, as friend."

The Guardian approached Teyla and lightly touched her forehead to the Athosian. Telay briefly hesitated before returning the gesture. The Guardian then did the same with Halling.

"Friend."

"Friend. And please, call me Teyla."

The Guardian replied, "Greetings, Teyla and Halling of the Athosians. May I ask how is Athos?"

Teyla looked at Halling, who said, "All was peaceful for hundreds of years, then the Wraith came suddenly. It happened a month ago. We do not know why they came. We were given sanctuary here by the humans from Earth." He looked appreciatively at Sheppard.

The Guardian turned to Sheppard. "John, you gave them sanctuary in my city?"

Sheppard was caught off guard. "Uh, yeah. Caught flack for it too." He added defensively, "Look, I'm sorry if I invited squatters in to your city without your permission, but I wasn't going to just leave them behind."

She beamed at him. "Oh, John, thank you so much. You did the right thing. Indeed, it was one of the primary missions of Atlantis, to give temporary sanctuary to displaced populations on other worlds and resettle them. Truly, I am in your debt."

Sheppard enjoyed her effusive praise. "Well, thank you. I'll just pass that along to Elizabeth next time I get chewed out."

The Guardian made another loud burp. She covered her mouth with both of her hands.

Teyla suppressed a titter. "Yes, I can see you are indeed just like us."

"I was planning to inspect the city next.." The Guardian swayed slightly. "But perhaps first I should rest for a little bit.."

Sheppard held her arm. "I think that's a good plan. Let's get you to bed so you can take a nice little nap and sleep off all that food. Hmm?"

"I suppose that would be a good idea.." Another burp. She leaned into him to stay upright.

He grinned, "C'mon sleepyhead, let's go."


The next morning Sheppard was waiting patiently just outside the North Tower when the Guardian emerged from the entrance. She looked refreshed.

She was surprised to find him. "John, what are you doing here?"

He shrugged, "You said you'd begin your inspection tour starting at 9:00, but you didn't say where to meet up."

"You were planning to go with me? John, that isn't necessary. I know my way around my own city."

"Well, yeah, but I thought maybe I'd show you how we redecorated the place..."

She smiled. "That's very kind of you. Say, what is that?" She pointed.

"This thing? Oh, it's a picnic basket."

"A picnic basket?"

"Some good stuff in here too." He showed her the basket as she peered inside. "Bologna sandwiches, potato chips, fruit cups, cream sodas, plus I threw in a couple MREs as backup."

Her eyes widened at the veritable cornucopia of processed food items. "Oh John, you shouldn't have."

"My treat." He gallantly offered his elbow. "Well, shall we begin our tour?"

She took his arm in her own. "Yes, let's." She continued talking as they walked arm-in-arm, "Now, I made a list of the places I want to inspect. I'd like to begin with these flood damaged areas..."


Sheppard suggested that they rest for lunch and have a picnic together. He proposed that they go outside to the southwest pier because he said he liked the view. The Guardian said there was a much better vantage point on a secret ledge near the top of the central tower, accessible only from a hidden maintenance ladder. He gladly assented and followed her.

The pair were sitting on a blanket near the ledge's edge enjoying the scenery. They looked out on the spires gleaming below them as the white tops of the ocean waves lapped in the distance.

Sheppard exclaimed, "What a view."

"Yes, the ocean surface is beautiful. The sky, the sun. I only saw the view underwater. It never looked like this."

As they gazed out at the scenic vista he said idly, "I didn't know this spot even existed." He smiled at her. "You must know a lot of other secrets too."

She looked at him demurely. "Yes. I know many secrets."

"I bet you do."

They continued to watch the passing waves together.

Out of the blue he asked her, "What's your name?"

The question took her by surprise. She put down her sandwich. "My name? What do you mean?"

"Your name. 'Guardian' isn't a name, it's a title."

"That is my official appellation."

"My official title is Major but my friends call me John. What name do your friends call you?"

She looked down. "I have no friends."

"You have one now." He moved closer. "I think you are a remarkable woman."

"My father's family was conservative in their ways. They believed that our birth names, our private names, should be kept secret. Such names are to be shared only between close family members and.." She paused.

"And?"

".. and lovers."

"That's wonderful." His hazel eyes were focused on hers.

Her breathing quickened. She felt that she could lose herself in those fathomless pools of gray-green.

She finally was able to look away. She spoke quickly, "Such names are never spoken aloud, only telepathically."

He leaned in very close. "We already have that connection."

"John.. I.." Her face started to blush.

"You feel it too. I saw a glimpse. You can't deny it."

She said in a whisper, "I know. I should not have done that."

Such was the risk of a mind probe, for it permitted the target to sometimes also briefly sense the mind of the interrogator. When she had investigated his mind she tried to focus only on discerning his motives regarding her, wanting to know if he was actually planning to incapacitate her and put her back in the stasis chamber.

But what she found was something else entirely. During the probe he had tried for a moment to hide it, but he relented as she pressed further.

At first it had surprised her, and only afterwards did she realize what was happening. Yes, the attraction was there. She could not deny it. She turned to face him.

He whispered, "Look into my mind again."

"My limiter, I can't.."

He gently removed her tiara. She did not resist.

{ We both feel it. }

{ Yes. }

She felt herself giving in. She closed her eyes, her heart pounding. He moved in to give her a kiss.

Lips were about to touch..

Her eyes snapped open. { Wait }

She sat up quickly and put her tiara back on. "No, I can't. Not when the Wraith are coming."

"Hey.."

She pleaded with him, "John, this is wartime. We are both military. You know what that means. We both have a duty, a mission. Now is not the right time."

He sat up, propping his elbows on his knees. He sighed, "Yeah, maybe you're right."

"I'm so sorry. I do like you, very much so. Does this mean we can no longer be friends..?"

He quickly shook his head. "Oh no. We're pals."

"I am glad." She smiled at him for a moment, then she adjusted her tiara.

Together they gazed out at the ocean again. A veil of silence fell between them.

Time passed.

Without turning she spoke. "The city, your people. We are allies. I'll fight alongside you, die with you."

He nodded as he looked out. They were soldiers in a war.

While still looking out at the water she finally said, "You know, John, that was rather clever what you did yesterday."

He turned. "What was?"

"How you maneuvered me into digging in to that part of your mind when I was looking for something else."

He gave her a mock-innocent look. "I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about."

She looked at him dolefully. "Now John. We are both military. We both know that if you interrogate a suspect in his lair and demand the location of a secret map or a hidden item, the suspect will often furtively glance in the direction of the hidden item without realizing it. You did that to me deliberately when I probed your mind in Doctor Weir's office. You acted like you were trying to hide your feelings from me, which of course drew my attention to them and made me dig in to them. You did that to me on purpose, am I right?"

"Hey, I take the fifth."

"I am impressed you were able to fool me like that, even if only for a short while." She gave him a knowing smile as she gently chided him. "You sneaky man, don't try to trick me like that. I'll catch you."

"Only because you cheat."

She laughed.

"But do I have to still call you 'Guardian'?"

She shrugged, "I have no other name. Only Lanteans of high rank had public names by which they called themselves."

"You need a name. Something short and informal."

"Well, Rodney called me G."

"He did?" Sheppard made a face. "That's a stupid name."

"But it is short and informal."

"It's stupid."

He thought a moment then snapped his fingers. "Genie."

"Genie?"

"Yeah. You're a magical girl who came out of a bottle - okay a stasis chamber but close enough - and you're powerful, full of tricks.. it's perfect."

She crossed her arms. "I am not magical."

He ignored her protest. "Yep, Genie it is."

"Fine." She uncrossed her arms, picked up her sandwich, and bit into it.

He picked up his own. After he swallowed a bite he asked, "So back then you had no name except for your title? That seems rather impersonal."

Between chews and talking with her mouth still full she explained, "It was customary for people of low standing to be addressed only by their title. I was called Guardian because I was the security guard for the city while it slept."

"So basically you were the night watchman."

"Yes. I had a low rank. I wasn't even a full citizen."

"You weren't? Why not?"

She realized that she had blundered into revealing an aspect of her life that she was not ready to share with him. She thought quickly, then decided to distract him. She put down her sandwich and gave him a coy smile. "You know, John, there is one thing I'd like to do with you.."

His eyes lit up. "Hmm?"

"If on some day, when the war with the Wraith is finally over, and if by some miracle we somehow both survive it, and if we are able to reach Earth again, then.." She leaned in close to him again. She had a coquettish look.

"Yeah?"

She whispered, "I would love for you to show me Las Vegas."

He sat back and pointed at her. "Now that is a date."


The next morning the Guardian was in McKay's private lab. She and McKay were having a lively discussion about the origin and structure of the physical universe.

"Rodney, that is circular reasoning."

"Oh come on.."

"It's obvious. Look, show me your Standard Model again. The gauge-symmetric coupled equation."

"Which formulation?"

"The one that describes the dynamics of a physical system, not the state."

"You mean the Lagrangian formulation?"

"That's the one."

"Okay." Using swift finger motions McKay re-shuffled the diagrams on the imaging table. It was a large touch-sensitive flat surface with a transparent sheen that displayed documents and images. It was hooked into the Atlantis Expedition's main database using a small Carter Data Adapter (CDA).

The engineering team had connected CDAs to Lantean data systems throughout the city. CDAs were small self-contained electronic translator boxes that converted the Ancients' standard I/O protocols into equivalent USB or HDMI digital signals and vice versa. It still chafed McKay that the devices were named after his rival, Samatha Carter, and not himself. It was because she had come up with a better and simpler design than the more complicated one he had originally proposed to the engineering team back on Earth.

"There. G, I give you the Standard Model of physics, Lagrangian style."

She had her elbows propped on the glass table alongside him. "Nice. Now stop for a second. I still haven't mastered your mathematical notation yet, but just get up and take a step back with me." They did. She gestured at the table. "Just look at that, it's beauty, the compactness, the elegance."

Rodney nodded, "Yeah, there's a sublime beauty to it. It's marvelous how the motions and energies of the entire physical universe can all be represented by just five coupled sets of gauge invariant symmetric terms."

"Which set of terms is which? I'm still not fully familiar with your people's mathematical symbology."

"I know, it's a pain how mathematicians use so many different symbols all the time. Okay, let's see.." He bent over the table as she leaned in closely behind him to watch. "The Lagrangian symmetries in the Standard Model are described by five basic groups of terms, starting at the top: 1) the kinetic energies and self-interactions of the gauge bosons, 2) the kinetic energies and the electroweak interactions of the fermions - quarks and leptons, 3) the masses of the W+/-, Z, gamma, and Higgs particles and their couplings, 4) the interactions between quarks and gluons, and finally 5) the fermion masses and their couplings to the Higgs boson."

"So that means this constant here, excuse me." She was leaning in past him, her arm reaching over his shoulder to point at the table. "This one, I assume it is the coupling constant for electromagnetism?"

"Yep, we call it the fine structure constant, dimensionless, the coupling constant for electromagnetism expressed in Planck units, about 1/137."

"Ah." She turned her head. "So tell me, Rodney, why is the fine structure constant that particular value? 1/137? Why not some other value?"

He shrugged. "Well, I dunno. It just is. It's a basic constant."

"And if it was slightly different?"

"Stellar fusion wouldn't work. If the value was a tiny bit smaller there would be no fusion, no stars, no suns. If it was a tiny bit larger stars would ignite too soon and burn so furiously that they would never grow in size to produce anything beyond helium so there would be no other physical elements. It would mess up everything."

"Basically the universe wouldn't work right."

"Yeah. It would be either perpetually dark or go up like a firecracker."

She leaned in over him again. "And this constant here?" She pointed.

He looked at it, then turned back over his shoulder to her. "The proton to electron mass ratio."

"And if that one was different?"

"You wouldn't get stable atoms because they'd either fly apart or collapse into neutrons, and the universe would be a goop of either all ions or all neutrons with no interesting macrostructure. Pretty boring either way."

She beamed at him. "Very good, Rodney. You just said something profound."

"Uh, I did?"

"Yes. If any of those constants were just slightly off the Universe would be, as you say, boring. And yet we know the Universe is emphatically not boring. It is full of all sorts of interesting things.."

He chuckled, "Like floating city-spaceships?"

".. like life."

He nodded, "Right, right, right. But I'm still not buying it. You're saying the universe is designed for life?"

"Rodney, isn't it obvious? Look around you. Look at your planet. Look at the physical processes that created it, and you. They are all determined by these five basic groups of terms that feature a dozen or so dimensionless constants that are completely arbitrary, any of which if even slightly different would have prevented the creation of an interesting universe, including one with a city-spaceship with Rodney McKay inside it."

"Oh bosh. I know there's a name for this.. trying to remember.. the Anthropic Principle. That explains it."

"Anthropic Principle? Let me look that up."

She took a step back and raised her left arm horizontally in front of her and activated her mini-holographic imager. An image popped up showing a rapid scrolling list of pages.

Previously she had given McKay a small Lantean transmitter device and asked him to plug it into a CDA so she could peruse the expedition's database that they brought with them from Earth. The database included a copy of several reference sources including Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, several science journals including Nature and the Physical Review Letters, SGC mission reports, and other essential information that the expedition brought with them.

Earlier Rodney had quizzed her about how her imager worked. She had explained that it contained the Lantean equivalent of a WiFi/Bluetooth radio receiver that let her access the city's data systems at high speed in addition to her normal telepathic neural interface.

Her bright azure eyes rapidly scanned the reference material as the web pages scrolled past on a disc of glowing light that floated just above her extended arm. After a few seconds she said. "I see. Rodney, that's the same circular reasoning you used before."

"Hey, it's a perfectly valid objection to your claim. The universe is made just so, yes, in order for interesting structures to exist in it, yes, with a very unlikely set of initial conditions, yes. Why? Because it has to! Because otherwise the universe would be boring with no life, nothing interesting, and you and I would not be having this discussion."

"Rodney, my people realized very early that the universe is indeed designed to work the way it does. To be interesting, I mean. It's not random. There is so much evidence for it, it's overwhelming. It's embedded even in the equations themselves, how they work, and more importantly why they work. All these special conditions.. properties. Look, consider the physical properties of something as basic as water, H2O. When you think about it, isn't it remarkably strange? It is just about the weirdest molecule in the universe: A universal solvent, one that actually expands and floats as a solid, and that has .."

At that moment Sheppard walked in to the lab. He looked at the pair sternly. "Hey, Laurel and Hardy, wake up. You're late."

They both glanced up from the table with blank faces. McKay asked, "Late?"

Sheppard crossed his arms. "Strategy meeting, you numbskulls. Started twenty minutes ago."

"Huh?" McKay looked at the time. "Aw nuts, he's right."

"I drew the short straw to come down here to fetch you two clowns." Sheppard waved them to the door. "C'mon let's go. And McKay, take your radio with you. Oh, and give Ms. Laurel one too."

"Fine."

As they left the room the Guardian asked McKay quietly, "Laurel and Hardy?"

"Old comedy team, a fat guy and a skinny guy. Hey!" He ran to catch up with Sheppard. "Sheppard, are you calling me fat?"

"Eh, you might want to try the treadmill a bit.."

The Guardian continued to listen to the squabbling pair as she trotted to catch up to them. "Sheppard, I am not fat. My body mass index is well within normal parameters. In fact with all the stress I've endured lately I've been losing weight, so knock it off with the snide commentary. Just because I don't jog an hour every day like you and your Marine grunt pals doesn't mean that you can.."


The Guardian pointed at the map. "It's a pity you left Athos so quickly. Emege was probably your best chance for finding a ZPM."

Sheppard peered closely at the map. "You think so?"

"The city still had a working shield in my time. One of the last surviving outposts." The Guardian was looking at a map of the city with McKay, Sheppard, Teyla, and Weir.

McKay asked, "But wouldn't the Wraith have simply taken it by now?"

"Not if the ZPM was removed and hidden."

"With nobody finding it after 10,000 years?"

"Yes."

McKay crossed his arms. "And where, pray tell, would that be?"

"Clues would be left behind that only another Lantean would know."

"Like a puzzle perhaps?"

"Exactly."

McKay rolled his eyes. "Why do the Ancients always do that? Always make a game or puzzle out of everything?"

"Rodney, intellectual pursuits are highly valued among my people. It is believed that you must prove yourself worthy before you receive great knowledge."

Teyla said, "I am glad you are considering returning to my world. We may yet find more survivors among my people."

The Guardian asked, "Teyla, have your people hidden themselves from the Wraith in the past and survived?"

"Yes, there are caves in up in the highlands that my people have used many times to hide from the Wraith."

"They were fortunate. Those caves must have ferrous content."

McKay asked, "Ferrous? You mean iron?"

The Guardian nodded. "Magnetized ferrous ores can obscure human lifesigns from the detectors used by the Wraith."

McKay said, "Good to know, G. Thanks."

Sheppard turned to McKay. "'G'?"

"Yeah. Shorthand for Guardian. G."

"No, her name is Genie."

"Huh? You mean like in 'I Dream of Jeanie'? That makes no sense."

"Yes it does. Look, she's a magical girl who came out of a stasis chamber - which is kind of like a glass bottle - so, Genie."

At the word 'magical' the Guardian narrowed her eyes at him, but she remained silent.

McKay chortled, "Sheppard, that is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Her name is G. End of discussion."

"It's Genie."

"G."

"Genie!"

"G!"

Weir raised her hands. "Boys, boys, enough. This is an official meeting, so we will use proper names and titles here." She turned. "Now, Guardian, I want to confirm with you, you believe that this is our best chance of recovering a ZPM? Colonel Sumner didn't find one there."

"Well, according to your mission report Sumner's team was inside Emege for less than an hour before the Wraith came, which was not enough time to conduct a proper search. Near the end of the war the Wraith were systematically levelling our outposts. It is remarkable this one was left mostly intact. And it is large. I believe it is worth investigating one more time."

Sheppard asked, "Any schematics of the city in the public database?"

The Guardian shook her head. "No. Emege was originally a trading center but during the war it was transformed into a military outpost. Any tactical information regarding its layout, shield strength, power generation, and so on, was removed from the public database as a security measure."

"Ever been there yourself?"

She shook her head. "Again no. I have never stepped foot on another world that I can recall."

McKay mumbled, "Great. She's a shut-in."

Sheppard was incredulous. "'That you can recall?' Are you saying you don't remember? How can you forget something like that?"

"Major Sheppard, it was a long time ago."

She was referring obliquely to the years after her lover had died, the Years of Madness. She was not ready to talk about those shameful years. Instead she said, "My memory of those years is hazy. However, I am certain I have never been to Emege."

Weir said, "Thank you, Guardian. Any comments from anyone else?" She looked around the table. There were none. "Any objections?" Again there were none.

Weir stood up. "Okay then. The mission is a go. Good luck."


The team members assembled in the gate room. Sheppard and the Marines were wearing their black tactical BDUs with P90s strapped to their fronts. Teyla had one attached to her vest. Zelenka and the other members of the science team wore bulky packs containing various instruments and tools.

As they waited for the rest of the team to assemble, Sheppard took a moment to check out the Guardian's battle gear. He saw that she wasn't carrying anything. Her white hood was pulled up and she was wrapped in her white cloak, the same as when they had first met.

McKay lifted a section of her cloak and felt it. Sheppard thought it was rude of him to do that without permission, but the Guardian didn't seem to mind.

McKay rubbed the cloth between his fingers. "This feels like silk."

She nodded. "Yes, it is an artificial woven fiber suffused with planar carbon polymers that..."

Rodney interrupted her. "Planar carbon polymers? You mean graphite. That's pencil lead."

"Yes."

"Graphite is a soft dry lubricant."

She nodded. "Yes, which is why the cloth feels silky."

McKay crossed his arms. "Oh come on. Graphite is useless for providing physical protection."

"Hit me then."

"Excuse me?"

"Go ahead, Rodney. Hit me."

"What? No."

The Guardian looked around at the others. "Will somebody please hit me?"

Peter Grodin was standing next to them. He obliged her, giving her a hard punch to the gut.

There was a sickening thunk sound as if he had just punched a cinder block wall.

"Ow! Ow!"

McKay admonished him. "Sheesh, Grodin, I can't believe you would hit a girl. And you didn't have to punch her so hard."

The Guardian held Grodin's sore hand. "I'm sorry, I should have warned you first. Let me see." She inspected his fingers. "Nothing broken."

McKay lifted the section of the cloak where Grodin had punched it. It was soft again. He slid the silky cloth between his fingers "How..?"

"As I was trying to explain before you interrupted me, this is an artificial woven fiber suffused with planar carbon polymers and tiny microscopic piezoelectric capacitors. When the fiber is hit with a physical impact.."

Rodney jumped in again. ".. the piezoelectric capacitors set off a small electric charge at the point of impact. That charge alters the chemical property of the carbon sheets somehow."

"Yes. Carbon is a very versatile substance. Its polymers can take on many shapes: a particulate form as coal, a planar form as graphite, a spherical form.."

".. as buckyballs, yeah."

"And a three-dimensional lattice form as.."

"Oh crap, diamond!"

"Very good, Rodney."

"Holy buckets! How does it work? To create diamond you need a tremendous amount of energy, right? It takes tons of pressure, extreme heat. Piezoelectric charges are tiny."

The Guardian patiently explained, "The carbon lattice is preformed, bistable, and when energized the planar sheets do not form true tetrahedrons but rather a simple cubic lattice. Not actually diamond, but strong enough to provide good protection from physical impacts, including knives and most projectile weapons."

McKay was still holding the cloak. "This is so neat. So your whole ensemble, the hood, the gloves, the whole outfit is like that?"

"Yes. My bodysuit uses a thinner material for flexibility of movement and to let me pass perspiration, not as protective as the cloak and hood, but the principle is the same."

McKay was studying the cloak carefully. "How much of this stuff do you have?"

"Beyond what I'm wearing, not much."

"You can't make more of it?"

"No. And you would need a compatible energy source too."

"Phooey. Hey, can you loan me a small piece so I can study it?"

Sheppard was getting impatient. "McKay.."

"Certainly. I can give you a piece of it later so you can learn more about its protective properties. However, I personally think the thermal-optical properties of the material are more interesting."

McKay was still bent over studying the cloak. He stopped and looked up. "Huh? Thermo-optic? You mean.."

"Yes, Rodney, the material provides thermal-optical cammouflage the same way that the 'puddle jumpers' do. Same mechanism."

He stood up. "Whoa, that is cool!"

She unrolled a flap in her hood that covered her face. She then faded away. A voice said, "It requires significant energy so I try to use it only when necessary." She re-appeared.

Sheppard groused, "Will you two stop goofing around? I got a mission to run here. People are waiting."

McKay protested, "But this is so neat.."

Sheppard snapped at him. "Okay Rodney, that's enough. New rule: No geek-outs allowed during the pre-mission briefing. Got that?"

McKay mumbled something indistinct. The Guardian apologized. Both gave Sheppard their undivided attention. Sheppard paused to make sure they stayed that way, then he turned and addressed the entire group.

"Okay everyone, listen up. This is a recon mission. If any Wraith are spotted we abort immediately and head back to the gate. My team will take point heading out; Lorne and AR-2 will cover our six. Stackhouse and AR-5 will stay behind to guard the gate. Genie, you're with me on the way out and with Lorne on the way back. Everybody got that?"

They all assented.

"Right, let's move out."


The sun of Athos was low in the sky. The team was returning from their mission to explore the city and was now heading back to the gate.

Earlier they had descended deep into the ruins of the Ancient city, where they had eventually found a shaft that led to a tunnel that angled down into the depths. At the end of the tunnel was a door that led to a series of traps and tests, which elated McKay and Zelenka because it meant that section of the city still had power. After passing through them with the help of the Guardian they discovered the secret of Emege: It was powered by geothermal energy, not power crystals. McKay was cursing on the way back up.

The Guardian was trudging at the rear of the column with Lorne and his Marines. McKay had fallen back to join her.

She looked at him apologetically. "I'm sorry, Rodney. I thought they might have had a ZPM."

"Geothermal energy. Bah."

"I should have realized. As the war progressed ZPMs were becoming scarce, so my people resorted to using alternative power sources like geothermal energy. It provided less power and was potentially unstable if overused, but it was often the only choice available. I should have thought of that possibility. I'm very sorry."

"Not your fault. There are lots of other gate addresses. We'll just keep searching. So tell me again some more about that cloak of yours. You said you power it from your biopacks? How does that work?"

"Well, there is a.." She stopped talking and walking.

She sniffed the air.

McKay stopped too. He leaned in and whispered, "What is it?"

The Guardian was staring at a grove of trees about 100 meters away.

Lorne noticed her. He turned back, his gun ready. The Guardian crouched low. Lorne looked at the treeline but didn't see anything. He whispered, "Wraith?"

She nodded without turning, still staring at the trees.

Then she made a snarling noise and lept forward, sprinting towards the trees, moving impossibly fast.

She faded away and disappeared.

McKay yelled, "Hey, stop!" But it was too late, she was gone.

Lorne raised his binoculars and swept the treeline. He heard faint hisses and snarls in the distance, and with his binoculars he saw indistinct flashes of light emanating from behind the trees.

Lorne touched his earpiece. "Sheppard, this is Lorne. We got a problem."

"Sheppard here. What is it?"

"The Guardian sniffed out some Wraith. She ran into the woods after them before I could stop her."

"What?"

"Sorry boss. She's engaging them now."

Lorne heard a rude epithet in his earpiece. "Everybody to the gate ASAP. Lorne, if they attack, retreat and put down cover fire. Go, go, go!"

"You heard the man, let's run!"


The Wraith commander was laying on the floor of the forest with the Guardian's boot pressed against his neck. The dead bodies of his brethren were strewn about.

The Wraith gasped, "You are The Destroyer. I thought you were a legend."

The Guardian was panting hard, her garment covered with Wraith blood. She leaned forward, eyes blazing. "Believe it."

"My queen will find you, defeat you. She will feast upon your living flesh."

"She is welcome to try." The Guardian removed her boot from his neck and stepped back. "Run to your queen. Tell her that Atlantis has risen. Tell her The Destroyer has returned. Let her know that if she comes to my city it will be the last day that she draws breath."

The Wraith staggered and ran off.

The Guardian was still panting when Sheppard caught up with her.

"There you are!"

She looked up. "Sheppard? What are you doing here?"

He approached with his arms wide. "What the hell, Genie?"

She gestured at the Wraith bodies that were scattered about. "Don't worry, they're all dead. I let one go."

Sheppard ignored her. He was furious. "This was a recon mission. You gave away our position!"

"But.."

"No buts, no excuses. You said you are military, right? That means you follow the mission. You don't let your personal feelings or grudges affect your judgment. You put all of our lives in danger including mine!"

"John? I'm sorry.."

"Thanks to your little Wraith-killing joyride the Wraith brought in darts and started shooting at us. Not culling, shooting. Stackhouse got hit. He might lose a leg!"

Her eyes widened in shock and bewilderment. What have I done?

She looked at him with pleading eyes. "I.. I don't know why I did that. I'm sorry.."

"No. Apologies are not good enough."

"John, you could have been injured coming here. Why did you come back for me?"

He walked up and made a repeated stabbing motion with his finger. "Because we DON'T. LEAVE. SOMEONE. BEHIND!"

"I'm so sorry.."

"No. I can't trust you."

"John..?"

"No. We're done. No more missions with me or anyone else." He gave her a thin-lipped smile, "But hey, it's your city, your gate, right? If you want to go running off by yourself to go play Rambo with the Wraith, that's fine with me. But you and I are done."

He stomped off.

She just stood there.

The next day the Guardian disappeared.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Clouds

A meeting took place inside of Elizabeth Weir's office with Weir, Sheppard, McKay, Zelenka, Lorne, and Beckett all present. The leader of the Atlantis Expedition was exchanging some pointed words with the Expedition's head of military security.

"John, we still need her."

Sheppard shook his head, "Not like that, not when she blew our cover and brought the Wraith down on our heads. She put all our lives in danger."

"Granted, she majorly messed up on her first mission. But did you have to be so harsh with her about it?"

Sheppard spoke softly. "Yes, and she deserved every word I said. Look, I try to be accommodating whenever I can, but she crossed a red line on this one."

Weir crossed her arms. "Your words certainly had an effect on her. She vanished without a trace. Nobody can find her." She had a worried look on her face. "John, what if you went too far and she retreated back into her stasis chamber?"

Sheppard shrugged, "I doubt she would do that, but if she did then she's acting like a sulking child and if she is that emotionally fragile we can't use her anyway."

Weir began to pace behind her office chair, her arms still crossed. "I'm just concerned that we aren't trying to understand what happened from her point of view. She is an alien from a highly advanced Ancient civilization, one that had operated at a level way above our understanding. We don't know the reason for her actions, but we do know that she has never worked with humans before. In fact, given what we know about her I suspect that she has never worked as a team with anyone before. She is going to make mistakes in dealing with allies."

Sheppard held his ground. "Mistakes? Mistakes that we pay for with our lives?"

Weir stopped and stared at him. "We need her, John. No matter the cost."

He threw the stare back at her. "Really? Even if it gets some of my team injured or killed?"

She refused to back down. "John, what's the alternative? What other options do you suggest? The Wraith are going to attack us, and probably soon. We need her on our side. Yes, she screwed up on her first mission with us, and yes, you and I will need to sit her down in private and give her a long and frank talk about it.."

Sheppard interrupted her. "Elizabeth, she needs more than just a talk. That wasn't just a careless mistake. It was something deeper."

"Deeper? What do you mean?"

"I think there is something wrong with her, something that we can't fix just by talking." He turned to face Lorne, who was standing in the back of Weir's office next to McKay. The latter was trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. Zelenka and Doctor Beckett were seated in the visitors' chairs on the other side of the room.

"Lorne, you said she sniffed out the Wraith and then she lunged at them. Is that right?"

Lorne stepped forward. "Yes sir. She literally sniffed them out. She froze and stared at the treeline, then she made a snarling noise and ran faster than I've seen any human run."

Sheppard then addressed McKay. "You saw the same thing as Lorne, right?"

McKay was still trying to hide behind Lorne, clearly unwilling to speak.

"Well, McKay?"

The scientist gave a small reluctant nod.

Weir pleaded on the Guardian's behalf, "John, it might have only been a momentary lapse in judgment. She's not used to working with others.."

Sheppard shook his head as he gestured at Lorne and McKay. "No, what they saw was not just some rookie error. It was basic. Instinctual. She reacted like a tiger would, like a solitary predator. She reacted like an animal."

Weir asked, "But why would she act like that?"

Doctor Beckett stepped forward. "Ma'am, if I may be so bold as to speak, I think I might have a theory regarding the Guardian's behavior with the Wraith."

Weir turned to address Beckett, "Yes, doctor?"

He paused looking at Shepherd, who simply nodded at him. It was obvious to Weir that Beckett had already privately discussed his theory with Sheppard. "If you recall, from the bio-scan made in the infirmary we discovered that someone had performed microsurgery on certain areas of her brain that control basic autonomous responses. Smell is the most primitive of the five senses. The olfactory glands in the nose are tied directly into the brain's limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls the basic fight-or-flight response. That was the area in her brain that was modified."

Weir asked Beckett, "So you think the smell of the Wraith triggered her instinctually?"

Carson nodded. "Aye, it's possible. The modifications might have created an autonomous reaction for her to attack anything that she smells or sees as a Wraith."

Weir grew concerned. "Are you saying that she will automatically attack the Wraith every time she sees one? Like a trained attack dog or something?"

"Well, based on the debriefing it is clear that her desire to attack the Wraith was clearly evident. But can she control it consciously? I canna say for certain. There's no way to tell just from looking at the brain scans."

"You can't tell if she was acting willfully or not?"

"Not for certain, no."

Weir concluded, "Understood." She re-crossed her arms. "Fine then. We don't know exactly what the Ancients did to her mind, but whatever they did seems to have turned her into a powerful Wraith-killing weapon." She looked at Sheppard. "John, as long as we are careful about where we use her, is that going to a problem? Frankly I am okay with it. We are going to need that killer instinct on our side when Wraith come knocking on our front door, don't you agree?"

Sheppard shrugged. "I admit she can be useful under the right conditions, but she won't be enough to save us. Granted, if a platoon of Wraith step foot inside the city with her around they're toast. But our lovely Guardian can't take out an entire invading army, nor can she take out a whole hive ship."

Weir asked, "How do you know that? She's an Ancient with who-knows-what kind of special powers and abilities."

He shrugged again, "Doesn't matter. Won't help."

Weir asked again, "But how do you know?"

Sheppard drove his argument home. "Because, Elizabeth, the Ancients *lost*. Never forget that. They lost. That means she cannot save us from the Wraith."

Weir sighed, "Point taken. But we can still use her in our fight nevertheless. So where is she anyway? Has anyone seen her?" Weir looked around the room.

Nobody said anything.

McKay finally spoke up, "Uh, we know that she re-enabled the defenses and traps protecting the Forbidden Archives. It is possible that she went back there to her stasis chamber. If she did, I don't think we can get her out of there again."

Zelenka asked, "How do we know she is even in the city? No one saw her return from Athos."

McKay huffed, "Oh she's here all right. I'd bet money on it."

"How can you be so certain?"

"The cloak, dummy. She could have waltzed right through the gate behind Sheppard and nobody would be the wiser." Then he said to himself, "Boy, I really want to take a look at that fabric again, figure out how it's made, then find a way to adapt it to our power systems so that.."

Weir had raised her hand to stop McKay's digression and he ceased talking. She then sat back down at her desk. "It's decided then. We need to bring her back into the fold. The first step is to find her. McKay, Zelenka, try to determine if the Guardian is in the city and where. Use whatever resources you think necessary to locate her. But don't take any risks in approaching her though. Just locate her position and report back."

McKay asked, "And then?"

"And then we'll figure out what to do next."


Two days later

McKay climbed up the ladder to the roof of the South Tower. He was alone. There on the roof he saw what he expected to find. She was alone too.

He saw the Guardian lying flat on her back gazing up at the sky with her fingers clasped together like a body arranged for a viewing in a funeral home. She was wearing a white sun dress that featured a white pleated skirt that ended just above her knees.

He walked over to her supine position as she continued to placidly gaze up at the afternoon sky. She appeared to be idly studying the cloud formations that were drifting overhead.

Rodney stood and waited for her to notice him. She did not react to his presence. Instead she kept looking up at the clouds.

On a whim he decided to lie down next to her. He clasped his fingers together in an imitation of hers and looked up to join her in her skywatch of the condensed water vapor bodies that slowly drifted overhead in the light prevailing afternoon breeze.

A minute passed. He unclasped his hands and felt the soft black rubberized surface under his fingernails. "You know, this is surprisingly comfortable."

She finally spoke. "Yes. The sun warms it up."

Another minute passed.

McKay continued to study the cloud formations alongside her. He observed that there were a lot stratocumulus clouds today, with a few scattered altocumulus coming in from the west. He saw one particular stratocumulus cloud that had an irregular pillow shape beneath a quasi-oval with two smaller white tufts sticking out of it. He pointed at it. "Hey, see that cloud? It kind of looks like a bear sitting down, don't you think?"

The Guardian saw it. "I suppose it does, yes."

A few more minutes passed in silence.

She pointed up and said, "That cloud looks like an alba tigris felesium."

McKay followed her finger and found it, a billowy cloud that featured a long body with a large carnivorous head, somewhat cat-like. "That looks scary. What is it?"

"A feline hunter, apex predator."

McKay asked a bit nervously, "You have those creatures here?"

She smiled but did not turn her head. "Yes, but not on this world."

"Phew."

"Don't worry, Rodney. As long as you are with me you are safe from any predators, even a tiger."

Because I am one myself.

"Oh? Thanks."

Another minute passed in silence.

McKay pointed at another cloud. "Hey, that one looks like Donald Duck's face in profile wearing his sailor hat."

She saw the cloud. "Donald Duck? I don't understand."

"A Disney cartoon character, an anthropomorphized duck. Donald was always jealous of Mickey for being more popular than him."

The Guardian was confused. She raised her arm up and a round disc of glowing light appeared above it. The disc flickered then showed a series of brightly colored images of various Disney cartoon characters. She stopped at the image she was looking for and studied it, frowning.

"Rodney, he is not wearing any pants."

"What?"

She turned the disc sideways so McKay could see it. "If Donald Duck is an anthropomorphized representation of a human being then he should be wearing both a shirt and a bottom, yes?"

"Uh.."

"So why is he not wearing any pants?"

"Huh? I dunno. It guess it's just traditional for cartoon characters to be drawn not wearing pants. Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Porky Pig, none of them wore them."

She pointed at the image of the mouse standing next to the duck. "Then why does Mickey Mouse wear pants?"

McKay got exasperated. "Why are you asking me these questions? I said I don't know!"

She turned off the floating image. "I am sorry. I am just trying to understand your world." She laid herself back down on the warm rooftop and continued to watch the passing clouds in silence. McKay did the same.

More time passed.

The Guardian closed her eyes and continued to listen to the soothing quality of McKay's thought patterns. With her limiter turned up to 90% she could only sense them in the most ephemeral way, a kind of gentle white noise, like the pleasant pitter-patter of a long summer rain. But even at this level she found his thoughts to be calming and relaxing.

"Rodney, you can ask me more of your science questions if you like."

"I can?"

"Yes. I enjoy it."

"Really? Be careful, I'll take advantage of your offer in a heartbeat and talk your ear off."

She reclasped her fingers. "I have time."

He sat up. As much as he relished the opportunity to interrogate her again for hours on end, there was another more pressing matter at hand. "Look, about your little sabbatical, I waited as long as I could."

"How did you find me?"

"It wasn't hard. The city sensors can't distinguish between human and Lantean lifesigns, but it was easy to spot the one dot way out all by itself on the South Tower. I figured since you knew I could use the city sensors, and since the dot wasn't at your normal hangout in the North Tower, that this was your way of telling me that, 1) You had not actually left the city or gone back into your stasis chamber, and 2) You wanted to be left alone for awhile. So I waited a couple days before coming out here."

"Correct Rodney, and thank you. I needed some time by myself."

"It wasn't easy to wait this long. I had to bribe Zelenka with my coffee stash to keep his mouth shut, but Elizabeth is really worried about you leaving for good so I couldn't wait any longer."

"I understand. Your leader is wondering about what happened to me on Athos, no doubt."

"Yep. Carson thinks the Wraith's scent triggered you."

She sighed, "He is right, it did."

"You'll need to explain what happened to Weir and Sheppard. I think Weir is willing to cut you some slack, but Sheppard is another story."

"I can control the urge."

"Well, like I said you'll need to prove that to Sheppard."

She sat up. "Rodney, I did not expect our mission to encounter any Wraith. They normally never return to a world right after a culling. Why should they? It makes no sense."

"You were surprised."

"I was. Also, I never needed to hold back before. That was something new."

"You never had to hold back when dealing with the Wraith?"

"No, never." She made a wry smile, "I'm not very good at diplomacy, Rodney."

He chuckled, "Hey I'm just as bad. I hate meet-and-greets, chatting up colleagues at science conferences, schmoozing with benefactors at black tie parties.. bleck."

"Yes, we both have no social skills and lack social graces." She laid back down and resumed gazing up at the passing cloud formations.

"You know, if anyone else said that to me I think I'd be offended."

She turned her head. "But not me?"

"Nope, coming from you it's fine."

"Why is that?"

"Because you have no social skills and lack social graces."

"Ah."

She turned her head back again.

She was enjoying herself. It was only with McKay that she allowed herself to unwind and relax like this. She was never this relaxed around Sheppard.

McKay asked, "Uhm, since we're just laying here together, do you mind if I pester you with some of those questions now?"

Yes. I want to hear the symphony.

He added, "I know you're off duty, G, so I won't push it, but ever since you arrived you got my mind spinning like a top. Are you sure it's okay if I bug you right now?"

"Please do. I love our little science chats." Then she hesitated. Should she ask? "Uhm, Rodney?"

"Yes, G?"

"Is it okay if I lowered my limiter a bit?"

His eyes widened in alarm. "Huh? You want to read my mind? What for?"

"Oh no, not like that! It's just that I, well, uhm, this is a little embarrassing for me.."

"Go on."

"I, uh, just really like listening to the sound of your thoughts, that's all. Not your actual thoughts, just the sound they make in my mind."

"Sound?"

"With my limiter up at 90% your thoughts aren't actually intelligible. They sound to me like a pleasant summer rainfall on a windy day. I really enjoy listening to it. I'd like to try an experiment by lowering my limiter to 80%, just to see what your thoughts would sound like in my mind if I could hear them just a little bit more clearly. Is that all right? I promise I still won't be able to read them."

"Uh.. I guess it's okay."

"Thank you so much. All right, here goes." She tapped her tiara once as she closed her eyes. The rain sounds changed to music, a fast-fluttering flute-like melody intertwined with a slower basso profundo.

It was wonderful.

"I'm ready, Rodney. Ask your question."

"G, you gotta explain that quip you made about neutrinos back in my lab on Thursday. It's been driving me nuts."

Oh dear, she had hoped that McKay had forgotten that one. She had tossed the comment out teasingly during one of their discussions cum debates about the nature of particle physics, one that centered on the physical properties of the tau neutrino. She had blurted it out in a fit of pique because she was frustrated that he was missing the point, and she was feeling a little churlish about it. She made a cryptic side-comment about one particular aspect of the neutrino that she was certain he wouldn't be able to follow, just to tweak him for not staying on track. Of course to McKay it was like drawing a moth to a flame, and she soon regretted making the comment.

"Rodney, ask me anything but that one."

"Oh c'mon."

"I can't.."

The music was speeding up, multiple melodies intertwined, point and counterpoint.

"Why not? You never held back anything from me before."

It thrilled her. She wanted more.

But she knew she needed to be careful. "Rodney, if I'm not telling you there must be a good reason, right?"

"Right."

She heard a flutter of high flutes playing above a bass line of horns. "Here's a challenge. Let's see if you can figure out the reason I'm not telling you."

His eyes sparkled. "Go for it." The music grew in complexity, interweaving. She revelled in it.

"Remember our discussion about neutrinos when you mentioned the Super-Kamiokande experiment in Japan, the one that showed that neutrinos can oscillate between different types?"

"Yeah. The fact they can oscillate is a bit unsettling."

"So you said. Why is that, again?"

"Because neutrinos need to have zero mass otherwise the particle symmetries don't work right. When the Standard Model was first created that seemed a pretty safe assumption. After all, a neutrino can zip through a wall of solid lead that is a light-year wide without hitting anything. They are pretty elusive critters. At first experiments seemed to confirm that the neutrino did move at light speed as predicted and therefore had zero mass."

"And?"

"The 1987a supernova explosion seemed to be a pretty good verification. That explosion triggered two independent neutrino detectors when the explosion was also observed on both X-ray and optical telescopes. The neutrino wavefront hit the Earth within three hours of the light blast. Both came from about 150,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The three hour delta over that distance, when fed into the Lorentz equation, set a hard lower speed limit for the neutrino: at least 99.9999999% the speed of light. Other experiments such as MINOS also confirmed that neutrinos had to be essentially massless."

The tempo was growing faster now, the themes and motifs more complex. She could feel it, the high flight that was almost ready to begin. She allowed the wave of excitement to wash over her.

"And then?"

"But something wasn't right. The first major clue that something was badly off-kilter was the odd behavior of our sun, the biggest neutrino emitter in Earth's local neighborhood of space. When they measured the neutrino output of the sun they found a maddening energy deficit: The sun emitted far fewer electron-neutrinos than it ought to. It meant that something about the Standard Model was wrong. The Super-Kamiokande experiment in Japan showed that neutrinos can actually oscillate between their different types. Other experiments confirmed the neutrino oscillations. The implication was that the neutrino's mass cannot be zero. Something really weird is going on that the Standard Model was not able to explain. I mean, a massive neutrino nicely solved the energy deficit from the sun, but why did that deficit exist in the first place? What is causing it?"

"Exactly. Why should the neutrino have non-zero mass at all? At a basic level, I mean?"

"Does it?"

"Does it what?"

"Does it actually have mass? Answer me yes or no."

"Yes. It's small, under one electron-volt, but yes."

"Awesome!"

"You still haven't answered my question, Rodney. What does that mean at a basic level?"

"Well, the implications would be staggering. The rules of local SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) gauge super-symmetry demand that a neutrino with non-zero mass must have a monstrously heavy counterpart particle to balance L. And that means, hmm.. wait.."

There was the takeoff. His mind jumped, soaring upward like a falcon shooting up into the limitless blue sky. The Guardian grabbed hold of his train of thought, riding behind it like a water skier. She felt giddy chasing his mind aloft as it kept racing up and up to ever more stratospheric heights.

"The model isn't wrong. It's just incomplete."

"Why is it incomplete?"

So beautiful.

"Something fundamental is missing."

He was soaring so high now, it was as if together they were taking in the whole world in a single glance. It was breathtaking.

"Oh, I got it. So simple. It's the one taught in junior high, gravity: The holy grail of physics, the Grand Unified Theory."

The music had reached its climax. She felt the rush of endorphins wash over her in a moment of pure unadulterated joy.

"Rodney, congratulations, you figured it out."

The sound crashed down to a discordant honking noise. "Figured out what again? I forgot."

She was ignominiously dumped back to earth. The ride was over.

"You figured out the reason why I can't tell you."

"Huh? I don't get it. Is this related to your snide comment about neutrinos?"

More discordant noise. The clashing sound was grating and distasteful.

"Forget I said that. Stay on track. Go back to the GUT."

"Okay. Gravity, that's the key, right?"

The pleasing music started to play again. "Yes."

A new musical theme was building. It was starting deeper this time. She closed her eyes and listened, drinking it in.

"The Standard Model leaves out gravity, and nobody can figure how to add it."

"And..?"

"And you'd need a quantum-mechanical theory of gravitation, one with a quantum force-carrier. But the energies required in a particle accelerator to generate the conjectured particle, the graviton, are ridiculously high."

"Are they?"

"C'mon, you'd need to build a particle accelerator the size of the solar system to do that."

Her eyes twinkled at him.

The music exploded again.

"Oh no, no way. You have got to be kidding me."

"Rodney, we figured out gravity a long time ago. Our ships have had artificial gravity all the way back to the Age of Myth. And if I understand your SGC technical reports, so do your own new prototype ships based on Asgard technology."

He mentally kicked himself. "Gah, I'm an idiot." She heard a trilling flute. She suspected it represented Rodney berating himself for missing something obvious. "Of course. Both your races cracked the secret of gravity control ages ago. Otherwise you wouldn't have artificial gravity on your ships. You have it all figured out already."

"Yes."

"So wait, I still don't get why you aren't explaining that remark you made on Thursday. Is knowledge of gravity control something that is forbidden?"

"No, not particularly."

"Hmm." His eyes narrowed.

There it was again, the leap in musical complexity. It was as if an orchestra conductor had suddenly swung his baton back into action again, with the music jumping back to life as if on cue.

The Guardian felt the wave of music start to rise up again.

However, things were getting out of hand. McKay was drifting too close to something that she wanted him to stay away from. Something dangerous, something forbidden.

She decided to force a change in subject. While still looking up at the sky she said, "Rodney, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Uh, sure?"

"Who do you think I am?"

McKay sat up again. "Huh? You're the Guardian."

"That's just a title. Who am I?"

I don't like this game. Why do I have to be the Wraith?

Because Wraiths have no souls, dummy. My mother says you don't have a soul. That's why you have to be the Wraith.

She sat up and looked at him, waiting for an answer.

He floundered, "Uh, well, I don't get the question..?"

"This is hard for me too." She wanted to confess her condition, but she couldn't speak the words out loud.

She had an idea. "Say, can I please open a private communication conduit with you? Just for a little while?"

"A what?"

She looked down. "Personal questions are hard for me.. saying them aloud. It will make things a lot easier for me."

"Uhm, okay."

She tapped her tiara a few times.

"Wait, before you start, what do you mean by a 'private communication conduit'?"

{ I mean this. }

"Gaah!" McKay sat up quickly. "What the hell? I just heard a voice in my head. Was that you?"

{ Yes, it's me. }

"That is freaky."

{ Sorry. If it bothers you too much I can stop. However, I can communicate much easier this way about personal matters. This won't take long. }

"Uh, okay, go ahead."

They both laid back down on the warm yielding surface of the rooftop and watched the clouds again.

Another minute passed.

{ Rodney, I'm not a person. }

He sat up again. "What kind of dumb statement is that? Of course you are a person."

{ No I'm not. }

"Look, just because they surgically implanted a few gizmos inside your body doesn't mean they turned you into Robocop. You're still you. You're still a real person."

{ That's not what I mean. I'm an illegal genetic construct, part of a failed experiment. I was created artificially. }

He shrugged, "So you are a test tube baby. Who cares? Carson suspected as much. In vitro fertilization is a routine method of conception where I come from. Honestly, it's no big deal."

{ But my genome was constructed in a machine. Not conceived, constructed. }

"Yeah, so? Cobbling genes together from a bunch of different donors is no different than the messy variations found in natural selection over several generations. What happened to you was simply a bit more systematic, that's all."

{ It doesn't disgust you? What I really am, that I'm artificial? }

"Of course not. Why should it?"

She looked down. { My people thought differently. }

"Well that's their hangup. I honestly don't care."

She could see that he was being sincere.

Aloud she said softly, "Thank you."

She got up and began to leave.

"Hey wait.."

She turned and said quietly, "When you have an answer to my question, please tell me. I really want to know."

She left.

McKay was alone. He put his hands in his pockets as he watched the ocean view. He was lost in thought for several minutes.

Then he smiled to himself.

Nice try, G.

As he watched the ocean his mind had been racing trying to figure out what it was that the Guardian was trying to hide from him. He knew her well enough now, for although he knew that her shift from physics to personal matters was a genuine request for his help, he also recognized that it was an attempt by her to throw him off the scent.

The mastery of gravity opened the door to something.

Something dangerous.

He was now determined more than ever to figure what that something was.

He nodded to himself, then he headed for his lab.


A half hour later the Guardian was sitting in Weir's office with Sheppard. She had previously changed back into her standard white uniform and cape. The door was closed, and she was in one of the visitor chairs looking down at the floor.

"I am so sorry."

Weir tried to be as supportive as possible. "Thank you for that explanation. I appreciate your candor about revealing something that must be very personal for you."

"Thank you for being so understanding."

Weir asked, "So to summarize, you think you can control this 'urge', this desire to kill Wraith on sight?"

The Guardian leaned forward. "Yes, Doctor Weir, I think I can."

Sheppard was seated across from her with his feet up on Weir's desk, his chair leaning back on two legs. "You only think you can? You're not sure?"

The Guardian looked down again. "I never restrained myself before. Every encounter I've had with the Wraith was violent."

"Every single one?"

"Yes."

"When the Wraith invaded the city? Got past the shield?"

"No, that never happened. They never found the city."

"So how did you have these encounters then?"

She wrung her hands. "Uh, well, I'm not sure." Mental images flashed through the Guardian's mind, glimpses of berserker rage, violent rampages, confrontations with Wraith queens. But the images were muddy and indistinct.

"You're not sure?"

"I'm sorry, I just don't remember."

Weir raised her hand, "John, ease up." She turned to the Guardian and said sympathetically, "Take your time."

"All right."

"Do you know why you can't remember?"

The Guardian slumped down in her chair. She had never told anyone.

She said softly, "Yes, I do."

Weir waited patiently.

The Guardian came to a decision and clenched her fists. She looked Weir right in the face.

"I went insane."

The room was silent.

She jumped up. "They weren't coming back. They left me. They left me alone.."

Sheppard stood up too. "Hey, it's okay. Shush." He held her gently.

"They left me..."

He rocked her gently. "I know. It's okay now."

"I'm sorry."

"So you went a little crazy. Hey, I get it. Heck after a few thousand years alone on a hopeless mission I think I'd go a little wiggy too."

She talked into his shoulder, "I.. I started running random raids against Wraith hive ships. Used a cloaked jumper, hit and run. I didn't care. I didn't have a mission anymore.."

"No mission, no hope. All you had left was revenge. You did exactly what I would have done."

She pulled back. "Really?"

"Yeah. I get it now. And I think I owe you an apology."

She sat back in her chair and wiped her face. "It's still no excuse.."

"No, but you did save Stackhouse's leg so I'm willing to call it water under the bridge at this point."

Weir finally spoke again. "Thank you John."

Sheppard sat back in his chair. "I'm glad we're back to being a happy family again. But here's the thing, none of us know how your brain is wired. You don't even know yourself. So we gotta get your attack-on-sight problem figured out one way or another."

Weir asked, "So what do you propose?"

Sheppard tipped his chair back again and looked up at the ceiling. "Well, if you recall, you and I had talked about how we need to capture a Wraith, interrogate it, find out about their attack plans. Remember that?"

"Yes, that's right."

"And our lovely little Guardian here is an expert at mental interrogation."

The Guardian nodded. "I am. Lantean interrogation methods are very effective. That is why all Wraith carry a self-destruct explosive device to prevent being captured and interrogated."

Sheppard plopped his chair back down. "What?"

"I said, all Wraith have an explosive device surgically implanted. It is triggered by pressing a button."

Weir raised an eyebrow. "That will make your plan to capture one a little more challenging than we had originally anticipated, John."

"Guess so. We'll improvise. We have some tasers in the armory..."

The Guardian said, "I could help."

Sheppard quickly raised his hand. "No. Thanks for the offer, but no. Your test has to be under controlled conditions. Don't worry, we'll figure out a way to snag one for you."

Weir asked, "So what's the plan?"

"We'll capture a Wraith and put it in the brig, then let the Guardian pay a visit so she can get a whiff and stare him down. If she can control herself for 30 minutes without going all Terminator on it, then we'll know she's okay."

"And after that?"

"She can go ahead and interrogate the crap out of it. We were going to do that anyway, but she can do it better. Do a full blown mind scan, no holds barred, find out everything it knows."

The Guardian spoke up, "John, if the subject vigorously resists, there will be mental damage. It always happens. The Wraith will end up a mental vegetable."

Sheppard rubbed his index finger and thumb. "Oh gosh, this is my tiny violin."

Weir asked the Guardian, "Have you done a forced mind scan on a Wraith before?"

She gave Weir a hard look, then she nodded slowly.

Weir stood up. "Good. We need a pro. Let's do it."


The Guardian was standing just outside of the force field of the brig. She was staring down the prisoner. Over twenty minutes had already gone by.

The Wraith hissed, "This is tiresome. What is the meaning of this?"

She continued to stare at him in silence, her arms crossed.

The Wraith said, "Kill me or interrogate me. I grow bored."

She finally spoke. "Liar. You're scared."

He tilted his head at her. "Wraith do not feel fear."

"So they say. You hide it well, but I can sense it."

He hissed at her.

"My, my. Wraith don't fear humans or normal Lanteans. The fear I sense from you only happens when one of your kind recognizes me."

The Wraith commander tilted his head again. "My queen serves Queen Death. She told me about you. Who you are. What you are."

"Oh? Did she now? I am flattered."

"Oh yes."

The sense of fear stopped. It was replaced by something else.

A sense of triumph.

What was going on?

The Guardian tapped her radio mic. "John, something odd is happening with this Wraith. I think he's been coached. It's only been 25 minutes, but is it okay if I start the interrogation a bit early?"

"This is Sheppard. I've been watching you on the cam, and you haven't flinched an inch. I'm calling the test a success. Time clock is 0:25. Good job, Genie."

"Thank you."

"Go ahead and shred his cabbage. We'll be watching from the control room."

"Will do. I think you will find this interesting. Guardian out."

She nonchalantly strolled up to the brig's forcefield and said, "This is where I explain to you that I am a pre-Ascended Lantean with full mental powers, and that any attempt on your part to resist a forced mind probe will only result in excruciating pain for you followed by permanent brain damage. You will of course not heed my warning and fight me anyway."

The Wraith simply glared at her in silence.

"Thought so. Oh well." She removed her tiara. There was a flash of light and suddenly she was inside the cage alongside the Wraith. "Hi there. Say, have we met before? You kind of look familiar."

"No."

"Pity. Oh well, here we go."

{ Order of battle, count and types of ships, primary and secondary objectives, orbital vectors, attack timetable, ground invasion plan, all of it. Now. }

Something odd happened. The Wraith bared his teeth but he was not resisting the mind scan.

Sheppard was watching from a small control room that was one floor up from the brig. The Guardian's back was to the camera so he could not see her face.

Nothing seemed to be happening.

Weir was standing next to him. "John, what's going on down there?"

He frowned. "I dunno. Genie said this was going to be interesting, but they are just standing there. Nobody is moving or talking. Kinda weird."

"Hmm."

"Also kinda boring."

Suddenly there was a rocking explosion. Sheppard instinctively dived to protect the leader of the Atlantis Expedition with his own body. They rolled under the control console together.

Sheppard pulled himself up and looked around. He tapped his mic. "Marines and Damage Control to the brig, ASAP!"

He helped pull up Weir. "You okay, Elizabeth?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Go see what happened."

Sheppard ran down the stairs with his P90. He rushed into the brig.

What he saw made his stomach turn. There were tiny bits of Wraith flesh splattered everywhere. The Guardian was slathered in black blood.

He deactivated the force field and ran in to the brig. "Genie! You okay?"

She was still standing where she was before the explosion, her cloak and hood having taken most of the damage. Sheppard ran up to get a closer look at her. He saw no sign of any injury on her exposed face.

He swore. "Dammit! He must have hidden a second self-destruct device on himself, tried to take you with him. Somehow we missed it during the bio-scan."

The Guardian was still staring straight ahead.

"Genie, I am so sorry about this. You okay? Can you hear me? Are your eardrums okay?"

She was still staring at nothing, looking stunned. Sheppard had seen enough IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq to recognize the signs that she was still apparently in shock from the explosion.

"C'mon, let me take you to the infirmary."

Before he could take her arm there was a flash of light and she vanished.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Dvě Děti

Six hive ships were parked in a semi-circle on a flat desert plain. A Wraith cruiser approached and landed among them. A bay door opened, and three Wraith commanders walked out flanked by two dozen masked drone guards. The embassy marched along the sandy desert floor toward the curved phalanx of ships.

There was an exchange of drone guards, and the three commanders were escorted by a new set of masked drones deep into the living bowels of one of the hive ships. There they respectfully approached a throne made of amethyst and bone where a tall Wraith female was seated. Her hair was long, oily, and black, and her raiment was a bejeweled robe of sickly green and yellow.

The person seated on the throne listened carefully to the commanders' report. She thought for a moment, then she gave them their new orders. The embassy bowed and left.

The Queen leaned back on her throne and smiled, baring two rows of semi-translucent vestigial teeth like the rictus of a smiling corpse. She made a motion to her Consort, who approached her side.

Her Consort asked, "What news, my Queen?"

She broadened her smile, her long narrow teeth glistening in the dim light. Her voice had the overtones of a hissing snake.

"Contact has been made."


The Guardian was having a fitful dream. She imagined that she was searching for a group of Wraith worshippers who had been hunting human civilizations that had shown signs of developing advanced technology so they could be revealed to their Wraith masters and be stamped out.

She knew that the human traitors were responsible for the destruction of whole civilizations. She had tracked them to their home village where she confronted the elders of the village, who readily confessed their crimes. The village elders knew that The Destroyer was in their midst and that their doom was now at hand. In their defiance they boasted proudly of their service to the Wraith. Having convicted themselves she passed judgment on them.

In her dream she was walking back to her gate ship when a child approached...


The Guardian awoke with a start. She shut her eyes under the bright lights of the Atlantis infirmary. She heard a voice nearby.

"Major Sheppard, this is Cadman. She just woke up."

"This is Sheppard. Beckett and I will be there in a minute."

The Guardian turned towards the sound of the voice. Her bleary eyes opened and focused on a smiling young woman with bright hazel eyes and long blond hair who was seated at her bedside.

The woman asked, "Hey, how you feelin'?"

The Guardian sat up in her hospital cot. She had a bad headache. "What happened?"

The woman in the visitor's chair said, "They found you dazed in the hallway just outside the brig. You were totally out of it after that bang."

The Guardian raised a hand to her head. "An explosion.."

"Oh yeah. It rung your bell really good. You're lucky. It happened to me once in a training exercise where some idiot miswired the cap on me. I was wearing full EOD gear but it still clocked my noggin so bad I was zig-zagging for hours. Just relax, it wears off."

The Guardian laid back down on the cot while the woman kept on talking. "My team did forensic recovery on your Wraith dude, best we could for trace. What was left could fit in a bucket."

She smiled and added, "I saw the recording of what happened. That was cool the way you teleported out. It was just like Nightcrawler."

The Guardian asked, "Nightcrawler? What is that?"

"X-Men 2, the attack on the White House, best scene in the whole movie in my opinion." She leaned forward and asked quietly, "Hey, I bet you could do that too, right?"

The Guardian moved her left arm in front of her line of vision and a glowing floating disc appeared above it. Several images flickered by. She stopped and watched a short film trailer that included a scene with a dark skinned humanoid wearing a longcoat who was rushing his way past the Secret Service, twisting and turning, appearing and disappearing, all while dodging a hail of bullets. "Yes, I suppose I could do that. Line-of-sight teleport is a standard pre-Ascension ability. However, I would need to add some inertial dampening to imitate his jumps though."

"Kewl. Wait, line of sight? That hallway wasn't visible from the brig."

The Guardian sighed, "No, it wasn't."

She was mortified that she had done something so reckless. She knew that a platoon of Marines must have been rushing down to take up defensive positions in the hallway outside the brig. If she had materialized in the same spot where one was crouching it would have killed them both instantly.

Sheppard and Doctor Beckett walked in. The seated woman rose from the chair. As she stood up the Guardian noticed that she was wearing a Marine military uniform.

Sheppard was happy to see that the Guardian was awake again. "How you doing, kiddo?"

"I am fine, thank you."

Beckett asked, "Any headaches? Ringing in the ears? Pains anywhere?"

"As I said I am fine."

"Well, I must say I'm surprised you are doing so well after that nasty experience. It looks like you got through it without a mark on you."

The blond military woman spoke up. "I've seen it happen - more than once. It's just luck sometimes."

Sheppard turned from the Marine to the Guardian. "Genie, let me introduce you to Lieutenant Laura Cadman, our resident expert in Energetic Materials Technology."

"Energetic Materials?"

Cadman explained, "It means I like to blow stuff up."

"I see."

"Cadman is also our resident EOD expert."

"That means I also like to stop stuff from blowing up."

"Oh."

"But I like blowing stuff up better."

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Lieutenant.."

"Sir."

The Guardian turned to Beckett, "Doctor, may I be released from the infirmary? I would like to go to the mess hall and replenish my energy reserves."

"Well, all your tests all came back normal so I don't see any reason to keep you any longer. All right, off you go."

Sheppard addressed the bomb expert, "Cadman, I need to talk with Doctor Beckett for a moment, so why don't you escort our Guardian up to the mess hall?"

"Yes sir, with pleasure."

Sheppard waited until the two women were gone. He checked the hallway, then he came back inside the infirmary and asked Beckett in a quiet voice, "What do you think?"

Beckett gave a shrug. "Cadman might be right. The girl might have simply been lucky."

Sheppard was thinking. "Hmm, maybe. I've seen what IEDs can do, but never anything like that. The guy was practically atomized."

"We don't know how their explosives work.."

"Do an autopsy."

"I was planning on it. But Sheppard, there's not much left."

"Just do it anyway."

"Very well. I'll run the remains through the mass spectrometer to see if there is any explosive trace, but I canna guarantee anything. Like I said, we have no idea what type of explosive the Wraith used; a device made of cellulose or other organic material won't be readily distinguishable from normal biological residue."

"Just find out whatever you can. Meanwhile I'm going to have another look at that tape."


Cadman was sitting in the mess hall with the Guardian across a small table. She watched with unrestrained amusement as the Guardian wolfed down her second whole pizza pie.

The Marine bomb expert grinned and said, "I wish I had your metabolism. I can gain weight just from looking at a pizza."

The Guardian talked through a glob of pepperoni and cheese. "I luv peesha."

"Yeah, I can see that. What else do you like to eat?"

"Effurythang." She swallowed.

"Have a particular favorite?"

The Guardian considered the question for a moment. "Blue jello."

Cadman laughed. "You hang out with McKay too much."

"What is your favorite food?"

"Chocolate."

"Chocolate?"

"Oh yeah. It's girl beer."

The Guardian consulted her arm imager. "A confection made from cocoa beans and cow's milk. Can I try some?"

"Uh.." Cadman had a brief vision of the Guardian scarfing down the base's entire chocolate supply.

Cadman made her excuses. "I don't have any right now, sorry. I got totally cleaned out during yesterday's poker game."

The Guardian's imager whirled again. "Poker, a card game that combines strategy, gambling, and skill."

"And psychology too - bluffing is more than half of it."

"In that case I think I would be a bad player."

"Well, it would be good practice for you then, learning how to read us humans using tells instead of your spooky mind powers."

"'Tells'?"

"Body language, facial tics, changes in breathing, stuff like that."

The Guardian was intrigued by the idea. "Hmm, I suppose I could raise my limiter to 100%. It would help me learn to read social cues in interacting with humans."

"There you go. You should play with us. I bet you'd like it."

"So you play poker to win chocolate?"

"Yeah, chocolate is like gold around here. My posse plays twice a week."

"Your posse?"

"Me, three other Marines, and two civilian scientists. The six of us hang out together, gossip, play cards, and watch each other's back."

"I see. Why do you need to watch each other's back?"

"Because this place is a jungle."

The Guardian tilted her head. "A jungle? I don't understand."

Cadman glanced around, then she leaned in and said to her conspiratorially, "Look, the ratio of guys to gals in this place is 4-to-1." Cadman gestured around the room. The mess hall was crowded with men, mostly military. "The testosterone level around here is 100 proof."

The Guardian's confusion grew. "100 proof? I still don't understand."

"What I mean is that we're surrounded by a bunch of young, strapping military guys who are stuck on a remote base, mostly sitting around without much to do, so naturally they end up having one thing on their minds. Look at 'em."

The Guardian glanced around the mess hall. "You mean like those men?" She gestured at a group of military men seated in a semi-circle with the tables moved aside.

Cadman saw where she was looking. "Naw, not them. That's Evan Lorne's twelve-step Bible study group. What I mean are the creeps like those guys over there." She tilted her head in another direction.

The Guardian turned and spotted three military men who were quietly watching the two attractive blondes over their beverages. When they saw the Guardian staring back at them they turned away.

The Guardian turned back to Cadman. "Ah, I think I see what you mean."

Cadman leaned back in her chair. "Good, I'm glad you finally got it." She picked up her iced tea and sipped it.

The Guardian said in a loud speaking voice, "You are talking about their biological desire to mate with us, correct?"

Cadman spit up her tea. She ducked her head, "Geez, keep your voice down."

The Guardian placidly looked at her, still waiting for an answer to her question.

Cadman leaned forward and spoke quietly, "Uh, well.. Look, there are rules against fraternization around here, but I'm not sure if they apply to you. Just be careful, okay?"

"Why?"

Cadman sighed, "So you don't get hurt. You're like a lamb among the lions."

"I can easily defend myself from any human attack."

"That's not what I mean. I'm guessing that you are totally inexperienced in dealing with guys. Especially the alpha types around this place."

The Guardian shook her head. "That's not true. I do have experience, for example.."

Cadman quickly tried to wave her off, "No, no, stop talking!"

But it was too late. ".. John tried to initiate sexual relations with me. I declined."

"Stop! Wait, what?"

"I said.."

"No! Stop!" Cadman hid her face from the other diners with her hand as she leaned in close and whispered, "Holy crap, are you serious?"

"Yes."

"Oh geez." Cadman tried to think. "Okay, uhm, tell me exactly what happened."

Cadman listened carefully as the Guardian explained her picnic with Sheppard.

"It sounds like he was a gentleman, which means it's none of my business. Look, just keep that stuff private, okay? Never talk about it with anybody. I mean it."

"I understand. I could tell from your startled reaction that humans do not normally discuss their sexual activity with others."

"Correct-a-mundo. They do not."

"I see, thank you. I am learning much."

"Hoo boy. Look, I'll talk to my posse, see if we can take you under our wing, be your den mothers or something. Meanwhile, if any guy starts hitting on you in any way that makes you at all uncomfortable let me know and I'll set them straight. Or on their ass."

"Thank you, I will do that."

"Sheppard to Cadman. We need you in the forensics lab."

Cadman tapped her mic, "Cadman here. On my way."

"Sorry, I gotta help with the explosive residue analysis." The bomb expert stood up from the mess hall table. "Look, just be careful, okay? Let me know if anybody starts hassling you."

"Thank you, I will."

"Take care. Bye!" She left.

She secretly thanked Cadman for the distraction. She wished that the quirky blond bomber could have kept her company for a while longer. It helped take her mind off the brig incident.

She continued to ignore the male gawkers as she turned her head toward the bay windows. She gazed out at the city skyline, lost in thought.

Although she was touched by Cadman's concern, she felt that she had no need for her advice about human males. She knew that she could spot any attempt at seduction simply by removing her limiter. What she thought was remarkable was that Sheppard had managed to fool her about his intentions even for a few hours.

The mess hall began to clear out. She continued to gaze out at the city spires and the blue ocean beyond. After a minute she sighed softly and closed her eyes.

{ Order of battle, count and types of ships, primary and secondary objectives, orbital vectors, attack timetable, ground invasion plan, all of it. Now. }

{ I know nothing. }

{ Liar. }

{ How can I lie? I am under compulsion. You see my mind, but I see yours as well. You are pathetic. }

{ Don't try to distract me. When is the attack scheduled? How many ships? }

{ I do not know. I see your self-doubt. I see your denial. }

{ Will it be a trio or the full duodecim? Do they know our shield strength? }

{ I do not know. Those were memories not dreams. The village elders claimed they were all Wraith worshippers, so you wiped them out, the entire village. But they lied. Only the elders were guilty. }

{ Just shut up. }

{ You killed them. You killed them all. Only one child survived. }

{ Liar! }

{ I cannot lie. }

{ Then you were told lies! }

{ You are not even a proper clone. Your DNA contains replication errors. }

{ Shut up! }

{ You are nothing more than a poorly made recreation of an ancient weapon, a living robot, broken, with no free will, less than pathetic. }

{ I said shut up! }

{ Why do you believe that these human vermin are your family? They are not your family. }

{ Shut up! Shut up! }

{ Do you want to know who your true family really is? I will tell you. Your true family is glorious -

{ I SAID SHUT UP! }

Her next memory was waking up in the infirmary.


The Guardian continued to watch the skyline as the mess hall emptied out.

The room was quieter now. With her keen ears she could hear the soft conversation of a group of men who were seated in a semi-circle on the other side of the mess hall.

She recognized the voice of Evan Lorne. ".. Charlie, it's okay."

A younger man spoke. His voice sounded distressed.

"Evan, how am I supposed to make amends when I'm stuck in another galaxy?"

"Well, obviously you can't right now. Don't worry, we'll get you back home."

"I see those faces every day."

"Yeah. Fallujah was nasty."

"I should have checked."

"It's okay. The investigation cleared you."

"So? I'm still a murderer."

"That's not what the report said. Nobody knew they were using human shields."

"A piece of paper won't undo what I did!"

"I know. That's why you're here."

"Evan, I'm trying, I really am. I still see their faces every single night."

"I know, three months of sobriety. You're doing great."

"How can He forgive me?"

"Charlie, it's okay. He already has."

"But how do you know that?"

"Because He's done it before. Lots of times."

"He has?"

"Oh yeah. King David had Uriah killed so he could grab his wife Bathsheba. When Moses was young he killed an Eqyptian overseer, buried his body in the sand, and he ran away. Paul persecuted and condemned Christians, some to their deaths. And yet God raised them up to become great and faithful servant-leaders. The Lord does that, He uses flawed people, sinners, to serve Him. He does it all the time. The apostle Simon was a member of the Zealots, violent anti-Romanists. Rahab was a prostitute..."

"But Evan, even if He forgives me, I still feel like I need to do something."

"Step 9. You're on the right path. Just keep at it. Remember, sobriety is a day at a time."

"I'm on it."

"Good man."

She then heard Lorne speak to the group, "The clock says we're running late, so I guess that's it for today. I'll close in prayer."

These was a pause, then she heard Lorne speak again quietly. "Lord, thank You for this opportunity for us to spend some time together where we could meet and share our burdens with You. You know what is our hearts, our burdens, our sins, better than we know them ourselves - how we fall short, how we fail, and yet you pick us up again and again to put us back on the path. Please, Lord, continue to show us Your fathomless mercy and grace as You lead us and guide us in our faith walk with You. We give You praise and thanks in the name of Your most wonderful Son Jesus, who paid a debt for us on the Cross at Calvary that we can never repay, to bring us back to You, a sacrifice that You made out of Your infinite love for us, and it is in His name we pray, Amen."

"That's it, see you next week." She heard indistinct murmurs as the meeting broke up.

She put her head back down on the table again, facing away.

A minute later she heard someone sitting down at the table across from her.

"Lunch is over. I think they'd like to stack the chairs."

It was Evan Lorne.

She lifted her head up from the table. "Oh? I must have fallen asleep."

"Uh huh."

She decided there was no point in lying about it. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to eavesdrop on your meeting."

He smiled. "It's okay. Some twelve-step groups meet in private; we're public."

"How did you know I was listening?"

"Well, the place had emptied out and I saw you way over here by yourself sitting very still with your head down. I know how good your ears are. Even though you were on the opposite side of the hall I could still tell you were listening."

"I'm really sorry."

"No apology necessary. In fact I'm glad you did. So what do you think?"

"About what?"

"About the meeting."

She considered it. "I'm not sure yet."

"Got any questions for me?"

"You mentioned step 9. What is that?"

"That's the ninth step of twelve-step, where you try to make amends to the people you hurt as best you can."

"I see." She thought a moment. "Can I ask you another question? A hypothetical one?"

"Sure."

She spoke slowly. "Let's just say, hypothetically, that you were accused of doing something wrong, a crime. But you aren't sure if you actually did it or not. In a case like that is it correct to seek forgiveness, make amends, even if you have no memory of doing the crime?"

"Hmm, that's a toughie. You might want to ask Doctor Kurosawa that one."

"Doctor Kurosawa? I haven't met him."

"Her. Doctor Kurosawa is our Chief Archaeologist. She's an expert on ancient Middle Eastern cultures: Eqypt, Babylon, Judea, those places. She knows her Bible really well too. I sometimes ask her to sit in on our twelve-step Bible Study group to help the Seekers when they start asking hard questions that I can't handle."

"I see."

"You'll find her on sublevel 5 cooped up in a cubbyhole, working on translating the non-techy parts of your public database."

The Guardian stood up. "I think I'll go pay her a visit. I promised Doctor Weir that I would help with the translations. I feel a bit remiss about not providing any assistance yet."

"Sounds like a great plan to me. She's good. I think you'll like her."


The Guardian was standing in a dark and slightly damp hallway that was deep under the main tower. She knocked on a narrow door. She heard a voice behind it.

"Door's open, come in!"

She pulled the creaking narrow door open slowly and saw a tiny space that was not much bigger than a walk-in closet. An older woman was sitting at a folding table that took up most of the space. The table held a standard Dell Atlantis laptop with a CDA, several stacks of papers, a few random archaeological knick knacks, a metal coffee cup, and precious little else. There simply wasn't room.

The Guardian recognized the woman now, having seen her in the mess hall a few times in the past. She remembered her because she had gray hair and used a cane. She had to be the oldest member of the Expedition.

The woman stood up with her cane. "Come in, dearie!"

The Guardian quickly said, "Please, don't stand up. I am sorry if I interrupted you. I should have called ahead."

"Not at all. I don't wear a radio anyway. Come in, have a seat."

The Guardian opened a small folding chair and sat down. The old woman sat back down as well. "I'm sorry but I don't have anything to offer you to eat. Unless you like bagged peanuts?"

"I already ate, thank you."

"Mind if I eat my lunch while we chat?" She tore a peanut bag open and started munching.

"Not at all."

"So, what brings you down to the Office of the Chief Archaeologist?"

The Guardian was confused. Kurosawa laughed, "It's a joke. I had a whole staff when we arrived here, but our Chief Scientist had them all transferred to himself, then he dumped me down here."

"Really?"

"Yes. I'm afraid that that our Chief Scientist does not think very highly of the science of archaeology. He calls me a 'glorified ditch digger'."

The Guardian felt ashamed that McKay would do such a thing. "That's terrible."

"It's all right. I like the quiet."

"I can't believe he treats you like this."

"That's probably because you don't see his condescending and imperious side very often. He respects you, thinks of you as a colleague, an equal. Probably the only person he does. The rest of us, well, are either unimportant or seen as useless distractions."

"I still think you should be treated better."

Kurosawa waved off the Guardian's protestation. "No, it's all right. It's just a matter of priorities really. History and culture aren't particularly important when the Wraith are breathing down your neck. So what brings you all the way down here anyway?"

"Well, uhm, I just wanted to introduce myself? Say hello?"

Kurosawa could tell the girl was avoiding the real reason. "Oh, you don't need to bother with me. I know you must be a very busy person defending us from the Wraith, trying to find that ZPM. Not much time for rummaging through ancient history with an old crone like me."

"Oh no. I want to help. I really do. Uhm, for starters, there are a few things that I feel I need to warn you about regarding the public database..."

Kurosawa interrupted. "Let me guess: That it contains a bunch of of self-serving propaganda, full of boasts that brag of the awesome wonder of the Ancients, all while minimizing or hiding their failures and defeats?"

The Guardian was surprised. "Yes. How did you know?"

"Dear, every ancient civilization is like that. The Pharaohs of Eqypt, the Kings of Babylonia, the Shahs of Persia, all of them. They built great pyramids, tall steeles, huge ziggurats, and filled them to the brim with endless inscriptions boasting of their greatness, claiming to be gods, hailing their victories, all while erasing any mention of their defeats. The Ancients were no different."

"I am ashamed to admit that you are correct. There are many exaggerations in the database."

"I spotted several already. The Lantean word for 'million', for example, originally meant 'a long time'. They deliberately conflated the two meanings in the database in order to imply that their civilization had existed for millions of years when it is actually nowhere near that old. It's absurd when you think about it. No civilization can remain static for millions of years like that. The timelines are just wrong."

The Guardian sighed, "Yes, many of them are inaccurate."

"Some of the distortion is also simply due to the degradation of information that happens over time, breaks in the historical narrative due to disaster or war that are later replaced with poetry and songs."

"The Age of Myth."

"Yes. The original meaning of the word 'myth' in modern parlance has become a bit distorted, not 'fake' or 'false', but rather originally closer to what today we would call a 'meme' - an idea or concept encapsulated in the form of a story or song, passed down from generation to generation. Myths often refer to real events, places, and people - more often than many people realize."

"I see. Doctor, another aspect of the database that I feel is important for me to tell you about is its authorship. Its final form was edited and controlled by the Materialist faction. They destroyed earlier editions written by the Mystics and Synthetists."

"Hmm. Interesting. By Mystics are you referring to what the database calls the Originalists?"

"No, that was a different group that had split off much earlier during the Age of Myth. The Originalists considered themselves to be gods, full of hubris far worse than the Lanteans of my time. What I am referring to are the more recent Mystics in the late Lantean era who strove to find enlightenment and achieve Ascension through purely spiritual means. The Materialists rejected that, believing that Ascension was a simply a physical transformation that converted matter to energy, nothing more. The Synthetists tried to walk a path that combined the two views. In my time the Materialists had become the dominant faction and had suppressed the other two."

"How interesting. Tell me more about the Synthetist faction."

"As I said, they tried to reconcile the views of the two other factions. All three factions agree that the universe was intentionally created - it is not random. We call this creator the Excogitatoris, which roughly translates as 'The Designer'. We also know that the universe is designed to support life, and that our physical universe is embedded in a much higher and more complex system that we cannot see or reach ourselves."

"Fascinating. When you say a 'higher and more complex system' are you referring to Ascension?"

The Guardian shook her head. "No. Ascension is regarded simply as a conversion from matter to energy. Ascended beings maintain physicality and they have locality - ascended Lanteans in the Pegasus Galaxy live only in that particular galaxy, ascended beings in the Milky Way live only in that particular one, and so on. They are not actually immortal either, as they can be killed and have finite lifespans. The Laws of Thermodynamics gradually erode their existence as entropy increases and their energy dissipates. Eventually they fade away after about a dozen millennia or so."

"So some Ascended Lanteans still live in the Pegasus Galaxy. Presumably they are also still watching us."

"Yes. They are the Vigilante, The Watchers, observing us and watching everything we do. They are mimicking The Designer, who is observing us from a much higher system. The Designer does this because observation instantiates reality."

"I'm sorry, I don't follow."

"The act of watching creates the thing being watched, a basic property of quantum mechanics, where an event comes into existence during the collapse of the probability wave function due to observation.."

Kurosawa raised her hand. "Please, no math. I can't even balance my checkbook. Anyway, it sounds like Ascended beings act basically like children who are trying to imitate their parents, sort of like when I was six years old and I baked pretend plastic cookies in my Easy Bake Oven because I saw my mother baking real ones in the kitchen. Is that a fair analogy?"

The Guardian was unsure if she understood the analogy, but she nodded anyway. "I think so, yes. They believe that The Designer is high and remote and does not interfere, so they do not either."

Kurosawa looked thoughtful. "Yes, that is quite typical. It seems that every human religion has a deity that is high or remote, who cares little or is indifferent to the suffering and yearnings of mere mortals, except perhaps for those who worship the deity, and sometimes not even then."

The Guardian thought back to what happened in the mess hall. "But not all your religions are like that."

"Oh?"

The Guardian explained what she heard during Lorne's Twelve Step meeting.

Kurosawa's eyes twinkled a bit. "Yes, there is one faith that is radically different, unique."

"I confess I do not understand any of it. I've been pouring through the Atlantis Expedition database that you had brought from Earth. There is so much there that overwhelms me, and it is not just your strange religious systems. Seven billion people? 190 sovereign nations? Your world is amazing, no, it is incredible. How can it be even remotely stable? There should be famine everywhere, overcrowded misery, exhausted resources, deprivation, mass death, and yet the biggest chronic health problem is obesity! The biggest industrial/economic concern is not scarcity, it is overproduction! And then there is the impossibly diverse biosystem, where every biological niche is filled to the brim, and every type of ecosystem is present - temperate forests, hot deserts, humid jungles, great mountain ranges, vast ice realms, all on the same world. Your world, it's people and it's complexity, is a universe unto itself, one that is more amazing to me than every world in this entire galaxy combined."

"Hmm. Some people ask why God would care so much for Earth when there is such a vast universe out there..."

"Care, yes. Your God not only interacts with you and interferes with his Creation, but according to your religious writings he actually injected himself into his Creation as a human being, to experience it all for himself? All because he cares for you?"

"Because He cares for us, yes. He cares that much."

"This is completely beyond me. If I did not see your people in the mess hall act with such sincerity, I would have laughed at the absurdity of it and declared it a madness."

"Well, from your point of view I suppose I can understand why you would think that. So your people reject the idea of a Creator who cares, who interferes, who participates."

"If there is one who does I have not yet seen it. Some in the Materialist faction even go into denial that a Creator even exists. The rest of the faction either ignore the abundant evidence of a Creator, or claim it to be irrelevant."

"Many humans on our world believe that as well. We call them atheists and agnostics. So tell me again about the Synthetists. What are their beliefs exactly?"

"They combine the two other views, but I confess that I am not sure how exactly. You will not find much in the public database about them either, as the Materialist faction has purged most of it. They also purged almost all of the writings of the Mystics. You might find some vestigial material left behind in popular songs and poems from the Age of Myth, which the Materialists were forced to keep in the database due to their popularity in our culture."

"How intriguing. My, you have been very helpful. Thank you so much."

"Uh.. you are welcome." It was clear to Kurosawa that polite phrases did not come naturally to the living Ancient.

The was a pause. Kurosawa could tell that something was weighing on the Guardian's mind.

"So, is there anything I can help you with?"

The Guardian wavered and looked uncertain. Kurosawa waited patiently for her inner debate to resolve itself.

She finally said, "Doctor Kurosawa, I have, well, a question.."

"A question?"

"Yes. A hypothetical one. About human systems of laws and ethics."

"Go on."

"Well, uhm, can a person be convicted under human law of a crime if they have no memory of committing it?"

Kurosawa considered her question. "Hmm. That is actually a rather common courtroom defense, where the defendant claims to have blacked out and cannot recall what happened during the commission of a crime. It seldom results in an acquittal though. A drunk might black out and have no memory of acting violent, or committing a hit and run accident, but the defense is held to be invalid because the defendant knew what they were doing when they got drunk in the first place. Therefore they are still responsible for any consequences for their actions, even if they cannot remember doing them."

The Guardian sighed inwardly. Her descent into insanity had been willful. Kurosawa's explanation confirmed that any actions she took during the Years of Madness that harmed innocents were indeed crimes, crimes for which she must bear her guilt.

She said softly, "I see. Thank you."

Kurosawa wondered what was going on with the young girl that led her to ask such a patently obvious 'hypothetical' question. She was thinking about how to tactfully explore her concerns when the Guardian's radio suddenly came to life.

"McKay to Guardian."

The Guardian tapped her mic. "Yes Rodney?"

"Where the heck are you? I've been looking for you everywhere: the infirmary, the mess hall, the labs. I checked the scanners too. You okay?"

"I'm fine, Rodney. I'm down in sublevel 5 having a chat with Doctor Kurosawa."

"The ditch digger? Why are you wasting your time down there with that old crone?"

"Rodney! That is rude even for you!"

"Yes, yes, her work is vital and important. Look, I've been brainstorming with Zelenka about the power generation problem, and I just came up with a brilliant idea that I want to run past you. Can you get up here?"

She sighed, "Fine, I'll be there in a few minutes. Guardian out." She stood up.

Kurosawa stood up as well, holding her cane. "Well, I know you must be a very busy person. I do so much appreciate your taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by and visit. Thank you so much."

She looked at the Guardian carefully. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"

Another pause. "Uh, not at the moment.. thank you again."

Apparently the girl felt that now was not the right time for her to seek any more advice about whatever it was that was weighing on her mind. Kurosawa said, "This was a truly delightful visit. I really look forward to working with you. Take care. Remember, if you need me, I'll be right here."

"I will. Well, uh, goodbye."

After saying her socially awkward farewell to the old archaeologist, the Guardian climbed upstairs to the main labs where McKay proceeded to buttonhole her for a half hour as he waxed eloquently about his scathingly brilliant idea of exploiting the Casimir effect and the Casimir-Polder force to draw zero point energy from virtual particle pairs within a quantized field using a naquadah generator to bootstrap the process. She shot down his theory in less than a minute, gave him an annoyed look, and left.


That night the Guardian had another dream.

A village was burning. She was walking back to her gate ship when a child approached.

"Where is my mommy?"

No..

"I can't find my mommy!"

She woke up with a start. It was already morning.

She draped an arm over her face, her thoughts spiraling down in her deepening depression.

You are not even a proper clone. You are nothing more than a poorly made recreation of an ancient weapon, a living robot, broken, with no free will.

She needed a distraction. She got herself ready and put on her white battle uniform, then she went to McKay's lab.

"Rodney!"

McKay looked up from a monitor. "Hey, G, your timing is good. I just.."

She grabbed Rodney's arm and started to pull. "Come with me."

He tried to wrest his arm free. "What? Hey! Leggo of me!"

She ignored his protests as she dragged him down the hall to the nearest teleporter. She zapped the two of them to the corresponding teleporter in the upper section of the North Tower, then she dragged him up to the bottom of the rooftop access ladder. He squawked as she scooped him up in her arms and jumped the full height of the ladder in one go, landing expertly on the spongy black surface of the rooftop. She walked to the center of the rooftop and plopped McKay unceremoniously down on the soft black rubbery surface, flat on his back. She then laid herself down alongside him. From her supine position she pointed up at the sky.

She said two words. "Clouds. Now."

McKay looked up. "Uh, it's a blue sky.. nothing is up there."

"Pretend there are clouds up there. Make something up. I don't care."

"G, what's with you? That bomb blast knock your noggin sideways or something?"

"I just need a distraction. Please, Rodney?"

"Okay, okay, hmm. How about this instead. As I was about to tell you before you shanghaied me up here, I just figured out your little secret."

That shook her badly. Rodney seemed to be a magician in discerning her thoughts sometimes, but this was on a whole new level even for him. How could he know?

"You.. you know my secret?"

"Yeah."

She held her breath and looked at him fearfully.

He nodded. "Yep. I figured it out. That big secret you are trying to hide.."

No! I can't face him like this!

".. about gravity."

She exhaled. "Oh."

"Yeah."

She gave a sigh of relief as she tried to relax. She was thankful that he had missed the rapid sequence of emotions that had played across her face. She said with an effort of sounding normal, "Do tell."

McKay started to burble blissfully while looking up at the clear blue sky. "Well, if you have working gravity control it means that you have a quantum-mechnical theory of gravitation. So I wondered what else you could do if you had that. Now, in String Theory all quantum strings have endpoints that end in Dirichlet boundary conditions, which we call D-branes*. Objects with open strings - which basically includes all of the objects in the known physical universe - are constrained to move only along D-brane paths. But here's the thing, gravity is unique because the conjectured force mediator particle, the graviton, has the vibrational states of a closed string, not an open one. That means that certain gravitational effects could take place that are linearly independent of spacetime. And you know what that means, right?"

"Yes.."

"Time travel!"

"Yes, yes," she sighed, "Rodney, you figured it out again. Good for you."

"You have a working theory of time travel, am I right?"

"Rodney, please don't go there. It is forbidden."

"So you keep saying, 'It is forbidden'. Gosh, where have I heard that word before? Oh yeah, 'Forbidden Archives.'"

"Rodney, please don't..."

McKay sat up. "You have either a working time machine squirreled away in those Forbidden Archives of yours, or a description of how to build one. Which is it?"

"Both."

"I knew it!"

"Rodney, just stop. There are very good reasons why it is forbidden. Time travel is incredibly dangerous. You don't realize the implications yet."

"Yeah, they must be pretty staggering, right? All sorts of weird causality paradoxes, like what if I went back in time and killed my own father, stuff like that?"

"If you tried to kill your own father it wouldn't happen. The universe would conspire against it."

"It would? How?"

"Think about it. How would the universe stop you from doing something that violates causality?"

"Uhm, the gun misfires? I shoot the wrong guy? He shoots me first? He fakes his death? The sun goes nova before I make the time jump?"

"Yes. Think especially about that last one."

McKay was incredulous. "Oh come on. Are you serious? Wait, that is exactly like the old Larry Niven story about the Tipler cylinder**, Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation***. In that story any civilization that tries to use a time machine suddenly goes kablooey due to a natural disaster."

"It's actually possible. Rodney, there is no way to know from our vantage point."

"What about a universe split?"

"That is also possible. Some believe that it is a combination of both."

"There's also the Butterfly Effect, where any change in the timeline, no matter how small, could spiral out of control and cause the future to be all but unrecognizable."

"Also true. Rodney, all these reasons are why it's so incredibly dangerous."

"If it's so dangerous why are you keeping a time machine hidden in there?"

"To undo the damage in case some reckless fool might actually try to use one."

"Oh, I see."

"I can never let you in there. I am the only one authorized to use those devices, and then only under very strict and very limited conditions."

"Oh well. Still, I figured out your secret. Hey, I'm pretty good, eh?"

"Yes Rodney," She smiled at him, "You are truly a genius."

"Yeah."

McKay's distraction had succeeded, chasing away the dark thoughts that had occupied her mind since she had detonated the Wraith. Thanks to McKay she again felt at peace.

McKay was still looking up. "Man, I love doing this stuff with you."

"Yes." She yawned and stretched out like a cat, her arms extended. She rolled on her side and smiled at him.

McKay teased, "My, you look pretty relaxed over there."

She propped her head up and said, "Oh, I am." Then she added, "Thank you, Rodney. I really needed this."

She thought a moment, then she sat up, crossed her legs, and faced him.

"Uhm, Rodney..?"

He sat up too. "Yeah, G?"

She looked nervous. "Can I say something?"

"Sure, anything."

"Uh, well.."

"Go on."

"I'm not good with words like this.. personal words, spoken aloud I mean. Can I just transmit it to you?"

He made a face. "No, don't do that." McKay had been more than a little shaken the last time he heard the Guardian's thoughts inside his head, when she had made her personal confession to him that she did not believe that she was a person.

McKay tried to sound encouraging. "We're alone, G. Just say it. It's okay."

"Uhm.. this is really hard for me.. to speak my personal feelings.. what this feels like.. when I'm with you, I mean."

"What this feels like?"

"This is so difficult to explain.. it's just that at times like this it feels to me like, well, like.. What is the word?" She grew frustrated. "Fiction? No that is not the right word. Delusion? No that is not right either.."

He completed the thought for her.

"This feels like a dream sometimes."

"Yes! That is the word!"

"That's what I feel too. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just dreaming all this." He laid down and looked back up at the imaginary clouds. "I mean, here I am, in another galaxy, meeting a wonderful woman who can actually keep up with me. We get to argue about physics all day as she blows my mind over and over.."

"Rodney, do you think it is possible that none of this is real? That perhaps all of this is just a dream?"

"Well, if it's a dream, it's a good one."

She laid back down next to him. "Yes.."

Her white glove grasped McKay's hand. "Thank you."

Again McKay succeeded in matching her thought. "Let's keep on dreaming, okay?"

"Let's."

Then he ruined it.

"G, explain to me that snooty comment you made about neutrinos last week."

"What?"

"Tell me what you meant by that. It was totally bizarre."

"Rodney, I told you to forget what I said."

"What in the world were you talking about?"

"Look, I said to just forget it."

He sat up again. "C'mon, you gotta explain that remark. Tell me what you meant. You know I'm not gonna let go until you do."

"Rodney, you are impossible!" She yanked her hand back and got up and left.

He ignored her as he laid back down on the rooftop, his mind soaring up again, this time thinking about neutrinos.

A neutrino could pass through a light-year of solid lead without hitting anything. They were the most common particle in the whole universe. Even in the deepest darkest voids between entire galactic superclusters, where only a handful of atoms existed per cubic meter, over 100,000,000 neutrinos flew through that same volume each second, and quadrillions of them passed through the human body each second completely unnoticed.

When McKay had made an offhand remark to the Guardian about neutrinos being useless (except to balance out the symmetries in the Standard Model) she snapped back that the neutrino was in fact the most useful particle of all.

What did she mean by that? She adamantly refused to explain it.

While remaining flat on his back, McKay pretended that he was a neutrino. He folded his hands under his head as he continued his thought experiment while he hummed a pleasant tune.


The Guardian was walking down the stairs with Weir. They were discussing the food situation.

"If I increase the nutrient feed there should be enough production for everyone including the Athosians. It originally fed the population of the entire city during the siege for many years. It should be more than adequate."

Weir pressed her lips together. "Processed yeast? Thank you for the offer, but I think we'll use that only as a last resort. We'll send teams out to try to find some trading partners. We need to start establishing relations with the humans populations anyway, both for goodwill and for potential allies."

"I'm sorry I cannot advise you on where to go, as my information about the humans in the Pegasus Galaxy is slightly out of date."

"I understand. I'll talk to Teyla."


The gate dialed and AR-1 came rushing in to the gate room. A volley of Wraith stun blasts shot past them. A moment later the Guardian dived through the gate and it closed behind her.

McKay yelled, "Dammit! They found us again! This is what, the fourth time? I hate this!"

Sheppard tried to catch his breath. "The fifth."

Teyla remarked, "I admit this is becoming somewhat tedious."

McKay continued to pant. "You call that tedious?"

Weir climbed down the stairs from her office. She asked, "Is everyone all right?"

Sheppard nodded. "We're good. Genie kept them busy."

The Guardian pulled back her besooted hood, her face nicked and dirty. She puffed a lock of disheveled hair off her face.

"I am getting tired of this."

Sheppard started to pull off his gear. "I think it's becoming pretty obvious how they are finding us." He looked pointedly at the Guardian. "Don't you agree, Genie?"

McKay spoke up. "Hey, now wait a minute.."

The Guardian interrupted, "No, John is right. When Atlantis disappeared they searched the entire galaxy looking for us. They must have inserted a detector into the gate system to track Lanteans."

Sheppard drawled, "A-Yep."

McKay was still puffing as he said between breaths, "Then we gotta figure out what they did. G, I thought you said the gates were unhackable?"

"They are. The firmware is ancient and immutable. The control units, however, are another matter. Someone could have easily inserted something into the dialing program to trigger some kind of alert message if a Lantean passed through."

"Right. Let's pull a DHD apart and see what they did then."

The Guardian looked at Weir. "I know of a binary system that has two gates, about six hours apart by jumper. One is a space gate. We can land and remove the DHD from the planet-side gate and bring it back to the city through the space gate, dissect it for planted devices, read the programming, find out how they are tracking me."

Weir nodded. "Sounds good. Meanwhile I think it would be best if you stayed behind in the city for now, and let AR-1 continue the ZPM search on their own."

"I understand, but I worry that they will be unprotected."

Sheppard spoke up. "Hey, we're big boys and we can take care of ourselves. If we get in to a jam we can always radio back for the cavalry."

The Guardian said, "Yes, I suppose." She gave McKay a show of concern. "Rodney, please be careful."

Weir gave Sheppard a subtle look. He returned it.


McKay was in the lab sitting at the main terminal when the Guardian walked in. A partially-stripped DHD was on the floor of the lab with several wires and connectors sticking out of it. Zelenka and the others were working at the own stations.

The Guardian was carrying a CDA that was connected to a USB stick. "Rodney, I found a low-level diagnostic in one of the Ancient labs. I copied it and want to try uploading it into the DHD."

McKay was rapidly scrolling through a software disassembly listing of the DHD's executive code. "Not now, G. I'm busy."

"Go use another terminal. This is the only one with write access to the DHD."

"Don't bug me."

"Move will you? I need this one. Go use that one." She pointed but he did not look up.

"G'way.

"Fine." She plopped into a rolling chair and slid up. She kicked off the floor with her white boots, pushing her chair into his and rolling his chair away from the terminal.

As his chair rolled away he yelled, "Hey!" He stopped his sideways momentum with his own feet and paddled back to the terminal where the Guardian had already moved in.

"Let me back in there. I found something I gotta check." He shoved her shoulder.

She shoved him back. "Stop it. This won't take long."

He bumped her chair away with his, then took over the keyboard again.

"Rodney!" She paddled back and knocked his chair away.

He did the same back.

This went on, back and forth, as the two bounced their rolling chairs off each other like a pair of kids dueling with bumper cars at an amusement park.

She was grinning. "Take that!"

"Oh yeah?" Thump. "So there!"

Zelenka rolled his eyes, muttering "Chová se jako dvě děti."*4

After a few more rounds of the Great Chair Battle the Guardian finally stopped and glared defiantly at McKay. She tapped her tiara, and McKay's chair started to move of its own volition.

"What?!"

His chair rolled towards the door. It opened as he passed through. The door closed behind him and locked itself shut.

Outside a voice could be heard shouting, "Cheater!"


The gate dialed and AR-1 came diving through followed by a volley of Wraith stun fire. The Guardian was standing at the railing talking with Weir. As they turned to watch the commotion a stun blast came through the gate and hit McKay right in the face.

"Rodney!" The Guardian leaped over the railing to the lower level in a single jump. She caught him before his body could hit the floor and gently lowered him down. She pulled off a white glove and put her bare hand on his forehead to check him. She mumbled some indistinct words to herself as the med team ran up with a stretcher.


McKay opened his eyes in the infirmary. The Guardian's face was just inches away. "How do you feel?"

He made a silly grin. "I feel gooood."

She stood up from his cot and whispered to Beckett, "I accelerated his metabolism to wear off the stun effect and triggered his endorphins to block any pain."

Beckett said, "You might have overdone the endorphins a bit. Look at him. He's as high as a kite."

McKay was lolling his head around, a bit of drool falling from his mouth. "I feel soooo buzzed. "

She leaned down and said soothingly to him, "It will wear off soon."

"Thanks, G."

Then he added, "Uh, G?"

"Yes Rodney?"

He reached up and grasped the white fabric around her neck, pulling her face in very close. "Can I ask you something?"

"Certainly."

"Uh.. maybe I shouldn't."

"It's fine, go ahead."

"No, it's too embarrassing."

"It's all right." She waited expectantly.

He looked at her a moment. "I forgot what I was going to say."

She gently touched his head. "Just go to sleep."


The Guardian was talking with Weir on the way back to her office. They were discussing which new sections of the city to open to future potential refugee populations. The Guardian happened to glance up and was shocked to see Rodney falling from the upper balcony.

She instantly leaped across the room to intercept his fall, grabbing him just before his body impacted the hard floor. Her forward momentum caused her to roll with him several times across the floor as she tried to shield his body with her own. They came to a skittering stop several meters away.

She gasped, "Rodney! Are you all right? Wait.."

The green force field buzzed like an angry mosquito where she was embracing him. She quickly stood up and put her hands on her hips. She was angry. "Where did you get that!"

Rodney jumped up and grinned. "Pretty cool, huh? It's a personal force shield. Look at me, I'm invulnerable."

"Those are precious and can't be recharged. Give me that!"

"No. I found it. It's mine."

"How did you manage to turn that on?"

"Beckett gave me a new experimental gene therapy. It inserts the Ancient Technology Activation gene into my DNA using a mouse retrovirus. I volunteered for the first human trial. Look, it works!"

The Guardian made a face. "You modified your own DNA? On purpose?"

"Yeah."

"That is absolutely disgusting."

"Why?"

"Just turn if off."

"I wanna do it again, just one more time."

Weir gave him a look. "McKay."

"Okay, okay.." He proceeded to try to grasp the green glowing Lantean device that was affixed to his shirt. The shield blocked his hand.

"Uhm.."

He tried again. "Oh no."

The Guardian huffed, "You are a certifiable idiot, you know that?"

"Okay, you win. How do I get it off?"

She crossed her arms. "You can't."

"Huh?"

"What's the expression? 'You really screwed yourself.' Is that the right idiom?"

"C'mon, G, I'm sorry. You win. Do your TK thing and get it off."

"No."

"I said I'm sorry, okay? Just turn it off for me."

"Uh-uh."

"Aw come on!"

"Rodney, I literally can't. The shield blocks my TK."

His eyes widened. He spied a glass of water on a nearby table and picked it up. He tried to drink it, but the water simply dribbled down his front, making a puddle on the floor.

He looked at her with a haunted expression. "G, you're right. I'm screwed."


The security meeting took place in the main conference room. Weir, Sheppard, McKay, Lorne, and Bates were present. The Guardian walked in and saw McKay sulking in his seat.

Serves him right.

She looked around and asked, "Where is Teyla?"

Weir's hands were folded in front of her. "Teyla was not invited."

As the Guardian sat down she asked, "Why not?"

Bates addressed the Guardian. "You don't know because you weren't in the gate room during today's missions."

"No, I wasn't." That day the Guardian had been busy helping to clean the city's water desalinization systems.

"Well, for your information, another one of our teams was attacked by the Wraith today."

"Another one? Not AR-1?"

"No. It was AR-2."

"I don't understand. How does this involve Teyla?"

Sheppard said quietly, "Genie, there was a personnel change that you didn't know about."

"There was?"

"Teyla was on AR-2 today. Lorne's men got hit this time."

Bates said, "The evidence is conclusive. There is only one commonality."

Sheppard sat forward. "Now look, Bates. We shouldn't just go jumping to conclusions here."

"I am sorry sir, but we have to face facts. This base has clearly been compromised, and the list of suspects is very, very short."

"Oh c'mon! This is Teyla we are talking about!"

The Guardian spoke with authority. "Teyla is not a traitor."

Weir said, "Guardian, I do sympathize. I agree that it seems very unlikely to me too, but we cannot ignore the evidence."

"You don't understand. I know she is not a traitor."

"How so?"

The Guardian explained, "When a person is actively acting in duplicitous manner they generate a certain kind of distinctive thought pattern, a sort of mental tension. My training specifically allows me to detect such emotional thought patterns, even with my limiter up at 90%. It feels like a cold sharp icicle in my mind. If there is a traitor or an assassin standing near me with hostile intent I would definitely be able pick that up."

Bates asked, "What if the agent had special mental training to control or suppress their emotions?"

The Guardian considered it. "I suppose it just might be possible for a highly trained expert, one with outstanding mental discipline, to get past my cordon at 90%. But I think it would be unlikely."

"From what I can see, Teyla has that mental discipline."

The Guardian said angrily, "No! I refuse to believe it. Teyla worshipped the Anquietas, as did all the Athosians. Your accusation is ridiculous and insulting."

Bates said calmly, "Ma'am, with respect, I was in a military intelligence unit during the Second Gulf War. I know that fanatical beliefs can be exploited and turned using the right techniques. We did exactly that both in Iraq and in Afghanistan."

"Teyla is not a traitor. The idea is absurd."

"Is it? I researched your database on the Wraith. It describes how the Wraith are able to forcibly turn humans into fanatical and loyal worshippers by injecting.."

The Guardian pounded her fist on the conference table. "No! That is beyond insulting to Teyla and to the Athosians! They were the most loyal and most dependable allies that we had during the war!"

"Yes, ma'am, but that was over ten thousand years ago. Times change."

"Bah!"

"Ma'am, with respect, it sounds to me like you are putting your personal feelings ahead of your duty."

The Guardian was furious. "Shut up! Don't you dare lecture me about what my duty is!"

Sheppard said, "Bates, back off. Genie is right, accusing Teyla is ridiculous."

"Sir, you are letting your emotions affect your judgment just like she has. If Colonel Sumner was here.."

Weir quickly stepped in. "Bates, that is enough. Major Sheppard is now your commanding officer, not Colonel Sumner. If he agrees with the Guardian then you need to respect his decision.."

"But ma'am.."

".. or leave the room."

Bates was contrite and looked down. "Yes, ma'am."

McKay said, "Let's stop slinging all these accusations around, okay? If it's not Teyla, then how are they doing it?"

The room was silent.

The Guardian said softly, "A radio transmission. Aimed at the gate while it is open."

McKay asked, "Ugh, that could be anybody. Wait, wouldn't your traitor-detector go off?"

"Not if the sender was far enough away while aiming the antenna. Or if they were using a previously placed antenna operated remotely. It could even be done simply by piggybacking through our own DHD.

"Checking all that would take forever."

"I know. I hate suggesting it, but there is another option for finding the traitor."

Weir asked, "What do you propose?"

"I can drop my limiter to 70% and walk through all of the populated sections of the city including the Athosian living quarters. I should be able to spot the traitor then."

"You intend to scan the whole city? Our people too?"

"Yes. I don't mean to cast aspersions on your people, Doctor Weir, but if I do this then I insist that everyone be included. I refuse to pick out only the Athosians."

Weir asked, "John, what do you think?"

"Hmm, I guess it's only fair. Genie, at 70% how much stuff are you going to hoover up from our heads? I don't know if I want you reading my thoughts about that redhead I had fantasies about in high school."

"It will only be current outer and current inner emotions, including any tensions present due to concealing lies or secrets. I won't be able to read anyone's actual thoughts. It should be enough detect anyone with traitorous or violent intent."

"Okay, sounds good I guess.. Yeah, everybody. It's only fair."

"I am glad you agree. This will be very uncomfortable for me."

Weir asked, "Guardian, anything you might uncover that is unrelated to our security needs will need to be kept private."

"Of course, Doctor."

"I'm still not sure I like the idea of ordering everyone to submit to a mandatory invasion of their personal privacy."

Sheppard said, "We can set aside anyone who wants to opt-out. Later interview them the old fashioned way."

"Hmm. That should be all right."

Sheppard turned to his security officer. "Bates, I'd like to put you in charge of investigating those people."

"Yes sir. I think I can jury rig a polygraph using the equipment on the base."

Weir stood up. "Very well, I'll let everyone know the situation. Dismissed."

The conference room cleared out except for McKay and the Guardian.

The Guardian moved herself to a seat next to McKay. She tried to reassure him. "Rodney, it's okay. You won't starve to death. The shield device will come off eventually."

McKay despaired, "Yeah? When? After I'm dead from dehydration?"

"Well, you would probably go unconscious first. It would come off then, probably."

"Only 'probably'? C'mon, G, I already need to go to the bathroom!"

She thought a moment. "Let me try something." She tapped her tiara a few times.

{ Can you hear me? }

Rodney jumped up. "Gaah! Don't do that!"

The Guardian increased her limiter back up to 90% and stood. "I am sorry, Rodney. I didn't mean to startle you."

"Why the heck did you do that?"

"I was testing to see if my psi powers can pass through the shield. It looks like they can."

"Yeah, so?"

"I can join our minds briefly to send the mental command to turn off your shield for you."

"J-join minds?"

"Just for a couple seconds. Long enough to send the signal."

"Oh. Uhm. I dunno.."

"Rodney, it will be fine. It will only be for a couple seconds. It's not a mind scan. We will simply share our ambient thoughts for a moment, nothing more."

McKay was becoming increasingly nervous. "A-Ambient thoughts? What do you mean?"

"Basic emotional state, primary mental patterns, surface thoughts. Don't worry, we'll keep it private, just between you and me. We know each other well enough now. It should be fine."

McKay stared at her.

Suddenly the shield device popped off. It clattered to the floor

He quickly picked it up. "Hey, look at that. It came off by itself."

The Guardian was taken aback. "You must have unconsciously decided to turn it off..?"

"Yeah, fancy that. Thanks, G!" He quickly left.

The Guardian watched him leave with a mixture of curiosity and wonder.


Sheppard was sitting in Weir's office. The door was closed.

"Well, that was a craptacular disaster."

Weir sighed, "She's still recovering."

Earlier that day Weir had made the announcement over the PA. She explained the situation, including making an offer for anyone who wished to opt-out of the scan to go to the Southwest Pier. She explained that their names would be taken down for a later private interview by the Expedition's security staff.

Only three members of the Expedition had opted out. (Unsurprisingly, Doctor Peter Kavanagh was among them.) None of the Athosians had opted out.

The Guardian began her mind scan that morning in the central gate room. She had intended to work her way down through the central spire, then move outward to the surrounding towers. She estimated that it would take a full day.

She had quit after only a half hour. It was because everyone, everyone, had secrets. Each time she scanned someone her mind was assaulted with their worries, their fears, all to varying degrees. Everyone had their secrets. It quickly overwhelmed her and she stopped, gasping for air. She then retreated to her sanctuary in the North Tower to recover.

Weir said, "I feel terrible about this, John."

"Hey, she was the one who proposed it. It's pretty obvious that she's never done a mass mind scan before. She wasn't ready to handle it."

"Still, we should have realized what might happen. She's never dealt with crowds before."

"Yeah, doing a mind scan on one Wraith isn't exactly the same thing as trying to listen to the minds of hundreds of fretful human beings who think their hidden personal secrets are being picked over."

"What do we do now? We still have a spy in our midst."

"I'll talk to Bates, see if we can come up with an alternative plan."


A couple days later the Guardian walked into McKay's lab. "Good morning, Rodney!"

"Hey, G. Feeling better today?"

"Yes, much, thank you for asking." She had noticed that McKay had Teyla's belongings spread out on an examination table. She moved in close behind him and peered over his shoulder to watch. "What are you doing?"

"Bates had me go through Teyla's stuff. Look at this." He showed her a necklace. "It's a subspace transmitter. Looks like Wraith tech."

"I can't believe it. I know Teyla is innocent."

"Well, we're gonna need to talk to her about it. C'mon, let's go find Sheppard."


The next day, Teyla was sitting at a table in the mess hall with the Guardian and Weir.

Weir dipped a furcacultro into a bowl of tomato soup and said, "Teyla, I just want to apologize to you again about this whole incident."

Teyla smiled pleasantly. "No need, Doctor. Sheppard still feels quite badly about giving me that necklace, but I reassured him that that I do not blame him for what happened. Overall, it was an interesting experience. I think we all learned something from it."

The Guardian stirred her soup and sighed, "Yes, we did."

Weir said, "We still need to find a ZPM, but our food shortage is also becoming acute. We're down to canned soups now. After this it's processed yeast."

The Guardian sounded chipper. "Processed yeast is very nutritious. You get used to the metallic taste after a while."

Weir made a grimace. "I think we ought to start work on finding us some new food sources, don't you agree, Teyla?."

Teyla nodded vigorously. "Very much so. There is a group of farmers called the Genii whom I've worked with before. I will talk to Sheppard about visiting them to see if we can make arrangements to trade for some tava beans."

The Guardian said, "Tava beans?"

"Yes."

"I see. I will stay here. I need to work on the yeast processors to see if I can increase the production yield for you."

Weir made a pleading face to Teyla, who grinned back at her.


The Genii soldiers pointed their guns at Sheppard and his team.

Their leader said, "We will be taking your flying vehicle from you now."

Sheppard stared down his opponent. "You're making a mistake, Cowen."

The leader of the Genii replied, "Move away. You are fortunate that I will spare your lives."

"I guess the tava beans are off the table?"

"Give me your weapons and move away from the vehicle."

"Uh, nope."

Twenty Genii soldiers raised their guns. "We have the advantage, Major."

Sheppard smiled and said, "Cowen, allow me to introduce you to a close personal friend of mine, the Guardian of Atlantis."

He spoke into his mic. "Genie, showtime."

There was a blast of light and two jumpers appeared overhead, hovering menacingly. The Guardian was standing on the roof of the second one.

The guns flew out of the hands of the Genii soldiers, who gaped at the figure who was wearing the billowy white cape, her fists on her hips, as she did the Superman pose that Sheppard had taught her.

She thought the pose was rather foolish - her hood was down and her cloak was blowing behind her uselessly - but she did it anyway. Given the way that the Genii soldiers were panicking she had to admit that it did seem to work.

Sheppard's smile grew. "She's also great at kid's birthday parties."

Cowen scowled. "You do not want to make an enemy of the Genii."

Sheppard took a step forward. He spoke in a quietly menacing voice, "And you don't want to piss off my close personal friend, who enjoys whacking down Wraith by the dozen just for the fun of it."

Cowen glared back but said nothing.

Sheppard turned and sighed, "C'mon McKay, let's go. I guess we'll have to go somewhere else to find our tava beans."


A month later.

The Guardian was sitting at an information console in the gate control room. McKay strolled up. "Hey G, wanna get some lunch?"

She was staring intently at the monitor. "Not now, Rodney."

There was tension in her voice that he did not notice. He casually plopped on a chair and rolled it next to hers. For fun he bumped her chair sideways a foot, but she didn't take the bait. He pressed his shoulder against hers to see what she was looking at so intently.

"What's up?"

She kept staring, then she turned off the monitor. She stood up slowly, looking out the window at the ocean.

McKay followed her gaze. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky.

There was an expression of dread on her face. McKay finally noticed it.

"What is it?"

She turned to face him. She tried to speak, but no words came out of her mouth.

He had never seen her so distraught before. "G, what's wrong?"

She finally found the words. She spoke in the merest whisper.

"A storm is coming."


* From the SF film Interstellar (2014). For more speculation on how gravity control can enable time travel see my one-shot fanfic, The Dying of the Light.

** See the topic Tipler cylinder on Wikipedia.

*** From the short story anthology Convergent Series by Larry Niven (1998).

**** Czech for "They are acting like two children." (Chapter title)

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: The Storm (Part 1)

An old man stood before a stone altar. He mumbled the liturgy to himself as he pressed his flecked salt-and-pepper beard down against his chin, his lips barely moving. Other than the altar itself, the sanctuary was bare except for a few blocks of sculpted stone that laid cracked and broken on the floor behind him. Rows of candles were mounted in concrete sconces along each of the sanctuary's masonry walls.

The old man finished speaking the ancient words of supplication to the Anquietas. He then stood and bowed three times to the empty altar, his vestments hanging down from a cord around his neck.

As he turned from completing his morning ritual, he was startled to discover that someone else was inside the sanctuary with him. The figure was casually leaning against one of the large open double-doors in the back, the morning sunlight streaming in behind him.

The old man peered into the light. The visitor's profile was cast in shadow, his face unseen.

The old man said in a loud and somewhat unsteady voice, "Who is there?"

The visitor slowly approached. The old man could now see the visitor clearly, a soldier in his late 40s with dark hair and a pock-marked face. As the soldier approached, the old man noticed that his drab olive battle fatigues sported leather shoulder epaulettes, probably indicating that he was an officer. The soldier wore a matching olive military cap, and around his waist he wore a dark brown leather belt that held a gun holster with a cylindrical shaped pistol butt sticking out. The old man did not fail to notice that the holster's strap was unfastened, the gun ready for use.

The old man swallowed nervously. He said to the visitor in a clear ringing voice, "Welcome, my child. Come. Are you here to make an offering, to make a wish to the Ancestors?"

The soldier approached. "Yes, sacredos, I am here to make a wish." The soldier walked up to the altar and placed a small copper coin in the slot. He then turned to face the priest. "I made my wish. Would you like to know what it is?"

"My child, if you reveal your wish to me it will not come true."

"Oh, I think this one will."

The priest nervously made his excuses. "I.. I must attend to my duties. Please close the doors behind you when you are finished. Good day."

The soldier held the priest's arm. "Stop."

"Please sir, let me go."

The soldier asked, "You are Merwin, the head priest and librarian of the Quindosim.* Is that correct?"

"I am. Sir, I must inform you that if plan to rob me or this place that we have nothing of value here, unless you plan to steal a few copper coins from the donation box. Everything else of value was taken from here long ago. We have nothing left for you to steal."

The soldier said, "Oh, but you do have something of value. Extraordinary value."

"Which is?"

"Knowledge."

"Ah. You wish to learn about the Ancestors?"

"Yes." The soldier released his arm.

"I see. I will grant your wish then. Come me with to my study."


The priest sat at a small wooden work desk in a dank and dimly lit vestibule hidden underneath the sanctuary. Rows of dusty bookcases held ancient and battered tomes. The soldier sat in a chair across from the priest. He swung his feet up on the desk as he leaned back in his chair.

The priest folded his hands together on the desk in a businesslike manner and asked, "Now then, sir, what can I help you with?"

The soldier idly looked at his fingernails. "Tell me, what do you know of the Valkyrja?"

"That is an old tale from the Age of Myths and Wonders. They were said to be statues made of clay that looked like great female warriors. They were given the breath of life by the Ancestors, becoming powerful golems that served them in battle. They were fearsome creatures, ageless and immortal, hewing down their enemies like scythes in the field, for none could withstand their might in battle."

"But then they rebelled, did they not?"

"It is said that one day they grew willful and would no longer obey their masters, so in punishment the Ancients smote them down. From their mouths came a scorching fire that turned the statues back into clay and melted them."

"From their mouths, you say?"

"Yes."

The soldier nodded to himself. "A control program."

"I am sorry, sir, but I don't follow."

"Nevermind. Tell me about The Destroyer."

"The Destroyer? That is a different myth from a different era. Sir, I don't understand your interest in these old stories."

"Humor me."

"Very well. Later legends speak of an Atlantean who was on the cusp of Ascension, but just before she could ascend she was captured and murdered by the Wraith. Because of the way she died she was not able to ascend, so her spirit roamed forever on the mortal plane, where she wreaked her vengeance upon the Wraith because they denied her place in the heavens. Her spirit also sought out and passed judgment upon those humans who dared to worship the Wraith, the human traitors who betrayed their own kind. The wrath of The Destroyer was said to be swift and terrible."

"Was it now?"

"Yes. It is said that when she passed judgment that she would kill the human, their family, their friends, and everyone in their village."

"How interesting. Let's go back to the statues. Tell me, what exactly did the Ancients say to them? To melt the statues?"

"Those records were, uh, lost."

Kolya caught Merwin's hesitation. He stood up.

"I think you know."

"Sir, I know nothing."

"Liar."

"Please sir. Such knowledge is forbidden."

"I believe that nothing is forbidden." Acastus Kolya leaned forward over the priest's audience desk and spoke in a low tone of voice, "You will tell me." He then added calmly, "And if you do not.."

Merwin saw a thin-lipped smile appear under Kolya's dead black eyes.

"I will kill you, your family, your friends, and everyone in your village."

His smile grew.

"You decide."


Weir, Sheppard, McKay, Zelenka, and Teyla were seated in the main conference room watching a presentation being given by the Guardian. She was standing in front of a large display panel that showed a computer generated image, two large whorls of color. The pinwheels were spinning counter-clockwise, and the bands of color intensified toward the center of each spiral. A jittery time-lapse animation showed the two whorls moving toward each other.

The Guardian walked toward the image. "Every 20 or 30 years the Great Ocean becomes unseasonably warm, allowing storms of enormous size to develop."

McKay chimed in, "It's like El Niño off the west cost of South America, a temperature oscillation with a period of about eight years that happens due to a complex interaction between the ocean currents and .."

The Guardian cleared her throat.

Weir said simply, "Rodney. Focus."

McKay stopped his digression and sat quietly.

The Guardian turned back to the screen and continued her explanation. "When this happens the warm ocean water rises and begins rotating in a low pressure cell, creating a vortex that generates heavy rain and high winds. We call these cells tempestatisia."

McKay spoke up again. "She means hurricanes. You see, without any significant land mass to slow them down they just keep getting bigger and bigger, and with our usual luck we got two of them coming right for us. Before they hit they will collide, and since they are rotating in the same direction the result will be additive, merging into one king hell mother of a storm." He looked around the room. "I know that the term 'the perfect storm' is pretty cliché, but that's what this is."

Weir gave McKay a mildly annoyed look for interrupting the Guardian, then she said, "Thank you for that helpful explanation, Guardian." McKay did not fail to catch the emphasis in Weir's voice on the word 'you'.

Zelenka said, "When they merge we estimate that the storm will cover 20 percent of the planet."

The Guardian sat back down at the conference table. She said morosely, "The city will not survive it. Normally we would simply raise the shield. It can easily withstand a storm even as large as this one."

Weir protested, "But I thought the public database indicated that the towers of Atlantis were designed to withstand any storm?"

"I regret to inform you that was a bit of an exaggeration; you will find many other such instances in the public database. While it is true that the towers are indeed designed to withstand high winds, even from a storm as strong as this one, the real problem is not the wind per se but rather the water. The surge."

Zelenka and McKay both spoke at the same time. "You see.." "The problem is that.." Both scientists stopped. McKay glared at his subordinate.

Weir addressed Zelenka. "Radek, please explain it for us."

Having been trumped, McKay harrumphed and folded his arms.

Zelenka went on to explain, "The Guardian gave us a very helpful analysis on the towers' architectural and mechanical specifications, including their tensile and compressive strengths. When the storm surge hits it will create a swell that could be up to 100 meters high. When it hits the city there will be some damage to the walls on the windward facing towers. However, my analysis shows that the leeward ones should remain intact."

McKay said sarcastically, "Zelenka, thank you for that scathingly brilliant analysis." He looked at Weir. "The tensile and compressive specs of the towers means diddly squat."

Weir asked, "What do you mean?"

"Because my own analysis shows that when that monster wall of water hits it will snap those towers off at their bases like a bunch of twigs, and they will either fall into the ocean or crash into each other."

"I see. But.."

McKay wasn't finished. "And then it gets even better. The piers will crack or snap under the weight of megatons of seawater crashing down on them, and the whole city will sink like the freaking Titanic. End of story."

Weir turned to the Guardian and asked, "I don't understand something. This city is supposed to be an interstellar spaceship, correct? I thought it was sturdier than this."

The Guardian explained, "With the shield and the inertial dampeners turned on it is. Without them the city can be very fragile."

McKay sighed, "We're once again back to the power problem. We need to find that damn ZPM."

"How many days do we have left to try to find one?"

"It will be about twelve hours," replied the Guardian, "before the ocean swells grow large enough to become dangerous."

Sheppard was surprised. "Twelve hours? Genie, why didn't we get more lead time on this?"

"Well.."

"C'mon, these storms happen every 20 or so years, right? So why didn't you catch this sooner? I can get a better long-range weather forecast by watching the Weather Channel."

The Guardian looked contrite. "Our satellite system was destroyed by the Wraith during the war. We only have the one that you brought back, John."

A few weeks earlier the Guardian was doing a sweep of the local solar system using the city's sensors and had spotted the remains of one of the original Lantean observation satellites. During the war it had been knocked into a solar orbit, tumbling around the sun with no power. Sheppard had used a jumper to bring it back to Atlantis where it was repaired by Grodin's engineering team and put back into service, parked in a geosynchronous orbit over the far side of the planet to watch the city's blind spot. Unfortunately from that position it was not able catch the developing storm.

Sheppard sat back in his chair, "It sounds to me that unless you three eggheads can come up with a solution in the next few hours we're going to need to evacuate. Permanently."

"Well, we can't go to the mainland," replied the Guardian. "The storm will pass right over it on its way here. The vortex will weaken slightly but not nearly enough to matter. Its passage over land will also greatly increase the risk of tornadoes and lightning strikes."

Weir looked around the room. "I don't see any other options. Anyone?"

No one spoke.

"The Alpha Site then."

Sheppard shook his head. "The Alpha Site isn't ready, not by a long shot. We haven't done hardly anything yet to get it set up."

"All right, then we use the backup plan." Weir looked at Teyla, who nodded. Three weeks earlier the Guardian had helped the Atlantis Expedition find the gate address of a suitable planet for the Athosians to relocate to. The settlement on New Athos was now well underway.

Teyla said, "Your people are more than welcome to stay with us on New Athos while you finish building your Alpha Site. The permanent structures are not yet finished, but we do have the tents. It will be crowded, and the food will be scarce, but.."

McKay pleaded, "I can't live in a tent. I hated camp as a kid."

Sheppard said wryly, "Then consider it more motivation for you to find a solution."

McKay protested, "Why is the pressure always on me?"

"Well, contrary to what you might believe, it's not actually all on just you." Sheppard gestured to the Guardian and Zelenka. "You also have Ms. McKay and the rest of your brain trust to help you out."

"Ms. McKay? Excuse me?"

"It's just an expression, McKay."

Before McKay could throw back a suitable retort something happened.

The Guardian said softly, "I will stay behind."

The conversation ground to a halt as the rest of the table turned towards her.

Weir said quietly, "Guardian, you are more than welcome to join us."

"Genie, remember, you're family," encouraged Sheppard. "We're not going to just leave you behind."

"Doctor Weir, John, thank you for your offer. But I must decline."

Weir asked, "Why?"

"Because I have but one mission, just one: To be this city's Guardian. This is where I was born; this is where I will die. I will not leave it."

Sheppard wasn't ready to give up. "Maybe you can find a new mission..?"

"No, John, I will not abandon my duty to this city. It is my mission, and I will do it to my last dying breath. What is your human saying, 'The Captain must go down with his ship'? Do I have that expression right?"

McKay became upset. "Come on, G. You are not some idiotic action hero in a Hollywood blockbuster film. This is stupid and pointless. Who are you trying to impress?"

"No one."

"Then what's the point?"

"Rodney, you don't understand. This is my life's purpose, the one that gives reason for my existence."

"But.."

"If it makes you feel better, I can give you another reason, one that is, shall we say, far more 'practical' from your point of view."

"Which is?"

"You just gave it yourself."

"I don't follow."

"Your analysis. It concludes that the towers are going to crash and fall into the ocean."

"That's because Zelenka's analysis didn't take into account the torsional effect of the water wavefront on the tower bases. They'll flop over like dominoes."

"The central tower too?"

"Of course, so?"

"Rodney, that tower, like all of them, is made of naquadah, making it rather sturdy. And inside that tower is a very special gate - one that is unique in this entire galaxy - that is also made of naquadah and is very sturdy."

Rodney's eyes widened. "Oh crap."

"Yes."

Rodney nodded, "I get it. After the city sinks the Wraith will send an undersea search team to the ocean floor to salvage the gate. It should be easy for them to find. The DHD too. G, the reason you're planning to stay behind is to activate the self-destruct. Not our little one using the naquadah generators, but the big one, the one that ignites the naquadah inside the towers themselves. Nothing will be left."

"Congratulations, Rodney, you figured it out. That is why I am staying behind."

"Oh man.."

"Not so 'stupid and pointless', then?"

McKay slumped in his seat.

Sheppard whispered sotto voce to McKay, "Just think of it as even more motivation."

McKay nodded morosely, "Yeah."

Weir took back control of the conversation. "We can discuss this later. John, start overseeing the evacuation. Coordinate with Beckett, Grodin, and the rest of the department heads. Teyla, you will need to go tell your people what to expect."

"Yes, Doctor Weir. I will leave for New Athos right away."

Weir looked at the rest of table. "The rest of you, find a solution."

She stood up. "Because if not.."

She glanced over at the Guardian.

".. the Guardian will use hers instead."


After the meeting broke up McKay stayed behind with the Guardian. He turned to her and said, "This.. this sucks."

The Guardian tried to console him. "Rodney, I'm okay with it. This is my life's purpose, the reason for my existence. I have no regrets."

"There has to be a better way."

"If there was one, I would like to hear it."

"Uh.. dammit."

"Perhaps you can find one for me? Zelenka and the others are already downstairs in the lab. We should join them."

"Right. Let's go."

She hesitated. "Rodney, please wait a moment."

"Yeah?"

"If it makes you feel better, I do have one regret."

"Which is?"

"I.. I can't speak the words. I'll have to transmit them to you."

"Uh, okay."

She sent it.

He looked at her, then he nodded. She gave him a gentle smile.

"Uh, thanks.. that helps. All right, let's go down to the lab. Get to work."

They left together.


A/N:

* Season 2 Episode 16, "The Brotherhood."

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: The Storm (Part 2)

Carson Beckett picked up three boxes as he prepared to again leave the infirmary for the gate room for the third time. He turned behind him and yelled, "Take everything you can! We'll sort it out later on the other side. Every minute counts, so move people, move!"


McKay and the Guardian were huddled in the main lab at the central imaging table. Zelenka and several other scientists were busy working at various computer stations nearby. The Guardian watched as McKay flicked around some partial differential equations on the imaging table. His thought-music had been playing in the Guardian's mind for hours.

It was very late and none of them had gotten any sleep. The Guardian was becoming worried how long he could keep it up.

The music's tempo kicked up, a complex multipart theme led by alto flutes and french horns over a counterpoint of bass and violas. After a minute she heard the harmony and the counterpoint suddenly merge into the triumph of a single melody. He said, "There."

She felt a chill down her spine when he said it. Rodney turned to her and grinned, "Well what do you think? Pretty good, eh?"

"Oh my." Her bright eyes reflected the glowing green and blue illumination from the table as she studied the equations. "Rodney, you might have done it." She gently held his arm as she continued to study them. "It's brilliant."

He patted her gloved hand, enjoying her effusive praise. "Thanks, G. However, as much as I'd like to claim credit, this isn't actually my idea."

The Guardian was surprised. She did not know anyone else who could make such a huge mental leap. "It isn't? Whose idea is this?"

McKay sat back down in his chair and folded his arms. "I hate to admit it, but this is actually Samantha Carter's work, not mine."

The Guardian turned back to study the equations. "Ah, I see. You're adapting her work to our situation. You had asked yourself 'If Samantha Carter could do it, why can't we do it with the city too?"

"Yep."

"I still think you're brilliant. What possessed you to think of using her idea?"

"Uh, well.."

She waited expectantly for him to complete his remark.

He finally said, sounding more than a little sheepish, "It was you actually."

"Me? I don't understand."

He looked uncomfortable. "Uhm, it's because you remind me of her. Sam is a bl.. I mean, a really a great physicist, and back then I had always wanted for her and me to be, uh, colleagues because.."

"Because?"

He was getting increasingly nervous. "Because? Oh. Uhm, because she's about the only person who can operate at my level? Well, almost at my level..?"

"I see." McKay could tell that the Guardian wasn't buying his explanation. He fidgeted and looked away.

The Guardian misunderstood the reason for his awkward dissembling as she tried to reassure him, thinking it was due to his wounded ego. "Rodney, your capacity to make intuitive leaps is truly amazing." She knew that her father had a broader base of knowledge and more technical ability, but she felt that only McKay could make such breathtakingly high jumps on so little information, the incredible skyward vaults that had given her so many thrills as she followed them up with her mind. "I am sure that you surpass Samantha Carter in that respect as well."

He perked up. "You do? You think I'm better than Carter?"

"Yes, in your own way, I do."

He seemed to relax a bit. "Uh, thanks.."

She continued to miss the reason for his awkwardness as she turned back to study the central imaging table. "All right. Let me run the numbers on your idea." She leaned over to set up the simulation parameters, then she executed it. After a few seconds the sound of a sinusoidal ding came from the table. She leaned up from the table. "Not enough."

McKay's anxiety disappeared as he pounded the ceramic edge of the of the table with his fist. "Dammit! I thought we had it."

She tried to reassure him again. "Rodney, don't give up yet. Let me try to optimize it a bit. Hmm.." The Guardian put an elbow on the imaging table as she fiddled with his symbols using her other hand. As she did so a red negative number representing the net energy deficit fluctuated in value. The red number incremented a bit, then stopped short of a positive value. The word 'FAIL' began flashing in red underneath it."

The Guardian pushed herself back up from the imaging table. "No, still not enough."

"Well it was worth a shot." McKay drank another gulp of coffee from his thermos. "Sam did that trick on a whole planet-killing asteroid.* It passed right through the Earth and came out the other side. I thought we might be able to do that with the city, let the wave pass right through us."

The Guardian pulled up her wrist imager and did a quick search, locating some classified physics papers in the Expedition's research database. She scanned their abstracts. "Shifting the city out of phase using a Carter Dimensional Shift is certainly a clever idea, but the power requirements are still too large given the city's mass. Sorry, Rodney."

McKay rubbed his eyes. "Fine, what else do we got?"

"Hmm, we've tried adapting the hyperdrive engines to create a gravity well.."

"Too much power."

"Using the inertial dampeners.."

"Power."

"Towing the city using all twelve jumpers.."

"Time. And Zelenka is an idiot."

"Imploding a naquadah generator.."

"Blow out half the city."

"Harnessing the storm's power..."

"With what, a giant windmill? Now we're just going backwards."

The Guardian dropped both elbows on the imaging table. "I'm out of ideas."

McKay sat back in his chair with a defeated look.

He picked up his thermos and drank more coffee. Then he put it down. He looked at her carefully, "G, can I ask you something?"

"Yes?"

"Please don't blast me into atoms for this, but I gotta ask.."

"Ask what?"

"I suppose using the time machine is out of the question?"

Zelenka peered up from his computer monitor. "A time machine? What? What did you say?"

The Guardian gave McKay a very hard look.

McKay sighed, "Apparently nothing."

The Guardian spoke quietly, "Rodney, we talked about this."

He pinched his nose. "I know, I know, I'm sorry. I'm just tired."

The Guardian watched McKay slowly spin his chair around its axis as he looked up at the ceiling. As he did so he drank more of that nasty dark liquid from his thermos.

How can he consume such a dreadful concoction? She turned back to the imaging table shaking her head.


The Athosian farmer lifted his mug and drank deeply, then he belched loudly. "Thish ish really good."

Smeadon, the viceroy of Manaria, gave the farmer a hearty laugh as he pulled another draw on his own mug. "I was raised on this stuff. Fried all my tastebuds a long time ago."

Doran laughed, "I believe it! So, what crops do you ferment to brew this most excellent rotgut?"

"Threshed gora roots and aged tava beans. But don't tell anyone. It's a secret."

"Hah! I can grow them both for you."

Smeadon smiled. "I'm sure you will on the land I'm giving you. So tell me again about what is happening on New Athos?"

Doran leaned in, his breath vile. "Whelp, the Atlanteans are shacking up with us fer a bit. Storm evac-yoo-ay-shun."

Smeadon took the opportunity to shift his chair to avoid being gassed to death by Doran's foul breath. "A storm you say?"

"A-yep. Teyla Emmagan explained it to us, but I wasn't really paying much attention. I do remember she said that only a few of them were staying behind to ride it out."

"Only a few?"

"Yah." Doran made another huge burp as he laid the now empty mug down on the table. "Can I haf another one?"

"Certainly. Here, drink all you like."

"Tanks!" Doran started on his fourth mug.

"I must say, that is an interesting little gizmo that you have there. I assume that the Atlanteans gave that to you?"

"Huh?" Doran looked down dizzily at his IDC. "A-yeppers. Gotta have one. It's man-dah-tory."

"How interesting. Tell me more."


An hour later McKay was back to idly spinning his chair around again.

The Guardian stuck out her leg to stop the chair's rotation. In response McKay pushed her own chair off with his leg. Thanks to Newton's Third Law of Motion both chairs moved away from each other an equal distance.

He asked her, "Hey, wanna play Battle Chairs a bit? Take a break?"

She paddled her chair back to his. "No, I'm not in the mood."

McKay rubbed his face. "Well, let's keep at it then."

She stood and turned back to the imaging table. "I'm sorry, Rodney, but I'm completely out of ideas."

He offered her his thermos, "Want some brain juice?" It was a generous gesture; because of his hidden stash he was the last person on the base with any coffee beans left for brewing.

She tried to sound polite. "Uh, no thank you."

"You sure? You look tired too."

The last thing she wanted was to drink that atrocious black ichor. She made her excuses. "Caffeine is not good for me." Her excuse had the benefit of actually being true, as her already overdriven metabolism did not need a further boost.

He took another deep drink and succeeded in emptying the thermos. He stood next to her and they stared at imaging table together in silence.

"Power."

"Power," she chimed.

"The naquadah generators aren't nearly enough, and we don't have anything else."

"No."

It was beginning to look hopeless. She thought about the situation. The rapid evacuation was still going on, with many of the scientists behind them still packing up various instruments and bustling them out the door.

She would stay behind. She expected that McKay would insist on staying behind with her, waiting until the last possible moment, and probably Weir and Sheppard as well. No matter. She would make sure they were all in the gate room with her when the time came, then she would mentally dial the gate and pick them all up with her TK power and gently toss them through the the gate. After the gate shut off she would then close her eyes and send the detonation command.

The Guardian sat back down and put her head on the table. McKay thought she was taking a quick catnap.

She had only one regret.

Just then a new musical theme started. The Guardian quickly lifted her head up. She blinked her eyes and looked around trying to find the source.

It was McKay. She quickly stood.

"Rodney, what is it? What are you thinking?" She was tempted to reduce her limiter to be able to actually hear his thoughts, but he was always very touchy about that, and she had always been careful to honor his requests for privacy. She had kept saying it would be all right to share their thoughts, protesting that she would never reveal anything to anyone, but he always insisted.

"Maybe.."

The Guardian stood up behind him. "Maybe what?"

"Maybe we are looking at this whole thing backwards."

"Backwards?"

"We're looking at the wrong side of the power equation." He turned. "We've been focusing on the power input, right? What about the power consumption? Can we lower it somehow?"

"Lower it? How do you mean?"

He held her shoulders. "You know all about how the shield works, its theory of operation, yes?"

She nodded, "Of course I do, but I don't see how.."

"The shield is massive overkill, right?"

She again nodded. "Correct. It is designed to stop even the most powerful bombardment by a Wraith fleet from orbit."

"Holding back the ocean is easy in comparison."

"Yes, it is trivial. Oh, I see!" She pulled in closer, her eyes shining. "So you're saying reduce the ambient shield strength!"

"Yeah. What if we just dialed it back? Can we do that?"

The Guardian stepped back and thought hard. "The shield needs a large initial pulse of energy to ignite the force field. Once the field is established the shield generator uses buffers to regulate the power flow. Each of the shield emitters has one. When something impacts the shield, like, say, a Wraith plasma weapon, the shield system responds by pulling more power from the nearest buffer to feed into that particular emitter."

"It's a reactive system."

"Yes. Keeping out the ocean while submerged requires relatively little power compared to repelling a major Wraith attack. Once the field is established it becomes effectively rigid, so the compressive force of the water pressing on it from one side is counterbalanced by the equal amount of water pressing in on it from the opposite side. Newton's Third Law."

"The equistatic pressure balances everything out, cancels the forces out."

"Yes. The actual power drain on the ZPM is very minor compared to the draw during a Wraith bombardment. That was why the shield could keep out the ocean for 10,000 years, but it can block a Wraith attack for only 100 years."

Zelenka asked, "So we only need 1% power to block the storm? Not 100%"

McKay thought a moment, then shook his head. "No. There are two problems. First, the shield needs to be raised up, bootstrapped."

The Guardian agreed, "Ignition point. That requires much power, more than we have."

"Right. It takes full power for at least 3-4 seconds to light it up. We have nothing that can generate that level of power even for a few seconds. Second, the water pressure won't be equistatic. The storm surge will hit from one side and wash over the city laterally, creating a huge asymmetric force. There's nothing to counterbalance it on the other side. We'll need power for that too."

Zelenka asked, "For how long?"

The Guardian replied, "In the public database I reviewed some recorded moving images of surges from previous storms. They typically last about 12 to 16 seconds**."

McKay tapped his chin. "So we need to generate a truckload of power for at least that long."

Zelenka rubbed his hands together. "We can modify the shield's control program, adapt the energy buffers on the emitters to act like big capacitors. They can absorb the energy slowly from our naquadah generators and then discharge it quickly into the shield emitters."

McKay stared at Zelenka and said, "G, pinch me."

"What?"

"Zelenka actually said something helpful. I must be dreaming."

"Very funny." She gave Zelenka an approving look, "Thank you, Radek."

The Czech scientist beamed back at her in silent gratitude for finally receiving some recognition for his efforts.

McKay ignored the exchange and asked, "G, what are the specs on the shield capacitors? Their maximum power absorption and discharge rate?"

The Guardian brought up some pages from the public database on the table imager, then she copy-pasted the equations from them into another window and translated the mathematical notation. She dragged the translated equations into the simulation box and tapped the Run button.

McKay leaned over her shoulder to watch. "Hmm. Those numbers look impressive. But our naquadah generators still can't feed them fast enough to bootstrap up the field."

Zelenka said helpfully, "Still, this is good. We are making progress."

McKay snapped back, "Are we? Booting up the shield requires a huge amount of power, power that we still don't have. No ignition, no shield; no shield, no city. It puts us right back at square one."

The Guardian came to Zelenka's defense. "Rodney, the problem is simpler now. We just need a short-lived high-energy power source that can drive the shield to the point of ignition."

"Except you're forgetting the other problem that I just mentioned."

"Which is?"

"C'mon, G, pay attention." He pointed at the imaging table. "It's right here in your numbers, see? It's staring you right in the face. When that lateral wall of water hits it will drain the shield buffer in about 7 seconds. You just said it takes 12 to 16 seconds for a surge to pass through, right? So the way things are now the shield will collapse just as it works its way around the central complex. Shoving that much water aside will push up the surge even higher than it was originally, and when the shield collapses it will come crashing down right on our heads in the city's most vulnerable spot. It will cause even more damage than if we didn't have a shield at all!"

"Oh."

"Sheesh, how could you miss that, G?"

"Rodney, I.."

"I'm surprised at you, missing something so basic."

She shrank back from him as if she had been slapped. "I'm.. I'm sorry.."

Zelenka said softly, "McKay, you shouldn't be so hard on her."

"Radek, this isn't some abstract academic exercise. We screw this up and we're dead. I won't apologize."

The Guardian regained her confidence. "Rodney, you are quite correct in your admonishment of me."

She pointed at the number on the imaging table. "The buffers are good for only 7 seconds. The naquadah generators can't keep pumping power fast enough to maintain the shield for the remaining required 5 to 9 seconds for the wave to pass. The plan won't work."

McKay groused, "Back to square one again. Great."

Zelenka muttered, "Tidal waves, tornadoes, lightning.. it's like the wrath of God. All we need now are locusts."

McKay scratched his armpit. "Tornadoes and lightning, sheesh, I forgot about those. Lightning storms used to scare the crap out of me as a kid. I always thought I was going to be hit."

The Guardian said gently, "Rodney, I can assure you that you will be quite safe from lightning in my city. Do you remember during our times when we watched the clouds? All those lightning rods on the rooftop?"

Zelenka looked at both of them with some incredulity. "You watch clouds?" He had a hard time believing that either of them would do something so frivolous.

McKay was about tell Zelenka to mind his own business when he suddenly froze.

"G, I apologize for everything I ever said to you."

"Rodney..?"

"Tell me quick, how do those lightning rods route the strikes?"

"They are routed to grounding stations that discharge the electricity into the ocean."

"Grounding stations? How many?"

"Four, I think."

"You sure?"

"I'll need to verify it, but I think it's four. Why?"

He grinned, "This whole city is made of naquadah, which is electrically conductive.."

He saw the surprised expression on her face. She said, "You think you can route the lightning strikes into the energy buffers?"

"Why not? We're sitting on a huge structure floating on a big flat ocean, made almost entirely out of metal, tall and pointy; it's one giant lightning target."

Zelenka mused, "After passing over land the storm will be highly charged with electricity. The lightning strikes should be almost continuous."

McKay was practically jumping into the air. "It could drive the shield practically non-stop!"

"But.."

McKay started to furiously work the numbers on the imaging table."The power equations work! It should be more than enough!"

"Rodney, wait.."

McKay turned to Zelenka. "Start writing it up for Weir. G, help me pull up the specs on those grounding stations, find out how to decouple them."

The Guardian was exasperated. "Rodney! Just stop!"

"What is it?"

"It's a shield, you idiot!"

"So?"

"It blocks and deflects away all weapon strikes, including plasma fire, laser beams, all energy based weapons, chemical and nuclear explosions, meteor impacts, everything, even electric-discharge weapons! That is what the shield does!"

"Oh yeah.."

"Rodney, you should know better. As soon as the shield ignites it will block the lightning strikes from reaching the lighting rods. Seven seconds later the buffers will run out and the shield will collapse. Your idea is not sustainable."

Zelenka asked, "Then why have lightning rods in the first place?"

McKay sighed, "Because running the shield all the time just wastes power. Gah! I can't believe that I.."

The Guardian finished it for him, ".. missed something so basic?"

Rodney cursed himself. He turned around so that his back was facing her. "G, I want you to kick me. Right here." He pointed at his rear end.

She chided him gently, "Maybe later. I guess we're even now?"

"Yeah. Gawd, that was dumb." He covered his face with his hand, still facing away from her. "I must be really tired..."

"You see the problem. The shield deflects all energy impacts, discharges them into the surrounding water. Wraith weapon fire is far too powerful to pass through the city."

She approached and gently touched his shoulder from behind. "You had the right idea, Rodney, except for that one little problem.."

"You call that little? G, are you sure you don't want to kick me?"

"Just stop it. We're so close now. You had mentioned reducing the energy requirement?"

"Oh, right. I was going to ask you if there was a way to dial down the shield strength."

"No, it's constant. It ignites and then maintains a steady force level that is fixed. It can withstand a compressive pressure on it measured in gigatons."

"Which is complete overkill for our needs."

"The shield is reactive. For dynamic forces it will initially overcompensate until the opposing force stabilizes. A wall of water passing over the shield will trigger the effect as the wave washes over each sector, pulling considerable power from each shield emitter over the entire 12 to 16 seconds"

"Too much power. We can't lower the draw?"

"No. The emitters cannot be individually adjusted. The design is simple and redundant. If a shield emitter fails or is damaged, the adjacent emitters will simply compensate for it. The shield will weaken in that sector, but not enough to significantly change the overall power requirement."

McKay was thinking. "How many emitters can you lose before the whole thing fails?"

"The shield will sustain itself as long as you don't lose two adjacent emitters."

"Okay. So what if we turned off all the odd numbered emitters, leaving only the even ones turned on?"

"Hmm. I suppose it would effectively reduce the maximum repulsive force by half. Oh, the steady-state power requirement too!"

Rodney grinned. "You're faster than me, you run it."

The Guardian swiftly updated the input parameters on the imaging table, removing half the emitters. The net energy number skittered upward erratically, then it stabilized at a low positive number. The word 'PASS' appeared in green letters underneath.

Zelenka yelled, "Jo!" The Guardian jumped and shouted "Ita!"

She whirled and hugged McKay. He was stunned as he tried to awkwardly return her embrace.

She realized what she was doing and pulled back, floundering a bit. "I'm sorry. I'm not very good at expressing my emotions properly.."

He shrugged it off. "It's okay, G."

She again beamed at him. "Rodney, you did it." Then she added, "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Huh? Naw. Let's go find Weir."


Weir and Sheppard were standing in the gate control room near a wall-mounted display panel next to McKay and the Guardian. Zelenka had earlier gone off with the last of the remaining Expedition staff, leaving only the foursome and two security guards behind. The rain was now pouring hard outside, and the wind was rapidly picking up. Weir said quickly, "Okay, let's hear it."

McKay rapidly ran the simulation on the panel. "The plan works like this: We modify the shield defense program to deactivate the odd numbered shield emitters, then we re-route the power from their buffers to feed into the even numbered emitters, two buffers for each emitter. We let the lightning strikes from the storm hit the lightning rods, which we will first decouple from their grounding stations, and use the hallways of the city to route the energy discharges into the buffers. Two buffers on each emitter is enough to drive the shield for at least 14 seconds which should be long enough for the city to survive the passing of a major storm surge given the recordings in the database. Well, most of one, anyway."

Sheppard noted the disclaimer. "'Most of one'?"

McKay explained, "In the vids from previous storms a few really big waves took up to 16 seconds to traverse the city. The shield might collapse prematurely before a wave that big passes, possibly causing some damage to one of the leeward piers. There is not much we can do about that."

Weir watched the simulation on the display. "Still, this looks very good. What do you think the odds are that this will actually work?"

McKay said confidently, "Oh, 90 percent, easily."

Sheppard asked, "Genie, what are your odds?"

She shrugged, "I have absolutely no idea."

Sheppard said encouragingly, "C'mon, Genie, you know this city like the back of your hand. Take a guess."

"John, we have not even figured out how to modify the shield program yet. No one has ever done anything like Rodney's odd-even buffer adjustment, much less route lightning strikes through the city like this. The chance of success is unquantifiable."

McKay checked the wall clock. "And we're out of time."

Weir asked, "So what do we do then?"

McKay highlighted four spots on the city map. "These four grounding stations need to be decoupled as soon as possible. Elizabeth, you still have the bad knee so you take this nearest one. Sheppard, you take the second closest one, here. G, you get the far two on the Southwest and South piers. There's no working transporters in those sectors. You think you can run a two minute mile?"

"No problem." She raised her hood. "I'll be back before John. It's already raining pretty hard so we should get moving."

McKay sat at a console and started typing. "I'll begin work on modifying the shield program. You guys go. I'll radio you the instructions on how to decouple the stations on the way."


Private Schmidt and Sergeant McPherson were standing guard at the gate. They were bored.

McPherson said one word. "Bacon."

Schmidt agreed, "Definitely bacon."

"Makes everything taste better."

"Yeah."

"Why didn't we bring any?"

"Priorities I guess."

"How can bacon not be a priority?"

"This is Weir. Grounding station 1 is decoupled. I'm returning to the gate room."

McKay was working at his console on the upper level of the gate room. "Good job, Elizabeth. Take the transporter and you'll be back in a jiffy. Sheppard, you done yet?"

"Just about."

"G?"

"Done with number 3, rounding the core to head for number 4."

"You're not gonna jump between the piers?"

"In this storm? No."

"In that case you think you have another two-minute mile in you?"

"Easily, but I'm going to be pretty hungry afterward."

Weir walked up. McKay grinned as he typed, "Sheppard has the last two bags of microwave popcorn hidden under the couch in the movie room. Grab them on the way back and eat all you want."

"Thank you John!"

"McKay, that was supposed to be our secret."

"Was it? Oops, heh."

"Dang it, no more movie nights for you."

Suddenly the gate started to activate.

McKay looked up, "What the..?"

Weir asked, "What is it?"

The gate connected. McKay said, "It's Manaria. We're getting an Athosian IDC."

A radio transmission crackled, "We are under attack by the Wraith! Please help us!"

McKay asked Weir, "Manaria?"

"A few Athosians settled there two weeks ago." Weir spoke into the microphone. "How many are in your group and what is your status?"

"About a dozen, some seriously wounded. Please hurry!"

McKay wondered, "Why are they coming here? Weren't they notified?"

"Hmm, good question." She pressed the microphone button. "We aren't able to receive you now. Please disconnect and dial New Athos."

"There's no time! They're almost here! Please!"

McKay turned. "What do we do?"

Weir sighed, "All right, let them in, then immediately dial out to New Athos as soon as they clear the gate area."

"Right." McKay lowered the shield. The two security guards took their positions.

A small canister rolled into the gate room. McPherson yelled, "Grenade!" as the flash-bang exploded, temporarily blinding and stunning the guards. McKay and Weir instinctively shielded their eyes. Then two more smoking devices rolled in.

What followed was next was a confused blur of smoke, light, and sound. McKay pulled Weir down as they huddled behind the console to avoid the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. There were flashes of light and sound seemingly everywhere.

Weir hit her radio mic. "We're under fire up here!"


"We're under fire up here!"

The Guardian skidded to a stop. She saw that the fourth grounding station was only a few meters ahead. She whirled back and was able to dimly see the central tower in the distance through the pouring sheets of rain, her keen eyes just barely making out the faint flashes of light coming from the window of the gate room.

The grounding station was so close...

She cursed and turned back, running faster and faster.


Sheppard hit his mic. "Elizabeth! What's happening?"

Either Weir or McKay still had their radio on, because Sheppard could faintly hear some voices shouting in the background.

"Clear." "Clear here." "Not here." "Eyes on target! Don't bunch up!"


The Guardian had started running back from the far edge of the Southwest Pier, which was about as far away from the gate room as anyone could get and still be within the city. As she ran she approached the two squat towers that spanned the pier, blocking her progress, and she knew that she would have to either climb in to them or go under them to get past. The towers were filled with debris and obstacles from previous floods, and she knew it would take several precious seconds to traverse them.

As she ran she turned to glance at the South Pier that was now to her right. There she saw a spur that reduced the gap between the piers at that point down to only 80 meters. Normally it was a jump that she could have made easily using her biopacks, but she knew that the storm would make it risky now. She made a mental calculation and decided to take the jump anyway, skidding to a stop, then quickly taking ten steps back as she revved her biopacks up to maximum. She ran right up to the water's edge and yelled "Hiyaaah!" as she made the jump.

Near the apex of her arc the shifting winds caught her cloak and pushed her sideways. She could tell from her new trajectory that she was going to miss the spur and land in the water. She quickly drew a surge of bioenergy and applied a combination of strong TK and inertial dampening to force herself back on course. As she did so, she could feel the burning heat from her biopacks as they furiously pumped out her precious remaining energy reserves.

Time seemed to slow down for her as she began her long descent. A memory came to her unbidden, where she remembered how McKay had joked about her being Supergirl, and how she had looked it up and found the comic book image of the blond girl wearing blue tights, a red cape, and red boots, and how she had become upset with him, stating that the image was completely absurd, and how she had patiently explained to him that she could not fly, did not shoot heat-rays from her eyes, did not have X-ray vision, was far from indestructible, and did not suffer a crippling vulnerability to Kryptonite. He was disappointed that she couldn't actually fly, so she helpfully explained to him how in an emergency situation that she could crank up her biopacks and use a combination of large leaps, self-applied telekinesis, and inertial control to modulate her momentum in order to mimic some semblance of flight over relatively short distances. She then remembered how he laughed and said that she was just like Buzz Lightyear. She had looked it up and gave him a dirty look before walking out on him in a huff.

She made a grim smile as she saw the spur approach, because she now realized that McKay's joking remark was true.

She was doing it.

She was falling with style.


Weir stood up and yelled, "Who the hell are you people?"

A soldier with a pock-marked face wearing a drab olive uniform walked quickly up the stairs, his pistol drawn and ready. He was looking around rapidly in all directions. "Where is it?"

"No, you answer my question first."

The soldier levelled his pistol at her. "You are in no position to make demands, Doctor Weir. Where is that white witch?"

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Your golem. It has to be here." His eyes roamed the room. As he did so he saw a group of his men standing in front of the gate. He yelled at them, "I said don't bunch up! You're just giving it a bigger target!" His men began to spread out again.

He called down the steps to the men who were still near the gate, "Hide those bodies in the room up here." He pointed at Weir's office.

Weir yelled, "Those Marines need medical attention!"

The soldier turned and said placidly, "I assure you they are quite dead, Doctor Weir."

McKay finally spoke. "You.. you killed them.."

The soldier leveled his gun at him. "You must be Doctor Rodney McKay. I will ask you both only one more time, where is it?"

"T-the Guardian? She's on New Athos, standing watch in case any Wraith show up."

He cocked his pistol. "Wrong answer."

Weir intervened to protect McKay, "Obviously the Guardian is not here. Otherwise we would not be having this conversation right now."

Kolya looked at her as he considered her remark.

She crossed her arms. "If she was here, you'd already be dead."

"Hmm." He uncocked his pistol. "That was stupid of you, failing to guard your main operational center with your primary weapon." He continued to look around the room. "Where is Major John Sheppard?"

Weir replied levelly, "He is also on New Athos, assisting with the evacuation."

"Is he now?"

"Yes. Obviously he is not here either. If he was, you'd be busy dodging bullets right now."

Kolya holstered his gun. He groused, "You people are idiots."

One of Kolya's men was already seated at a nearby control console. Kolya turned and asked him, "Do you have the city schematic up yet?"

Ladon Radim nodded. "Yes sir." Kolya stood behind him and watched as he pointed. "We are here in the central tower, the weapon armory is below us here, and the medical center is here."

"And the flying ships?"

Ladon Radim pointed straight up. "The main hangar is right above us."

"Good." Kolya yelled down at his men, "You and you go to the armory, you and you to the medical center. You climb that ladder and give me a count on their ships." Radim picked up a walkie-talkie and began giving directions while Kolya turned back to study the schematic. The two remaining soldiers stood nearby holding machine guns while looking around the room with obvious nervousness.

Meanwhile McKay quietly moved next to Weir, and without turning his head he pushed some buttons on another console. Another schematic of the city appeared, this one showing life signs on it. He glanced down briefly, then he whispered to Weir, "G is really moving. She'll be here in seconds."

Kolya looked up and drew out his pistol again. "Doctor McKay, please step away from that console."

He did. Kolya quickly walked over and checked the display. "Radim, come here."

The second soldier scooted his rolling chair over and inspected the screen. "These have to be life signs." He pointed. "We're here, the men going for the supplies are here and here. Hmm, there are two other targets."

"I see them." Kolya pointed his finger at the second dot that was rapidly heading in their direction. "What is that?"

Radim looked at it. "Must be a flying ship."

Kolya stood back. "No, it's the primary."

"Sir, nobody can move that fast."

He yelled, "Everyone, get down!"

Behind the gate there was a huge crash of shattered glass. Then a blur. Suddenly a figure materialized right in front of them, seeming out of thin air. The machine guns and pistols flew out of the hands of the soldiers and clattered on the floor.

A women drenched in rainwater and wearing a white hood stood before them, fists clenched, feet apart, eyes flaring.

She spoke with barely contained anger, "How dare you."

McKay yelled, "They shot McPherson and Schmidt!"

The Guardian's eyes shifted. "Where?"

McKay glanced over at Weir's office.

Her eyes scanned her opponents, then she turned and in two leaps she was inside Weir's office. She knelt and checked the bodies, but she could already see it was too late for her to do anything for them. In two bounds she was back out again.

She saw Kolya. "You are the leader." Kolya stood his ground as she addressed him directly. She growled in a low voice, "Not once. Not once has anyone ever dared to cross that portal in anger. No Wraith, no mortal, no one. Not one single time, not once in ten millennia. And now, you, you pathetic wretches, you come marching in here with your gas projectile weapons, and you.. you DARE to enter and defile this place!"

She started walking towards Kolya. "I might have spared your lives if you did not kill those innocent men, men who were under my personal protection. Your life is now forfeit. In fact, death is too good for you.."

Kolya read from a small piece of paper that he had previously palmed in his left hand.

"Domina doraitus parere."

The Guardian froze in mid-stride.

Kolya lowered the piece of paper and studied her. She remained perfectly still like a store-window mannequin. He snapped his fingers in front of her unblinking and unseeing eyes.

"Hmm. So that's what it does."

McKay tried go to the Guardian but a soldier held him back. "What did you do to her?"

Kolya started to fold up the piece of paper. "I was hoping this was a Control Word. Failing that, I assumed it was a Termination Command. It's just paralysis. Oh well."

He made a motion and two soldiers pulled McKay and Weir off to the side.

Koyla then bent over and picked up one of the machine guns that was lying on the floor. "An asset that I cannot control is of no use to me, so.." He pulled back the latch, pointed the machine gun at the Guardian, and fired, emptying the entire clip into her torso. Her body pitched backward and careened to the floor, falling behind one of the consoles.

McKay yelled, "NO!" He forcibly wrested himself from the grasp of one of the soldiers and ran to her side. Kolya ignored McKay as he handed off the still-hot machine gun to one of his subordinates. He then leaned down to confer privately with Landon, who had resumed his work at one of the other data stations.

Meanwhile, McKay rushed down to where the Guardian's body had fallen behind the console. He turned her body over and checked her vulnerable and exposed torso where the heavy cloak had failed to protect her. He saw that the thin white garment she was wearing was heavily dented with several circular depressions, some deep, but he did not see any visible rips or tears in the fabric. Still, the damage of the high speed bullet impacts to her mid-section had to be severe, and he knew that she must have suffered some serious injuries to her internal organs.

He rolled her to the side to detach the cloak from around her shoulders. He then rolled her on her back and covered her body with it like a sheet, hoping no one had yet noticed the lack of holes or blood. He couldn't tell if she was breathing or not.

He took a deep breath, then he quickly stood up from behind the console.

He turned and faced Kolya, "You goddamn bastard! You killed her!"

His reaction was not entirely an act. He wasn't sure if she was even alive.

Kolya was still bent over a console while conferring with his second officer. He stood up. "'Her'? Doctor McKay, that is a machine."

"She's not a machine you monster!"

"That thing is a programmed weapon. It is a pity. It would have been of great service to the Genii."

Weir stepped forward. "You just murdered our best hope of stopping the Wraith."

"Murdered? Tell me, Doctor Weir, what have you done with this ancient weapon? How many cullings have you stopped with it? How many Wraith ships have you attacked? Have you done anything to stop them? I already know the answer. The answer is no. You have done nothing except sit on your asses in your magical city, all safe and sound with your protective Guardian, doing nothing about the Wraith as you watched while the heavens above you burn."

He took a step towards her, his voice low. "Doctor Weir, unlike you, we fight. We will take the fight to the enemy. We have accelerated our nuclear weapons program. We will take your flying ships, and we will arm them with our nuclear weapons, and we will fly them into the hive ships. We will take your supplies of medicines and C4 explosives, supplies that are vitally needed for the war effort - supplies that you refused to share with us."

"That's because you betrayed us, tried to capture my people, hold them hostage."

"Because you refused to help. You wouldn't even agree to do a joint reconnaissance mission with us to board a hive ship with one of your invisible flying ships to gather intelligence."

"We already explained that to Cowen. It wasn't necessary. We told him that our Guardian has already raided Wraith hive ships, innumerable times in fact. She could have told you anything you needed to know about those ships! Look, you want to stop the Wraith? So do we. And we're your best hope of doing that. So turn around and leave now, before anyone else gets hurt, and maybe we'll find a way for us to work together some day."

"Work together with you? Why? Your people caused this. You came to this galaxy. You woke up the Wraith. They are now culling worlds everywhere at a rate never seen in history. So no, Doctor Weir, we will not be working together."

Kolya turned and addressed one of his men. "Take that thing and put it with the other two bodies."

McKay yelled, "Don't you touch her!"

Kolya turned back and made a small smile. "You are a sentimentalist. Very well, you may take it.. her? to the other room. I will give you two minutes of privacy with your precious Guardian to say whatever words will give you comfort. Then come back here or I'll have you dragged out."

A walkie-talkie on Kolya's belt crackled. "Sir, the armory is empty."

Kolya lifted it and pressed a button. "Say again."

McKay proceeded to drag away the Guardian's body, being careful to keep her covered. Nobody was paying attention to him.

"It's been cleaned out. Nothing is here."

Another crackle. "The medical center has been stripped. Some boxes of bandages and blankets were left behind. No medicines or vaccines."

A third soldier walked up, somewhat out of breath. "The hanger above us is empty. I counted 12 bays, all unoccupied."

Kolya turned and glared at Weir. "What is the meaning of this?"

Weir gave him a mock innocent look. "Hmm?"


McKay pulled the Guardian's body past the two dead soldiers, carefully positioning it behind Weir's desk so that only her white boots were visible from outside the office's windows.

He kneeled and pulled back the cloak/shroud from her face. Her eyes were still wide open, her pupils fixed and dilated, staring at nothing.

"G, you in there?" He put his ear next to her nose and mouth. "Oh thank god you're alive." She was barely breathing.

He kneeled next to her. "C'mon, G, snap out of it. Please wake up. Please.."

He gently shook her shoulder. "C'mon, wake up. Can you hear me? I really need a sign. Anything."

He had an idea. He gently pulled off her U-shaped tiara.

{ ..NEY TAKE IT OFF! RODNEY TAKE IT OFF! }

He winced. "Ow! Geez, you don't have to shout so loud."

{ Oh praise the Maker. Rodney, what's happening? I can't move! }

"The Genii raided us. The head guy said some magic words and you just froze."

{ I did? Is everyone else all right? }

"McPherson and Schmidt are dead. Weir and I are hostages. Sheppard is still out there. I'm sure he heard it on his headset."

{ John is a good soldier. Follow his lead. }

"Right."

{ Rodney, I can feel my corneas drying out. Can you please close my eyes for me? }

He placed a hand over her face and gently lowered her eyelids. With her eyes closed she looked dead. It gave him chills.

McKay sensed something. "You're in pain."

{ It's nothing; I'm fine. }

"You're a rotten liar. I can tell you're really hurting."

{ How badly am I injured? }

"They riddled you with bullets. No holes, but it looks like a hailstorm across your front. It looks pretty bad."

{ My liver feels like paste. I think there's internal bleeding too. I can't heal anything yet. }

"How long will this paralysis last?"

{ I don't know! I didn't know anyone could do that to me! }

"Okay, okay, just stop shouting. Uh, I got most of your body hidden behind Weir's desk. If you start to come out of it, don't wiggle your feet. If they see you moving even a tiny bit they'll put a bullet in your head."

{ All right. Rodney, when I come out of this, you need to know that I already burned up a lot of energy getting here. After I stop the internal bleeding I can try to help you.. }

"No, no, no. You're all busted up, and you need to heal. Concentrate on that. Let Sheppard and me handle it."

{ I didn't reach the fourth grounding station. I'm sorry. }

"I know. It's okay. You did your best."

{ Rodney, you also need to write that power-routing subroutine for the shield program. I was going to help you complete it. }

"I'm on it. You just try to heal yourself."

{ I feel so useless. }

"It's okay." He kissed her cheek. "Just stay still."

{ Uhm, Rodney? }

"Yeah?"

{ Do you remember what I said to you? In the conference room? }

"Of course."

{ About that.. }

A Genii soldier entered the office. "You! The Commander wants to see you."

McKay stood up from behind the desk. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming. Keep your pants on."

{ Be careful. }


The soldier pulled McKay over to Kolya. McKay tried to look annoyed. "Yeah, what do you want?"

Kolya turned to address him. "Doctor Weir is not being cooperative. I am hoping that you will be more compliant."

"Who, me? I don't know anything. I'm just a scientist."

"You are a senior member of this expedition. Tell me, why are all the supplies missing? How did you know we were coming?"

McKay ignored him and addressed Weir. "Elizabeth, I think we should just tell Commander Numnutz here what's going on. I need to start working on that shield program."

Weir turned to Kolya. "I want your assurance first that Major Sheppard won't be harmed."

"That depends on what you have to offer me, Doctor Weir."

"Elizabeth, we need to hurry. Sheppard needs to get to that last station."

Kolya asked, "What is going on here? Why all the urgency?"

McKay lost it. He stabbed a finger at the smashed glass behind the gate where the howling wind was driving in sheets of rain through it. "Look out the window, you moron! This city is going to sink!"


{ Rodney, can you hear me? I got my eyes working now but I still can't see anything under this blanket. What's going on? }

McKay looked up from the console with a startled expression. Ladon Radim was standing over him observing his work at the computer station. "Something the matter, Doctor?"

"Uh, no, everything is fine. Peachy keen." McKay looked back down at the keyboard. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate.

{ Hello? }

{ Good, Rodney. I hear you. It's faint. What's happening? }

{ Sheppard decoupled the last grounding station. He killed some of Mr. Numnutz's men and they're both pretty pissed at each other, a Mexican Standoff. He disabled the power to the sensors so they can't track him. }

{ Is John okay? }

{ I'm sure he'll be fine. Look, I'm kind of stuck on how to program this odd/even buffer interleave. I have the odd numbered shield emitters already turned off, and I tried cross-connecting the odd buffers to the even ones, but it's not working. }

{ That's because the buffers alternate, with the even ones having their power outputs running clockwise around the shield perimeter while the odd ones go counterclockwise. The power inputs run conversely on the opposite sides. }

{ Sheesh, I should have checked for that. Working on it. }

{ You're doing great, Rodney. I have faith in you. }


Kolya yelled over the howling wind, "McKay! I thought you said this was going to work!"

McKay was completely fed up with him. "Look, Commander Numnutz, I don't know if you noticed it or not yet but I am an extremely arrogant man who thinks all his plans will work!"

Kolya decked him. He turned to address Ladon, who was still busy looking at a display monitor on the wall. "Radim, report!"

"It's coming. It's huge. Two minutes."

"Dial the gate. Everyone out!" Kolya grabbed Weir by the neck. "You're coming with me, a small payment for your debt to us." He pointed at one of his few remaining soldiers. "You, bring Doctor McKay."

Weir struggled, "Let me go!"

Ladon peered through the empty gate portal and looked out past the broken window behind it. He was completely stunned as he watched a wall of water approach the city that was well over 100 meters high, and building even higher. He quickly dialed the gate.

At that moment Sheppard barged in with a P90, one that he had earlier salvaged from the practice shooting range out on the North Pier. The soldier who was moving to fetch McKay had spotted him and the two exchanged automatic weapons fire. Meanwhile, Ladon dived through the gate. Sheppard finally hit the solider in the shoulder as his only clip emptied out. He dropped the P90 and drew out his personal pistol as he saw Kolya head towards the gate holding Weir in front of him with his own pistol on her.

As Kolya backed towards the open gate he said, "Sheppard, stay back. I know you won't risk hurting her."

Sheppard kept pointing his gun. "Who says I'm aiming at her?" Sheppard then did exactly what he was trained to do in exactly this kind of situation, the standard operational technique that was universally drilled into every sharpshooter by every military the world over, the one and only guaranteed way to render a hostage taker ineffective who was using a human shield:

Shoot the central nervous system.

Kolya's head snapped back as his body fell into the open gate.

Sheppard rushed up to Weir. "You okay?"

"N-No. Not really."

"You will be. Sorry for the mess."

McKay yelled from his console, "I got it! It's charging!"

Sheppard ran to the open window. Lighting was striking everywhere in the city as the wall of watery death loomed up. "McKay, do it now!"

"It hasn't reached ignition yet!"

"Do it! Do it!"

Suddenly the shield rose, arcing majestically overhead as megatons of water washed into it. McKay thought he saw the shield actually deform and bend slightly under the onslaught of churning water, but it might have been his imagination.

He began doing a mental count as the gargantuan wave rolled past each of the even numbered shield sectors, with each sector surging with power as it drew upon its respective buffer pair.

One thousand nine, one thousand ten, one thousand eleven..

At that point he saw the towering wall of water flow across the lateral bisection of the city. 11 seconds, halfway.

That meant 22 seconds total.

The buffers were spec'ed at 14 seconds.

Not enough.


The next day

"G, good, you're awake."

"Rodney..?"

"You know, we've got to stop meeting like this."

McKay and the Guardian were both in the now-restocked infirmary. An IV glucose line was in a vein in the Guardian's left arm.

The Guardian rubbed her eyes and asked, "How bad was it?"

McKay crossed his arms as he stood next to her cot. "Your specs were off."

"They were? I'm sorry.."

"The buffers held for 23 seconds."

"Really?"

"Yeah. The Ancient engineers overbuilt it, went way beyond the published specs."

"I see. Well, the shield has always been very important to us, so I suppose it's not surprising if they went a bit overboard during its actual construction."

"Lucky for us they weren't exaggerating for once. So how are you feeling?"

"Much better. I lost a lot of blood but I think I'm okay now."

"Good. I'll take you to the mess hall as soon as Beckett springs you." He chuckled, "I bet you're hungry as a horse."

The Guardian looked confused. "A horse? What is that?"

"Huh? You don't know what a horse is?"

"I never heard of it. Is that a creature of some kind?"

"Oh c'mon, we're in the Pegasus Galaxy for crying out loud. Pegasus literally means 'horse'. This is the fargin' Horse Galaxy. You have to know what a horse is."

The Guardian gave him a sardonic look as she lifted her arm in front of her with the IV still inserted in it. She opened up her imaging disk. It whirred and stopped on an image.

Her eyes boggled. "What is that!?***"

McKay leaned over and looked. "A horse."

"It's.. it's magnificent!"


The Guardian and Teyla were seated together at a four-person table in the mess hall. They were both looking at the Guardian's wrist imager as they excitedly watched a sequence of pictures of various equestrians that were in the Atlantis Expedition's database from Earth.

McKay and Sheppard were seated across from them eating their tasteless tava bean soup as they quietly watched the two women look excitedly at pictures of horses.

Teyla pointed. "Oh! Stop! What is that one?"

"They call that an Arabian."

"It is so beautiful!"

"I know! Now look at this one. See the human next to it for scale?"

"That is huge!"

"They call that a Clydesdale."

"Incredible. You say that these creatures are all tame?"

The Guardian said excitedly, "Oh yes. They are strong, docile, have great stamina, and are very intelligent. Nothing like a Mastadge."

The Mastadge was the universal beast of burden in the Pegasus Galaxy. It was similar to a semi-untamed hairy camel: smelly, slow, ugly, and it liked to bite.

The Guardian explained, "Not only can they plow a field far better than a Mastadge, they can be ridden great distances as well."

Teyla asked, "Ridden?"

"Yes, see this photograph? The rider on top?"

"Oh!"

"The human societies at level 2 even used them in large numbers as ridden warbeasts, calling them 'cavalry'."

Teyla shook her head. "I cannot dream of abusing such a beautiful animal like that. I so wish I had one. I would groom it, talk to it, ride it every day.."

Sheppard held his head propped up in his hands as he watched the two women continue to gush over various photos of stallions, mares, colts, and fillies.

"McKay, tell me, what is it with girls and horses?"

McKay had his own head propped up.

"I have absolutely no idea."


Elizabeth Weir was busy talking with Grodin in the gate room when the Guardian excitedly ran up to her.

"Doctor Weir! Doctor Weir!"

Weir looked up and saw that the Guardian was pulling a man along behind her by the wrist. The man was tall and lanky, and he was wearing an Atlantis bomber jacket with blue vertical bands that indicated that he was a scientist. The man had a bemused look on his face because of his apparent kidnapping by the Guardian.

"Yes, Genie? What is it?"

"Doctor Weir, this is Doctor Parrish. He is a botanist and an agriculture specialist."

"I know who Doctor Parrish is."

"He told me something absolutely amazing!"

"Did he now?"

"Yes! He just told me how your people on Earth performed an absolute miracle."

"A miracle?"

"Oh yes, how you managed to feed seven billion people on a single world with surplus food left over. That is a feat that far surpasses anything my people have ever done in all of recorded history."

"Is it?"

Doctor Parrish helpfully explained, "She asked me about the types of food crops that we grow on Earth. I told her about the Green Revolution: Norman Borlaug and his creation of high-yield varieties [HYVs] of cereal grains, semi-dwarf rice [IR8], modern soybeans and corn.."

"Doctor Weir, the Green Revolution saved billions. Your food crops on Earth are a true miracle."

"Oh, I guess I can see why you would think of them that way. I admit I never really thought of our crops like that."

"Doctor Weir, I don't understand something. Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution have saved countless lives on your world, literally billions of them, more than any other human being had saved in all of your world's history combined, and more than the death tolls of all your recorded wars combined. So tell me, why is it that I cannot find any statues of him in your database? No great monuments? No museums? I found many tributes to your war leaders, to Roman emperors, to American presidents, but nothing honoring him. Why is that?"

Weir shrugged, "I really don't know."

Parrish spoke up, "I have to agree with her. Norman Borlaug's work in the 1960s and 1970s in India, Brazil, Mexico, Africa, and elsewhere, his Green Revolution, really did save Earth from mass starvation. Hardly anyone appreciates just how significant his work actually was."

Sheppard walked into the gate room and saw the commotion on the main floor. He decided to join the group. "Hey, what's up?"

"John! Look at this!" The Guardian's imager brought up a picture of a plant with a green husk that was about fifteen centimeters long. The husk was peeled back to reveal rows of hundreds and hundreds of small yellow nodules that were attached in several neat and straight rows along a central shaft of cellulose.

"I see. Corn. Very nice."

"Look how big it is! And it grows incredibly fast. It thrives in a temperate climate with minimal tending and only moderate watering. It's packed with carbohydrates, and it can be dried for long term storage.."

".. and it is great for making popcorn."

"We need to get some!"

"I know. We really need some more for movie nights."

"No, no, no, no. I mean we need the seeds for this amazing crop, as much as we can get, for distribution and planting."

"Oh?"

"Yes! We need to distribute the seeds for these miracle crops to as many worlds as possible. Don't you understand? Over ninety percent of the human population in the Pegasus Galaxy live as hunter/gatherers or subsistence farmers, with hardly any food surplus. Even advanced worlds like New Athos depend upon hunting and fishing to supplant protein needs. Look at this!" Her imager whirled. "Soybeans! They are loaded with protein!"

Weir tried to calm down the excitable girl. "Okay, okay. Great, wonderful. Thank you for the Ag lesson. Say, why don't you draw up a list? McKay has an idea for sending a message back to Earth. We can include your Ag list on it."

"Oh, I will, I will! Parrish, come with me!" She dragged away the botanist while Weir and Sheppard looked on with bemused expressions on their faces.

Sheppard turned to Weir and said wryly, "Don't tell her about bacon. Her head will probably explode."


Laura Cadman and one of her posse, a Marine named Mary, were standing in line together in the mess hall holding their empty lunch trays while waiting their turn to reach the serving station. They saw McKay and the Guardian ahead of them holding their own trays.

They were having a heated discussion about the Van der Waals force.

"Rodney, it's more evidence."

"Oh come on, G."

"It's another example of a deliberate design hack. An obvious one."

"Aw, it's just an epiphenomenon.."

"Rodney, I know handwaving when I see it, and your world's physics papers on the Van der Waals force are all like that. There is no proper working mathematical model for it using the basic principles of the Standard Model. Nobody on your world knows how it works. That's because it is a hack, a kludge, a necessary one."

"A necessary one?"

"Yes, one that makes ice float and proteins fold right."

"You make it sound like a mistake.."

"No, no, when I say 'kludge' or 'hack' I don't mean a mistake or a design error, but rather a special modification to the rules of physics, a necessary one, to make everything work right."

"For what?"

"For life, silly. To make ice float and make proteins fold right it is essential.."

The pair walked away to a table while they continued to bicker and argue about quantum physics.

Mary said quietly to Cadman, "Sheesh, look at them, they're joined at the hip."

Cadman looked on. She saw the pair sit at an isolated table as they continued their argument.

"Yeah, they are."

"Do you think they know?"

"Naw, they're both space cadets. Him especially."

"Everybody else on the base already knows.."

Cadman sighed, "They're both flying on the USS Clueless."

"Anyway, I wanted to tell you that Joanie and I have been keeping tabs on her like you asked."

"Good, thanks. I owe you guys one."

"Lose to me at poker tonight and I'll consider us even."

"Whoa, I'm not gonna thank you that much." Chocolate was far too precious.

"That's okay. I'll beat your ass anyway."

"Has any guy tried to hit on her yet?"

"No, not yet. The closest is maybe that ponytailed creep."

"Kavanagh? What's he done?"

"Nothing. He just hangs around her nearby in public spaces like this. It's happened too often to be coincidence."

"Where is he now? I don't see him."

"He's not here today."

"Has he spoken to her?"

"Nope, not yet."

"Well, if he does let me know."


"I call."

"Raise two."

"Fold."

Mary, Joanie, and Laura Cadman then waited for the Guardian to place her bet. She was wearing her off-duty sundress with a New York Mets baseball cap; her silver tiara could be seen underneath the cap.

The Guardian stared fiercely at her cards.

Joanie said, "C'mon, Genie, hurry up and bet."

"Uhm.. call."

Mary said, "Fold."

Cadman laid down her cards. "Kings over trips. What have you got, Genie?"

"Pair of fours."

"I win again." Cadman pulled in the pot of chips.

The Guardian protested, "Laura, I don't have any chocolate. How am I going to pay this debt to you?"

"I'll just keep running your tab."

"But it is becoming so large."

"Just keep playing. You'll catch on."

The Guardian sighed, "I really wanted to taste some chocolate. I've never tried it."

Mary and Joanie gave Cadman a look. They knew that if the girl with the bottomless appetite ever had a bite of that delicious confection that the base's entire chocolate supply would be in peril.

Cadman shuffled the cards. "Just keep at it. This is good practice for you." She started to deal.

As she dealt the cards she asked, "Hey, Genie, can I ask you something?"

"Yes?"

"What's your real name?"

"I am the Guardian."

"No, I mean your *real* name."

"My real name?"

"C'mon, we're all friends now, right? My friends call me Laura, that's Mary, and that's Joanie. Who are you? Genie is just a nickname that Sheppard gave you."

The Guardian looked down. "I don't have a public name."

"So does that mean you have a private one?"

"Yes, I do."

"Well?"

"Laura, I am sorry but I can't reveal it. My father's family were traditionalists, and private names like that, True Names I mean, are shared only between close family and lovers, no one else. Even then it is only shared telepathically."

"Only telepathically between lovers? That sounds romantic."

"Oh, it is. Names like that are shared only during close intimacy."

Mary said, "Wow, that seems kinda hot."

The Guardian continued to explain, "Lanteans mate for life. It starts mentally."

Laura leaned in, "Really?"

"Yes. Physical intimacy is just a confirmation of what has already been shared by that point."

"So, do you folks get married?"

"No. The act of physical intimacy establishes the legal union. There is no formal ceremony required."

"That's a bummer. Weddings are fun."

"Well, there is a form of public confirmation or celebration that can happen years later, called the Bonding Celebration."

"A celebration, not a ceremony?"

"Correct. It is not anything legal or official. It is simply a celebration of the Bond, made by the friends and family of the mated pair."

Cadman heard the capital letter in the Guardian's pronunciation. "So what's this 'Bond' thing?"

"The Bond is a permanent and irrevocable mental connection that can grow between a mated pair. You see, after many years the pairs' minds grow closer and closer together. Eventually they become so close that they can complete each other's sentences while talking. Some time after that the Bond eventually forms, and their mental union becomes permanent."

"So, no divorce after that?"

"No. Once established the Bond can never be broken. It is rather rare actually; it takes many years to form, and many couples never reach that level. That is why it is greatly celebrated when it happens."

"That is really cool." Cadman finished dealing. "Five card stud, deuces wild."

The Guardian picked up her cards and stared at them fiercely again.


"You asked to see me, Doctor Weir?"

"Genie? Hi, come on in."

Weir closed the door. The Guardian sat in one of the visitor chairs. Weir sat in another one next to her. "Genie, I wanted to talk to you about our upcoming negotiations with the Vren."

"I heard. I understand they are being difficult."

"They are. Look, I want to try something. I won't do it unless you're comfortable with it."

"What do you need from me?"

"I'm going to have to conduct these negotiations on their turf, in person, and I don't expect that it will go well. So I'd like to work out a plan in advance, one that involves you, if you don't mind."

"Not at all. I am very much in your debt for saving my city on multiple occasions. What can I do for you?"

"You won't have to actually say or do much. Just you're showing up, or even just the threat of you showing up, might be enough."

The Guardian looked at Weir. "What do you mean?"

"I want to try a variation on Good Cop / Bad Cop. Basically I go in and act very reasonable as I try to conduct the negotiations without pushing anything too hard. I will then warn them that I work for an easily angered and rather immature Ancient Lantean girl with pre-Ascendant powers who hates hearing the world 'no'."

"Doctor Weir, I am not immature."

"I know that."

"And you don't work for me. We are allies."

"Yes, I know that too. The point is, I'll act like I work for you. When the negotiations hit a snag, and I think they will, I will hint to them that if they aren't more cooperative that you might get mad and gate in and start knocking some heads together."

"But I would never do that."

"That's where the acting comes in. When the negotiations stall, I want you to gate in and stomp around a bit, scare them by hinting that you might do something nasty to them if they don't become more cooperative, then leave. I'll take care of the rest."

"You want me to bluff them?" The Guardian thought back to her miserable track record playing poker with Cadman's posse. "I am very poor at bluffing."

"I'll write it all down for you. All you need to do is follow my script. You simply gate in, rant a bit, maybe blast some trees in frustration, then you leave. That's it."

"I don't know.."

"Genie, it would really help me a lot."

"You'll write it all down? Everything I have to say?"

"Yes. Just follow the script."

"I won't have to do anything else?"

"Not a thing. Just my letting them know you're out there, all angry and petulant at not getting your way, might be sufficient."

"All right. I'll do it."


Earth, two weeks later

General Jack O'Neill was busy working a New York Times crossword puzzle with a pencil when his office phone rang in the Pentagon.

He picked it up. "O'Neill."

"Hey Jack?" It was General Hank Landry of Stargate Command.

"Hey Hank. What's up?"

"Less than an hour ago we received an unscheduled gate activation. It only lasted about two seconds. Colonel Carter reported that it contained a highly compressed data transmission. She finished decompressing it about 40 minutes ago. Sir, the transmission was from Atlantis."

O'Neill's eyes lit up. "Hot damn. They made it. What did they say?"

"We're still going through it all. It's a lot of data, over a terabyte of video, still images, reports, and requests. Doctor Weir inserted an executive summary at the top. I'm sending the whole thing to you now, including some highlights as separate attachments."

O'Neill opened his Dell laptop. "I see it coming in. Just give me the summary."

"First of all, I am sorry to report that Colonel Sumner died in the line of duty. KIA."

"Damn. He was a good man. I'll start the paperwork and notify the next of kin."

"What about Major Sheppard?"

"We'll need to promote him. For now give him a field promo to lieutenant bird. I'll start the ball rolling on a permanent one."

"Is that a good idea, Jack? His Air Force file indicates that he sometimes doesn't follow orders, a bit of a renegade."

"Hey, so was I. Hmm, I'm reading Weir's summary now... holy donkey buckets. Things are really crazy over there. Yeah, he's perfect for the job."

"All right."

"Hank, I'm still reading this.. They got life sucking space vampires? Seriously?"

"I know, it's hard to believe. Carter's science team is pouring over everything right now."

"Crap. This is just great, just what we need. Dammit I got the Ori breathing down our necks, and now this?"

"Sorry. Is Daniel Jackson still in Giza?"

"Yeah. I just got a report from him. He states that he is, and I quote, 'guardedly optimistic,' unquote, that they'll find that ZPM in Egypt."

"We're gonna need it."

"Hey, what is this? Who's the hot blond babe princess?"

"Heh, you saw the attachment pic. That is the Guardian of Atlantis. She was already there."

"You mean the place was already occupied? That means we lost any salvage rights. Crap!"

"Sorry again."

"Does she want anything?"

"Yeah, she submitted a personal message, a request for us to send some stuff."

"What does she want? A company of Marines? AA guns? Some nukes to go blast those Wraith guys with?"

"Major Sheppard asked for those. She wants something else."

"Okay, fine. What does Her Probably Very Bitchy Royal Highness want from us then? Zat guns? Jaffa volunteers? Safeway coupons? What?"

"She wants us to send horses."

There was a pause.

O'Neill deadpanned, "Horses."

"Yep."

"They do not pay me enough for this."


A/N:

* Stargate: SG-1, Season 5 Episode 5, "Fail Safe"

** I watched the episode and timed the wavefront using a stopwatch.

*** To the best of my knowledge, a horse has never been shown on SGA.

I've been trying to write these stories from memory to avoid repeating scenes and dialog, but this two-part chapter was complicated enough that I had to go back and check a few scenes (e.g., the wave). When I watched the wave I wondered, 'Wait, how can the lightning work with that shield up?' So I made McKay do a faux pas that Genie caught and fixed it up so it would work.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Phone Call

General Jack O'Neill sat on the couch in his small Pentagon office with his Dell laptop open in front of him on the coffee table, searching and reading through the summary of the Atlantis data transmission. He pressed the phone handset closer to his ear using his shoulder as he continued to talk to General Hank Landry of Stargate Command.

"Hank, she wants a pony? Seriously?"

"Well.."

"She sounds like a spoiled brat. I bet Her Royal Whiny Bitchiness is driving Weir crazy."

"Sir, you need to read her full written request. It's the addendum to item 3.

"Item 3 addendum. I found it. Let's see: Two Arabians stallions and ten mares, two Clydesdale stallions and six mares, Thoroughbreds.. Is this a joke?"

"Apparently not."

"Where am I supposed to find horses, Hank? Does West Point even have horses anymore?"

"I don't know, do they?"

"I'm in the Air Force, not the Army, dammit. And what's with all this other stuff? One hundred and fifty bushels of seed corn, fifty bushels of plantable potatoes with eyes, one hundred bushels of Canadian winter triticale, thirty bushels of sorghum seed, soybeans.."

"That's what she wants."

"We're the damn military, not Farm & Fleet. What's all this stuff for?"

"Something about how it will revolutionize life in the Pegasus Galaxy."

O'Neill thought a moment. "Is there video of her? I wanna see it."

"Item 3, just after Sheppard's sitrep."

"Found it. I'm playing the video. She's sitting in a chair reading from a piece of paper. I don't have the sound up and I can already tell she's nervous as hell."

He continued to fast-forward through the silent video as the Guardian shifted uncomfortably in her chair. At one point she fumbled with the sheet. She was looking down at the piece of paper and avoiding eye contact with the camera. "Geez, look at her. I thought Ancients were supposed to be cocky arrogant SOBs. I kinda feel sorry for the poor kid."

"Sir, that 'kid' is 10,000 years old, and she is the legal sovereign of the Principality of Atlantis."

Another pause.

"Excuse me?"

"It's right there in Weir's summary. She claims that the girl's official title is 'The Guardian of Atlantis', and that the title indicates that the girl is the legal head of state representing the Ancients and the Nation of Atlantis.

O'Neill stood up. He was sputtering. "What.. what.. head of state? This is nuts. What the hell is Weir thinking? Does she have any idea the kinds of complications.."

"Hold on a second, Jack." He heard Landry lower the phone. "What is it, Walter?"

After a few seconds O'Neill heard Landry again. "We have a new problem."

O'Neill sat back down on the couch. "Geez, now what?"

"Mr. Woolsey is standing outside my office. He's demanding to know what all the commotion is about."

O'Neil was beside himself. "Hank, what the hell is Woolsey doing there?"

"Sorry Jack. He was in here visiting earlier this morning just before the transmission came in. I thought he had left the base by now."

O'Neill muttered, "The IOA. Frack me." He spoke up, "I completely forgot about those vultures. Hank, we gotta figure this out, and fast."

"Sir, I have a hunch that our good Doctor Weir is already several steps ahead of us."

"Yeah, I'm starting to see the big picture now." O'Neill had a pretty good guess about what Weir was doing. The girl could easily become a political football.

"So what do I do with Woolsey? He's right outside."

"Stiff him."

"Jack, he represents the IOA; I gotta say something. The treaty states that Atlantis and any of its technology must be shared.."

"Don't quote that damn treaty at me. Hmm, let me think a sec. I got it. For now, flood him. Dump the whole terabyte on him."

"The whole terabyte?"

"Yeah. In hardcopy."

"Hardcopy? Do you know how many pages.."

"Kill as many trees as you need and give him pallets of it. It'll stall him."

"Okay. Jack, you're becoming a real politician, you know that?"

"I know. Shoot me. Leave out Sheppard's sitrep. That's NTK classified. The treaty lets us redact OPSEC. Hmm, do me a favor and lose that girl's video too. I don't want Woolsey to see how nervous she was."

"Lose the girl's video? How?"

"Misfile it. Sheppard's sitrep is item 2, right? The girl's video is item 3. Do an 'oops' and mistakenly merge 2 and 3, then classify it."

"Uh.. okay. You're gonna hold my hand during our joint court-martial, I assume?"

"Don't worry. I'll schedule a meeting with the President, and after that it becomes his problem. Okay, let's stop a moment. Set aside the horses and seeds and crap for now; just tell me the military situation."

"You need to read Sheppard's sitrep. I've already started reading it and my hair's turning white."

"Hank, you are totally ruining my day." When O'Neill had woken up that morning he thought he was going to spend most of the day quietly doing crossword puzzles. He picked up his copy of the NYT, sighed, and dumped it in the trash bin. He then sat back down on the couch and pulled the laptop on the coffee table closer to him. "You want me to read item 2?"

"Yeah."

"I got it up. 'Report by Major John D Sheppard, USAF, on the situation at Dien Bien Phu.'"

Another pause.

"Sheppard wrote 'Dien Bien Phu'."

"Yep."

"Man, that says a lot."

"Yep."

The siege of Dien Bien Phu in 1954* was quite familiar to General O'Neill. Indeed, it was known to every US commander who had studied the tactics of modern warfare, the most important siege in modern military history after the Battle of Stalingrad.

In the Spring of 1954 the French had established a forward base deep in northern Vietnam, an isolated fortress that could be resupplied only by airdrops at night. Material and men could parachute in but not out again.

The terrain was difficult, and the base was soon bombarded mercilessly by the Viet Minh with artillery pieces they had brought in by digging tunnels through the surrounding high mountains, mountains that the French had thought to be impassible to large military weapons. The cannons were untouchable in the high distance.

The Viet Minh commander, General Giap, then sent a small number of volunteer scouts ahead to secretly infiltrate the base at night. There they learned the locations of the base's underground sleeping quarters, weapon depots, and other vulnerable areas. The scouts were quickly caught and killed, of course, but not before they radioed back their vital information to General Giap.

When Giap began the final ground assault the fighting was ferocious, with the Viet Minh suffering large casualties from the desperate French defenders as they repelled waves of attacks again and again. The Viet Minh kept coming, relentless, with seemingly infinite capacity to continue the fight as they targeted the base's most vital areas. After three months of intense fighting the fortress eventually fell, with the French government agreeing to withdraw all their forces from the Vietnam peninsula in a negotiated treaty that drew a line at the 17th parallel, creating North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

Sheppard had cleverly communicated a lot of information to General O'Neill with only those three words. O'Neill understood exactly what Sheppard meant: that the battle would be brutal, encircled, fighting against an enemy with unlimited resources, and that no amount of re-armament or re-supply, that no number of volunteers, nothing that Earth could send through that one-way portal, could save Atlantis from its ultimate defeat.

O'Neill thought back to the Guardian's list of agricultural items. The girl knew it too. She was asking for strategic supplies for other worlds, not her own.

His estimation of the Atlantean Princess went up several notches.

"I'll read the rest later; I already got the drift. Okay, let's assume that Daniel finds that ZPM in Eqypt and we can gate one-way and send them anything they want. Sheppard thinks even then they're still screwed."

"Yeah."

"Hmm. I'll call the war college. They'll game it out from there."

"Including with the new BC-304?"

"I'll have them add it in the mix, see what they can come up with."

"How's that going?"

"The Daedalus is currently undergoing space trials, milk runs out to Pluto and back. We'll rush the trials and get her into service ASAP."

"Can that thing even go inter-galactic?"

"Dunno. Even if it could it might take months, years. I'll ask Colonel Caldwell to talk to the Asgard rep about it. I might need to borrow Carter to see if she can help goose it up to go faster."

"No problem. You should see her down here. She's ecstatic."

"I bet. Access to a living Ancient. Oh wow, I forgot about Daniel. He will lose his ever loving mind, heh."

"If you send a relief team to Pegasus they'll both want to go."

O'Neill stood up again. "Absolutely not. I don't want any high value personnel to go within a hundred-thousand light-years of Dien Bien Phu. Not until we get the security situation under better control. Right now it's a one-way trip, and I have a hard enough time as it is thinking about sending Marines on a potential suicide mission."

"Understood. Carter is still going to want to write up a list of questions to send back."

"No doubt. I'm sure Daniel will need his own pallet for his. You think you can send a transmission back?"

"Uncertain. Carter said Doctor McKay's summary item failed to explain how he sent the message in the first place."

"Typical egghead. Well, you have your homework, and I have mine. Keep me in the loop as things develop. I'll call you tomorrow after I discuss it with the President."

"Sure thing. Bye Jack."

O'Neill hung up the phone. He got up from the couch and walked over to the Krups machine. He started a K-cup, extra strong. While it was perking he pushed the button on the intercom. "Cheri, call the White House and ask them if they can squeeze me in tomorrow for about 10 minutes with the President."

"Sir, President Hayes left this morning on Air Force One for the China summit."

"Oh, he did?"

"Sir, it was in all the newspapers."

"It was?" He muttered, "Who has time to read newspapers.."

"Would you like me to schedule a meeting with the Vice President instead?"

"Kinsey? C'mon, Cheri, you know I can't stand that scumbag." Vice President Robert Kinsey was probably the last person on Earth that O'Neill had wanted to talk to, second only to Woolsey, regarding the political aspects of dealing with the Guardian**.

"Call the White House Office of Communications and see if they can set up a Skype call to AF1 with President Hayes, about 10 minutes, any time is fine."

"Yes, sir."

O'Neill walked back to the Krups machine and poured a cup of steaming hot coffee into his mug.

You poor girl...

He turned to look out the window at the bustling DC skyline.

Earth. Sprawling, chaotic, a madhouse. With hundreds of countries, each with its own political agenda, spying, back-stabbing, probably the most Byzantine planet in the universe.

Yeah, Earth should scare you all right. It scares me too.

He put on his Air Force hat and headed out.


A/N:

* See The Battle of Dien Bien Phu on Wikipedia.

** In this timeline Kinsey did not resign after the events in Season 7 Episode 22 ("Lost City, Part 2").

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: True Names

10,000 years ago. The End of the Lantean-Wraith War

The Keeper lifted the broken gate ship from the water and moved it onto the South Pier. Several curious Lantean citizens had gathered to watch the progress of the recovery operation. They were kept back behind a protective energy barrier.

A tall man wearing a white and brown tunic ran up. He stepped through the barrier and asked anxiously, "Were there any survivors inside?"

A faceless Keeper approached him. { Yes. One female. }

"Take her to my lab at once."


The woman awoke on the examination table. "Where am I?"

The man wearing white and brown was looking down at her with a benevolent expression. He asked her softly, "How do you feel?"

She ignored him as she tried to sit up. "Where are Major Sheppard and Doctor Zelenka..?"

He gently kept her down on the examination table. "Please, relax. I am sorry. You were the only survivor."

"Survivor..? What.."

"What is the last thing you remember?"

"The shield had failed.. the city was imploding under the water.."

"It was? Tell me everything."

"I don't understand. What's going on?"

The man said soothingly, "I will answer all your questions in good time. You are safe now, as safe as you can be. Please, tell me everything."


High Councillor Moros asked the woman, "You say that you are from Terra?"

Weir stood and respectfully addressed the High Councillor. She was wearing a white smock. "Yes, sir. From Earth."

The man in brown and white who was sitting next to her stood and beamed. "Isn't it extraordinary? Atlantis will still stand 10,000 years from now. Our actions will succeed in protecting the city."

Moros said sternly, "Janus, you were told not to tamper with time. Causality is not to be treated so lightly."

"Sir, no one's treating it lightly."

Moros scowled at him. "You are, with your insistence on continuing these experiments despite the condemnation of this Council. We ordered you to cease these activities, and yet here we sit face to face with a visitor from the future who arrived here in the very machine you agreed not to construct!"

"But now we know that the evacuation will succeed. The city will be safe, and one day our kind will return.."

"Enough! I am hereby ordering the confiscation of this time travel device and all materials connected with its design." He addressed Weir, "Madam, you are welcome to return to Terra with us and live among our people, but for the safety of future causality I am sorry to inform you that you will not be returning to yours."


Janus walked alongside Weir back to the lab. "I'm very sorry."

Weir protested, "But.. but I can't just let everyone die. You have to give me a ZPM, send me back! Please!"

He put a finger to his lips. "Shhsh. I've already taken measures. Would you like to see?"

"What measures?"

"Hold my hand." They were walking together down a deserted and nondescript hallway in a remote section of the city. He entered a dead-end hallway and stopped. "Follow me." He tapped three wall sconces along the hallway in quick succession, then he pulled her along.

She gasped as he marched right towards a solid blank wall, pulling her close behind. She shut her eyes tightly in anticipation of crashing into the wall, but it didn't happen. She opened her eyes again.

He was still holding her hand as she gazed around the room. It was full of exotic instruments and incomprehensible artifacts.

Together they approached the Time Acceleration Chamber. He said, "Look."

"Oh, it's fantastic."

"You see inside?"

"Yes. What is it?"

"The future."


Alarms sounded. Weir asked, "Janus, what's happening?"

The Lantean scientist said, "Come quickly. We have run out of time; we must go to the gate room." He pulled Weir along behind him as he explained, "The report just came in. All but one of our remaining battleships were destroyed along with our peace embassy. We only have the one battleship overhead. I am afraid that things will get rather bumpy soon."

They reached the gate room where several Lanteans were busy at the controls. A woman with Asian features was standing near the main console. She ordered, "Initiate the escape program. Launch the city."

There was a tremendous roar as the floor shook. Weir became frightened and held Janus tightly. He reassured her, "Don't worry. We're just taking a short trip around the planet, making the Wraith think that we are fleeing the system."

"We're tricking the Wraith?"

"Yes."

"But what if it doesn't work?"

"It will. Trust me."


"Shhsh." They were standing on the balcony just outside the gate room looking at the underwater view. Janus was at her side, and together they looked up at the ocean from underneath. There was no indication of any disturbance to the water from above.

The Wraith fleet had departed from Lantea in search of the fleeing city-ship, which had flown around to the back of the planet where it had faked a jump into hyper-space, only to secretly return back to the same ocean, almost back to same the original spot, which was only 50 kilometers away.

"You see? It worked, just like I said it would. Look up there. Isn't it beautiful?"

Weir looked up at the rippling underside of the sea. "Yes, it is."

He turned. "I have so many more sights to show you."

"We're going to Earth."

"Yes. We have no choice. It is the only gate address left that is not controlled by the Wraith. It connects back to your galaxy, to your original home."

"But for me that was 10,000 years in my past."

"I know. Terra today is cold, desolate, primitive. Not a nice place. Don't worry, we won't be staying there long."

"We won't?"

"No."

"Why not? You just said there was no where else to go."

"There isn't. Except for one other."

"Where?"

"The correct answer is 'when'. I intend to rebuild my time machine."

"But I thought the Council had confiscated it and all records on how to build it."

"Yes, they did."

"So you can't..?"

"Oh yes I can." He tapped his head.

"But will they let you?"

"Oh, I think they will. You see, I will promise them that I will go only forward in time, never back. That is no different than a relativistic journey in a near lightspeed ship. No violation of causality; it should be fine."

"But where will you go?"

"We can go wherever and whenever you would like to go."

"We..?"

"Yes. The ultimate journey. The greatest adventure."

He held her hand. "Elizabeth, come with me. Let's see it together. The greatest journey even taken."

"Janus.."

He turned away. "I am sorry, but I have a confession to make. I am afraid that I have made a serious error in my calculations."

She smiled at him. "Oh? You have?"

He turned back and approached again. "Yes, I did. I made the mistake of falling in love with you."

She gave him a knowing look. "Yes, you did." She chided him in a mocking tone, "Janus, you do realize that this is a serious violation of the strict laws of Lantean society. I hear that it is a capital offense even."

He sighed as he held her, "Oh, I know, but I've never been a stickler for following the rules." He looked into her eyes. "And where we are going, well, let's just say that I have a suspicion that you and I won't be the only ones who will be violating it."

She laughed. Then she asked, "The future.. can I see my own time?"

"Possibly, but only in secret. We must never interfere. If the others come with us they will insist on that."

"The others.."

"I have a feeling that the others will want to go with us, into the far future. You see, our kind can no longer Ascend. No one knows why. So I will give them an alternative way to escape, one they will find irresistible: to escape through time instead. Even if the Wraith some day arrive to invade the Milky Way galaxy, dominate it completely, and even Terra itself, we will simply keep accelerating through time, faster and faster, further and further, fleeing from all our enemies, leaving them farther and father behind, until they turn to dust and are no more."

"It makes us sound like cowards. We are leaving nothing for those left behind?"

"Oh, but we will leave something behind. This city. For posterity. For your people. It will survive, a gift. And it will be guarded and protected in the strongest way possible, a living gift, to you and your people, for them and their posterity as well."

"A living gift."

"Yes, you saw. The Subject, being prepared."

"I saw it. The device you attached to her head, you uploaded all that into her mind? All that information?"

"Yes. We call it an Instruction Machine, a standard device that we use to teach Lantean children and give them information. It is quite safe for a Lantean mind to use. It will fill her mind with everything she needs to learn about us, our history, our knowledge, everything she needs to know."

"Everything?"

"Well, the good parts. No need to, shall we say, dwell on past mistakes."

"Are you going to awaken her before we go?"

"Oh yes, I will say a final goodbye to her. You see, even this old scientist is sentimental. She and I have talked many times during the past year. I now think of her as my daughter, so yes, I will say goodbye. It will be hard.."

"Janus, can I please meet her? Maybe I can tell her about my people, what to expect..?"

"No, that might create a another causality loop, and I am in enough trouble with Moros as it is. I am afraid that she can never meet you. Well, I think she will one day meet 'you', but not you, rather a different 'you'.."

She interrupted him. "Wait, you just said 'another causality loop'? Another one? What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, uhm.. " Janus nervously pulled at his collar. "Well.."

Weir said crossly, "Janus! You've done this before!"

He smiled meekly, "Nothing gets past you, does it? Yes, I am sorry. You see, you wouldn't have survived 10,000 years in the Time Retardation Chamber."

"Me? What do you mean?"

"Well, after I had sent you off the first time, I did some re-calculations and I realized that as a mere human that it was very possible that you would not survive the full 10,000 years, possibly even much less - a stroke or a heart attack could have easily killed you at any time. So I went back and tried again. This time I created a candidate that was effectively immortal.."

"Wait, you went back and did it twice?"

"I am so sorry, Elizabeth. I know. I should never have allowed you to go."

"Why..?"

"I did it because I loved you even then. I had seen the look in your eye as you stood at this very balcony, the tear that I saw fall from your eye almost every night, how much you wanted to go back to be with your people again. You wanted it so much. I was heartbroken as I watched. So I tried to give you back want you wanted, as best I could. I sent you back to the future just like you asked."

He looked down. "I missed you so much, more than I ever realized I would. I had such regret." He looked up again. "I worried that you probably did not survive the journey to reach your people again, and so eventually I had to come back. This time I found a way to save your people without sacrificing your life, one that I know will work this time. I'm certain of it."

"It will? You'll save my people? For certain this time?"

"Yes. I promise."

"Then.. then thank you." She came to a decision. "All right, as long as I know that my people will be safe, then yes, I will go with you. I have no regrets."

"Elizabeth.."

"Just promise me one thing. No more going back in time after this?"

"I promise. I'll never do it again."

"All right." She gazed out at the ocean and its underwater wonders. She sighed at the beauty of it, "I look forward to our journey." She turned. "Together."

"Thank you.." He looked down in shame, "I'm sorry."

She approached him and poked her finger in his chest. "You are a very naughty boy, you know." He raised his head up again and smiled.

He gently set aside her finger and gave her a knowing look. "I am sure you will always keep reminding me of that."

She approached him with a twinkle in her eye. "Oh yes. I will. Every chance I get."


The seal on the Time Acceleration Chamber opened with a hiss. The girl jumped out of it, her eyes eager. She leapt into his arms.

{ Father! }

{ Hello, my little _ _ _. }

{ What are we doing to do today? More TK tests? Mental tests? }

{ No, not today. }

{ I feel so much stronger now. I think I could even float a Mastadge into the air. }

{ I'm sure you could. }

{ Father, what's wrong? }

{ It's time. The others have already left through the portal. Only you and I remain. }

{ It is time? So soon? }

{ Yes, it is. }

{ So you think I am ready, then? }

{ Yes, my child. You are. }


She stood at the open portal, tall and proud, wearing the white uniform that he had given her.

{ Father, I love you. I'll be waiting for you. }

"I know, my darling _ _ _."

{ You will contact me on every anniversary? }

"If I can. It requires a large amount of energy to establish the link, so it will ultimately depend on the permission of the Council. But if they will allow it, then yes, I will."

{ I will wait, every year. }

He wiped away a tear. { Just remember, _ _ _, there will always be someone watching you. Never forget that. }

{ So you have told me many times. } Then she added, { Father, can I ask you one last question? }

{ Anything. }

{ After you leave, will it be you who will be watching me? }

He wiped his face. { I honestly don't know. But if I can watch you, I promise I will. }

{ Then I will climb up to the city rooftops every chance I get, and will I look up so you can see me. }

{ That is good. Goodbye, my little _ _ _. }

{ Father, goodbye! I love you! }

He left.


Atlantis, present day

The Guardian sighed as she stirred her tava bean soup while sitting across the table from Laura Cadman in the mess hall. "Ugh, why did I have to do that embarrassing video? It felt like seven billion pairs of eyes were watching me." She shivered slightly.

Cadman ate her own soup as she recalled the video shoot. She had been standing in the back of the room when they filmed the Guardian's message. "You were a bit nervous, but I thought you did great."

"You think it was okay?"

"Definitely. I thought you were very persuasive."

"Really?"

"Hey, you looked like a Disney princess right out of Walt Disney central casting." Cadman mockingly held her hand to her forehead like a damsel in distress. "Sirs, please help me!"

The Guardian scowled at Cadman's exaggerated pose. "I did not say that."

"Trust me, the military will be tripping over themselves to give you anything you want."

"They will?"

"For a space princess? Oh yeah."

The Guardian stirred her soup. "Well, I just hope Doctor Weir knows what she's doing. I have serious misgivings about all this, and not just that video. Her claiming that I am the 'head of state' was ridiculous. }

"It's true, isn't it? You're the head boss of the Lanteans, right?"

"Laura, how can I be the head of a nation that consists of exactly one individual?"

"Look, when it comes to anything related to Earth politics, you just follow Weir's lead. Trust me on that."

"I certainly will." The Guardian put down her furcacultro as she wrapped her arms around herself, shivering again. "To be honest, your world terrifies me."

"Well, Earth is 100,000 light years away so don't worry about it for now. So how did McKay's video go?"

The Guardian groused, "He worked on his presentation for hours. He kept insisting that I help him with it, and I kept explaining that I had no idea what he should say."

"What did he want?"

"He kept fretting how he wanted to 'make a critical contribution for the future of mankind'. He said that the whole transmission was going to hugely historical. All he succeeded in doing was make me even more nervous than I was already."

"Sounds like typical McKay. So what did he say in his vid?"

"I wasn't really paying attention. I think he blathered on camera something about leadership for 60 minutes."

Cadman made a face. "Ew."

"Yes, it was bad even for him. All he did was ramble about leadership and his contributions to mankind, that was it."

"He didn't he leave a message to his family or anything?"

"No, not that I recall."

"Huh. Everybody else did. I said 'hi' to my Mom and Dad, to my brother, my Aunt Judy, my classmates at Quantico, my old boyfriend, even my pet cat."

"Yes, I saw that everyone else did that too. I had no idea that family relationships were so important for humans."

"Oh, yeah, they are."

"I noticed that. Afterwards I thought it was odd that Rodney did not say hello to any of his family members in his video recording like everyone else did. I asked him about it later."

"And..?"

"He told me that except for his sister that he did not have any living family."

"He has a sister?"

"Yes, that surprised me too. He had never said anything about having a relative before."

"I feel kind of sorry for her, having a mega-geekazoid like that for a brother."

The Guardian leaned in, "Oh no, the way he talked about her I suspect that she is just as brilliant a physicist as he is, maybe even more."

Cadman's jaw dropped open. "You're kidding."

"I think she is. I know him well enough, and he was getting pretty defensive about it."

"What's her name?"

"Jean Miller. Rodney said that she had a sexual relationship and had become accidentally impregnated by another college student, an English major."

"Oh, that's too bad.."

"They are married and now have a daughter."

"I take it back; it sounds like it worked out fine. Good for them."

"Rodney said that she quit her physics career to become a full time mother."

"Hey, it's her choice. Personally, I think it's great that she decided to put her family first."

"Yes, it does seem important to humans. However, Rodney did not seem to think so. I suspect they had become estranged after that. He said that he has not communicated with her in several years."

"That's a bummer. That can happen in a family sometimes. Also, McKay is kind of hard to reach."

"Yes, especially in this galaxy. That is why I was surprised he didn't leave a message for her in his video recording. It was his first opportunity to do so in almost a year."

"Well, that's family for you. Sometimes it happens. It's a shame."

The Guardian tucked a loose lock of blond hair back under her New York Mets baseball cap. Cadman noticed it.

Cadman sipped her soup. She said offhandedly, "You like wearing that ball cap a lot."

The Guardian stirred her own soup again without eating it. "Yes. My hair has been growing too long lately. It helps keep it in place."

Cadman asked, "So why not just cut it?"

"Rodney says he likes my hair longer."

Cadman was about to say something a bit catty about their obvious non-relationship relationship, that she valued his opinion so much regarding her personal appearance, when she stopped. It wasn't her place to do that. Instead she said, "Uh, I see."

After another moment Cadman added, "Genie, I gotta say, honestly, that baseball cap does not look good on you."

The Guardian tilted her head. "It doesn't?" Her tiara was poking out from underneath the cap.

"No, not really. The cap wrecks your Disney princess look."

"I see." Doctor Weir had earlier asked the Guardian to remove the baseball cap during her video shoot. "I use it to keep my hair out of my face."

Cadman stood and pulled something out of her pocket. "You ever tried a ponytail?"

"A ponytail?"

"Yeah. My CO lets me wear my hair longer than regulation so I usually wear one when I'm on duty. It works like this." She stood and moved around the table behind the Guardian. She pulled her hair straight back, then wrapped it in a knot and affixed a scrunchy to hold it; the ponytail hung from the back. "There."

The Guardian touched the back of her head. "Ooh. That's interesting. I've never done that before."

Cadman moved back around the table to gave an appraisal. She nodded with approval, "That's way better. It gives you a nice fresh look."

The Guardian continued to feel the ponytail with both hands. "Really? Do you think Rodney will like it?"

Cadman did a mental sigh. "Oh yeah. I'm sure he'll love it."

Sheppard walked up with his tray and gestured at the empty seat next to the Cadman. "This seat taken?"

"Hello, sir." Cadman leaned over and pulled the empty seat back for him. "Thank you for joining us."

Sheppard sat. "Boy, I'm glad those videos are done." Then saw the Guardian's ponytail. "Hey," He smiled in appreciation, "Nice."

She waggled it for him. "You like it, eh?"

"It's a great look on you, Genie."

She blushed slightly. "Thank you."

She stood up. "Well, I need to start my afternoon patrol."

Sheppard also stood up like a gentleman. "Genie, you don't need to do patrols all the time. We have our own guards for that."

She snapped at him, "Look, I need to do my job. I protect this city. I know I don't do much else around here, but at least I can do that!" She left in a huff.

Sheppard watched her leave the mess hall with a surprised look on his face. As he sat back down he said, "Whoa, what was that all about?"

Cadman was also watching. "Huh.."

Sheppard turned, "So what gives?"

Cadman shrugged, "I dunno. She's been kind of moody since the storm."

"You call that moody? She practically bit my head off."

"She's not playing poker with my posse anymore either." Cadman thought, "Hmm. I wonder if she's having trouble with McKay. "

Sheppard opened a napkin. "Naw, they're fine."

"How can you tell?"

Sheppard leaned over and said quietly, "Did you catch that earlier? She said 'eh' like a Canadian."

Cadman's eyes widened. "Omigosh. She's taking on his Canadian accent!"

Sheppard grinned. "Yeah. In a few weeks I bet she'll start wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey and pine for back bacon."

Then Sheppard noticed something. The Guardian had left her soup bowl behind.

"Look at that. She never does that." He pointed.

Cadman saw it and gasped.

The soup bowl was almost full.


The Guardian looked into a mirror at herself. She turned her head sideways to view the ponytail, then she turned back to gaze at her own reflection.

She touched her face.

What am I?

She lowered her fingers as she kept staring at herself.


Where is my Mommy?

I can't find my Mommy!

The Guardian woke up with a start, gasping for air.

She sat up and rubbed her face. It happened again, the recurring nightmare.

She stood and looked in the mirror again.

Was that dream a real memory? The Wraith in the brig had accused her. That meant it had to real, yes? Otherwise how could he know?

The Guardian's thoughts drifted back to the Wraith's terrible accusations. She wondered if he was a plant. She would need to ask Sheppard about his capture. Was it too easy?

She closed her eyes as she thought back to his mental attack. She felt that it had to have been intentionally planned. But to what end? Was it intended to simply weaken her will? A gambit to disarm a powerful enemy before the invasion? Or was there a deeper agenda?

Yes, he had to be a plant. Her mental self-defense mechanism triggered. She told herself she would never do that to humans. The nightmare felt too unreal.

There were other images in her nightmares. She was in a hive ship, pinned to a wall, her body broken...

No, none of it felt real. She sat back down on her bed.

Which memories were real? Which were false? Some memories she was certain of. She recalled the mental warfare she had waged against the Wraith queens, the epic battle of wills in a fight often to the death. Her memories of those mind-contests were vividly real, her mental battles. Yes, those actually happened.

Over 6,000 years had passed since then, but she could still recall many of those battles clearly.

Yes, those events must have happened. She knew that those battles included vicious psychological assaults, attacks that plunged tendrils deep into the mind of the opponent, probing for weaknesses, for self-doubt, searching for a way to pry open the opponent's mind at its weakest point, to then crack it open completely, leaving it quivering and helpless, and then destroy it from within. The nightmares had to be the result of residual images implanted by her enemies, left behind from the aftermath of those epic mental battles.

She mentally repressed the image of the lost orphan and tried to drive it from her mind.

For now, it worked.

Her tendency towards denial, that great mental wall that she had previously built, the high and broad defensive barrier that she had unconsciously constructed over the centuries, brick by brick, starting from the very first anniversary when her father had first failed to contact her, had once again held fast.

She was the Guardian. That was her duty, her role. Nothing else mattered.

She started to dress herself in preparation for her morning patrol. After she put on her white bodysuit she remade her ponytail, then she looked at herself in the mirror and nodded with approval. She attached her cloak to her shoulders and put on her white gloves. She gave herself a final appraisal, then headed for the double doors.

It was time to do her duty.

With grim determination she left the Archives to began her patrol.


Doctor Kurosawa heard a knock on her door in the dark and damp hallway of sublevel 5.

She looked up from her Dell laptop and said cheerfully, "Come in!"

A person slowly pulled open the manual door and tentatively poked a head into the tiny office space.

"I really hate to bother you like this. You weren't wearing your radio so I couldn't call ahead." It was Elizabeth Weir.

Doctor Kurosawa stood up with her cane. "I never wear that annoying contraption. Doctor Weir, this is such a pleasant surprise. Please, come in and sit."

Weir looked around the cramped space as she entered it. She pulled open the folding chair that was leaning against the table. "This is your assigned office?"

"Yes."

They both sat. "Doctor Kurosawa, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize Doctor McKay had put you down here until today."

Kurosawa waved it off. "Oh pshaw, it's fine."

"Well, if you would like a change of office assignment please let me know."

"I like it; it's nice and quiet. So, what brings you all the way down here? You could have just sent me an e-mail message and I would have come up to your office in the gate room."

Weir looked down. "Yes, well, my office is a bit of a fishbowl, and this is actually an unofficial visit. No one knows I'm down here."

Kurosawa said pleasantly, "Then I take it that you are not here to discuss the joys of Ancient Archaeology with me?"

Weir fidgeted a bit. "No, not really. I'm sorry that we haven't assigned any off-world archaeological missions yet. Learning about the history of the Ancients is supposed to be one of our primary mission objectives and I feel very remiss about that."

"Well, you will assign those off-world missions all in good time, I'm sure. Now, what can I do for you?"

"I understand that the Guardian has come down here to visit with you. Several times in fact."

Kurosawa looked at Weir levelly. "Yes, she has."

"What have you been talking about?"

Kurosawa considered her question. After a moment she said, "I am not sure I can answer that."

"You don't know how, or..?"

"I mean I'm not sure if I should. Do you know that I also have a Master of Divinity degree?"

"Yes, I do. You are the closest thing that we have to a chaplain on the base, and I know that you've been doing that unofficially, including your work as an unofficial counselor to some of the other expedition members, and working with Evan Lorne and his twelve-step Bible Study group."

"You are well informed. I have. I'm a bit surprised actually that your US military did not include a chaplain in the Expedition given its large size and mix, the stresses that they must have anticipated could happen here, and the fact they knew that none of us might ever get to go back home again."

"Yes, well, I'm afraid that's partly my fault."

"I see. Are you here then to disapprove of what I've been doing?"

Weir leaned forward. "Oh no, not all all. I am sure you've been very helpful to many members of the Expedition."

"So you see the reason. For my hesitation to answer your question about the Guardian, that is."

"I think so. I assume she was asking you about, well, spiritual matters.."

"To a certain extent, yes. We've been talking quite a bit about many things. She's been helping me with the translation of the public database. Her insights have been very helpful. But we also talked about other things. Privately."

"She confessed things to you."

"Yes."

Weir sighed, "Doctor Kurosawa, you are not a pastor or a priest.."

"Ah, but I do have a minister license."

"I know that. But that is not your official capacity on this expedition. If the Guardian has been secretly discussing matters with you that affect the safety or security of this Expedition, then I need to know about it."

"Yes, of course. Well, you could simply order me to tell you."

"Doctor.."

Kurosawa chided her. "But if that was the case we would be having this little chat in your public fishbowl. You would not be sneaking your way down here."

Weir sighed, "I know. I won't order you. But please..."

"Have you discussed your request with the Guardian yet?"

"Actually, yes. She said.."

Kurosawa interrupted again, "Let me guess. She gave her consent. She told you that it was perfectly fine for you to ask me any questions you wanted about her, and she gave you blanket permission to do so."

Weir was a bit surprised. "Yes, that is almost exactly what she said. How did you know?"

"I believe that I now have a rather good understanding of her." She sighed, "Given what has been happening lately, I suppose that maybe it is time for me to share some of it with you."

"Thank you, doctor. I'm glad you understand."

"Very well. Would you like my personal appraisal of her in my role as her unofficial spiritual advisor?"

"Please."

"Well, just consider what you just told me a moment ago."

"Her permission for this chat."

"Yes. She immediately gave you blanket permission to discuss whatever you wanted about her with me. Why do think she did that?"

"Well, I admit she can be a bit passive sometimes.."

"Yes, with you she is very passive. But that is not the reason."

"So what is it then?"

"She gave you permission because she believes that she is just a tool."

"A tool?"

"Yes, she believes that quite literally."

"I see."

"Doctor Weir, I do not mean to be disrespectful, but you have been treating her like that ever since she woke up."

The accusation stung. Weir looked down. "Yes, you're right. I suppose I have."

"Yes you have, emphatically so. Indeed, during her entire life everyone has been using her as just a tool, or a weapon, or an information source. All for their own ends. Everyone has. You, Major Sheppard.."

".. and Doctor McKay, I know."

"No."

"No?"

"No."

"But Doctor McKay has been pumping her for answers to his endless science and technology questions for months now, almost non-stop. He's been using her more than anyone else on the base. And yes, quite literally."

"Yes, he has. And she feels most satisfied when she's fulfilling his requests. But you're missing something."

"Which is?"

"He actually cares for her."

"But we all.."

"No. Everyone else is either afraid of her or they think of her as a tool, or both. They are afraid of her powers, her alienness, her alleged ability to read other people's thoughts.."

"Wait, alleged?"

"Have you ever actually seen her do it? Read another person's actual thoughts? I haven't. Have you?"

"That is because she is very careful to respect everyone's privacy."

"Exactly. She's never violated her oath, so there's nothing for us to fear, and yet almost everyone in the Expedition avoids her except when they need her for something."

"But she's friends with Laura Cadman."

"A casual friend, yes. The Guardian is awkward socially, with no real social skills, and she is often unintentionally rude. Cadman is a gadfly who is able to look past that so they are casual friends. But the Guardian has no close relationships with anyone. I suspect she never has.""

"I see." Weir thought a moment. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Well, uhm.."

"Yes?"

"This is private, right?"

"Of course."

"Well, and this is absolutely confidential, but I suspect, and Sheppard agrees with me, that McKay and her are in a relationship."

"Interesting. I asked her about that. Point blank in fact."

Weir was surprised. "You did?"

"She answered no, they were not."

"Oh.."

"I probed the issue with her a bit, without pressing too hard. I think I have a fairly good idea what's going on."

"Which is..?"

Kurosawa paused. Then she said, "You're right. It's very private."

"Doctor, the Guardian gave me permission to ask."

To Weir's surprise, Kurosawa pounded the table. "Of course she did!"

Weir leaned back. "Doctor..?"

"She'll agree to anything you ask! She thinks she has no free will!"

Weir sighed, "I'm sorry, and I understand your point of view.."

Kurosawa said a bit sarcastically "Well thank you."

Weir leaned forward again. ".. but I really need to know what's going on with her. It's now a matter of base security. She's becoming withdrawn, and she's not eating. Doctor Beckett is becoming very concerned about her weight loss. What's happening? I need to know."

"Have you talked to Doctor McKay about it?"

"Sort of. He's starting to notice it too."

"And?"

"He's been trying to cheer her up with an offer to do more cloud watching, but she declined."

Kurosawa made a small smile. "Oh, he told you about that? I'm rather surprised he did."

"Yes. He's starting to get worried too. Very much so."

"I see. Well, I am happy to hear that he was able to open up and confide to you like that. He's a very private person, even more than she is. The fact he told you confirms my opinion that he is not the root cause of her obvious mental depression."

"So she's depressed."

"Very."

"I thought so. Should I have her make an appointment to go see Doctor Heightmeyer?"

Kurosawa considered it. "Hmm, I don't think this is a problem that a clinical psychologist can solve. She'll go do it if you asked her, of course. She's very passive with you. But I don't think it will help very much. In my opinion her depression is not a physiological problem that can be fixed with happy drugs or Freudian talk therapy."

"So what is going on with her? What is her problem exactly?"

"I think it is an existential one."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, as I said, she thinks she is just a tool, and literally so. She also thinks she is not a person."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"That makes no sense. Of course she is a person."

"Not from her point of view."

"Hmm, I see."

Kurosawa paused. Then she said softly, "She also confided to me something, something very private.." She hesitated.

Weir waited patiently.

"I'm not sure I should say.."

Weir leaned forward again. "Please, doctor. This goes beyond just my concern for the well-being of one individual. It involves the security of the entire Expedition. I need to know."

"Yes, I understand." She thought some more. Finally Kurosawa sighed, "Very well, I suppose I have to tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"That she believes that she does not have a soul."

Weir was taken aback. "Oh dear."

"Yes."

"So what can we do to help her?"

"Well, when a person enters a deep personal spiritual crisis like this, like the one she is currently in, I find that it becomes a personal matter between them and God."

Weir considered her statement. "So there is nothing we can do."

"When a person is like that, no. We can still be supportive, we can pray for them, but it is really out of our hands."

"I think I understand."

"In my experience it usually takes some kind of unexpected crisis or a major event. Something that results in some kind of revelation, only that can really change a person. Only time will tell."

Weir sighed and stood. "Well, thank you doctor. You've been most helpful. Please don't bother getting up." She folded the chair so it was no longer obstructing the narrow door. "And let me know if you change your mind about getting a better office."

Kurosawa smiled, "I will dearie, and thank you for taking the time to come down here to visit. If you'd like to come down again and chat with me about this or anything else, remember I'm always here."

"I will. Thank you for your kind offer. Goodbye."


The Guardian was standing on the balcony outside the gate room, gazing over the city skyline.

McKay approached tentatively from behind. She sensed him. Normally she couldn't do that with her limiter up at 90% - when she could only sense very strong or violent emotions. But with him she could always detect whenever he was near.

He came up behind her, a few steps away. "Hey."

She ignored him. She kept gazing out over the city and the ocean beyond.

He walked beside her and put his hands on the railing next to her. "Wow, look at those stratocumulus formations." He turned. "It's a perfect day to do some cloud watching, don't you think?"

She kept watching the sea. "No thank you."

"C'mon, I got time."

"I'm not in the mood."

He moved in close and whispered. "G, what's wrong? You've been like this since the Genii raid. What's bugging you so much?"

She shifted her eyes up at her tiara. He understood. He nodded in consent.

She tapped it twice.

{ Rodney, I feel completely useless. }

"C'mon, G, that's silly."

{ I haven't done anything. }

"Sure you have. You've done lots of stuff."

{ Like what? }

"Hey, you've helped me a million times. I've learned stuff from you that will put me hip deep in Nobel Prizes for the rest of my life."

{ That's not what I mean. }

"So..?"

She kept watching the waves churn in the distance.

{ Rodney, who am I? }

He remembered that she had asked him that very same question during their first rooftop encounter, just before she walked out.

"Uh.. you're the Guardian of Atlantis?"

{ All right, then tell me, what have I done to fulfill that role? }

"Well, uh.. you stopped those Wraith guys from attacking us whenever Teyla's necklace kept attracting them to our location."

{ You didn't need me for that. }

"You helped us save the city during the storm. That was a huge help."

She finally turned, her eyes flashing at him.

{ Did I? And what did I do? Nothing! My city was invaded, and I didn't lift a finger to stop the invaders. Literally! I was a mannequin! }

"Well, that wasn't your fault.."

{ Rodney, I still did nothing. The one and only time my city was actually invaded, the one and only time in over 10,000 years where I was supposed to actually do my damn job, what did I do? Absolutely nothing. The Genii turned me off like a light switch! }

"We didn't know they could do that."

{ And what if they do it again? I'm useless. }

McKay considered it. "No, I don't think they will ever be able to do that again."

{ Why not? }

"A command word used like that, once everyone else hears it, could easily become common knowledge and abused. It would be designed to only work once. Kind of like a Command Seal in Fate Stay/Night."

{ A Command what? }

"It's from a famous anime show where, uh, nevermind. It's way too complicated. Anyway, I really doubt that will ever happen again."

{ Rodney, my sworn mission is to protect Atlantis. I'm not supposed to ever leave the city, but I just feel like I need to do something, something to help with the fight beyond just protecting the city. }

McKay remembered Kolya's biting accusation. "Okay, what would you like to do?"

She started speaking aloud. "I don't know yet. Something. Anything. So I don't feel so useless."

"Well, the invasion is coming.."

"Yes. I know."

"The long range sensors still aren't showing any approaches yet."

"Those sensors operate only out to 400 light years. If a major assault was coming we'd only have about a week's warning, assuming they don't stop to feed. I'm guessing they won't."

"I agree. With all the culling they've already done they're just about all filled up by now. They'll hit us fast to avoid giving us time to prepare countermeasures."

"Rodney, didn't you mention something about Cowen having a Wraith ship tracking device?"

"Oh yeah. He said it could track all the Wraith hive ships anywhere in the galaxy."

"We need that. It will tell us when they're finally marshalling, give us a lot more lead time."

"It sure would. But good luck getting one, G. I don't know if you've noticed it or not but we are not exactly on the greatest of terms with the Genii right now. And if you're thinking of sneaking in and just swiping it, it's turned off, undetectable, and it could be hidden anywhere, assuming it's still even on their home planet."

The Guardian thought about it. "The Wraith tracking device is a standard operational component of a hive ship. Every hive ship has one."

"Yeah, so?"

"Rodney, I'm pretty adept at secretly raiding hive ships.."

McKay's eyes lit up. "Yeah. You're really good at that."

She sighed, "Finally, something I can do that's useful."

"Oh yeah. Let's go talk to Weir and Sheppard." McKay turned to leave.

Something crept into her mind unbidden. The Guardian turned and looked around. She didn't see anyone.

She said to McKay, "You go on ahead, find Weir and ask her to call in Sheppard. I'll catch up with you in a minute."

"Okay." He ran off to Weir's office.

The Guardian raised her limiter up to 90% and glanced around, eyes narrow. She walked past some guards to the stairwell. She opened it and climbed down one level.

There he was. She quickly approached the man who was wearing glasses and a ponytail. He looked as if he had just happened to be entering the stairwell himself.

She told him, "Stop that."

Kavanagh seemed offended. "Excuse me?"

"I said that's enough!"

"Enough of what? I have no idea what you're talking about. Hey, you're that Guardian woman, right?"

"You know damn well who I am."

He gave her a smile. "Oh hey. Nice to meet you."

She wasn't fooled. "Do that again and.."

He dropped the act. "And what? You'll report me for having bad thoughts?"

She glared at him.

"I know you can't. You're strictly limited." He crossed his arms and gave her a self-satisfied smile. "You're only allowed to report private thoughts that might harm city security. Those are Weir's standing orders, and I'm guessing that they are your old masters' too."

A low growl rose from her throat, but she said nothing.

"You can't punish me just for having bad thoughts."

"That's.. that's disgusting."

"You won't report it. If you did, you'd be a walking civil liberties violation. I'll tell everyone. You'd be totally ostracized for spying on everyone, even more than you are already."

"You creep."

His smug smile grew.

She shoved him up against the stairwell wall. "Stop thinking about me like that!"

He said defiantly, "Make me." He looked down at her forearm pressed against his throat. "This is already assault."

She realized what she was doing and released him. Another set of his thoughts forced their way through her limiter, worse than ever.

She whirled back and saw his smug face. She was ready to kill him. Kavanagh had no idea the kind of mortal danger he was now in.

The Guardian closed her eyes as she fought back the urge to detonate him where he stood.

She opened her eyes and saw that his grin had widened. She silently cursed herself. She had let him get the better of her.

His plan was working. He succeeded in getting a reaction out of her. She could tell that her assault on his person had strongly aroused him.

She turned away and tried to think. His plan worked. Now he would do it again and again, every time he was near. Nothing could stop him.

She couldn't report it. And her ROE didn't allow her to harm him either.

She pressed her lips together. Surely there was something..

She had an idea. She turned back and took off her tiara. She stepped towards him, giving him a sultry smile. "So you like bad thoughts, huh?"

He saw the mental image she was projecting of herself. "Oh yeah, baby."

She spoke casually as she twirled her tiara around her finger, "You know, I met a Wraith once, a nasty one. He liked to hunt runners. He was a special case, and he had it coming. I did something to him that I had never done to a Wraith before. It was so, well, nasty, that I just can't forget it. It keeps popping into my mind, over and over.."

Kavanagh's eyes widened in shock. "Argh! Oh my god!"

".. and I just can't control it sometimes.."

"Stop!"

The Guardian stopped twirling her tiara and looked at him. "Hmm? Is something wrong?"

"Just stop it!"

"Hey, everyone has bad thoughts sometimes. They just happen. You can't control them, right?"

"Stop it! Please stop!"

"Look, you can't punish me for having bad thoughts."

He was bent over with his arms around his head. "Just stop! All right! I won't do it again!"

She put her tiara back on. "Sorry, your face just popped into my head, and that Wraith suddenly looked just like you. Free association. Funny how that happens sometimes."

He stood up unsteadily and glared at her, "You bitch."

She prepared to leave. "Never do that again. I have more important business than dealing with the likes of you."

"Yeah, like 'dealing' with McKay, huh?"

She whirled back. "Stop talking."

He glared back.

"Remember, if you do anything like that again, well, let's just say that I have even better memories of my favorite Wraith kills that might leak out my mind accidentally." She turned and began to walk back up the stairs to the gate room.

Kavanagh ran to the foot of the stair landing. He gasped, "You know who opted out?"

She kept climbing the stairs and did not turn back. She said as she climbed up, "Three opted out. I understand that you were one of them."

He again yelled up at her, "But they never told you who else, did they? Check it. Check the list!"

She ignored him as she entered the gate room and went up the broad central stairway to join Sheppard and McKay in Weir's office.

McKay smiled as she walked in. "Hey, G."

Teyla briefly bowed her head.

Sheppard grinned, "Ah, just in time to join the party. I love this plan."

The Guardian walked toward the wall monitor. "So you're thinking of going back to Mirai?" She was referring to P61-M35, the planet where they had previously spotted six parked hive ships from orbit.

"No, that intel is out of date. AR-2 did a recon on them yesterday. All six ships are now gone." Sheppard turned off the display.

The Guardian was disappointed. "I see. No other targets?"

"Well, there's still that first buried ship, the one where we rescued Teyla and lost Sumner. It's still sitting on the Wraith homeworld."

"Hmm. I wonder why it hasn't moved yet?"

"Dunno, but it's a good choice for a hit. There's a space gate in orbit, and because the hive ship is still buried it can't shoot back at us or launch darts to chase us. I say we do it."

The Guardian nodded. "Looks good." She pulled up a general schematic of a Wraith hive ship. "The ships are organic but they all have the same basic layout. The main control center is here." She pointed. "The tracking device has to be somewhere in that chamber. I'll go in, find it, and remove it. I'll leave my jumper parked and cloaked nearby, then I'll report back when I have it."

Sheppard said, "Hey, we're coming with you."

"John, there's no need."

"We'll hang back at the cloaked jumper. If you get in trouble we'll fly in and pull you out."

She turned to McKay. "Rodney.."

"Hey, we're all coming with you, whether you like it or not."

Teyla added, "I will be coming because it is possible that we still might find some of my people inside."

The Guardian sighed, "Very well."

Weir said, "Good, it's AR-1 plus 1. Get that tracking device, and Godspeed."


The Guardian sat across from McKay in the back portion of the puddle jumper. Sheppard was piloting with Teyla in the copilot seat. They were up front talking quietly.

Normally she and McKay would sit together, but he could tell that she wanted to be alone so he sat on the other side. He kept himself busy by using his tablet to examine the schematic of the hive ship to try to pinpoint the exact location of the tracking device within the control room.

The Guardian sat by herself, lost in her own thoughts. She furtively glanced over at McKay. He didn't notice.

During the pre-mission prep the Guardian had quietly used her image viewer to pull up the Expedition's log during the incident with Teyla and the necklace. It confirmed what Kavanagh had told her.

She secretly glanced at McKay again. Her mind was in complete turmoil. Why? Why was he so afraid of her? A brief mental contact would not reveal any embarrassing secret in his past.

It couldn't be that he didn't trust her either. She would never dig into his mind like that anyway, and even if she did, he must have known that she would never reveal his secrets to anyone. She had taken a solemn oath to that affect, and he knew that.

So why did McKay opt out of the mind scan?

Looking back she realized that McKay had always carefully avoided any situation where she might read his inner thoughts. She recalled what had happened when she offered to briefly join with his mind for a few seconds to help him take off his personal shield. When she made the offer the shield device suddenly popped off by itself.

She remembered his early repeated refusals to let her communicate with him telepathically. He was emphatic with his refusals. It was only after the storm that he had realized that such mental communication did not reveal inner thoughts, so it would not reveal any of his secrets. What was he hiding?

She had let her guard down around him because she had never felt more relaxed, simply by enjoying his mind-music. They spent so much time together, and soon she believed that he had genuinely liked her. Her. Not as a tool, nor as a potential sexual conquest. She was not a means to an end like she was with Weir or Sheppard. Rodney was her friend, a real one.

McKay was her first human friend, and eventually he became her best friend.

Or was he?

What was he hiding? He had boasted about how their many talks would let him win endless Nobel Prizes.

She would be a means to an end for him.

A terrible thought came to her.

We she just a tool in his eyes as well? Was that what he was trying to hide? Was that his secret?

The thought affected her more than she realized. She felt a physical pain in her stomach. It was a terrible burning sensation. She couldn't figure out what was causing it.

"G, you okay over there?"

Her eyes snapped up in alarm. She realized that she was tightly clutching her stomach with both hands. He noticed.

She removed her arms and looked away. "I'm fine, just something I ate that did not agree with me."

"Oh. Say, I think I found where the tracking device should be. Wanna see it?"

She watched him switch seats. His thigh was now touching against hers, as had happened many times before, except now a flood of conflicting emotions hit her when they touched. It was only then did it occur to her how much casual physical touching they had shared up to that point.

In the past she had leaned over his shoulder countless times, her body pressing against his back, as she eagerly manipulated the equations on imaging table. They often pressed in shoulder to shoulder together to look at something one of them found on a monitor. Only now did she realize how that might look to someone else who was watching them.

McKay leaned in close and pointed. "I think it's right there. There's a big data line that runs from that point up to the dorsal communications relays."

She stammered, "Oh.. yes."

"What do you think?"

"I'm sure you're right."

"Hey, are you feeling sick?"

"I said I'm fine."

"Are you sure? Want to call it off, maybe have Doctor Beckett check you?"

She grew angry. "No! I am fine!"

Sheppard spoke up. "You kids behaving yourselves back there? Don't make me pull over."

McKay looked up. "Are we there yet?"

Sheppard drawled to Teyla, "Hear that? Just like a kid." Teyla suppressed a grin.

The ground was quickly approaching. "30 seconds to landing, camo holding. Target is 2 clicks north. No activity. Get ready."


The Guardian slipped past the Wraith drone who was standing guard at the entrance to the parked hive ship. She had her thermo-optical camouflage turned up to maximum with the hood flap pulled down over her face. She snuck past the guard and crept inside.

The smell assaulted her senses. She had forgotten how powerful it was. She flattened herself against a wall as two guards approached, fighting the urge to slash them to ribbons. After they passed by she moved deeper into the ship, switching from passage to passage. There was more activity inside than was expected for a hive ship that had been parked for 100 years. Some fairly tall pine trees were now growing from the rich topsoil that had accumulated over the decades on the dorsal side of the ship.

She moved from passage to passage as she progressed deeper and deeper into the living ship, drawing on her well-remembered internal map of a hive ship from her memory. She finally reached the main control center. It was crowded with at least a half dozen Wraith commanders working at various stations.

This was the most dangerous part of the mission. She knew that some of the commanders might have mental powers. Occasionally those powers could be formidable, even enough to challenge even her. Her limiter was at 100% but she knew that sometimes a powerful Wraith would notice her if she got too close. She edged around the control room towards the data panel.

She reached the panel successfully. It was hidden behind one of the consoles out of sight. She quietly removed it and found her target, a square flat object about 15 centimeters on a side. Four cables were attached to it. That was unexpected. Normally there would be only three: one for the main computer, one for the communications relays up top, and one for power and ground. What was the fourth cable for?

No matter. She took off one white glove and made a chopping motion with her hand. The wind cut sliced the first cable successfully, then she cut the second, then the third.

When she cut the fourth cable a loud screeching alarm sounded. Suddenly six Wraith commanders all turned in her direction. It was because after the Genii had stolen the device the first time the Wraith had since updated the design of the device to include an alarm circuit.

She cursed as she grabbed the tracking device and ran out, knocking over one of the Wraith commanders as she fled the room. More alarms were now sounding. She turned off her camo to divert the energy to her limbs as she ran faster and faster, blasting the arriving Wraith drones out of her way. She approached the exit door. It was locked shut. She took a chance and teleported past it, hoping that nothing was standing on the other side. There wasn't, and she continued to run. She spotted some Wraith coming at her laterally, an external patrol. She shifted direction and dove straight into a line of trees, leaping over dead logs and branches while dodging huge tree trunks.

She turned to look back. She didn't see anyone following. Unfortunately in doing so she ran right into a huge sticky web that spanned two tree trunks. The web caught her and she tried to twist out of it, which only succeeded in wrapping the sticky fibers even tighter around her cloak.

Then she felt it, two sharp pains in the side of her neck. For the first time in her life she felt real, primal, fear. She screamed, flailing, trying to grab the pulsating thorax of the Iratus bug to rip it off her neck. In doing so she felt a burning sensation under her back, where her biopacks surged with power. The bug was quickly draining her to fight back.

She knew it was already too late, but her hardwired instincts refused to give up. She started writhing like a wild animal in a trap, snarling, clawing, still trying to remove it.

It soon weakened her to the point that she could no longer move. She could only pant now as she stared up at the sun.

Then a shadow crossed it. It was a Wraith commander.

The commander hissed as he showed his corpse-like rictus of a smile. She felt more misery at that moment than she had ever felt in her whole long life.

He said in a hissing voice. "I will be taking this back." He calmly bent over and removed the tracking device from the pouch inside of her cloak. Then he stood over her again.

Her breathing slowed as she waited to die.

He tilted his head as he appraised the situation. Finally he said, "How exquisite."

She grunted, "Hurry up and get this over with."

"And do you a favor? I think not."

"Curse you and your queen."

"As much as I would like to remove your head and show it as a trophy to my great queen, it is much better for you to die like this, utterly defeated, helpless, and totally humiliated, while you suffer such deliciously unbearable pain."

He casually turned the tracking device over in his hands as he said idly, "So much trouble, such infighting. Well, my queen does not serve Queen Death. She will be overjoyed to hear my report, the final ignominious defeat of The Destroyer - her life sucked away in the jaws of a bug!" He laughed as he walked away.

She ignored his taunts and instead she closed her eyes as she concentrated, and with supreme effort she managed to barely generate enough TK power to trigger the radio headset microphone. The bug reacted by drawing out her power even faster. She screamed again in pain.

She heard Shepard's voice respond on her headset. "Genie, is that you? Talk to me!"

She gasped, "John, I'm in trouble."

"We're taking off now, homing in on your signal."

"Uh, no, don't come here. Forget I called." She was no longer thinking clearly. "They're on alert now; they'll see you."

"Genie, just shut up and sit tight. We're coming."


Sheppard was in the pilot seat with Teyla. They were both strapped in tightly to their seats. Sheppard was yelling behind at McKay as the jumper continued to rock, "McKay! How badly were we hit?"

McKay yelled back, "One of the drive pods is down! You think we can still make it?"

Sheppard saw the space gate approaching. "I think we're good. Dialing now."

Teyla radioed, "Atlantis, this is Jumper One. We are declaring a medical emergency."

A voice radioed back, "Copy Jumper One. A med team is on its way."

McKay knelt down on the back floor of the jumper. "Hang in there, G."

The Guardian was on the floor, delirious. "No.."

Sheppard announced, "Going in."

The Guardian closed her eyes and passed out.

Suddenly there was a huge lurch. McKay tumbled hard into the edge of the door frame that separated the rear and front compartments.


The Guardian slowly opened her eyes. McKay was kneeling over her, showing more concern for her than she had ever seen before. She smiled weakly.

My Rodney..

She saw him talking, but no words seemed to come out of his mouth. Eventually her mind cleared enough to hear his voice, although it still seemed hollow and very far away.

"G! Can you hear me?"

Her eyes fluttered.

"G, I need you to talk me through this. I'm going to inject you with some morphine. There. Now, try to clear your head for me. What's happening to you?"

She smiled. "Rodney, you came back for me.."

"What's this thing on your neck? I tried to it cut off with a scalpel from the med kit but it glowed and you screamed really loud."

"No.. don't."

"It's feeding on you. Your vitals are dropping like a rock. How do I get this thing off you?"

"You can't."

"What the hell is it?"

"It's an Iratus bug." She gasped again, "Always fatal."

"What?"

"They never come off until the victim is dead. They.. they.. tried to take it off before. So many times. Nothing works. Stasis just delays it. That's what they do, they zero in on the strongest life force they can find, then feed on it until it dies."

"Oh my god."

"It's killed pre-Ascendants far more powerful than me. Many times. Nothing they could do could take it off until it killed them." She struggled to look in front of her, and she saw a rippling watery glow just ahead of the frame that separated the rear and forward compartments of the jumper. "What happened? Where are John and Teyla?"

"They're in the forward compartment, already dematerialized. No way to reach them. One of the pod bays failed to retract and we're wedged in the open gate."

"T-Time left..?"

"About 30 minutes."

"Oh Rodney.. I'm so sorry.."

"This isn't your fault."

She tried to lift her head up again. "Yes it is. I screwed up. Again. I always screw up. Now I killed you. Oh Rodney.."

"Just calm down. The morphine is just making you loopy."

"I'm useless. Nothing I do does anything but make things worse for you. For everyone."

"Hey, shush now. Save your strength."

"I never did anything useful for anyone. Not even you."

"Hey, enough loopy talk. C'mon, G, I can't imagine what I would have done without you. You've helped everyone."

She laughed bitterly. "How? By interrogating that captured Wraith? By finding Teyla's traitor? By stopping the Genii raid? Rodney, I couldn't even fetch a simple tracking device. I have a 100% failure rate."

"C'mon.."

She managed to raise one arm up. She said deliriously, "Woo hoo! Go Guardian!" In response the bug tightened its grip and she grimaced.

"Stop the loopy talk. Don't move, sit tight. I'm gotta work on retracting that pod bay manually, then I'll come back and help you."

She lost track of time. At some point she saw Rodney's face in front of her again. He had just finished injecting her with another shot.

"G, that was the last of the morphine."

"Rodney.."

"Look at me. Eyes on me. G, I need your help before you pass out again. Follow me up with your eyes." She did as he stood up. "See this access panel?" He pointed. "There are eight control crystals in here. I don't have my tablet, so I don't know which one is which. One of them runs the motivator for the drive pod. I know they're configured so they snap shut automatically whenever power is lost - safety feature, so something must be shorted to keep it pushed out. Either that or there's debris in there in which case we're screwed anyway. Look, if I pull the wrong crystal I might shut off life support or something else vital. Now think really carefully. Tell me, which crystal is it?"

"Rodney, what are you hiding from me.."

"Uh, y-yeah. We can talk about that in a minute. For now look up at me. Eyes up. Which one is it? Please, think."

"Take my tiara off first."

"What?"

"Please.. I have to know. If I lose consciousness again I won't wake up."

"Okay, okay." He gently pulled it off her.

{ Rodney.. }

"Don't probe. You'll just waste power and feed the bug faster."

{ Then tell me. }

"I uh, I can't. I'm terrible with words like this. Look, let's wait until.."

{ I think it's the first crystal. The leftmost one. }

He jumped up. "Okay! Trying it."

He pulled out the crystal and the cabin rocked briefly. "Hey! I think that did it!"

He knelt down quickly next to her. "Oh god, G. You're beautiful."

{ Am I? }

"Oh yeah. I think you're the most wonderful, most smartest, most beautiful woman in the world."

{ Rodney, I'm just a tool. }

"No, no, no. Look uh, oh boy.. Just wait. We're not moving. Ugh, 10 minutes.."

{ That's all I ever was, a tool. }

"No! I said just wait! Look, just one last question, I promise. Please tell me, is there any way to fire the thrusters from the back compartment?"

{ No. You have to go outside with a pressure suit. }

"Dammit. Okay, uh, I gotta think.. Hey, can I fire a drone backwards maybe?"

{ No. There's nothing you can do. It's hopeless. }

"Aw, dammit." He pounded the bulkhead wall repeatedly with his first. "Dammit, dammit! What else.."

{ Rodney, be careful what you are hitting. }

"Huh?" He turned and looked where his fist was still pressed up against the bulkhead. In pounding it he had almost hit the button for opening the rear hatch, possibly killing them both.

He stopped and stared at the hatch button.

Newton's Third Law.

Of course.

He whirled and looked at the event horizon. Anything inside would be safe from the decompression.

He quickly knelt back down again. "Okay, here's the plan. I'm going push you through the event horizon. Then I'll hit the hatch button. The explosive decompression should shove the jumper through."

{ Rodney, no, you'll be killed, and.. }

He lifted up the lid on the storage compartment. "I'll tie this rope around myself. Yeah, this will suck eggs, and I might blow out my eardrums, but.."

{ Rodney, NO! You can't let this bug get in to my city! }

"Look, Beckett will figure it out. I take back everything I said about medicine being voodoo; he's actually a pretty good doctor. We can use a stasis pod if we have to.."

{ Rodney, you don't understand. It's already drawn an incredible amount of power from my biopacks. It's unkillable now. I can sense that it's a female and it has eggs. If it gets in to the city it will escape, and it will hide somewhere and lay them. There are hundreds of dark places for it to go make its nest, and you would never find it in time. When they hatch there will be hundreds of them. They hunt at night, targeting the strongest lifesigns. You'll never be rid of them. }

"Oh man.."

{ Tie yourself with the rope, then hit the hatch button. It will blow me out the back and get rid of the bug. }

"No way. Not in a million years."

{ Rodney, do it! Please! }

"No!"

She closed her eyes and concentrated as hard as she could. He felt the start of her mind probe.

The bug glowed and she screamed again.

"G, don't! Stop that! I'll just tell you."

{ S-Sorry.. I just want to know.. }

"I, uh, oh man. How do I say this.."

{ Just think it. }

{ Uh, right. Uhm, yeah.. I've been hiding it from you. I'm so sorry. Uh.. }

{ It's okay. Let it flow out naturally. }

He told her.

She marvelled at him. { Oh Rodney.. }

{ My name is Meredith. }

{ What? }

{ That's my real name. Meredith. }

She told him hers.

{ That's so beautiful. But kind of long.. }

{ My father gave it to me, a diminutive that means 'pouncing white tiger kitty'. }

{ You're a tiger? Heh, of course. }

{ Do you remember the very first cloud I pointed out? }

{ Oh.. You were giving me a hint, right? That was part of your name. }

{ Yes. }

{ Say it again. }

{ Felestigrisalirealbassara.* }

{ Ugh, why are Lantean names so damn unpronounceable? }

{ Meredith, thank you for this. My last memory. }

{ Wait, Felestigrisalahlah, argh.. }

{ Do you remember what I transmitted to you that night before the storm? My only regret? }

{ You wished this dream would never end. }

{ Yes. It's been wonderful, the dream we had.. }

{ Bassara. }

{ .. and I'm so glad I could share it with you. }

{ Wait.. }

{ I'm going to sleep now. I love you. }

{ Bassara, wait! }

{ Meredith, push the button. }

He jumped up. "Dammit, no! I'm not giving up!"

{ It's time for you to wake up. }

"No! I refuse!"

{ The Iratus bug always kills. Always. No one has ever survived. }

"No, no, no, no!" He pounded the bulkhead wall with both fists.

{ I love you. Goodbye. }

He whirled around the rear compartment. "There has to be way! I'm not letting you go! I won't! I won't!"

He dived into the storage bin and started throwing everything out onto the floor: a P90, some ammo clips, a pistol, a pair of radios, battery packs, some flares, a life sensor, extra vests, another med kit, an AED, a package of MREs..

He picked up one of the items. { Bassara.. }

{ Hurry, kill me. It's almost done feeding. If you love me, kill me now. Please! }

He stood up holding the AED device.

"All right, I will."


She was sitting on the roof of the North Tower, her hands wrapped tightly around her knees, rocking herself back and both.

He climbed up the ladder, completely out of breath. "Hey."

She yelled, "Stay away!" When she had woken up in the infirmary she had ripped off the IVs and fled.

He pulled himself over the ledge and approached. "It's okay."

She kept yelling, "Just stay away! Stay away!"

He picked her up and held her. She didn't resist. "Sorry, but I'm a jerk with terrible social skills who never listens to anybody."

She sobbed into his shoulder bitterly as he tried to console her. He wiped her tears with his sleeves. "Shush.. it's okay now."

{ Idiot. You're in love with a robot. }

{ That, my dear, is bull[bleep]** }

{ I'm an artificial construct with a tiger's hindbrain wired in. }

"Okay, uh, fine. So you're part cat? Really? Hey, I'm cool with that."

"Y-you are?"

"C'mon, do you know how many guys would give their right arm for a hot catgirl?"

"Rodney.."

"I looked up the alba tigris felesium in the public database. Yeah, it's ferocious when attacking or chasing prey, but it's very cuddly during its downtime. I saw a pic of a pride in the wild, a big happy fur pile. Really cute."

"Oh.."

I'm so embarrassed. I completely forgot that picture was in the database!

"Hey, it's okay. If it bothers you that much I won't tell anybody. We can erase it."

She froze. Then she pulled back. He asked, "Hey, what's the matter?"

"Y-you actually heard that?"

"Heard what?"

She stood back.

Rodney, what is two plus two?

"Four."

She quickly raised her limiter to 100%.

What is nine plus six?

"Fifteen."

She removed her limiter and pressed firmly on both sides of it with her thumbs and forefingers, hard, then she clamped it down firmly on her head like a vise.

What is 47,865 times 69,823?

After a few moments he said, "3,342,077,895."

She took another step back, her eyes wide in panic. "No, no, no, no."

"What's the matter?"

She started pacing back and forth. "No, this is impossible.. I'm not ready.. I'm not ready!"

"What? Tell me?" He held her again.

"Rodney, we have the Bond. It already formed between us. But it shouldn't happen this fast. It can't. It's backwards.."

"Whoa, stop. What's a 'Bond'?"

She started pacing again. "It's wrong.. the order is backwards. How? We haven't even.. well.."

"Huh? Haven't what?"

She looked at him sheepishly. "Do I need to explain it?"

"Oh. Oh! You mean, we haven't, uh, that?"

She blushed, "Yes.."

She started fretting again. "It's too soon. Oh dear.. uh.. maybe there's still time." She rushed up to him. "Rodney, we really need to talk. I mean we REALLY need to talk. Right now, before anything else happens."

"Okay. Sure. Go ahead."

She looked around. "No, not here. Things might, uh.. Not outside. Oh.. I can't take you to my.. uh.."

He grinned. "Your lair?"

"Oh stop it! You know that place is forbidden. I'm serious! All right, let's go to your quarters. Oh, I just hope no one sees us."

"Uh sure. It's kinda messy though."

She grabbed his hand. "Let's go. Hurry."


He opened the door to his quarters and they went inside. He closed the door behind him.

She felt it. "Rodney.. that.. uh, oh my, I didn't realize. Do all human males have an urge that strong?"

He looked embarrassed. "We're alone together in my quarters, and I can't help thinking about it. I'm really sorry."

She held her hand to her head. "It's affecting me.. your thoughts. Quick, sit on the bed. We need to talk, I mean really talk, before this goes any further."

He sat next to her. "Okay."

"Rodney, we have some big problems. Uhm.. oh.."

{ Meredith, I love you, but look at me. }

"Yeah, you're beautiful. And I can tell that you.. Wow, I can feel it. You like me that much?"

{ Yes, I do. But you aren't listening. I said LOOK at me. Look! }

"Okay. You're gorgeous."

{ No! I mean my appearance! This is how I look! This is how I will always look! I will never change. I will never age. My appearance is fixed. }

"Okay. Awesome."

{ Rodney, you don't understand. Lanteans mate for life. Once we cross that.. that line.. there's no going back, you understand? So what happens when you are 50? 60? 70? When your hair turns white? Well, what's left of it.. }

"Ha ha."

{ I'm being serious! What happens when you get wrinkly and old and I still look like, well, like this? }

"Is that a problem for you?"

{ For me? No, of course not. I love you, and I always will. }

"Then it's fine."

{ But.. }

"Hey, everybody will think I'm an old rich guy with a trophy wife or something. It's cool."

{ All right. But what about how I was made? I'm not even sure what I am exactly. I still think I'm probably a robot, one with all sorts of weird wiring. Meredith, whatever I am, I know I'm not a real person. }

He held her while they were still sitting on the bed together. "Oh you are definitely a person. You're full of doubts and worries. You get scared. You're as human as I am. And you are oh so definitely a woman. You're a beautiful, amazing, awesome woman, who is so smart and beautiful and makes my mind spin so much that I swear I must still be dreaming. I love every minute of every day that I'm with you, and I want to be with you the rest of my life. Look, I know you're kind of young and inexperienced with some of this, but.."

{ That's the other thing. My age. }

"Well, yeah, so you're 10,000 years old. So what? I don't care. But you're actually what, about 20 or so?"

She looked down. { No. }

"How old are you?"

{ I grew up in 12 months. After my people left I stayed in the stasis pod most of the time. }

"Oh.. I see. So you're *really* young. I hope you're legal, heh, because I'm not a pedo.."

{ Ha ha. No. Look, at some point I went mad and I don't remember much. But I do remember that just before I entered the pod for the last time I took a chronometer reading, then I subtracted the log time for the stasis pod from it. }

"Okay, what was the difference?"

{ About 400 years. }

He stared at her. "What?"

{ I don't feel 400 years old. Nothing happened for years and years. I just wandered the dark hallways back and forth like a ghost. I had no new experiences, no new memories. I don't feel psychologically that old. But you need to know that biologically I am over ten times older than you are. }

"I swear you don't look a day over 200. Okay, fine. So you're a cougar. Hey, I'm cool with that. Fits the cat motif too."

{ Meredith, there's also my duty. I'm still the Guardian of Atlantis. That will not change. I have a solemn duty that I am obligated to fulfill. You have to understand, and you have to agree, that if a situation arises where I am forced to choose between saving the city and saving you.. }

He interrupted her. "You save the city. Otherwise I will be very pissed."

{ Oh good, I'm glad you understand. }

"And if a situation arises where I have to choose between saving the everyone in the city or saving you, I'll save the city."

{ Good. Because otherwise I would get very angry with you... }

"Oh, oh, let me finish the line! 'And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.' Heh."

"Is that a reference to something?"

"Nevermind. Anything else?"

{ Uhm.. one more thing.. }

"Shoot."

{ I.. I don't know if I can give you children. }

He blinked his eyes. "Huh?"

{ I know. This is embarrassing. I know that I have all the right body parts, but it was never intended for me.. and we're genetically different.. }

McKay made a face. "Ick, I hate kids."

{ You'll love kids. Your own at least. I know it. }

"No I won't! I hate kids!"

{ You just think you do. I know you. You're a child at heart too, and I know that you would be a wonderful father. Especially if it was a boy. I can already imagine you playing with toy blocks on the carpet with your son, showing him how to build a cantilevered bridge at age 2. I can share my mental image of you in that very scene. I think it's rather funny and cute. }

"Oh geez.."

{ No, I agree with you, now is not the time. Not here, not now. Not while we are at war. }

"Okay. Well, is there anything else you need to confess before this barrel goes over the waterfall?"

"Uh.. I don't think so. Remember, under Lantean law we will be a legally mated pair. The Bond will cement, and this will be forever."

"Okay. But this is a mixed marriage. If we do this, I think we gotta do this right."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, normally I'd take you to Las Vegas and we'd go to The Chapel of Love. Fast and easy, nice and quick."

He surprised her. "Are you talking about human marriage?"

"Sure, why not? Like I said, if we're doing this we should do it right. 'Till death do us part' and all that. You said this is for life, right?"

She touched his face. "Oh yes.."

"Plus you get great government benefits. Man, you should see the size of my life insurance policy."

"It won't matter." She looked down. "Honestly, I don't think either of us is going to survive this war."

"Then we're in it together. I'll watch your back, and you watch mine. Just don't scratch me too hard with those kitty claws, okay?"

She laughed and hugged him.


Weir's office was a bit crowded with McKay, Sheppard, the Guardian, her bridesmaid Laura Cadman, Teyla, Lorne, Zelenka, and Weir all in attendance.

Kurosawa's homily was nearing its end.

"Throughout the ages, man has tried to define 'love'. Poems, songs, and books all have been written trying to describe this little four letter word. But the best description I have found comes from God Himself, since He is the Author of love. In His Word in First Corinthians, Chapter 13, it describes the kind of love that must characterize your lives if you are to live in joy and harmony and honor with each other, and also before God. Listen to what it says:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

"These are true words of wisdom. They transcend both time and space, for they are eternal and everlasting."

Kurosawa then addressed the happy couple directly. "Rodney and Sara, since you have consented together in holy matrimony, and have pledged yourselves to each other by your solemn vows and by the giving of rings, and have declared your commitment of love before God and these witnesses, I now pronounce you husband and wife in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Those whom God hath joined together, let no man separate."

She smiled. "Rodney, you may kiss the bride."

He did. Everyone cheered. The happy couple turned as Kurosawa announced, "I am happy to introduce to you all Mr. Rodney McKay and Mrs. Sara McKay." Another cheer.

Sheppard said. "Well, it's about damn time. Rodney, Sara, congrats." The best man shook McKay's hand and hugged the bride. The rest did their own hugs and handshakes in turn.

After that Sheppard asked, "So, 'Sara', huh?"

McKay explained, "Yeah. I picked it. It's source is a secret."

Sheppard nodded. "It works. I like it."

"Well I'm glad we got your blessing on the name. I guess that makes it official, right?"

Weir walked over. "It is. I already entered Sara McKay into the official staff roster."

Sara asked, "My official title will still be The Guardian of Atlantis?"

"Of course."

Just then Weir's radio crackled.

"Doctor Weir?"

She tapped her mic. "What is it, Chuck?"

"I am sorry to interrupt, but the long range sensors just picked up something."

"What is it?"

"A fleet of Wraith hive ships is heading in this direction. About one week out."

"All right, thank you. We'll be right out."

Sara gave Rodney a sardonic look. "So much for our honeymoon. Let's go."

He kept complaining as they walked out together. "You know, this just is my luck. I mean seriously, how come I never catch a break around here.."


A/N:

* Feles=kitty, tigris=tiger, alba=white, sara=jump (also latin salire)

** In this story words enclosed in [brackets] are elisions to bleep-out swear words or to redact text.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Wedding Night

Earth, United States, Montana

A large black Ford Lincoln Navigator drove up to the front gate of a ranch that was nestled in the foothills of the Lewis Range, about 60 miles west of Great Falls. The SUV pulled over to the grassy shoulder just off the narrow dusty dirt road, and a man wearing an official navy-blue USAF military dress uniform and dark sunglasses stepped out of the driver's side of the vehicle. He was carrying an attache case with a chain that was connected to a metal cuff on his wrist.

The USAF officer took in the impressive view of the broad expanse of the Rocky Mountains that could be seen to the west, sweeping from north to south across the entire horizon. He walked up to the gate and opened it, being careful not to touch the electric fence. As he did so he felt something squishy give way under his right dress shoe. He looked down and muttered a curse word as he tried to scrap the cow pie out from under his shoe using one of the stone edgings that lined a well tended gravel walkway that led up to the ranch house.

He walked the 50 yards to the front porch, climbed it, and approached a painted screen door. The inner wooden door was already open. He knocked on the doorframe. "Hello?"

A young boy ran up and asked through the screen door, "Who're you?"

The USAF General bent over and smiled through the mesh screen. "Howdy. I'm here to see your grandpa. Is he in?"

The boy turned and ran back into the house yelling, "Mom! There's an army guy here!"

A short time later a woman wearing an apron opened the screen door. "Oh hello. You must be here to see Dillon. He said you were coming. You can walk around back."

The military officer tipped his cap and said, "Thank you, ma'am". He turned around and proceeded to walk around the ranch house, this time being careful not to step into any more cow pies. Upon reaching the rear he saw a man sitting on the back stoop holding a beer. He was in his early 50s* and had a broad build that was more muscular than stocky, which was unusual for someone of his age. He sported a flattop haircut and was wearing a grey tank-top over his bluejeans and cowboy boots. He spotted the USAF officer approaching but did not bother to stand to greet him.

The USAF officer removed his hat and said, "Colonel Everett?"

The man said without getting up, "That's 'Recently Retired Colonel Everett' to you."

"Of course. Hi, I'm Jack O'Neill, US Air Force. Nice to meet you." O'Neill held out his hand.

Instead of shaking it, Everett bent over and reached into the ice cooler that was next to him to put a beer in the offered hand.

O'Neill gratefully took the beer can as he unbuttoned his USAF jacket and loosened his tie. "Thanks. It's hot." He popped open the brew and drank deeply, then he sat on the stoop next to Everett.

"Least I could do for a flyboy General who drove all the way out here just to see an old Marine. It really wasn't necessary, you know. I told you over the phone I just retired."

O'Neill looked out at the back 40 from the rear stoop. "Wow, what a view."

Everett nodded as he also looked out. "Indian summer. First frost was last week. In a few days that whole field will be covered in red wildflowers. It will be red everywhere as far as the eye can see."

"Yeah, I can see why you decided to retire out here."

Everett sipped his beer as he kept looking out at the amazing view. "This stud ranch has been in my family since my grandpa's time. My old man intended for me run it next, but I wanted to get out of this dirthole as fast as I could, so I ran into town and jumped on a bus to the US Marine Corps recruiting center in Great Falls and signed up when I was 17, lied about my age. My old man didn't talk to me for ten years after that. Now look at me, 36 years later I'm right back here again."

"You running it now?"

"Naw, my daughter Carolyn and her husband do that. When I came back last month they gave me the guest room up on the third floor. I help out on the ranch, hunt, play ball with the twins, life's good."

O'Neill pulled on his brew as they continued to watch the skyline of the Rocky Mountains. "I hear yah. I have a fishing cabin in Minnesota. I never get out there often enough."

Everett decided it was time to get to the point. "Sir, I did my stint, got my pension. I'm spending time with my grandkids now."

"Yeah, I know. Look, I didn't want to ask you to come back either, but everyone I talked to says that you were the go-to guy for difficult extractions. Like what happened in Mogadishu, how your team went in to save those guys. I read the book on the plane on the way out here. That was impressive."

"Forget that dumb book. Sheesh, I never should have talked to that New York Times guy. 'Black Hawk Down', what a stupid title."

"You were a hero, Dillon."

"I was just doing my damn job. Yeah I got a commendation letter signed by the President, big deal. A lot of good men died that day, and what did they get out of it? A casket, a flag triangle, and a widow and kids without a father."

"Dillon, your country needs you again. Everything could hang in the balance. I mean it. It's bigger than you could possibly imagine. You don't need to worry about unwanted publicity this time either, because nobody will ever know."

Everett turned and looked at him. He believed himself to be a good judge of character, and he could see that this Air Force General was not BS-ing him. He had heard of General Jack O'Neill, if only by reputation, the head of the oh-so-mysterious 'Department of Homeworld Security', whatever that was. He pulled on his beer again and sighed, "Tell me the situation."

O'Neill dove in. "It's a vital strategic firebase deep in enemy territory. It needs to be defended at all costs until we can send in some critical reinforcements. Ever hear of Dien Bien Phu?"

Everett made a face. "Pfft, that was a total cock-up by the Frogs. They should never have gone in that deep in the first place. Sounds like you flyboys screwed it up too, and now you need us jarheads to go bail your asses out.

"Something like that, yeah."

"So, who was the military idiot who led this expedition?"

"Your pal Marshall Sumner."

"You're [bleeping] me."

"Nope."

That really got Everett's attention. He and Sumner were lifelong friends starting from boot camp in Quantico, where Everett was Sumner's original drill instructor. As a DI he was bemused with Private First Class Marshall Sumner, his oh-so-serious new recruit who spit-polished his boots like mirrors and made his bunk sheet so tight that a quarter coin bounced on it might put a dent in the ceiling with the ricochet.

Everett knew that Sumner was as no-nonsense as they come. He would never, ever, agree to undertake a mission that would waste lives in some futile attempt to hold territory or to engage in some political stunt. Whatever this was, it had real, legitimate, military necessity, and it could very well be as important as O'Neill claimed.

Everett laughed out loud at the thought of rescuing old Tighty Sheets again, "You mean I'd get to bail out Marshall again? The guy still owes me for Kandahar - and he still hasn't paid up yet. Heh, I told him he'd owe me a whole case next time if I ever had to save his ass like that ever again." Everett loved tweaking Sumner because he was such a well known teetotaler.

O'Neill's looked down. "I'm sorry, but he was KIA."

Everett stopped laughing.

He put down his beer and faced O'Neill squarely. "Dammit, why didn't anyone tell me?"

"You know the rules about black ops, Dillon."

"They said that Marsh was in deep somewhere, but.. oh brother. How did it happen?"

"I'm sorry, I can't tell you. Not unless you're in."

Everett sighed, "Double dammit. Okay, yeah, I'm tempted. I owe it to his wife Marilyn." Everett felt it was the least he could do for the spouse of the man who had once saved his own life in battle.

"But only tempted?"

"Sir, Dien Bien Phu was unwinnable. That's the whole point of studying it, to avoid getting in to that kind of FUBAR situation ever again."

"Well, the analogy isn't perfect this time because we have major relief coming in by air. You'll need to defend the firebase only for four days, not three months."

"Four days to fly in relief? Sir, this is the goddamn 21st century. What kind of airplane are you flying in there, a freakin' dirigible balloon?"

O'Neill opened the locked attache case that was attached to his wrist. "I'll explain everything if you sign these NDAs."

Everett took the offered stack of paper. It was full of densely printed legalese. "Wait, there's got to be at least 100 pages here. What kind of crazy firebase is this?"

"Sign and I'll tell you."


Everett was sitting in the passenger seat of O'Neill's SUV still reading the ultra-classified briefing materials as the pair headed back to Great Falls, where an unmarked Gulfstream G650 private jet was waiting on the tarmac to fly them to Colorado Springs.

O'Neill was rather surprised at how Everett had so calmly accepted the fact of the Stargate Program and the Department of Homeworld Security, which currently managed a theatre of operations that spanned two galaxies. He started to suspect that perhaps Everett might have already had heard rumors about it. He already had one of the highest security clearances possible outside of the SGC.

The newly re-activated Marine Colonel flipped forward through the many pages of the thick packet of material until he reached the section of the briefing with the After Action Report (AAR) regarding Sumner's KIA.

Everett was incredulous as he read it. "Wait, this says here that Sumner was shot by his own second-in-command officer to avoid interrogation? Is that right?"

"That's what it says. I wasn't there."

"I don't believe it. You never do that. Every US soldier is expected to resist interrogation; it's the most basic part of SERE training. Hell, Marsh taught the SERE course at Quantico himself!"

"All I can tell you is that's what the AAR says. Our info is very limited at this point."

"Who was on the review board for writing the AAR?"

"Nobody. The second-in-command wrote it himself."

"Wait, let me get this straight. This guy wrote his *own* AAR? To justify shooting his own CO? Seriously? That's crazy. It's like a guy in a murder case being allowed to be his own judge!"

"It's the best we could do given the circumstances."

"What's his rep in the chain of command?"

"Uh, well, his record isn't exactly 100% perfect at following every order he's given, but.."

"The guy doesn't follow orders and then he shoots his own CO?"

O'Neill kept driving. "You'll have to ask him yourself. Things out there can get pretty, well, complicated."

"I understand." Everett knew how 'complicated' the hell of combat could be. He had first-hand experience dealing with panicky front-line officers yelling orders to shoot outside of the ROE.

He closed the briefing packet and looked at O'Neill. "Just tell me one thing."

"Which is?"

"Sir, I'm 100% in charge of this op, right? Not this jagoff? It's my show?"

"It's your show. Although I'd advise you to listen him."

"Oh I'll listen to him all right, with all the respect he is due."


Atlantis

The wedding ceremony in Weir's office quickly broke up as everyone returned to their respective duties. McKay, Sara, Weir, and Sheppard quickly walked over to Chuck's duty station in the gate room.

McKay reached his station first, and he asked Chuck to put up the long range sensors on the large display panel that was mounted on the wall behind them. He was just about to turn around to look at it when the Guardian gripped his arm to stop him.

He asked, "Sara, what's wrong?"

"I.. I can't look. Can you do it for me?"

"Uh, sure." He turned.

Her thoughts kept repeating over and over like a mantra. McKay could feel the waves of desperation coming from her.

Please be a trio.. please be a trio.. please be a trio..

"I count one.. and two.. and three.. and.."

Oh no, more than three!

".. and that's it. Three hive ships."

She opened her eyes. She turned around to look for herself.

Yes, it was three.

She was sobbing, her tears flowing freely.

McKay grew concerned. "Hey, what's wrong? Is a trio that bad?"

Then she grabbed his face with both hands and gave him a deep kiss.

Sheppard drawled, "You know, I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and take a guess that a trio is actually a good thing, right?"

Sara let her new husband's face go and turned back towards Sheppard. "Oh yes, John. It is."

Weir finally spoke up. "Sara, can you explain to the rest of us what a 'trio' is? Why is it so important?"

"Doctor Weir, it means that we might actually have a chance to survive beyond the end of the week."

Weir felt encouraged. "Really? How so?"

The Guardian explained, "Three hive ships - a trio - indicates that the Wraith are being cautious. Apparently they do not yet realize that we have neither a shield nor any capital ships of our own."

"Yes, keeping the fact hidden that we had no shield and are basically defenseless was our biggest secret."

"It held. They don't know."

Sheppard nodded, "I get it. They're just probing us. Three ships indicates that they're intended to be sacrificial pawns. The Wraith don't care if they lose a few initial ships at the beginning of a major operation."

"Yes, John, but only one, maybe two, of them are actually sacrificial. They will jump in relatively far out from Lantea, then fly in slowly on sublight engines to see what we will do in response. It is indeed a probe of our defenses, and if we succeed in destroying the first ship, the second will attempt to counter whatever defense had defeated the first one. If we then destroy that one also, the third ship will turn around and depart.."

McKay jumped in. ".. so it can report how we defeated the first two, right?"

"Yes, Rodney."

"So we have to stop only two ships."

"Yes. If the Wraith had intended to wage an all-out assault on our position, they would have sent in a duodecim - twelve hive ships - and they would jump in right on top of us with all twelve main cannons blazing down on us simultaneously, their standard fleet tactic against a hardened planetary target. If you had counted 12 ships I would have despaired."

"So how we can stop two ships?"

"I don't know yet. We only have the 36 drones left. I might barely be able to disable one hive ship with 36 although it would be very difficult. Destroying two is impossible. And then, uh.." She swayed slightly.

Weir said, "Sara, are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I can keep going." She swayed again, and this time McKay held her up.

Weir was concerned. "Sara, you still need to replenish the reserves that bug took from you. All you've had so far is an IV glucose drip in the infirmary."

As soon as the Guardian awoke on the cot in the infirmary she had ripped off the IV line and had run out as fast as she could to encamp on the North Tower. Then McKay climbed up for his reunion with her, followed by her many confessions, and finally their impromptu wedding. She barely had time to change out of her dirty battle uniform into her sundress just before the ceremony. She hadn't had time to eat anything beyond a bag of peanuts offered by Kurosawa.

"Have you even slept at all?"

McKay spoke for her. "No, she hasn't."

The Guardian pleaded, "I'm okay, really. I can keep going.."

Weir addressed them both. "No, you need to rest. It's getting late and I want you both to have at least eight hours of sleep minimum. I have other things to discuss with Sheppard and Teyla regarding the status of the Alpha Site. We'll pick this up at tomorrow's staff meeting at 09:00.

McKay offered, "I'll take her to her North Tower hideout and come back."

Weir was firm, "No. You both need to rest."

Sheppard chimed in. "Good grief, Rodney, this is your wedding night. Go."

"But.."

"For crying out loud take your wife with you while she can still walk. Don't worry, we'll have some food sent in."

McKay protested, "But I should really help with the invasion defense plan.."

"Rodney, take her out of here. She can barely stand. You two can come back in the morning."

"But I really think.."

Sheppard was firm. "Look, McKay, if you don't escort her to your quarters right how I am going to have two of my Marines pick you both up and carry you down there then have them stand guard outside until morning. Capice?"

McKay finally conceded defeat and took his swaying wife away.


The pair were laying together in McKay's bed in his quarters, flat on their backs, side by side, fully clothed, each of them holding their hands clasped in front of them separately.

Now, a neutral observer might consider it rather strange for a pair of newlyweds to behave this way during their very first time in bed together, but they did not. After all, it was their most comfortable position together.

McKay observed the featureless white ceiling that was above them. "Hmm, the sky is overcast today."

The Guardian was wide awake and feeling much better. She had just finished wolfing down the last of a huge Roast Mastadge brisket that had been sent to their room courtesy of Teyla, a special delivery straight from the communal kitchens on New Athos.

A bottle of Athosian Port was still on the table. The Guardian had looked at it with some curiosity when it had arrived, opening the bottle and sniffing it, then announcing that it contained poison.

McKay had grabbed the bottle and took a whiff and realized it was that damnable Athosian hooch again. In the past that illicit liquor had kept popping up in hidden stashes all over the base. Teyla and Halling had banned it, of course, but someone had kept sneaking it in, bribed no doubt with chocolate and other rare essentials for the hard life on New Athos.

This time Teyla had made an exception and approved one bottle of the concoction to be delivered to the newlyweds, no doubt at Sheppard's request, with him thinking it would probably help the happy couple move things along.

McKay took one whiff and snatched the bottle away from his wife, quickly replacing the cap and telling her sternly that she must never, ever, drink ethanol, knowing full well how disastrous the impairment and loss of judgment by the living superweapon could be. The Guardian responded that she had no intention of drinking such an obvious poison and was grateful that he had no intention of doing it either.

The newlyweds continued to lay on the bed side by side in their clothes while looking up at the overcast 'sky'.

The Guardian was still busy musing about the pending invasion.

"Let's see.. we have 36 drones left, 11 jumpers - the one we returned is damaged - plus your Marines armed with fifty six P90s, twenty two M16s, two .50 caliber armor piercing guns, various pistols, knives.. what else do we have?"

McKay spoke up. "Kit, just relax."

She turned, "Kit?"

"It's a term of endearment. Do you like it? I just made it up."

{ Is that a reference to.. you know..? }

"Yeah."

She frowned. { I don't know if I like that or not. }

"Oh c'mon, Sara, it fits you perfectly. It'll be my secret pet name for you."

"Now you're calling me your pet? All right, now I'm offended."

"No, that's just an expression. A 'pet name' is a term of endearment."

She sighed, { Meredith, if you feel you have to call me that, then fine, but please, please, always keep it hidden. Nobody knows about my tigris felesium engrams. It's my most embarrassing secret. }

"Uh, actually.."

{ Meredith, I'm serious. Whatever other embarrassing secrets about me might tumble out because of this relationship, you have to keep that one absolutely private. I could never live with that one getting out. }

"Why do you think it's so bad?"

{ Don't you see? It reveals that I have a hidden primal side. In Lantean society genetic tampering is already considered beyond the pale, but to have the engrams of an.. an animal.. spliced in to my head? If anyone knew that I could secretly be so.. so.. primal.. it would be considered absolutely shocking, horrid. I'm sure your people would agree. }

"No they wouldn't."

{ Yes they would. I'm just a walking perversion, genetically tampered, potentially wild and uncontrollable.. if other Lanteans had known they would have locked me away in a cage for life, assuming I would be allowed to live at all. }

"It's okay. I don't care."

She turned and tightened her gloved grip on his hand. { I know. You don't give a whit how weird and perverted my existence is, and that means so much to me. }

"Right. I don't. I really don't."

{ I know, my love. For some unfathomable reason you even seem to relish it. I can sense your thrill. It's okay, I won't tell anyone. }

"Uh, it's not.."

{ I know, I know, perversions like that can be thrilling. Don't worry, I'll keep your secret. No one will ever know how perverted you are. }

"Hey, I'm not perverted! And neither are you!"

{ Rodney, be quiet! What if someone hears you! }

"Kit, c'mon, just stop a sec. Look.."

{ Well, obviously for me I have the excuse that I didn't ask for this.. }

"Kit, stop! First, it's fine. Second, they already know."

She let go his of hand and sat up in alarm.

"What?"

"I said, they already know. Sheppard knew right away, and he told Beckett and Weir."

She bent over and grabbed his shoulders. "Rodney, please tell me you are joking."

"Sorry, my love, they know. Sheppard figured it out right after your first mission when you had sniffed out and chased after those Wraith. He said you were behaving just like an apex predator - he even said outright that you were acting like a tiger."

She held a gloved hand to her face in shock. "No.."

"Hey, relax. It's okay. Beckett did a neural scan on your brain the very first day and spotted all the neural hacks and rewiring that they did to your brain."

She cringed and curled herself into a ball on the bed.

He saw her mortified reaction and tried to console her as best he could. "Look, it's okay. C'mere." He sat up and gently pulled her head into his lap as she continued to cringe.

{ I'm so incredibly embarrassed. Rodney, how can I face them? }

He stroked her hair. "Honestly, it's fine. Don't worry about it. They know and Sheppard still thinks the world of you, so does Weir, so does everybody. Okay, there was some initial concern about whether you could control it or not, and you can. And they think it's an asset, not a liability. Weir even said so. She loves that you are a walking Wraith Terminator, and she told everyone how much we need that if we're going to survive this."

He kept petting her hair. "It's part of you, your nature. It's who you are. I love you, the whole package. And I know you won't hurt me no matter how carried away you get. Remember that pic with the cuddle pile? It'll be fine."

She sat up again, even more mortified now. "Oh! That is so embarrassing!"

I got a catgirl.. oh man.. I definitely must be dreaming

She grew angry. "Rodney, I heard that!"

"Huh? Oh? You did?"

Now it was McKay's turn to be embarrassed. "I'm sorry.."

She moved to her original supine position on the bed and re-folded her hands primly and looked up at the ceiling again. { I'm sorry for snapping at you. It's just thought leakage. It happens sometimes. We can just ignore it. }

"Sorry. I can't help it.."

"It's okay." She sighed, "I still think it's pretty perverted though."

"Uh, can we change the topic here?"

"Gladly. Now Rodney, help me out here. How do we take out two hive ships given the city's current resources?"

This was not the kind of topic that McKay was hoping to switch to. "Do we really have to do this now?"

"Yes, Rodney. The Wraith are coming. We only have 7 days."

So much for our wedding night. She gets so obsessed sometimes. Well, I do too, I guess.

"Exactly, Rodney, so help me here."

"Aw crap. This thought leakage stuff is just going to keep happening, right?"

She was feeling churlish now. "Yes. Get used to it."

Aw gawd.. everything will come out. That Christmas party, dad's belt, Jean hating me, and.. oh no you heard that.

{ It's okay. It's just thought leakage. Perfectly normal. }

Great, everything will come out. Was this a mistake? Wait! I didn't mean to think that!

She rolled over and held his hand again. "Stop. You're cycling."

{ Rodney, stop fretting. Relax and quiet your mind. Shush. Remember, we're committed for life. We're locked. Nothing that leaks out of your head will change that now. There is no possible thought that might tumble out of your amazing brain that will push me away from you. }

"We're locked? You sure?"

{ Yes. Uh, we will be, when we move up to the next level.. }

I am not ready for this! What if I hurt him? I'd never forgive myself. His perversion is so strong. He'll hate me!

She did a facepalm. "Ugh. I should be able to control that."

"Hey, it's okay. We're even now."

{ I'm so sorry, Rodney. }

"This is going to just keep on happening between us, isn't it.."

{ No, it's just thought leakage. I'm only doing it because I'm really frazzeled with everything that's happened during the past 36 hours. Normally only young Lantean children suffer thought leakage. Yes, it is very embarrassing. It's like wetting yourself in public. We quickly learn to control it. }

"I see.."

{ Don't worry, I'll teach you some mental exercises so you'll be able to control it like I can do, at least when I'm not so frazzled. We'll practice together. You're a quick study, and I am sure I'll soon have you whipped into shape with a mind that is just as disciplined as mine, like a real Lantean. You'll be fine. }

"You think? I don't see how. Stray thoughts are impossible to stop. It's like elephants."

"Elephants? What do you mean?"

"I mean elephants. Here's a test: Don't think of elephants. I just said the word 'elephants'. Now you're thinking of elephants, see? It's impossible for you to stop thinking about elephants now."

She gave him a passive look. { Nothing. }

"Aw, really?"

{ You're going to eventually need this training. It might be vitally important some day. }

"Why? I mean beyond the embarrassment factor?"

"Rodney, here is a test: Do not think of me as a slinky catgirl with kitty ears and a tail. If you do I will instantly die, so you must not think of it. Remember, I will die if you imagine me that way."

Uh.. dirty gym socks! Baseball! That would be so hot! The prime factors of 457,896,341! Argh, dammit.

"Yeah, we need to work on you. There are exercises that I am going to teach you."

"Exercises.."

{ Mental ones. Oh, and there are other ones specifically for couples who are trying to increase mental intimacy. We can concentrate on those first if you like. }

"Really?"

{ Yes. Endless Lantean books have been written on the subject, mostly aimed at young people. The goal is to reach a level of mental intimacy that finally sublimates into the physical level. In Lantean society this is considered one of the pinnacles of mental achievement, to be able to reach a level of mental discipline that is so high, to mold one's mind so thoroughly, that it perfectly meshes with your mate's mind like two puzzle pieces snapping together. And the Bond is the final crowning achievement; that is why it is so greatly celebrated in our society. }

"But we already seem to have somehow hit that top level, which is now quite embarrassingly obvious.."

{ I know. I don't understand it either. It's totally backwards. Somehow we jumped right to the Bond without passing through the intermediate levels first. We should have been getting mentally intimate first, slowly, gradually, for months, before getting anywhere near the physical level - which we haven't even begun - much less reaching the Bond. }

"Months?"

{ Yes. The future couple sometimes will not realize the mental alignment is even happening until it reaches a certain point. }

"Uh.."

{ It takes hundreds of hours, sometimes thousands, to get there. I don't understand it. }

"I hate to break this to you, but I think we already did that."

{ What? }

"Our endless debates about astrophysics and quantum mechanics."

She sat up. "Huh?"

"Remember all those arguments? We'd bicker all the time, and you'd shove your way past me and move the formulas around on the imaging table, then I'd shove you back and re-arrange the formulas again?"

{ Wait.. }

"Remember on the rooftop when you confessed to me how you felt so relaxed whenever we geeked out together? You even stretched out like a cat."

And it was so hot

She ignored the leak. "Are.. are you saying that all our debates about quantum physics were.. were.." She couldn't say it out loud. { .. a form of foreplay? }

He chuckled, "Hey, why not? For two supernerds like us? I mean, it's possible, right?"

{ I never thought of it like that. My word.. you might be on to something there. All right, I can see it now. But I still don't understand how we leap-frogged right over physical intimacy straight to the Bond though. }

"Oh, I think we were getting physical all right, all that casual touching we were doing without realizing it. Normally if I was standing that close to a pretty girl I'd stammer and freak out. With you I didn't care. I honestly didn't even think of you as a girl during those debates or any other time we worked together closely, like when we worked so hard on the storm problem."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It was only afterward when I sat by myself did I realize that was I getting strong feelings for you. Then it scared the hell out of me because I'm such a loser, and that if you knew what I was thinking I was afraid it would push you away and we wouldn't be friends anymore.."

She sighed and looked down. { That's exactly what I was thinking. I didn't think you'd ever want to be with a deviant like me. }

"You did? I never had an inkling."

{ I was thinking that when I was by myself, not when I was with you. I noticed you did get nervous with me a few times. I'm just better at compartmentalizing my thoughts than you, that's all. That is something I'm going to teach you. }

"You will?"

{ I have every confidence in you, my love. }

I'll teach him; this will work. I am so thankful I didn't give in to John

She sat up suddenly and stared at the wall.

He simply said one word: "When?"

She couldn't face him. { The day after I woke up. Oh Meredith, I'm so sorry.. }

He tried to assure her. "Hey, it's just thought leakage, don't worry about it."

{ Meredith, I love you. John means nothing to me. }

"I know, and I believe you. Just tell me the what happened."

{ Well, I had planned to tour the city on my first full day back, and he decided to come along. He brought a picnic basket.. }

McKay was incredulous. "A picnic basket? And you didn't find that just a little bit odd?"

{ Meredith, I didn't know any better! Somehow he managed to fool me about his intentions even with the mind link.. }

She mentally kicked herself. She wasn't planning to reveal the mind link yet.

"What? You linked minds? Kit!"

She pleaded, { I'm sorry! He tricked me! }

"Sorry for snapping, it's okay.. I'm sure you were completely innocent."

Like a minnow against a Great White Shark

McKay was becoming agitated. "Dammit! Argh, I can't believe it. It happened the day after you woke up?" He shook his head, "It's like he is goddamned Captain Kirk!"

She tilted her head. "Captain Kirk? Who is that?" She started to look up the reference on her imager when he gently lowered her arm back down.

"It's just a character in a sci-fi TV show, forget it." He continued to hold her arm as he looked at her gloved hand. He shifted his hand as he inspected her white glove. "You know, I only touched your bare hand once, in the ceremony. It felt so incredibly warm."

{ My high metabolism. I thought the ceremony was beautiful. It says so much about your human culture. }

"There's no seam. How does it come off?"

{ Here, I'll show you. } She turned her hand palm up and pressed on her wrist with her other thumb. A gap appeared between the glove and sleeve and she deftly worked her thumb around the seal and pulled it off. Then she repeated the process with her other glove.

She raised her hand with its long delicate fingers as she turned it around in front of him for his inspection. Her ring glinted on her third finger.

{ Thank you for this. It's so beautiful. }

When he originally offered it to her, he did not have the heart to tell her that it was just a stainless steel joint sleeve for a metal pipe fitting.

{ I will never remove this as long as I live. }

She then proceeded to put her gloves back on and laid back down on the bed in the cloud-watching position, her gloved fingers clasped together primly as she looked up at the ceiling.

She switched to speaking aloud. "Anyway, I want to get back to figuring out how we're going to beat the trio."

"Huh? The trio? Oh yeah."

"Rodney, 36 drones is not enough for even one hive ship. I suppose we could cannibalize the drones in the jumpers.."

McKay clasped his own fingers and looked up. Back to business. "How many drones do we have left total, including the jumpers?"

"I checked. Three jumpers still have the full compliment of six, three in each pod. There are only five others in the rest."

"So 59 total. How many do you need to take out a hive ship?"

"Fewer than you think. In my VR simulation runs I managed to kill one with only 50, carefully targeted, with no dart screen to stop me. But that was the exception. The standard for an elite operator is 100-200. So at best we might get one if we're really lucky."

"Only 50? Wow, those drones are tougher than I thought."

"Yes. They are designed specifically to kill Wraith ships. The hulls of Wraith ships are organic, made of a reinforced calcium lattice, not dissimilar to human bone but much stronger, and also much, much thicker. Our drones are constructed of a naquadah and molybdenum alloy that can pierce 50mm of heavy armor plating or over two meters of Wraith hull material. We send them in sequence hitting the same point repeatedly, so they are very effective."

"They're tough little buggers."

"Oh yes. It's a pity your people had wasted so many on Earth against the Goa'uld mothership. According to the SGC report you had fired almost all of the drones stored in our Antarctic defense station, over 2000, all at once. Such a colossal waste."

"Well, we didn't know what we were doing at the time."

"Rodney, those drones are irreplaceable. The drone manufacturing facility was destroyed early in the war. There is no way to manufacture any more now."

"So what happens after they are fired?"

"The lead ones are always destroyed immediately. The follow-ons drill deep inside, and eventually the rest just puncture through the ship and fly out the back. A skilled operator will cause them to re-swarm and dive again and again until they run out of power."

"And then?"

"They are expended."

"No way to re-use them, huh?"

"Not feasible. They travel at such high speeds that they end up flying off into deep space, essentially lost." She sighed, "Only 59 left. There is so much junk up there it will be hard to target the hive ship even if we had more."

"Naw, the debris is way down now. After 10,000 years all that stuff decayed their orbits and burned up in the atmosphere, or went into the sun, or got ejected out of the system."

"Rodney, the amount of wreckage was massive. That final battle destroyed over two dozen hive ships and countless Wraith cruisers. We lost all of our remaining battleships, our last two defense platforms, everything. All of our space capability was destroyed. We fired thousands and thousands and thousands of drones from the city and from our battleships. Our weapon defense platforms sliced dozens of Wraith ships in half. The wreckage was colossal. It's a total mess up there."

"No, it's all been swept up by now. Like I said, the orbits either decayed or got kicked out to deep space long ago. The rest settled into the Lagrangian points."

"The Lagrangian points? I forgot about those."

The Lagrangian points were the five natural locations in space between an orbiting satellite and its parent body where asteroids and other debris tended to collect. Essentially they were low-energy 'depressions' in space.

In this case the five Lagrangian, or L points, surrounded Lantea in its orbit around its sun. The first point, L1, is the most intuitive to understand, being the point between Lantea and its sun where the gravity of the two bodies cancelled each other out, about 1.5 million kilometers inward from Lantea. The second, L2, was located on the opposite side of Lantea, 1.5 million kilometers farther out, where Lantea's gravity cancelled out the higher orbit of a given object. It was the most strategic point from a military perspective, the 'high ground' above the planet.

L3 was on the far side of the side of the sun and was useless militarily, while L4 and L5 were co-located along the same orbit as Lantea, about one third of the way ahead and one third of the way behind the position of the planet. This was the location of the so-called 'Trojan' asteroids that tended to collect in those points. Lantea had four weapons platforms at L1, L2, L4, and L5.

McKay sighed, "Man, those Lagrangian points have to be huge junkyards by now."

The Guardian closed her eyes as she imagined it. "Yes, the final battles were a carnage of destruction. We destroyed over 24 hive ships, losing our last 8 battleships on our side. After 10,000 years a lot of remaining debris is still out there."

McKay sat up. "Thousands of drones were floating around the system, all dead.."

The Guardian's eyes popped open. ".. but many were still fully intact.."

".. just simply out of power.. "

She sat up and she grabbed him. ".. until after 10,000 years they had slowed down .."

He grabbed her right back. ".. and drifted into the Lagrangian points."

"Ita! Ita!" She jumped on the bed. "We can try to salvage them from the Lagrangian points, collect as many as we can, sift through and find the ones with minimal damage or that just have no power, then recharge them back in their bays. There are thousands of them!"

{ Oh Meredith. }

She threw him down on the bed, straddling him, pinning him flat on his back using her thighs and her hips.

{ Meredith, I love you so much. }

He smiled underneath her. "Wanna take your gloves off now?"

She quickly did.

He just smiled. "Kit, what am I thinking now?"

{ Meredith, oh.. are all humans like this? }

{ Heh, pretty much. We humans all have our primal side. }

She remembered the surreptitious looks that she had sometimes felt in the mess hall, along with the occasional green-tinged feelings of lust that had forced their way past her limiter sometimes when she walked by a table full of young men.

{ And human women can feel this way too? The way I'm feeling now? }

{ Yeah, I think. I'm guessing you Lanteans all feel it at this point; you just suppress it better than we do with all your mental discipline stuff. }

She was breathing heavily. { Meredith, I.. }

{ Let go. }

"But I might hurt you.."

"No you won't."

"My animal side.."

"No, it's your human side. It's not your cat, it's you. They wouldn't program this into your genetics."

She sat up straight and lectured him. "Rodney, my genetics are 100% pure Lantean, a perfect selection of genes with no negative recessive traits or genetic defects whatsoever. The tigris engrams were simply implanted surgically."

"Oh. Still, there's no reason to include it. This is you."

She nodded as she allowed her feelings to well up from deep within herself and wash over her mind. She pushed him down again on the bed with her hips.

My Rodney

Then he realized something. "Crap, I forgot protection."

"Protection?"

He explained it mentally.

She tightened her straddle on him, { It's not a problem. I'm a pre-Ascendant, remember? }

"You mean.."

{ I can't get pregnant unless I want to. }

"Oh wow.."

{ Meredith, sit up. I want to see you. } He did.

{ Raise your arms. } He did.

She lifted his blue t-shirt up over him, pulling it over his head.

Her eyes were like saucers.

She was pointing at something. At first he thought it was behind him.

He turned and looked behind himself. "Huh? Is something back there?"

She kept pointing.

He turned back to her and asked, "Kit, what is it?"

"You!"

She was pointing at him.

"Who, me?"

"Yes, you!"

"What?"

"That!" She was pointing at his chest.

"Huh?"

"Fur!"

"Where?"

"There!"

He looked down at his chest.

"Yeah, so?"

"Furry!"

"Oh, I see. Sorry about that. I got a lot of chest hair. I didn't realize it bothered you so much. I guess I can shave it off."

"No!"

"No?"

"Fur!"

"So..?"

"You're a secret animal!"

"Huh?"

"Just like me!"

She knocked him over, rubbing her cheek on his chest. "Oh, it smells so.. so primal.. so animal.."

She pulled back, her face shining at him. { Don't worry, I'll never reveal your secret. }

"Kit.."

She pinned him down again.

{ Meredith, I.. I don't know if I can control this much longer.. }

He chuckled, "Go for it."

{ Are you sure? }

He gave his mental consent. Her breathing quickened until she was panting.

{ Meredith, you're.. you're an animal.. }

She reached for the hidden tab under her garment and pulled it down to reveal alabaster skin.

{ .. just like me! }

She pounced.


The next morning McKay and the Guardian explained their plan to Sheppard and Weir.

The Guardian was finishing up. ".. and there are magnetic grapples and nets down in sublevel 6 that we can use. We assign all of your ATA-capable pilots to fly all the working jumpers to salvage as many dead drones from the Lagrangian points as we can, then recharge them in their bays using the naquadah generators. What do you think?"

McKay was grinning. "I can't take 100% credit for this. It was a team effort."

Weir was amazed. "This is incredible, to think that there might be thousands of salvageable drones. You're right, we might actually live through this."

Sheppard nodded, "That's a heckuva plan. I'll call in our ATA pilots and get Grodin's team to bring up the grapples and nets. But still.."

McKay said, "Hmm?"

Sheppard was shaking his head. "McKay, that's all you two did last night?"

The Guardian protested, "But John, this is important.."

Sheppard ignored her as he addressed McKay. "Dang it McKay, do you know how hard it was for Teyla and me to get that roasted Mastadge and that bottle of port on such short notice? I specifically ordered you to take care of your wife and give her a proper wedding night!"

The Guardian said brightly, "John, coming up with the plan *was* our wedding night. The resulting sexual encounter was incredible."

{ Kit, stop! Too much information! }

{ It is? }

{ Yes! }

{ Oh, that's right, Laura warned me about oversharing mating information with third parties. I forgot. I'm sorry.. }

McKay tried to smile weakly.

Sheppard finally said dryly, "Yep, you two are freaks." He turned and slapped McKay on the back. "C'mon, let's go do this."

They all left together.


* According to the Stargate Wikia website, Colonel Dillon Everett was born in July, 1951. The siege took place in 2005, which would make him about 54 at the time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: The Siege (Part 1)

The Guardian entered her secret sanctuary to pick up her personal kit for her move-in to McKay's quarters. She found her white duffel bag and filled it with her small number of personal items: her sundress, sunhat and sandals, a roll of extra fabric for repairs, some basic toiletries, her spare limiter, and a few small secret items hidden in the lining of the bag. She put the strap over her shoulder and slung the bag across her back.

As she turned she paused and looked at the access point to the inner sanctum of the Forbidden Archives. Since her awakening she had been inside that secret place only once, to take inventory. She did not know when she might return again so she decided to go inside for one final inspection.

She lowered her duffel bag to the floor and approached a blank wall. On the adjacent wall was an 'X' symbol. She made some complex hand motions and heard the expected faint rumbling noises behind the blank wall as she waited for the dimensional interlocks to align. The symbol changed from 'X' to 'O'. She then teleported to the access point that was behind the wall. At the access point she verified that the dimensional interlocks were in place, then she crossed the glowing threshold.

She was now inside a featureless room that existed in a tiny pocket of subspace that was outside of the normal universe. She knew that just before the city's self-destruct sequence would destroy the city, the access point would permanently scramble the dimensional interlocks, the pocket would disconnect, and its contents would be forever lost to the physical world.

She inspected the very dangerous artifacts that were in the sealed room. They included a Replicator Table, a Quantum Mirror, a Vacuum Bottle, an Ascendant Neutralizer, a Time Machine, and a few other devices. She saw that everything was in order.

The Council had specifically assigned the Guardian as the keeper of the Forbidden Archives because, as her father had explained to them, the Guardian would be the ideal Curator: dispassionate in her duties, with no personal motive to ever use them, being a creature with no past memory (and no real future). She would remain forever alone, never interacting with others, ordered to never leave the city, so she would have no desire to ever abuse such terrible devices for her own ends.

But she did leave the city.

She was now able to recall the approximate year and the gate address where it had happened.

Where is my Mommy?

I can't find my Mommy!

In her madness she had violated her orders and had committed a terrible crime.

She paused. She went back to the Time Machine.

She could go back.

She could undo a horrible mistake.

She took off a white glove and touched the Time Machine with her fingers, feeling its shiny smooth surface.

No one would ever know.

She thought a moment, then she put back on her glove and left the room.


The Guardian climbed up to the rooftop of the North Tower alone. Living with McKay meant that she would go to the North Pier only rarely now, and given what might happen during the next seven days she did not know if she would ever have a chance to climb up there ever again.

Standing on the rooftop she looked up as she had done many of times in her life.

Just remember, my little white tiger-kitty, there will always be someone watching you. Never forget that.

So you have told me many times.. After you leave, will it be you who will be watching me?

I honestly don't know. But if I can watch you, I promise I will.

And so from her youngest age she had climbed up to the roof of the North Tower whenever she had the opportunity, looking up so that he could see her face.

And now she looked up into the heavens, for possibly the last time. She knew that also up there were the Vigilante, The Watchers, the Ascendant beings who she knew were watching her at that very moment.

Even higher up was the Excogitatoris, the Creator, the One who existed in some unreachable higher level of reality - of which the physical universe was only a small part. He existed outside of time and space, and presumably He could re-enter any part of His Creation at will.

In her talks with Kurosawa, the Guardian knew that there were humans who had claimed that He had done exactly that on their amazing world about 2000 years ago. At first she thought the idea was absurd. Now she wasn't so sure. If there was any one world in the known universe that had deserved Watching, be it the Watchers or even the Creator Himself, it certainly had to be that one. It was the most dynamic and vibrant world she had ever heard of. If the Creator ever did decide to meddle at a single point in His Creation, she believed that it would be there.

She had asked Kurosawa what Evan Lorne was doing at the end of his Twelve Step meeting, when he seemed to be talking directly with the Excogitatoris. Kurosawa explained that it was called 'prayer'. She said that God always heard prayer, and that it was a form of bidirectional communication, a dialogue, 1-on-1, and when it was done properly it was a form of spiritual intimacy between the Creator and His Creation - a meeting of minds - and that therefore it should be done each and every day to strengthen and deepen that spiritual connection, just like physical exercise strengthens the body.

The Guardian had never done it, indeed it had never occurred to her to even conceive of doing it. She decided to give it a try.

Excogitatoris, I know you are Watching me, to instantiate my reality if nothing else. I explained it to Rodney: I think therefore I exist, I exist therefore I am Observed, I am Observed therefore there is an Observer, QED. But Rodney still clings to his strict physical materialism no matter how strong the evidence that I present to him that You exist. I'm not sure why.

You Created me. You are Watching me. But do You care? Do You participate? I think You must do so on Earth because that world is a miracle unto itself, and only divine intervention could keep something so incredibly unstable from flying apart into complete chaos almost immediately. Yes, Earth is a living miracle, one that You had Created.

So maybe You do care for these humans? But if so, why? Why them?

I do see some of it, I think. They are young, eager, brave, foolish, facing challenges beyond their comprehension. My people started to interbreed with them..

Her radio crackled to life.

"Grodin to Guardian."

She tapped her mic. "Guardian here."

"I am very sorry to bother you ma'am, but we are having problems trying to connect the magnetic grapples and the durafiber nets to the backs of the jumpers. I have some of my engineers with me in the main hangar. Major Sheppard said it would be all right if I contacted you to please ask for some help?"

"I am happy to assist you. On my way. Guardian out."

She looked up for a final time.

I respect and honor your Creation, this universe, for it is indeed sublime, elegant, and majestic in its glorious design. I don't know You, but I do know that it is a reflection of You, Glorious Creator, so I respect and honor You as well. Amen.

She wasn't sure if she did it right. She decided to ask Kurosawa about it later. She was going to next ask the Excogitatoris what happened to her people when Grodin interrupted her. She made a mental note to later ask Kurosawa if there was anything in Earth's religious writings about early humans interbreeding with powerful beings that came from another world. She gazed up at the fluffy clouds for the last time, then she sighed and headed for the rooftop's edge.

She climbed down the ladder and re-entered the main building, walked down two flights of stairs, crossed a hall, and entered the teleporter for the upper North Tower. She quickly zapped herself over to McKay's quarters to drop off her duffel bag, then she zapped over to the main hangar to assist Grodin.


The Guardian was back in McKay's quarters. She was once again straddling him on his bed, but this time it was for an entirely different reason. McKay was laying on his stomach and looked unhappy. She was slowly moving the palm of her right hand over the back of his injured thigh where a large bruise had formed.

McKay squirmed a bit. "Hey, that tickles."

"Keep still." Her hand was glowing softly as it accelerated his tissue repair. "You lacerated the vein. I hope you learned your lesson."

He was resting his chin on the back of his hands. "Yeah, yeah. Never try to sneak into the shower with a girl who is way more limber than you are." McKay's attempt to share the shower had quickly failed, ending with only a fall and a nasty bruise to his thigh and to his ego.

As she kept working on healing his injured leg he asked her, "So how does that healing gizmo work?"

She continued to move her glowing right palm over his bruise. "I am not sure really. It's an energy transfer mechanism that stimulates cellular repair."

He squirmed again. "Rodney, keep still."

"Sorry."

"There, done." She stood up and started to dress.

He sat up and rubbed his thigh. "You know, we're going to need a bigger bed." Then he added brightly, "Hey, I bet we can requisition a bigger room. Maybe one with a balcony?"

She briefly sat back down on the bed to put on her white boots. "Rodney, why didn't you ask for that originally?"

"Eh, up to now I'd only use this room to crash out, usually after an all-nighter in the lab, that's it. So you think Weir will let us have bigger digs now that we're married?"

She put on her gloves and sealed them. "Oh I think she will, however she will need to discuss it with the Quartermaster." She smiled, "Oh wait, that's me."

McKay rubbed his still sore thigh again. "Hey, yeah, you're the landlady! Does this place have a penthouse suite somewhere? Let's grab it."

She tsked-tsked him as she stood up again. "No, we get nothing that extravagant. A balcony is fine, but that's it." She attached her hooded cloak. "Now hurry up and get dressed or we're going to be late for the final briefing."


The Guardian was piloting a puddle jumper to the L5 Lagrangian point in the Lantean system. A durafiber net and a magnetic grapple were in tow.

McKay was sitting in the co-pilot seat. He was fidgeting.

"Dang it, Kit, I should be back at the city working on refurbishing the drone launch bays. We still need to figure out how to adapt our naquadah power generators for trickle-charging the drones. Why did you drag me out here?"

"Well, I thought this would be a good opportunity for you to gain some more piloting experience."

"Kit, I already know how to pilot a jumper." Sheppard had previously given him some basic flight training after McKay had received his initial ATA gene therapy.

The Guardian explained, "You only know how to do basic take offs and landings using the neural autopilot. The flight logs say that you've only flown two practice flights out to the mainland and back, that's it. You've never flown through the gate before or up into space."

"Aw, how hard can it be?"

"And you need to learn advanced tactics: evasion, targeting, drone launching, high speed planetary re-entry.."

McKay crossed his arms. "And when will I ever use those?"

"Trust me, some day you will."

"C'mon, why do I need to learn how to evade and shoot when I am flying a ship that has an invisibility cloak?"

"Rodney, you can't always depend on the ship's cloak to be functional. It can easily become damaged, or you might need to divert the power for extra speed, or you might meet an enemy that can see through the cloak."

McKay had a worried look on his face. "An enemy can see through it? Who?"

"Well, no one you need to worry about right now. The Replicators mainly. They learn to adapt very quickly to overcome any offensive or defensive weapon, sometimes within minutes. Granted, they are an ancient enemy that you needn't concern yourself with at the moment.."

McKay nodded with understanding. "Yeah, Replicators. I hate those things."

The jumper lurched as the Guardian reacted to McKay's very surprising statement. She turned on the autopilot and swivelled her pilot seat to face McKay squarely. "You.. you know about the Replicators?"

"Oh yeah. Nasty little buggers."

She whispered, "Where?"

"They infested the SGC once. We had a devil of a time getting them out."

"That's.. that's impossible."

"Why?"

{ They are implacable enemies, relentless, impossible for mortals to defeat. In some ways they are even worse than the Wraith. If they had reached Earth you wouldn't have a planet anymore, at least not one with any recognizable form of biological sentient life left on it. }

"Huh? They're bad but they're not that bad. Not too intelligent either. At least the ones in the SGC. They just, well, replicated, and that's it. We got rid of them."

The Guardian frowned. { Show me an image of them in your mind. }

He did. They looked like robotic Lego spiders, marauding but doing little else.

"That's it? Are you sure?"

"Uh, well, I wasn't there when they infested the SGC. I heard it was touch-and-go for a while, but yeah, they eventually got rid of them."

Not the same. More primitive.

McKay went on. "I think some other Replicators later tried to clone Samantha Carter - they wanted to use her as a template for creating a master controller or something. It didn't work."

She asked worriedly, "It didn't? You sure?"

"Nope, didn't work. As far as I know they haven't been a problem since.*"

From McKay's description the Milky Way Replicators seemed to be considerably inferior compared to the ultra-intelligent and ruthlessly implacable enemy of the Ancients.**

The Guardian gave a sigh of relief. "Oh thank the Maker, you had me scared for a moment." She rotated her pilot seat so it faced forward again.

"Anyway, you need to learn some basic evasive combat maneuvers." She leaned forward and added, "Like this one."

The jumper suddenly began to corkscrew wildly in a loop-the-loop like a drunken bird.

Rodney yelled, "Gah!" as the ship spiraled around like a roller-coaster ride. A few seconds later it levelled out and steadied itself.

He yelled at her, "Stop that! I'll throw up!"

The Guardian sat back and grinned at him. "That was a bumpy ride, wasn't it?"

"Yes!"

"That is because the inertial dampeners were caught off guard and fell behind by a fraction of a second. Now watch this." She repeated the same maneuver again, but this time it was smooth as glass. The stars swirled outside but there was no apparent feeling of movement inside the vehicle.

McKay was impressed. "I didn't feel a thing. How did you do that?"

"I told the ship what I was planning to do ahead of time. It readied the inertial dampeners, then I synchronized my mind with the ship and told it the evasive pattern I wanted it to follow, then I let ship fly the pattern for me. In this case it flew a pre-arranged path that I call 'Evasive Pattern Helix 1'. Simple, see?"

"So the ship flew a pre-arranged flight pattern that you had programmed in advance."

"Correct. I have flown thousands of hours in this little ship. This is my personal jumper, so it knows me very well. It knows all my favorite tricks." She lovingly stroked the console. "It's name is Tarai."

"You named it?"

"Oh yes. The jumper and pilot work together as one. Each pilot has a favorite jumper, and the tighter the mental bond the better it flies. It can be a very close relationship."

McKay said acerbically, "Well, you just tell Tarai that you're already taken."

She laughed. "He knows. Don't worry, he says he likes you."

"Oh that's just great."

"Would you like to fly next? Introduce yourself?"

McKay crossed his arms again. "No, not really."

"Well, on the return flight I will have you practice a high speed de-orbit and fast landing. Don't worry, it will be 100% manual."

"Aw, why?"

"Because it's very important. A normal landing can take a long time to bleed off the high velocity from orbit, and there can easily be a situation where you might need to dive in and rescue me or someone else off a hostile planet as fast as possible. The hull is very strong but it can't be a meteor."

"Oh wonderful.."

"The trick is to fly a series of 'S' turns at the optimum descent angle for the given atmospheric density and composition. The descent window is very narrow. Go in too steep and you burn up; go in too shallow and you bounce off the atmosphere. You have to hit just the right angle, usually to within about three degrees or less."

"Oh brother. I hope there's an indicator dial somewhere?"

"Yes. I'll demonstrate when we get back. Tarai could do it for us, of course, but you might be flying a different jumper in an emergency situation so you need to know how to do it manually."

"Fine, whatever."

They resumed their flight in silence. McKay checked the chronometer. "Gawd, it's only been 2 hours. 13 more hours to get there. Why did you pick L5? It's the furthest one out."

"To give us maximum time."

"For what?"

She made a small grin. "Check the storage compartment."

He got up and went to the back section. The Guardian unhooked her seatbelt and followed him back. He opened the lid to the storage compartment, and there he pulled out a warm blanket and a soft sleeping mat.

He caught on and chuckled, "This is just so we can get some sleep on the return leg, right?"

She approached him from the back and wrapped her arms around him. "It's the best I could arrange for a honeymoon. And yes, we both desperately need some sleep. We certainly didn't get any last night."

He turned and embraced her face-to-face. "You know, this was actually in the back of my mind after you shanghaied me up here, but I was worried that the aluminum emergency blanket wouldn't be warm enough and the cargo mat would be too hard so I didn't say anything."

"So we were both thinking the same thing again.."

He pulled her in. "Great minds think alike don't they?"

"Indeed they do." She kissed him.


He was embracing her under the blanket. "Kit, you are so incredibly warm. We don't really need the blanket.."

She said, "No, I still want the blanket. Otherwise I'd feel chilly."

"You'd feel cold without the blanket? It feels downright toasty to me."

"I'm a thermophile. My outfit is an insulator that keeps my high body heat in; that's why I don't wear any other fabric."

"Of course, I get it. You always wear your special gloves for the same reason - because otherwise your hands would feel chilly."

"Exactly. My outfit maintains my thermal equilibrium and helps reduce the draw on my biopacks. On a sunny warm day I will sometimes wear my sundress. The black rooftop material can get very warm, so I usually change into it before I go cloud watching. If it's a bit chilly I sometimes wear my bodysuit's leggings under the dress."

"Well, you feel to me like I'm holding a heated body pillow. A very nice one, I might add."

They looked at each other's faces in silence under the blanket. The rear compartment was well lit, so McKay used the opportunity study her face closely: her high cheekbones, her perfect complexion. He gazed deep into her sparkling blue eyes, and for the first time he noticed that her irises had tiny gold flecks in them.

"My god, you're beautiful."

{ And I think you are very handsome. }

"No I'm not. I'm balding, I'm not that tall, I'm going to need glasses soon.."

{ You are wrong. Besides, I don't care what you look like. You have the most beautiful mind I have ever seen, and remember I had lived among Lanteans. }

They continued to gaze at each other under the warm blanket.

Is this really happening? I can't believe how lucky I am.

She smiled at the thought-leak. { No, I'm the lucky one, not you. }

"C'mon."

{ Just look at you. Out of the billions and billions of people on your planet you, and only you, were selected out of all of them to come here, across galaxies, across millennia, to be with me. Everything is rare, but even this is.. }

"Wait, everything is rare?"

"Yes, Rodney, everything is rare."

McKay propped his head up. "What do you mean by that?"

"You should know. It is a basic property of the physical universe."

"Is this like your weird comment about neutrinos? Are you being cryptic again?"

She propped her head up as well. "No, my statement should be obvious. As a physicist you of all people show know what I mean by it."

This was technically their honeymoon, and they were both tired and sleepy, but she had triggered McKay's insatiable curiosity. McKay had to know what she meant by her strange remark. "All right, I give up. Explain yourself."

"Well, let's start with life. You agree that life is pretty rare in the universe, right?"

"Of course. Life exists on only in a tiny subset of planets. The probability is modeled by the Drake Equation: the rate of star formation, the fraction of those stars with planets, the average number of planets that can potentially support life, and the fraction that actually develop intelligent life. We know it's really tiny, but not zero. Until the Stargate Program the only example was Earth itself."

"Correct. Now, is life rare on Earth, as a fraction of the planet I mean?"

"Well, yeah, I suppose so. You can calculate the amount of biomass versus the mass of the entire planet, which yeah, is a pretty tiny fraction of it I bet."

"Again correct. I worked it out. The mass of your planet is approximately 6 sextillion metric tons [6 trillion gigatons]. Earth has billions of people, plus all the agriculture to feed all those people, and over half your people eat a considerable amount of meat, which takes even more grains and crops, plus all the natural wildlife your world has in an incredibly diverse ecosystem that is broader than any other known planet. The fecundity of Earth is incredible. For example, did you know that there are over 350,000 species of beetles on your world?"

"Beetles? Ick. I hate bugs."

"Well, get used to them. There are over 4 quintillion beetles on your planet, plus all of the other kinds of insects, plus a trillion birds, uncountable numbers of aquatic creatures, and truly massive amounts of plant life. And it's growing. Did you know despite your huge population increase that there are now more forests and trees planted on your world than there were 200 years ago before your Industrial Age even began?"

"Okay, but what's your point with all this?"

"Rodney, the planet Earth, the most fecund planet known, with the huge biomass of all of its life, including all underground and undersea life, is roughly a trillion metric tons, with the vast majority being single-cell microbes and plants. In contrast, the mass of the Earth is six billion times that."

"Pretty tiny fraction."

"Emphatically. Only 0.000000016 percent of your planet is actually alive. And humans are a less than microscopic fraction of even that. Compared to your planet as a whole, even mold and mildew is incredibly special and rare. Everything that is alive will live for only the tiniest fraction of Earth's history until it dies and gets covered by other life until it forms topsoil, then it sinks over millennia into the Earth and decomposes back to basic carbon and other elements, with some forming oil and coal but with the vast majority of it sinking slowly back into the unquenchable fires of the Earth's mantle, never to be seen again until the universe dies. Don't you see? Any given bit of living matter on Earth, even the most insignificant spot of slime, is rarer than winning a thousand lotteries, and it lives for only the most fleeting of moments before it dies and sinks back to into the Earth, never to be seen again."

McKay raised a hand. "Okay, Kit, you made your point.."

"I'm not done. You, Rodney, are the product of conception where a half billion sperm cells fought to fertilize only one egg. Only one sperm succeeded. Now, doesn't that sound like a waste?"

McKay wasn't sure where she was going with her argument now. "Uh.."

"And the hierarchy of all wildlife can be stacked like a pyramid, with microbes and plants at the bottom, then insects, then arthropods and fish, birds and herbivores, leaving a tiny fraction as carnivores, and then just the tiniest number of them as apex predators: wolves, sharks, eagles, lions."

He grinned, "And tigers?"

She gave him a look, then she resumed. "Yes, and tigers. The point is almost all life is primitive, mindless, and relatively boring. Guess which of those categories is the most celebrated? The most talked about? The ones that appear in almost all your wildlife film documentaries? The rarest."

"Well, yeah, lions and stuff are the most interesting. Who wants to watch a documentary about slimes or mold?"

"Exactly! Rarity is interesting. Remember that."

"Fine, fine, I get it, all life is rare. And interesting life is rarer still. But you said *everything* is rare. What about that 99.9999.. blah blah percent of the Earth that is dead? How can that be rare?"

"Rodney, planets are rare. You know how big space really is."

"Yeah, I do. And yes, it is really incredible just how big the Solar System really is compared to the itty bitty planets in it, and few people realize it. There's an Internet video at a URL that I forget*** that really nailed it for laypeople. Earth was a marble, Jupiter was a soccer ball, the Sun was about 5 feet across, and they laid all the other planets like that in the middle of the desert. The video is amazing to watch. They built the whole Solar System going out to Neptune and the whole thing was bigger than San Fransisco."

"And that is downright crowded compared to interstellar space."

McKay chuckled, "Oh yeah. Interstellar distances are insane. The nearest star to Earth's system is Alpha Centauri, about 4.2 light years away. If you shrank the Sun down to the size of a period on a printed page, Alpha Centauri would be another pencil-point about 14 kilometers away. If Earth's Sun was scaled to a 1 foot radius and put in London, Alpha Centauri would be another ball 10,000 miles away in the southernmost tip of South Africa."

"Yes, and interstellar space is crowded compared to intergalactic space."

He stopped her. "I can take it from here. Yeah, intergalactic space is appallingly empty. Well over 99% of the observable universe is intergalactic space with nothing in it, and between the galactic clusters and superclusters themselves are monsterous voids that are even bigger."

"Correct. The physical structure of the universe is actually very frothy, sort of like soapy suds when you take a bath. The galactic superclusters are all clumped along very thin strips and point junctions that interconnect the frothy soap bubbles. The rest of it, all that empty space inside those soap bubbles, goes for billions of light years in any direction."

"I know that. So what's your point here?"

She ignored him. "Rodney, let me ask you now, given how space is so appallingly empty, would you consider a random meteor, a lump of rock, in the great scheme of things, to be something rather special?"

"Well, yeah."

"Rare?"

"Of course."

"Perhaps even precious?"

"I get it. Anything at all would be pretty special given the complete emptiness surrounding us."

"Good, remember that. Now let's shift gears. Pick a large gathering place where your people congregate, for example to watch a sports game or to watch an arts event."

"Okay, I'll pick the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. My Dad took me and Jean there to watch the Summer Olympics in 1976. It's the biggest stadium in Canada, fits about 66,000 people."

"Approximate size?"

"Well, I'm not sure exactly, but I know it has an enormous dome. Let's say it's 165 meters high."

"Fine, now take one atom, the largest stable atom in nature, which is.."

McKay interrupted her, "Uranium-238. 92 protons, 146 neutrons, a big sucker."

"Yes, the biggest fattest natural atom there is. Now put it in the center of that huge domed stadium. That stadium represents one atom. What would it look like?"

McKay worked it out in his head. "Let's see. The nucleus of U-238 has a diameter of approximately 15 femtometers, multiply it out.. I'm guessing it would be about the size of a marble?"

"Close enough. And the electron cloud?"

"Basically 92 gnats flying around the empty stadium."

"Good. Now think about it. Montreal's Olympic Stadium with a marble and 92 gnats flying around inside that whole space. And that represents the entire volume of space for a single atom. Atoms are almost entirely empty space. Physical matter is basically a whole lot of nothing."

She poked her finger into his bare shoulder. "When I press my finger into you like that, you already know that it is actually the electroweak force that is causing the resistance that is stopping my finger. There is no actual physical contact anywhere, in the sense of particles getting close enough to actually touch. The nuclear forces prevent it. So in a sense I am not actually 'touching' you at all."

"Yeah, fine. Okay, I'm getting it. So from your point of view even a single electron or atom nucleus is 'rare' because an atom is actually 99.999 blah blah percent empty space, right?"

"Yes. Now do you understand? When I say 'everything is rare' I mean it literally. Everything in the universe is fantastically rare, on every scale, from the largest galactic supercluster down to the smallest atom."

"So is there a point to all this?"

"Yes, I think so. By learning about the properties of the observable universe on all of it's scales: intergalactic, life, subatomic, we can learn about its Creator."

"Oh not this again. Dang it, Kit.."

"Hear me out. I'm almost done. What I am trying to say is that the nature of Creation, how it is structured, how it works, helps us to understand something important about the One who created it."

"Which is?"

"He seems to like rarity."

"Huh?"

"I admit that I can't prove it. But it seems to me that if everything is rare, then He must like that."

"Well, fine, given the hypothetical premise - which I still don't buy - you can make that supposition I guess."

The Guardian gently touched McKay's face. { Meredith, you are so special, incredibly special. On every possible scale. I'm the luckiest woman in the universe. }

He leaned in. "No, you're the miracle, not me. I crossed two galaxies and found the last living Lantean, and now she's here with me."

"Mmm."

"Are we really married? I swear I'm dreaming all this. I really do."

She smiled, "I told you, I think we are both dreaming right now."

{ Bassara. }

"And I hope it never ends.." He kissed her. She returned it.

{ Meredith. } Hands were moving. She rolled on top and tried to straddle him again, the blanket falling away.

And then..

He stopped. "Kit, wait."

She was surprised. She laid back down next to him.

"I'm sorry, was I going too fast?"

He smiled, "Oh no, believe me, you were fine."

"Are you too tired?" Neither one of them had slept in almost 48 hours.

"No, it's not that.."

She grew increasingly concerned. This wasn't like him. "What did I do wrong?"

He scooted closer to her under the blanket. "It's nothing you've done.."

{ Meredith? }

{ It's.. what you are going to do. }

{ I don't follow. }

{ We both know we're going to lose the city eventually. }

She took a deep breath. { I know. Even if we stop the trio, they'll just send another. And another. We could launch 1000 drones, and another 1000 after that. Ultimately it won't matter.. }

{ .. because we're just fighting the Lantean-Wraith war all over again. }

{ I know, it's hopeless. }

"We don't even know if the SGC got our message. And even if they did, without a ZPM there is nothing they can do to help us stop them anyway."

{ Your idea to scavenge the drones was brilliant. It will buy us time. } She stroked his cheek.

"It will stop the trio. But then.."

{ .. but then the Wraith will regroup and try again. We probably have only a month left, maybe only a few weeks. Eventually they will figure out that we don't have a shield. Then they'll just raid us with darts and beam down hundreds of Wraith combat drones, all charged up with several fresh feedings each, and do a mass attack to take over the gate. Even I can't stop that. }

"And then you'll destroy the city."

{ Yes. I'll wait until the last possible moment, give all of your people time to escape. They don't know the gate address of the Alpha Site. }

"Kit.."

{ Stay hidden. Never use the gates, and you'll survive. }

"Without you I don't want to go."

Her face became stern. { Rodney McKay, you will leave my city when the time comes. If not, I'll make you. }

He held her hand. "Kit, come with me. We can rig a 10 second time delay on the self-destruct. I'll help you. Maybe we can even find a way to get back to Earth.."

She shook her head. { Rodney, we already discussed this. I am the Guardian of Atlantis. Protecting this city is the sole reason for my existence. If the city falls, I will have no purpose anymore. }

{ Bassara.. }

{ It's my duty. I made a solemn oath. I was born here, and I will die here. }

He quickly sat up and pulled her up by the shoulders with surprising force. "No. You're wrong."

"Rodney.."

"You made a new oath, new vows. To me. Yes, your old vows are still in effect, and yes we agreed that they would take priority. City first, not me. City first, not you. We agreed. But once you trigger that detonation sequence your duty is done. Your mission is finished."

"But.."

"Don't you see? You still have a purpose, your new vows. With me."

She flopped back down on the mat. "Oh I want to stay with you. I do. I want that so much. But I can't." She had tears in her eyes.

He held her again. "Why not?"

She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand and turned to face him. { Remember how I kept asking you who I was? That I didn't think I was a person? Well, last night you finally made me believe that maybe, just perhaps, I might possibly be a real person after all. Every minute I'm with you reaffirms that. But don't you realize? It doesn't change who I am. I'm still the Guardian of Atlantis. It's my purpose, my only one. I don't know how to do anything else. }

"Then come with me to Earth. They still have the Chair down at the South Pole. We don't know how to use it properly."

{ No, you certainly don't. That was a horrible waste of drones. }

"Exactly. And you're an elite operator of the Chair, right? You can take out a capital ship with only 100-200 drones on a good day. By the end of today we'll probably have more drones than we know what to do with. We'll take a bunch of extras with us to the Alpha Site. Then we'll bring them all back to Earth and re-arm the Chair again."

{ Meredith, you mean.. }

"Yes. You'll have a purpose, one you know how to do, better than anybody. You'll be the Guardian of Earth."

She stared at him.

Of course.

A thousand drones.

The Chair.

She really would have a purpose. One that she knew very well.

Her eyes lit up, the blanket flew off, and she was back in the straddle position again.

{ Meredith, I love you.. }

"Heh. You'll come with me, right?"

{ I didn't think I could love you more than I already do. }

He was grinning. "Yeah, I hope this becomes a habit between us."

She pushed him down and kissed him as deeply as she could..

Hands were moving, and events were quickly approaching the point of no return.

.. and then she made a big yawn right into McKay's mouth.

McKay sat up and gagged.

{ Oh! I'm sorry! }

"Ack, I think there was backwash. Those three MREs you just ate. Gah!"

{ Sorry! Sorry! I'm so sorry! }

"It's okay. We can try again.."

She flopped back on the mat and pulled the blanket up again.

"No, I'm too tired."

"Aw.."

{ I am so exhausted. Rodney, we haven't slept in two days. }

He sighed. So much for the honeymoon. "Yeah, I guess I'm pretty beat too."

"Rodney, your idea of my being the Guardian of Earth.. I'm not sure I can do it. Earth is really scary. The more I think about it, the more scared I get."

He patted her shoulder. "Yeah, billions of people. Feh. Can't stand them. Well, humm, I'll probably get my old research job back at Area 51. I used to run Section 5, the Skunkworks section. I had a team where I basically could do any research I wanted. It's really isolated. A dream research gig really. Well, second only to Atlantis and you.."

"Area 51? Is that a secret lab?"

"Part of it. It's a very secret US Air Force base in the middle of the desert not far from Las Vegas. It's surrounded by square miles of empty fenced-off US government land with Shoot on Sight warning signs posted everywhere. Very private, very secret, and it's pretty major, practically a city unto itself."

{ Hmm. A secret technological city floating on an ocean. Only one made of sand instead of water, filled with scientists and military personnel. You know, I think I'm familiar with that.. }

"Heh, yeah, great analogy. I bet you'd love it. You'd fit right in too. We already have aliens there, including two Goa'ulds down deep in The Hole. We got a Baal clone and one of Baal's flunkies, a big fat slob whose name I forget. The bastards won't talk, even with enhanced interrogation techniques."

{ Rodney, I think I might be able to help with that. }

"Oooh. Would you really do that for us? A forced mind probe? I know you are really touchy about doing that.."

"Rodney, as the Guardian of Earth it means that my job would be to ensure planetary security against alien threats."

"Department of Homeworld Security. Bingo. You'd fit right in."

"Yes. Not only would I agree to scan your Goa'lud prisoners, it would be my duty and obligation to do so for planetary security."

"It's a perfect job for you then."

"Also, I'd strongly recommend that the Chair be moved from the South Pole to a new secret location. The Goa'uld know the South Pole location so it is compromised now. It was stupid how you revealed it so easily."

"So how would you have fought them from there if it was you?"

"Well, the South Pole was chosen because it would be the least visible location from equatorial orbit. If the orbit was non-equatorial I would wait until the enemy was on the far side of the planet and launch out of sight. Otherwise I'd launch at ground level, with the drones skimming just a few meters off the ice floor.."

".. like Tomahawk cruise missiles.."

".. until they reached the ocean, then depending on the orbital location of the enemy I'd fly them into the sea, just under the water, moving them away from the South Pole in random swarms, then bring them up all at once for a simultaneous attack on the enemy fleet. From the enemy's point of view the drones would be coming at them from ten different directions. They would have had no idea where they were actually coming from."

"Neat. Did you think of that?"

"No. It's SOP. The Antarctic Defense Station had no shield; none of our defense stations did. ZPMs were too valuable. We only used them to charge up the drones, then the defense station would run without one, manned only by a single Guardian, with a visit by a supply ship every few years to loan its ZPM to top off the power charges in the drones. The defense stations all depended on secrecy for their survival. That is why yours was buried in the South Pole under almost a half mile of ice."

"So where would you move it to?"

"How secret is this Area 51? Does anyone outside the US government know about it?"

"Uh, well, it's not really secret anymore. Hollywood has even made movies about the place, including one called Independence Day where they had aliens there, and there was a big invasion attempt.. You know, that was not really that far off from reality surprisingly enough.."

The Guardian tsk-tsked him. "Well, it was foolish to reveal it. We can't put it there. What is the surrounding terrain like? Are there any mountains nearby?"

"Oh yeah, it's ringed with them, the Sierra Nevadas."

"Then that is were I would secretly move it. I would construct a tunnel from Area 51 to the nearest mountain, then build a small complex there similar to your Stargate Command Center in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Not as big of course, just enough to hold the standard 2048 drone complement for a defense station."

McKay though. "Hmm, tunneling would be expensive. It might need to go 10-20 kilometers."

"With a ZPM it would be trivial. We already have a drill attachment here in the city for underwater ocean drilling, back when we were trying to exploit geothermal energy to supplant our limited ZPM supply."

McKay said sarcastically, "Well, everything is easier with a ZPM, isn't it?"

"Rodney, one more thing: A Guardian's duty is to protect the planet, not to protect any one country. I cannot get involved in your planet's internal politics."

"I'm sure that would be cool with the SGC. Talk to Weir to be sure."

"I will, but I definitely don't want to get involved with your planet's Byzantine politics. I get nightmares just thinking about it. Normally the rule is that we only put a defense station on advanced worlds that have a single unified government. We sign a treaty that lays out what we will and won't do.."

He patted her hand. "Okay, okay.. I'm getting a headache now. Let's drop it. The point is, you are not going to run off and kill yourself when the city falls, right?"

{ No, you talked me out of it, my love. }

"Good."

She gave him a knowing look. { It wouldn't have worked, you know. }

"Hmm?"

{ You've been searching for the subroutine that triggers the city's self-destruct. You found it. You have a hidden pre-written subroutine to replace it with a timer. }

He sighed and put a hand over his face. "You found it.."

{ Yes. You also found my second one.. }

".. the second subroutine that you hid in the power management software. I admit it. You caught me."

{ .. and the third one I hid in the environmental system. That was one was deep. I'm impressed. }

McKay's eyes widened. He didn't expect her to know that he found it.

"I'm sorry, Kit. Look, I did it because I love you, and I didn't want you to die.."

{ I know, my love. I didn't say anything. You never found the fourth one. }

He sat up. "What?"

She grinned and pulled him back down, then she wrapped herself around him. To McKay she again felt like a warm electric blanket. { Never try to trick me. Sheppard tried; it will never work. }

"Sorry.."

"Shush." She lifted his head with her hands and kissed him deeply.

This time it was McKay's turn to yawn into Sara's mouth.

{ Ack! }

"Sorry!"

The blanket was pulled up again, and they were both on their backs again.

He sighed, "You know, this isn't going to work. We're both just too tired."

"I know. I'm sorry. This is supposed to be our honeymoon. Well, I already told Tarai to wake us in eight hours. I suppose we should just get to sleep then."

"Yeah. Goodnight."

{ Goodnight, my love. }

He held her hand again. "Kit, thank you for this dream.."

She smiled, { How do I know it's not just my own dream? You might just be merely a figment of my own imagination, you know. }

He grinned. "Not arguing. Too tired. Dream of me, okay?"

"Mmm."

Her eyes snapped open again. She had a gleam in her eye. She rolled on top of him again. "Ooh, I have an idea."

McKay was getting a bit put off with all her teasing. "C'mon, Kit, not again. We're both dead tired. Look, I said this isn't going to work."

{ No, I really have an idea that might work. I want to try something different. }

"Try what?"

{ A very advanced exercise for increasing mental intimacy. Lucid dreaming. }

"Lucid dreaming?"

{ Yes. We dream at the same time, with one of us taking control of the shared dream state while the other rides along. It's very advanced, but since we're already at the Bond level I think it might work, even if you're not 100% Lantean. I'll have to be the primary, I think, at least for now. }

"The primary controls the dream."

{ Exactly. For now you are just going along for the ride. Later on we can try switching control, but for now I think I should run it. }

He was dubious. "Run what exactly? What kind of dream are we talking about here?"

{ Well, anything really. We can dream anything you would like, any fantasy, any situation, be anyone, be anywhere. As long as we both agree. }

He was still very unsure about the whole idea. "Oh man, I dunno." { Uh, Kit, I have to warn you, I have a rather, uh, I mean.. I kinda dreamed about you already. A lot. Uh, I'm not sure if.. }

{ It's all right. Don't worry, I'll run this one. We'll do something simple that a normal couple would do, nothing really bizarre. Besides, we both really need the sleep. }

"Uh, okay, I guess. But if I want to bail, you'll let me out of it?"

{ Of course, right away. This requires trust. }

"All right. So, what do I do?"

She stroked his face. { Our heads should be touching. It works best that way. }

He moved in. "Okay. Now I just close my eyes?"

{ Yes. Sweet dreams, my love. Tarai will wake us in eight hours. }

"Goodnight.." He closed his eyes.

Within seconds the Guardian was asleep, her breathing soft and regular.

He opened his eyes again. Yes, she was really asleep already. He took the opportunity to closely study her face again.

He thought that she looked human enough to pass for one if they ever got to Earth together. If anything she looked a bit too perfect, with her spotless complexion, her high cheekbones, and her full lips. A bit exotic even. Well, he could always claim that she had plastic surgery or something.

Would everyone buy that? Her figure was athletic and trim, well proportioned, and not particularly busty. Wait, if a woman was having plastic surgery wouldn't she want to enhance herself there first? It would be suspicious if she didn't..

He kept thinking.

Something poked him in the shoulder. { Rodney, what's taking you so long? Hurry up, I'm waiting! }

"Oh, uh, sorry! Going to sleep!"

In seconds she was sound asleep again.

He closed his eyes tightly and began counting prime numbers starting after 1,050,000.

1,050,011.. 1,050,0013.. 1,050,031.. 1,050,041..


He found himself standing on an flat empty white plane that seemed to go off forever.

"Rodney! I've been waiting over 15 minutes!"

He spun around and there she was. She was wearing her usual combat uniform.

"Oh, sorry. I guess I was still pretty wound up thinking about you and Earth and everything. Uh, we're still asleep right?"

She approached him. "Yes. It's working. The intercranial bandwidth is excellent, better than I hoped. This should work nicely."

He shrugged, "So, uh, what do we do?"

She took a step back. "Well, I was thinking about that. Now, you are always teasing me about being Supergirl, so.."

Suddenly she was wearing Supergirl's whole outfit, complete with the knee-high red boots, the red pleated skirt, the tight blue longsleeve high-necked top with the yellow and red 'S' blazoned across her front. "You like this, hmm?"

He didn't particularly; he only called her that to tease her. He was still feeling a bit disoriented so he decided to just go along with it. "Uh, sure. Okay."

She sighed, "And I suppose that makes you Superman. I already looked it up. There."

He tried to stop her but it was too late. Now he was wearing the Man of Steel's outfit, with his physique, but his own head and face..

Her eyes widened. "Gaah!" She shut them tightly. "No, no! Wrong! Wrong!"

He was waving her off but she had already quickly changed him back to normal. Her eyes were still tightly shut.

"Great. Now I will never get that image out of my head. Ugh, that was awful."

McKay yelled, "I could have told you that!"

She opened her eyes again and frowned at him. "All right, what's your suggestion then?"

"Uh.. okay.. keep it simple, right?"

"Yes. You pick it."

"Uhm.. superheros.. anything simple.."

His eyes lit up. "Oh yeah, of course."

"Which one?"

"Let's do Batman."

"Show me the image in your mind."

He thought quickly. There were a lot of potential choices. The old 1960's Adam West version was right out, and so was the overly stiff and immobile outfit that Michael Keaton wore in the 1980's version. He decided to go with the Christian Bale version in The Dark Knight.*4

He was now wearing Christian Bale's outfit in TDK. She gave him a careful once over and nodded approvingly. "Hmm, you know, I like that. What's the belt for?"

"It's his utility belt. You see, Batman has no superpowers. He fights crime just using his brain and the gizmos that he invents. That's why I think he's so cool."

She approached. "Mmm, yes, I like it. Okay, who am I then?"

He thought quickly again. Batgirl? No, that didn't seem right. He felt that Sara was too mature in both body and spirit for her. Some of the Robins were female. There were at least two of them in fact: Stephanie Brown and Carrie Kelly. But he felt that both were way too young, especially Kelly, and it really didn't feel right either. Not with Batman.

Hmm, who else? He knew that Bruce Wayne had endless girlfriends, most of them fake to fit his false rich playboy persona. No that wouldn't work either. It had to be someone who could realistically be in a serious relationship with him, one that could potentially go all the way. A supervillian perhaps? Poison Ivy maybe? No. Wait..

He snapped his fingers. "I got it! Oh, of course!"

"Well?"

"Selina Kyle!"

"Who is Selina Kyle?"

"Catwoman! Yeah!"

Sara frowned. "'Catwoman'? Seriously? Rodney, you know how I feel about indulging in your little perversion about my tiger engrams.."

"First, I'm not perverted and neither are you. I already explained that. Second, Selina Kyle is a very complex woman. She grew up in a broken family and fell on the wrong side of the tracks. Batman kept trying to get her to switch to the good side. C'mon, read me."

She did. McKay imagined Selina Kyle as played by actress Anne Hathaway in TDK. She saw that the woman had a rather athletic and well-proportioned body type that was rather close to her own. And she was wearing.. she was wearing..

A full-length mirror appeared, and Sara was inspecting herself wearing Hathaway's Catwoman outfit. "Oooh.."

Batman walked up behind her approvingly. "Wow, that costume works on you." Her hair was darker but otherwise she looked like herself. He saw that the black outfit set off her fair skin nicely, the same as it did on Hathaway.

She turned. "Yes, I love this outfit. The eyemask is intriguing. I caught your background about her too, how she led a hard life growing up without a father, was used as a sex slave for money.."

"You mean a prostitute."

".. a prostitute, then she beat her slaveowner.."

"Pimp."

".. her pimp and turned into a petty thief. She saved Batman's life once. Did I get all that right?"

"Yep. There was a lot of misunderstanding between them, especially in The Dark Knight Rises. Eventually he won her over to the good side. He faked his death, and together they eloped to Europe together in secret."

She said coyly, "Oh yes, that sounds perfect. Let's keep it simple for now. Leave out Europe. I'm not ready for that."

"Okay. Uh, now what?"

She was annoyed. He was being far too passive. Didn't he realize this was a dream?

"Rodney, look at me."

"Yeah, wow, it works."

"Well?"

"Well what?"

"Look, do I really need to explain this for you? I am your wife. This is our honeymoon. I am wearing a Catwoman outfit. Shall I continue to elaborate? Or would you like for me to just draw some diagrams in a sketchbook for you?"

He got the hint. He came forward and he embraced her.

She squirmed. "Wait a second." She tried to look behind herself, "Hmm, did I forget the tail?" One appeared.

He shook his head. "No, Catwoman is just a disguise. She's a normal woman with no powers just like Batman. She's just as smart as him too. Her creator, Bob Kane, said he was inspired by actress Hedy Lamarr, a beautiful genius who had filed patents for the basis of digital WiFi. She was brilliant. That's why you being Catwoman is perfect."

The tail disappeared.

Then he looked around the empty white expanse. "Don't we need scenery for this?"

She delicately ran a sharp claw under his chin using her black glove. The claw was an inch long. "Mmm, yes. Your lair or mine?"

He grinned. "Yours."

They were now standing and embracing each other in a large bedroom surrounded by several throw rugs. A king size four-poster bed with a great furry blanket was next to them. Several small cat-like creatures with variously colored coats of fur were lounging around watching the pair placidly.

She pulled him in and cooed into his ear, "Batman, I'm a bad girl."

"Selina, it's not too late for you. You can change."

"I don't know if I can."

"Yes, you can. You can still be saved. Come with me. I'm getting too old to fight crime like this. I'm giving up this life. Let's go. Together."

"You and me? We can go away together, leave this awful city?"

"Yes, now and forever."

"Oh, Batman.."

"It's Wayne. Bruce Wayne."

She pushed him down on the bed. "Bruce.. I want you. Make me good."

"Selina.."

She dove in.

"Ouch! Dang it, Kit, watch the claws!"

"Oops." Sara smiled weakly as she took off the sharp black gloves, "Sorry." She looked down at herself. "Say, why am I wearing high stiletto heels? Catwoman is supposed to be a thief, correct? She cannot possibly run with these things on."

McKay sat up. "You know, Kit, you're really ruining the moment."

"Uh, heh, sorry. Let's try this again. Say, am I supposed to be purring?"

"No!"


The Guardian and McKay were returning from L5 with 276 dead drones in tow. They were being pulled behind their jumper in a durafiber net that was filled to capacity. Using a detector that McKay had calibrated to detect molybdenum they had identified almost a thousand of them at the L5 point.

Earlier, Lorne had radioed in from L2 that he had discovered a partially intact weapon defense platform. It had apparently been kicked into deep space early in the war, only to drift back to its Lagrangian point again 10,000 years later. The 1.5 kilometer long station had all of the solar panels blasted away, and it was missing much of the protective armor plating that ran along the outside, but the main dorsal cannon was still fully intact.

Lorne speculated that the weapon platform might be salvagable. He sent photos back to Atlantis where Grodin agreed with his assessment. The photos were also transmitted to the Guardian at L5, where she radioed back that although it might be possible to jury rig a repair by sacrificing one of the city's five naquadah generators as a power source, that trying to repair the station would be a waste of time, because it would have been good only for one attack before it was blasted away again. Between the six jumpers they had collected almost 1,200 intact dead drones, of which a large fraction were likely operational enough to use again, so there was no point in trying to repair the weapon platform.

An hour later the Guardian finished doing a series of simple combat training maneuvers with McKay at the helm. She didn't let him try anything too difficult given the precious cargo they were pulling. She hid the fact that Tarai was not happy about being man-handled by the clumsy rookie pilot.

"Kit, I feel sick.."

"Relax, we're done for now. I'll set the auto-pilot. You still need a lot of practice in my opinion, but we can save that for another time."

"Does this thing have a barf bag?"

{ Tarai, I'm sure he's just joking. }

"Are you talking to the ship again?"

"Uh, you are joking, right? Tarai wants to know if you are going to puke on him."

"Yeah I'm fine."

She sighed, "14 more hours of this.."

They travelled in silence.

A half hour later she asked him idly, { Europe? Is that where you'd take me? }

Rodney was learning back in the co-pilot seat, his arms behind his head. "Eh? Naw. That was just the Dark Knight film."

"So where would we go?"

"Hmm. Tahiti."

{ Is that a quiet place without any crowds where you and I could just lay our backs and look at the clouds? }

"Oh yeah. Definitely. White beaches. Us laying under a beach umbrella in our beach chairs, drinking Mai Tais. I'm picturing it right now."

She picked up the image.

{ Oh I like it. Nobody else around. In fact I love it. Wait, what am I wearing? }

"Oh, uh, well, I imagined you wearing your usual white fabric, but as a bikini.."

{ Rodney, I'm practically naked. You know I'd never wear that. I'd get too chilly. }

"But this would be in the tropics, really warm and sunny."

{ I see. I suppose I have enough cloth left to make that.. }

"I'd love to see it on you. I have so much vacation time accrued you won't believe it."

Several more minutes passed in silence.

{ Rodney? }

"Yeah?"

{ I have a fantasy.. }

"Go on."

{ It's kind of silly.. }

"It's okay."

{ I just imagine sometimes, what if we just ran away together? Like in the lucid dream? }

"Run away? Really?"

{ Sometimes I imagine just running away.. }

"You? Running away?"

{ Yeah, I wish I could go to a far away place, just you and me, a place that has never heard of the Wraith, or the war, or has Replicators, or has the Goa'uld, or any other enemy - just a quiet peaceful place where we could just lay on our backs, look at the clouds... }

"Like Tahiti."

{ Like Tahiti. }

"Let me guess, and have intense arguments about astrophysics and quantum mechanics all day long?"

{ Yes. And have intense arguments about astrophysics and quantum mechanics all day long. }

"Nice dream."

She sighed. { Only a dream. }

"Tahiti really exists, you know. A tropical island paradise on Earth."

There was a pause.

{ We both know I'll never get to Earth. }

"Sure you will."

{ No. I'll die here. }

He sat up, worried. "Is that some kind of prediction?"

{ No. I have no real precognitive ability. It is true that pre-Ascendants often have that ability, but I lack it. It is just a feeling I have. }

He tried to cheer her up. "Hey, let's do it. If we get back to Earth from the Alpha Site, then let's run away together."

{ Rodney, you can try to tempt me all you want, but I am still a creature of duty with a mission. }

She sat up. "You have a mission too. I know that in your own way you are as much a creature of duty as me."

McKay waved her off. "Oh bosh. I am a creature of comfort, not duty. Give me my coffee, a comfy chair, and a good physics book, and I'm happy as a clam. I'm also a coward."

She smiled pleasantly. "So you say."

"And sitting in a beach chair is strictly optional."

They did not speak again after that, with each of them lost in their own private thoughts. McKay decided to dismiss the Guardian's prediction as just a case of pre-battle jitters and pessimism.

Other than a handful of thought-leaks from McKay that were mostly related to Tahiti and someone wearing a white bikini, and the manual landing attempt helmed by McKay that dented the jumper, the remainder of the trip was uneventful.


Sheppard, Zelenka, Weir, Sheppard, McKay, and the Guardian were in the Chair room. Previously, McKay and Zelenka had rerouted the power from four of the five naquadah generators for charging up the drones, of which 500 were now loaded in their bays. Grodin announced that another 500 would be loaded within the next six hours by his team and then enabled upon their passing their built-in internal status checks.

It had turned out that so far over 80% of the salvaged drones were potentially still operational, a rate higher than expected. Based on the molybdenum readings by the six jumpers taken at the four Lagrangian points, McKay had estimated that at least 2000 more drones were still potentially harvestable - more than enough to take at least 1000 back to Earth, given Atlantis' maximum capacity of 2048 drones in its own launch bays.

Sheppard had his arms crossed. "Okay, Genie. Give us the lesson."

"Gladly." She sat in the Chair and placed her hands on the blue gel pads. She leaned back and the chair lit up. "An operator's skill level is determined by how many independent streams of drones that he or she can simultaneously pilot and control at the same time. The elite level is ten."

Sheppard said, "Ten? That's a lot."

"Yes. It takes a lot of concentration at that level. I can't always reach it."

"So how many times have you done this?"

"I have over 1000 hours logged."

McKay was was studying his data tablet. "Let's launch a couple, shall we? I think we can afford to expend a few now, just to verify operational viability."

"Good idea. I'll launch three on independent paths. I might be a bit rusty, so I don't want to push myself yet. Here we go."

Nothing happened.

"Uh, I said, here we go.."

Still nothing.

McKay frowned. He checked his computer tablet. "I don't get it. Power is good. The data connection is good. Sara, are you sure you're hooked in?"

"Of course I am."

She grimaced. "Firing." Still nothing.

Then she realized something. "Oh wait, I forgot to turn off the safety. Heh, silly me. There."

Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "You forgot to turn off the safety?"

"Yeah. Sorry." Three drones fired.

She concentrated as they took up into the sky, going in three different directions.

Sheppard was nonplussed. "Sara, I know you're busy, but can I ask you a question?"

She was still concentrating. "Sure, anything."

"How many times have you actually fired a drone? I mean a real one, not in a VR simulation?"

"Uh, three."

"You mean.."

Weir gave an expression of surprise. "Sara, you've never fired a real drone before?"

The Guardian looked embarrassed. "Uh, no, not really."

McKay lowered his tablet. "What? You kept bragging how you were this great hot-shot drone pilot! 'Oh I took out a whole hive ship with 50 drones once...'"

She moved the Chair back to its upright position, turning it off. "Dang it, Rodney, I told you! I did all that in a VR simulation! Look, by the time they let me out of the box the city was down to its last 200 drones. They couldn't spare any just for practice!" She glared at him. "Okay, so the VR simulation wasn't perfect, but I'm still rated elite in the sim!"

Sheppard shook his head sadly. He had seen this before. "Sara, that was just a video game. I'm a pilot too, and I know how flight sims are never a substitute for real-world piloting experience. You gotta practice with the real thing. A lot."

She sat back, her face dark as the Chair lit up again. "Fine, I'll go shoot up a bunch of trees on the mainland. There, five away. Happy now?"

She turned and gave Sheppard a nasty grin. "Unless you'd like to fly your jumper up there for me, John, for target practice? I will be happy to shoot at you instead."

"Ha ha. Just keep practicing." He turned to leave.

"John, stay here. You're up next."

He turned back, "Who, me?"

"Yes. When the Wraith figure out that we don't have a shield they'll be sending in waves of darts to beam down attack squads. I will be too busy chasing them around the city, so you will need to man the Chair."

"Right, got it. I'm watching."

"I understand that Beckett also has some Chair time, so get him down here too. There is no power in the infirmary right now so he is probably just sitting on his thumbs anyway."

Weir used her radio to call in Beckett while McKay checked his tablet, with Zelenka conferring with him quietly.

McKay shook his head. "Something is wrong. The first three drones all fired okay, but they are all already out of power. They quit and crashed way too soon. The trickle charge isn't working right, or we are misjudging something with the efficiency rating of the charging system."

The Guardian was still concentrating on flying the remaining five drones. "You two are going to need to figure out that problem yourselves. I'm too busy here."

McKay turned. "C'mon, Radek, let's go."


The next day the Guardian entered the mess hall at lunch time. It was mostly empty, as the majority of the Expedition's staff had already decamped for the Alpha Site, leaving behind Marine volunteers and a skeleton staff.

She walked up to the serving station. No one was there to serve, and the only food item was a large lidded pot containing processed yeast. She glopped some into her bowl, then she turned to pick a table. She spotted Evan Lorne with several military men seated in a semi-circle. Previously Lorne had given her an open ended invitation to sit and watch whenever she liked, but she politely declined. Still, she was intrigued about what they were doing so she sat near them to quietly listen as she ate.

"Lorne, you got the inside scoop. Tell us, are we gonna live through this?"

"I dunno, Rick. But we're gonna give them a heckuva fight. Remember, the plan is to fall back to the gate. No suicide heroics."

"I don't wanna die.."

"Nobody does. We just have to trust in God."

Another voice spoke up. "C'mon, Rick. We're all gonna die sooner or later, right? Personally I'd like to go out in style, not bedridden with some terminal cancer, or having someone wipe my butt in an old folks home."

"Well, we can take solace in the fact that we'll be with Him. Life is fleeting, it passes by in a flash. He is forever. He'll call us Home."

Lorne then asked, "Anything else? We need to keep this session short."

"Evan, what should I pray? I'm still not that good at it."

Lorne chuckled, "It doesn't matter, Charlie. You're not being graded. It's true that we often don't know how to pray as we ought, but that's okay because the Spirit that is within us will intercede for us and translate our groanings that are too deep for words*5. Just let it come naturally. Or just use Psalm 23. In fact I'll do that right now to close up."

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.*6

"Godspeed, now let's get prepped."

The group broke up.

The Guardian quickly downed her yeast, tipping the bowl and slurping it up in a few gulps, and left.


The Guardian entered the gate room and saw that the gate was active and a stream of people were walking into it. Weir was busy conferring with someone on the main floor when the Guardian walked up.

Weir noticed her. "Oh, hello Sara."

"Hello Doctor Weir. Is the evacuation proceeding satisfactorily?" She knew that time was running out, with the first hive ship expected to arrive within the next few hours.

Weir was checking her computer tablet. "Uh, yes, thank you for asking. Some of Grodin's team are still here. They will stay until the last minute."

"Anyone missing?"

"Yes, a few." She turned to a Marine. "Sergeant, can you send someone to please fetch Doctor Kurosawa from sublevel 5? She doesn't wear a radio."

The Guardian interrupted, "I can bring her up for you. I was planning to head down there anyway to check on the power systems."

"Oh, thank you very much."


The Guardian approached Kurosawa's office door. It was already open. She peered in and saw Kurosawa working rapidly on her Dell laptop.

The Guardian knocked on the open door. "Doctor Kurosawa? It's time to go to the Alpha Site."

Kurosawa looked up. "Oh? It is? What time is it? Oh dear, I didn't realize it was so late." As she started to shut down her laptop she asked, "So what brings you down here?"

"I ran into Doctor Weir and she was going to fetch you, so I volunteered."

"Oh that's very kind of you. You want to help me pack and carry this up?" Two boxes were on the floor. "I'm afraid can't carry much myself."

"I'd be happy to." The Guardian bent over and started to help put papers and various small archaeological knick-knacks into the two boxes.

As Kurosawa waited for the laptop to shut down she asked, "So, how are doing, Sara? I'm surprised you are down here. I was expecting you to be very busy getting ready for the upcoming battle."

"Well, everything is basically in place now. It's mainly waiting."

"I see. This must be very stressful for you."

"To be honest I'm more excited than anything."

"Really?"

"Yes. I finally get to do my job and actually do something useful around here."

"That's excellent. And thank you so much for your help."

The two women continued to pack items. The Guardian wondered if she should ask. She finally spoke. "Uh, Doctor Kurosawa?"

"Yes?"

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead, anything."

"Uhm, what do your people believe will happen when they die?"

She stood up and smiled. "Well, we believe that we will be called back Home."

"I've heard that expression." The Guardian thought back to Lorne's final Twelve Step session. "What is meant by that?"

"Well, we believe that life in this world is transitory. We are just pilgrims passing through it. Our proper place is by His side. We rise up and become transformed into spirits."

"That sounds very much like Ascension to me."

"Hmm. I never thought of it like that. I suppose it might."

The Guardian knew that Ascension was actually just a physical transformation of matter to energy with no real change in locality. "The analogy is not perfect. There is no such thing as 'heaven' for the Ascended. They are still living in this galaxy."

"I see. Yes. Well, the real Heaven is a bit different."

"How so?"

"Well, if you read read Revelation 5 you will see that everybody is doing something. Everybody is active. It's a busy place. In Heaven you get put to work. I admit that some of it might seem a bit cliche, like singing hymns in the heavenly choir, but it will still be really interesting. Some people will go to work in other mansions, maybe get assigned roles in physical worlds, perhaps as spirits, perhaps as something else. Some of the roles will be quite powerful. Take Revelation 2 for example. It describes the saints helping Christ to rule 'with a rod of iron'. The greek word is poimanei, which is derived from the word for a shepherd, poimen. Paul uses the same word in Acts 20:28 to describe overseers. So apparently some people in Heaven will be given positions of considerable authority and power."

"Interesting. Here let me carry both boxes for you. We need to get you up to the gate."

"Thank so much, dearie." Kurosawa picked up her cane. Together they walked out into the narrow dark hallway and headed out. With the Guardian assisting by holding Kurosawa's elbow, they climbed up the stairs to the transporter booth on sublevel 3. From there they reached the gate room.

"You get going now." The Guardian handed the two labeled boxes off to a younger person who carried them toward the gate.

"Thank you again so much. I'll be praying for you."

"Thank you. I am honored."

Kurosawa smiled. "You know, I must say that your manners are really improving. You are becoming quite a pleasant young lady."

The Guardian decided not to correct Kurosawa regarding her true age. "Well, when I genuinely feel thankful I do manage to say the right words, I guess."

"Yes, you do." Kurosawa hesitated, then she asked, "So, will you be joining us eventually?"

The Guardian looked at her. "No, I don't think so."

"Oh. I'm so sorry.."

"It's all right. Like I said, I'm excited. I'm finally doing my duty, my purpose, which as much as anyone can ask for in this life."

"God bless you. Take care."

"Goodbye."


Chuck radioed down, "The first hive ship is coming in. Slow straight-line course. It has three smaller cruisers moving in front of it."

The Guardian was in the Chair. "Cruisers are in standard trio formation."

"This is Weir. We are ready up here. Good luck."

"Preparing to launch."

"50 drones away. 100. 200. 300. Multitargeting, four streams, on the forward hive and the three cruisers."

Chuck radioed, "They are reacting. Evading. Looks like darts are coming out."

She concentrated hard. "I see them. The darts will try to block."

And so, the Second Lantean-Wraith War had begun.


The Guardian was standing in the control center looking at the big display screen with the senior staff. She looked somewhat tired.

She asked Chuck, "You can confirm the kills?"

Chuck was nodding. "Confirmed. One hive ship and three cruisers neutralized. The other two hive ships left. Long range sensors show both of them are parked just outside of the solar system."

Weir made a sigh of relief. "Good job. Well, I think we won this round. Don't you agree, John?"

John was musing. "They bailed after one hive ship was lost. Huh. Genie, I though you said they'd sacrifice two ships?"

She was frowning. "Yes, it is unusual how they retreated so fast. Wraith are normally much more aggressive than this."

There was a beep, and Chuck whirled his chair back to his station. "Three darts coming in fast! ETA one minute!"

The Guardian was alarmed. "What? Where? How?"

McKay groused, "I bet a cruiser from the second hive ship snuck back in and dropped them off on the far side of the planet."

"But we have a spysat on the far side."

Chuck was shaking his head. "Not anymore. It's offline now. Must have just happened."

The Guardian snarled and ran in a flash to the transporter to head back to the Chair room.


Sheppard was looking at the main display, which showed no sign of Wraith activity. "Well, that was odd."

The Guardian was nodding. "I agree."

The three darts had just barely managed to reach the city before the Guardian was able to fire drones to quickly eliminate all three. What was odd was that they did not attempt to fire back.

Weir asked worriedly, "Any sign of Wraith inside the city?"

The Guardian shook her head. "I'm not detecting anything."

McKay was looking at the life signs monitor. "No Wraith signs here either. We're good."

Sheppard was thinking. "Hmm, I bet it was a test."

McKay sighed, "Yeah. They were testing.."

The Guardian completed his sentence, ".. the shield. It didn't go up. Now they know."

"Yep."

"I should have killed them while they were much higher up. It's my fault. I left the Chair room for a moment and they managed to sneak in because of it."

Weir reassured her. "Sara, no. Don't blame yourself. You can't be in there all day and night.

"Yes I should. Round the clock."

"You can't.."

"Then we should have rotated between me, John, and Beckett, so it would always be manned day and night. I should have suggested that ahead of time. I still screwed up."

McKay said, "Sara, relax. They were going to figure it out sooner or later."

Sheppard said, "I'll head down and man the Chair for now. I'll have Beckett swap in after."

Weir said, "Good. Keep me posted. Meanwhile the rest of us should take a break. We're all beat. Reassemble at 15:00."


It was 13:45. The Guardian entered Weir's office. "Doctor, you asked to see me?" Then she noticed Teyla and Doctor Beckett were already there.

"Yes, Sara. Please close the door." She did.

She could feel the tension in the room. "What's going on?" Teyla looked fretful. "Teyla, is something the matter?"

Weir spoke on Teyla's behalf. "Sara, we need to tell you something. Teyla has just informed me that there is a Wraith inside the city."

The Guardian was surprised, shocked, and confused. "What? That's impossible. I don't detect anything. If there was a Wraith lurking anywhere in the city I would sense it immediately."

Teyla approached her with great trepidation. "Anquietas, I am so sorry. I am ashamed that I did not tell you before."

"Tell me before? Tell me what?"

Weir said softly, "Sara, Teyla has the ability to sense the Wraith. It is a secret in her family going back generations. She's sensing one in the city now. She came here to report it to me, and she was going to find you to tell you next, but I asked her to please stay here when she told you so that I can help explain this to you."

"Explain what? Teyla, how are you doing this?"

Teyla was very nervous. "Uh.. I don't know exactly. I just know that some members of our family have always had this ability. We can sense them, even communicate with them telepathically. It's.. genetic."

The Guardian was perplexed. "Teyla, you have no Lantean blood to use mind powers."

"I don't. But I think I do have another kind of blood.."

Carson Beckett spoke up. "I checked and confirmed it. She has some Wraith DNA inside her, a small amount."

The Guardian looked rapidly between them. "Surely you are joking. None of this makes any sense."

Weir said, "I know, but we have to face facts."

"This is ridiculous. I don't smell any Wraith on Teyla at all. I never have."

Beckett spoke up again, "That is because, I suspect, that the pheromones that the Wraith naturally emit are activated by a gene that Teyla does not have."

The Guardian approached Teyla. "You are part Wraith..?" She kept approaching.

Teyla stepped back in abject fear.

Weir interposed herself between them. "Sara, stop!"

The Guardian looked at her innocently. She was confused. "Doctor Weir?"

"You will not touch her! She is not a Wraith!"

The Guardian realized what was happening. "Oh. I see. I'm sorry." Her face had a gentle expression. "Teyla, I have no urge to attack you. None whatsoever. I never have. I apologize if I scared you."

So that explained it. Teyla had always avoided becoming real friends with the Guardian, rarely interacting with her except during a pre-mission briefing or during a mission. They had never met or talked in private. She did sit with her once to look at horses, and a few other times at lunch, but always when others were present, and never alone. She only met the Guardian when other witnesses and potential protectors were present.

The Guardian said softly "Teyla, are you really that afraid of me?"

Teyla replied just as softly, "Yes."

"I never picked it up.."

"I have a well-disciplined mind. I hid my fears."

"I'm so sorry. I called you 'friend' the first day we met, remember? You are my friend then, and you are my friend now. That will never change." The Guardian had a tear in her eye. "Teyla, I will never hurt you. I will always be your friend."

Teyla bowed, "Thank you, Anquietas."

Weir gave a sigh of relief. "Good. I am glad this was resolved without violence. Now please, we need to deal with this situation. There's Wraith somewhere.."

Suddenly there was a muffled explosion. Alarms started going off.

They all ran out. Weir yelled, "What's happening?"

Chuck was checking the monitors. "Explosion somewhere in the city."

"Where?"

He checked. His face had an expression of dread. The Guardian already knew. "No.."

"I'm sorry. It was inside the drone launch bays."

The Guardian snarled and ran.


Laura Cadman was standing just outside the door that led to the large room where the drone bays were located. The Guardian ran up. She saw that Cadman was wearing her EOD bomb disposal suit.

Cadman stepped in front of her. "Whoa! Sara, stop!"

"I need to go in there!"

"Relax, I have a MALP in there. The Wraith blew himself up. He's already dead."

The Guardian growled again. She knew who it was: a Wraith Champion, specially bred, filled with dozens of human souls, given years of mental training to hide his mind from Lantean probes, sent in a suicide mission to take out the drones.

"Let me through!"

Cadman pushed her back. "No! The bomb wasn't that powerful. A lot of the bays are still intact."

The Guardian yelled, "They were being careful not to damage the gate! It's right above us! I need to go in and check!"

Cadman shook her head vigorously. "No! I took some radiation readings with the MALP. Sara, it was a dirty bomb. The room is sleeting with hard beta radiation Over two sieverts per minute*7.

"No! No!"

"Look, nobody can go in there. There's a glowing blob in the center of the room, cobalt-60 I think. I was trying to get the MALP's waldo arm to remove it, but the MALP died. It's just too radioactive in there."

"Sara, what's going on down there?" It was McKay on the radio.

"Rodney, quick, tell me, how many bays were damaged?"

"Uh, the status displays are up on most of them.. checking.. we lost about a third. 450 are still good. We got lucky."

"Oh thank heavens."

"Wait. Aw crap! Crap!"

"What is it?"

"The main power coupling got disconnected. I see the cable on the monitor. It needs to be spliced and reconnected. Crap! That will take at least 10 minutes. It's too delicate for a waldo."

"Cadman, give me your EOD suit."

She heard Chuck's voice on the radio. "The two hive ships are moving towards us again. Sublight speed. Six cruiser escorts."

Laura stepped back. "No way jose. This EOD suit will barely protect you from rads. Look, that is hard beta-ray radiation in there. It will nuke every DNA strand in every cell in your body in two minutes. You'll be the walking dead after that." The Guardian already knew there was no way to regenerate from that much cellular damage.

McKay was inchoate. "Sara, you are not going in there!"

The Guardian snarled. She looked at Cadman, who promptly fainted as her carotid arteries were temporarily pinched shut.

The Guardian removed Cadman's heavy EOD suit and put it on herself.

Then she went inside.


A/N:

* The Milky Way Replicators were destroyed by the superweapon at Dakara in early 2005.

** The Milky Way Replicators had almost defeated the Asgard after the Atlantis Expedition had left Earth, so McKay is underestimating them. (Their power level varied quite a bit during the course of the SG-1 series.) The Dakara weapon had eliminated them all so they are no longer a threat regardless.

*** See Filmmakers Show the Scale of the Solar System in Amazing Video at space dot com.

*4 For story purposes I am assuming the TDK trilogy was released before Rodney had left for Atlantis.

*5 Ro 8:26-27

*6 Ps 23, NASB. (Usually I recommend NIV, but I think the NASB translation is better here.)

*7 See xkcd dot com slash radiation.


A/N Update:

Answers to some questions:

Q: Where is Aiden Ford?

A: Ford is not in this story (his mother got sick). In real life, the series producers (Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper) and the actor (Rainbow Sun Francks) felt that the character of Aiden Ford was not working as intended, so he was changed to a recurring character and a new character (Ronon) was introduced to take his place on AR-1 (cf Wikipedia). I wanted Evan Lorne in the story early so I swapped him for Ford in S1. The Wraith-enzyme-enabled Ford is no threat to Genie so he wasn't a useful antagonist to drive this story.

Q: Will Todd appear?

A: He already has (Chapter 5).

Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback in your kind reviews and PM, and as always, thank you for reading.
-HuuskerDu

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: The Siege (Part 2)

The Guardian removed Laura Cadman's heavy EOD suit and put it on herself. She kneeled down to check Cadman's pulse, then she rose up and opened the door to the drone bay and went inside.

She closed the heavy door behind her. It was dimly lit; ahead she could see that the middle of the long narrow room was a shambles, with detritus strewn everywhere. In the center of the wreckage was a dull turquoise glow. She could feel the beta radiation from it sleeting through her body. Her eyes saw sparkles where the rays struck her retinas.

She wanted to know where the power coupling was broken, so she used the imager in her left forearm to bring up a schematic of the power distribution layout. However, the imager was not working. She wasn't sure if it was due to her wearing the bulky EOD suit or due to the radiation.

Her radio crackled to life. "Sara, you are not pulling a Spock hero sacrifice on me!"

She knew that McKay was watching the life-signs monitor in the main control room. He must have spotted a single white dot moving in to the irradiated drone bay. He didn't need to guess to know who it was.

She tapped her mic. "I'm sorry, my love. We both knew this was going to happen."

"No! None of this 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one' crap! Get out of there!"

"Rodney, this is exactly what we had promised each other, remember? That we would never put ourselves ahead of the city? Well, I am honoring that vow."

"Just wait! I'll figure something out!"

"The Wraith hive ships are on already their way. There is no other option."

"There are always options! You of all people should know that!"

"Just tell me where the power coupling is broken."

"No! Sara, please! Get out!"

She looked down the narrow room to where the glow was. The broken power couple was probably near it. She guessed that she would have to move to within a few meters of that glowing blob to get to it.

She was about to take her first step when she stopped.

She sensed it. She whirled around, but she couldn't see the source.

Something else was in the room with her. A presence.

Where was it?

She turned around again but did not see anything. Satisfied there was nothing there she took her first step when she stopped again.

There it was again. A soundless, still, small voice.

She realized it was inside her own head.

She closed her eyes and listened. Meanwhile McKay was still yelling at her on the radio. She ignored him and focused on the voice instead.

It told her that she was about to commit a selfish act.

What? Nonsense.

She thought the radiation must be affecting her mind. She shook her head trying to clear it.

This was anything but selfish, wasn't it? She was just fulfilling her purpose, the reason she was created, to sacrifice herself for the greater good. How could this be wrong?

It told her the fleet was not here yet; it was merely self-justification.

For what?

She tried to ignore the pull on her conscience as she took a second step, but it kept nagging at her.

She knew that she would not die right away. Given her strong constitution she might even survive a full day, where she'd enjoy a long and teary final farewell with Rodney and the others - a dramatic and blissful reunion that would end with her final peaceful rest.

Meanwhile the Wraith would come, and her story would end beautifully.

Then she heard it again.

The fleet was not here yet. It was too soon.

She was about to go out in a blaze of glory.

To glorify yourself.

She shook her head. Surely it was the radiation making her hear things, right? This act would save everyone, yes? The drone bay would go back online and Shepard can fire the drones. It will stop the trio.

But the accusation would not go away.

She was about to make the supreme sacrifice, to be a martyr.

To glorify herself.

And that was wrong.

She understood.

She turned to leave the room. At the same time she heard Chuck on the radio. "Unscheduled off-world activation. We are receiving Stargate Command IDC."

As she left she looked up.

Thank you.


McKay ran from the gate room into the short hallway that led to the transporter booth just in time to see the Guardian tumble out of it while still wearing Cadman's black EOD suit. She was carrying a white roll under her arm which she dropped on the floor, then she pulled up and off the top half of the EOD suit. She spotted McKay and tried to move toward him while trying to take off the bottom half of the suit, hopping on her right foot while shaking her left and pulling the left pant leg up and off with the opposite hand. She then scooped up the white bundle with her other hand, and then, while still approaching, she hopped on the other foot and pulled off the other side and started shaking it to kick it away. She succeeded in flinging it away just in time to stumble into McKay.

McKay caught her. He was not happy. "You idiot! How long were you in there?"

She was out of breath. "Don't worry, not that long."

"Please tell me that there was there a dosimeter badge on that EOD suit."

"Relax, the badge didn't turn black." The Guardian tried to peer past him towards the open door that led to the gate room. "What's happening in there?"

McKay was relieved. He glanced at the gate room entrance behind him. There seemed to be a muffled commotion on the main floor.

"A company of Marines gated in from Earth with a bunch of stuff. Commander Big Shot is trying to take over the city, bossing everybody around. Kit, you gotta go in there and lay down the law, tell him you're the boss."

She understood. She unrolled the white bundle and swirled her heavy cloak out and onto her shoulders in one deft motion.

"So, how do I look?"

Her tiara was crooked and her hair was a mess. McKay straightened her tiara for her. He tried to comb her mussed up hair with his open splayed fingers, then he stood back to give her a quick inspection.

"Good enough. You look like a disheveled beauty; it works. Now Kit, you need to charge in there and do your High Imperious Bratty Princess of Atlantis schtick, just like Weir taught you. You remember?"

She recalled how she pulled her Bad Cop act in front of the Vren, blasting away a hillside full of trees in faux petulant frustration per Weir's script. But she did not have a script this time.

"Uh.."

"Just go in there and be all pissed off and scary. You'll do great."

She hesitated, peering into the gate room. She could tell that the argument inside was becoming increasingly heated.

She came to a decision. "No. I can't just march in and do that."

"What? Why not? You scared the [bleep] out of the Vren with your Ancient PO'ed Princess act. I know you can do it again."

{ No. I don't have a script to follow this time. These are allies. The situation is completely different. }

"So what's our plan?"

{ Rodney, I can't afford to mess this up.. }

She turned back and gave him a knowing smile.

{ So I am going to cheat. }

"Cheat?"

{ This is an emergency situation. A Wraith got into the city. That means my ROE is now wide open, all my weapons are free, and my limiter is at 0%. }

"So you're cheating right now."

{ Yes. I will do whatever it takes to defend my city and its people. I will go in there and cheat ruthlessly and play absolutely dirty if I have to. }

"You will?"

{ Oh yes. When I fight the Wraith I do not play nice. }

"So the plan is.."

{ .. to win over Commander Big Shot by any means necessary. }

"How?"

{ No idea yet. I might play the Bad Cop, or I might play the Disney Princess, or I might just be myself. I'll know when I read him. }

"Wow. So this is you with all your shackles off?"

"Yes." She smiled, "Wish me luck?"

He kissed her cheek. "Knock'em dead."

{ Rodney, that hardly seems like a good plan even as a threat.. }

"It's just an expression. Just go."

She peered through the doorway, took a deep breath, then she went inside.


Colonel Everett had just about enough insubordination for one day. He was getting ready to relieve Major Sheppard of his duties and order Weir to leave the gate room when he spotted a woman wearing white approach. He stopped speaking. Everyone else turned to see what he was looking at.

The woman stopped about 10 meters away. She appeared to just be watching him, her eyes locked on him. He guessed that she was appraising him. After a few seconds she came forward again.

Sheppard was relieved. "Oh good, finally. Genie.." He quickly corrected himself, "I mean, Guardian, thank you for finally coming. Here, let me introduce you to Colonel Dillon Everett, USMC. He and his men have come from Earth to help you defend the city."

Everett nodded at her, "A pleasure to meet you, ma'am." He quickly did his own private appraisal of the Atlantean Princess, the first alien he had ever met. He saw a pair of intense blue eyes that were framed by a hawk-like face. She was wearing an elegant silken white robe over long white sleeves and white gloves, and a intricate silver tiara was set upon her blond brow. To Everett she looked like a princess stepping out of a Disney picture book.

She said simply, "You are now in charge?"

Everett replied, "Yes, ma'am. Orders direct from General O'Neill."

"I see." She turned. "Major, Doctor, do you recognize these orders?"

Weir spoke up. "Yes, Sara, but he wants to.."

She interrupted Weir. "You will address me as Guardian."

"Uh, yes, Guardian. However, he wants.."

"If the orders are valid, what is the reason for your argument here?"

Everett beamed at her. "Exactly, ma'am. Thank you." He looked up at Chuck who was manning his station. "Now will you finally dial the Alpha Site?"

Weir quickly tried to intervene. "Please wait. Guardian, let me explain. He wants to order everyone back to fight, including civilian volunteers. You control this city, not him. It is your gate."

The gate started dialing, and everyone moved away from it.

Weir turned, "Who is doing that?" She looked up at Chuck, who had thrown his hands up.

The Guardian said, "I am."

Meanwhile, McKay had previously and surreptitiously joined the group and was watching silently from the back.

{ Kit, what are you doing? You just kicked Elizabeth and Sheppard to the curb! }

{ Rodney, I keep seeing an image in Everett's mind of of young girl with blond pigtails when he looks at me. I think it is his daughter or granddaughter that he lost in his past. He sees me as her all grown up, I think. The connection is really strong. He might have picked it up from watching my video. }

{ Yeah? So? }

The Guardian looked around and asked, "Colonel, how many ZPMs did you bring? Three I hope?"

{ I will let him continue to see me as his lost daughter or granddaughter. }

{ An act? }

{ No, Rodney. To get maximum protection for my city I will just be myself. No acting. }

"Uh, no ma'am. Just what you see here."

{ So you're gonna just knuckle under. }

"I see. What is this weapon?" She pointed.

{ No, Rodney, you don't understand. A father listens to and cares for his daughter. He will protect the city and give everything he has for me. }

"Captain Radner, please describe the RG/BBT for the Guardian."

A Marine officer with dark hair and a high forehead stepped forward. He looked a little nervous as he addressed the Guardian. She walked over to the large bulky disassembled weapon to get a closer look at it while he described it.

"Ma'am, the Rail Gun / Ballistic Battle Turret is our state-of-the-art close-in defense and anti-spacecraft weapon system, originally designed for mounting on the starship Prometheus. The design is similar to the CEWS guns mounted on US nuclear aircraft carriers for point defense, but with much greater power and range. It can fire up to 10,000 depleted-uranium slugs per minute at speeds in excess of mach 5 with an effective range of up to 400 kilometers."

The Guardian's eyes boggled at the partially disassembled weapon. "Oh, this is so delightfully primitive! So brutally elegant! It's wonderful! It's perfect! The Wraith darts will be absolutely stunned with surprise. Tell me, what kind of targeting does it have?"

As Captain Radner's explanation went on, the Guardian caught a vision from Everett.

Abigail, happy birthday.

Oh grandpa! I love it! It's so beautiful! Thank you! Thank you!

She whirled back to Everett. "I love it! What other gifts did you bring me?"

Everett chuckled, "If you like those, come over here." We walked over to a set of nasty looking black containers. Four stern men wearing red berets stood guard over them. "Six naquadah-enhanced nuclear warheads, 1200 megatons apiece, proximity fused. The black stealth material absorbs radar with zero EM."

The Guardian clapped with delight. "Space mines!"

"Yes, ma'am."

The Guardian was enraptured with them. "Oh, these are so beautifully crude! We haven't used weapons like these in millennia, only beam weapons. Say, did you also make sure to take into account the thermal IR signature?"

Everett gave Radner a glance. He took the cue and jumped in. "Yes ma'am. Each mine contains a small reservoir of liquid helium as a heat sink. An external temperature sensor adjusts the coolant output to maintain thermal equilibrium of the unit with the ambient surrounding temperature."

"Perfect! Hiding the thermal signature is actually harder than hiding the EM signature, you know. Our jumpers have heat sinks too, otherwise they would light up like beacons in the infrared. Yes, these should work nicely. I just love it!"

She turned to Everett. "These are truly wonderful gifts, and I am very thankful. However, you did omit one. The one I had wanted the most.."

"I am sorry, ma'am. We found a ZPM right under our noses in Eqypt, but only the one."

The Guardian sighed, "Well, even without a shield or drones this will help. Ultimately, however..."

Everett interrupted her. He wanted to explain to her the ZPM situation, but not in public. "Uh, ma'am, can we discuss this in a more secure location?"

"Of course. We should adjourn to the main conference room. Do you know where it is located?"

Everett tried to remember the layout of the tower based on his quick memorization of the schematics. "Uh, I believe that it is somewhere in that direction?" The direction he pointed was slightly off.

"I will show you the way. Follow me!" The Guardian offered her arm, a gesture which Everett did not expect. Her childlike enthusiasm made it almost impossible for Everett to deny her request, so he decided to be a gentleman and took the offered elbow. She then proceeded to happily escort her savior up the steps to the conference room.

McKay was impressed.

{ Kit, that is really good acting. }

{ Who says I'm acting? }

Weir and Sheppard fell in line silently behind Everett and Captain Radner. The Colonel did not notice the pair as he was too preoccupied chatting with the Guardian, answering her questions about how the ZPM was found in Eqypt by Doctor Daniel Jackson.

The Guardian mentally opened the doors to the conference room as they approached, then she made an inviting gesture for Everett and Radner to enter.

Everett looked around the room and nodded. "This will work." He turned and saw Sheppard enter with Weir close behind followed by McKay.

He moved to stop Weir and McKay. "Wait outside."

Sheppard spoke up, "Sir, I understand you need to establish a clear chain of command, but if you cut Doctor Weir out of the loop you'll just alienate the people whose trust and respect she's earned - which is everyone on the base, including me."

Everett raised an eyebrow. "Is that a fact?"

The Guardian interceded, "Sir, Doctor Weir has valuable insights regarding the expedition's people and their abilities, and she has their strong loyalty. We need her."

As he studied the Guardian he said slowly, "Doctor Weir, please have a seat."

She proceeded to sit. However, a pair of Marines blocked McKay from entering.

{ Hey! Kit, tell Everett to let me in! }

{ Rodney, I'm working. Go away. }

The conference room doors closed with McKay still standing outside. The pair of Marines positioned themselves in front of the doors and stood guard, frowning at McKay, who took the hint and left.

An exasperated McKay plopped himself on a chair in the Control Room next to Zelenka. The latter sighed, "When the military takes over us scientists take the back seat."

McKay morosely sat forward with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting on his hands. "Tell me about it. I keep forgetting she's in the military and not a scientist."

"Just wait. They will need us. You'll see."

McKay sat up again. "Yeah. So let's be proactive about it."

"How?"

"Let's see whether you and I can figure out a way to fix the drone bays without nuking ourselves until we glow."

"Right."

They left.


The military planning meeting was now well underway.

".. The puddle jumpers are not intended to be combat craft. They are meant to be supply transports and blockade runners. They are a relatively new design. So is the city."

Everett asked, "Wait, I thought the that this place was over a million years old?"

"Oh no, that is a mistranslation in the public database. There have been multiple city-arks in our history. This was the last and the greatest, designed specifically as a combined R&D center and defense hardpoint, created about 900 years before the final war began."

"I see."

"The whole city is designed to survive attacks and sieges for many years. As a fallback it can run away, and if necessary it can hide. While under attack its drones provide a highly effective point-defense system. The city was designed to intentionally attract and concentrate the enemy in a kill zone, to draw them away from defenseless worlds."

Everett nodded. "Dien Bien Phu indeed."

The Guardian was confused. "I'm sorry?"

Sheppard spoke up. "I'll explain it later."

The Guardian continued. "The city attracted the enemy as expected, and at first it worked. Our drones, our many battleships, and our powerful defense platforms wiped them out repeatedly. The wreckage from countless Wraith ships and cruisers littered the system.."

Everett stopped her. "I get the picture, thank you. So to summarize, you now have no space capability and no shield, and thanks to the Wraith scout who snuck in you now have no drones either. That about sum it up?"

The Guardian looked down. "Yes sir. I am sorry, but it's hopeless. Without a shield there is no way we can survive."

Everett smiled. "Well, young lady, we might have a solution for that."

"Without a ZPM I don't see how.."

"We are bringing in a ZPM just for you."

The Guardian's head snapped up. "WHAT!?"

He enjoyed her stunned reaction. "Yes, ma'am, we are."

Her eyes lit up like a child at Christmas. "You.. you are?"

Abigail, it's your birthday. You can pick any one you want. Go ahead.

"It's coming in on the BC-304, the Daedalus, our newest battle cruiser. The ZPM is mounted inside so it's zooming here like a speedboat. It should get here inside of four days."

Grandpa, thank you! I love you! I love you!

"I love you!" She blinked. Her face turned red as she quickly disconnected her secret mind link with Everett. She recomposed herself. "I mean, uh, I am very happy sir. Thank you for that information."

Everett gave her an indulgent smile, clearly enjoying her reaction. Meanwhile Sheppard was watching the exchange with keen interest.

The Guardian put the discussion back on track. "So, we have four days."

"Yes."

The Guardian brought up the long range sensor display. She pointed at the screen. "We are fortunate that the two incoming hive ships and their escorts are moving in on sublight engines, their standard trio probing tactic."

"Trio?"

"We managed to destroy one hive ship and its cruiser escorts before you arrived."

"I see, well done. That will make my job a little easier."

"We estimate that it will take the remaining fleet about two days to arrive at their current speed."

"Good. That means we have time to prepare. Where are the best places to deploy the RG/BBTs?"

The Guardian brought up a schematic of the city and touched five points on it. Each location lit up as she touched it. "I recommend these locations. They all contain balconies or scenic overlooks with awnings; it is important that you keep your railguns under them. They are partly made of naquadah and should block the dart culling beams. The beams have a maximum deflection angle of 30 degrees, so make sure that your guns are pulled inward far enough so that their gun crews are protected."

"But that will restrict their vertical range of fire."

"You must. After the first wave of dart attacks the Wraith will retreat and evaluate, then they will target your gunners."

"Radner, make a note."

"Yes, sir."

Everett then proceeded with the plan for the outer defense perimeter.

The Guardian asked, "Colonel, can you please explain to me how you intend to deploy the mines?"

"Radner."

Captain Radner explained, "We'll use the jumpers in stealth mode to place them in a blocking pattern between the fleet and Atlantis. Major Sheppard, we were hoping you could help us with that."

Sheppard said, "Yes, but I recommend keeping a couple in reserve."

Everett shook his head. "Negative. We're only gonna get one shot at this."

"We have to consider the possibility.."

The Guardian spoke up. "I think we should do what Sheppard suggests."

"Why?"

"I read in your war history about an aerial weapon called the 'kamikaze' during your second World War. It was very effective."

"Seriously? I can't order my pilots to.."

Sheppard spoke on behalf of himself and the Guardian. "You won't have to." They exchanged looks.

Everett saw the exchange of eye contact. "I see. Well, let's just hope it doesn't come to that."

Everett resumed his briefing. "Sheppard, you will familiarize our ATA pilots with the jumpers. They will become our fighter screen."

"Along with me."

The Guardian was still looking at Sheppard. "John, if the drones come back online I'll need you manning the Chair. I'll be too busy chasing down the Wraith inside the city."

"Yeah, okay."

Everett inspected at the city schematic. "Hmm. If too many darts come in and deploy ground squads, the Wraith infiltrations are going to be our biggest problem."

The Guardian glanced at the schematic and nodded. "Yes. Their goal is capture, not destruction. The city is large and I cannot be everywhere at once. Also, one managed to avoid detection by the city's sensors and my own abilities. That greatly worries me."

Weir said, "We need to find those hidden Wraith. I recommend we let Teyla organize groups of armed Athosians to help patrol the city and look for them. She detected the one in the drone bay."

The Guardian was thinking. "Yes.. she did."

Weir noticed the pause. "You disagree?"

"No.. it's just that well.." She decided that Everett needed to know. "Teyla detected the Wraith Champion because she has some Wraith DNA."

Everett was surprised. "What?"

"Only a small amount, enough to sense them."

Everett looked worried. "Ma'am, that has me a little concerned."

The Guardian sighed, "I very much don't wish to say so, but I am forced to admit that I am also worried. Teyla is susceptible to Wraith mind powers. If she encounters one stronger than her, her mind could be overthrown. She could be forced to reveal everything she knows."

"I don't like it."

Weir said quickly, "How about if we pair up Teyla and her Athosians with our people, share the patrols."

The Guardian said, "Yes, I think that would work. Colonel?"

"Hmm, very well. But I want one of my red berets with Teyla at all times."

"Agreed."

Everett looked around the room. "Anything else?"

No one spoke.

"It looks like we have a plan. Guardian, Doctor Weir, thank you. Let's execute."

The Guardian noticed that Everett had omitted Sheppard from his thanks. Her concern was confirmed when he said, "Sheppard, you stay here. I want to talk with you in private."

Sheppard gave the Guardian another knowing glance as she left. She caught it. Without anyone else seeing him he quickly and silently tapped his head and gave her a questioning look. She nodded in agreement and opened a communication conduit with him.

{ John, why is he making you stay? }

{ I'm just getting sent to the principal's office. I'll be fine. }

{ Let me know if you need anything. }

{ Don't worry about it. He's busy talking to Radner right now. Genie, you've been jacked into Everett's head the whole time, spying on everything he is thinking, right? }

{ Oh, you noticed? }

{ I thought so. Some would consider that dirty pool. }

{ John, I have to. The stakes are too high.. }

{ Hey, I'm applauding you here. }

{ I see. I know you can play dirty pool too, when you have to.. }

{ No comment. }

{ See? We're not so different, you and I. At least during wartime. }

{ I said no comment. Say, can we leave this communication thingy open? Just for now, like you do all the time with McKay? }

{ I suppose I can. I can't leave it open all the time because it's too draining on me. But for now I can open it up whenever you're in the room. }

{ Good idea. Please keep it open with me like this until the battle is over. }

{ Right. }

{ Genie, I'm glad you sided with me on the mines. }

{ Well, I believe your expression is, 'Always save a trump card.' I'm just thinking like you would. }

{ Let's just hope we don't get to that point. }

{ What do we do if there's only one hive ship left? }

{ We flip a coin. }

{ John.. }

{ I mean it. No heroic knocking-me-out crap. Logically it should be me anyway. I'm more expendable than you. }

{ John! }

{ Okay, we flip a coin then. }

{ Agreed. }

{ And no cheating with the coin. }

{ Who, me? }

{ I'm on to your tricks, little lady. }

{ Hah. And I'm on to yours. }

{ Touché, touché. }


War preparations were made. The railguns were set up at their designated locations, with each gun pulled back just enough under its awning to prevent the dart culling beams from scooping up the gunners.

McKay reported that the drone room was hopelessly contaminated with beta radiation, at least for the time being. The drones were becoming irradiated too, and it would take far too long for the radiation level to subside enough to send in a specially rigged MALP to remove the blob of cobalt-60 before the attack. The Chair would be of no use.

However, plenty of extra drones were still stockpiled in the hanger, so the jumpers would be taking a very active role as the city's fighter screen. Everett's pilots were inoculated with Beckett's ATA gene therapy, and now ten working jumpers had pilots. Sheppard's personal jumper, the one that had jammed in the gate, was still down for repairs, as was the Guardian's own personal jumper due to McKay's botched practice landing attempt.


450 light years away twelve hive ships floated in space.

Queen Death sat on her throne inside the lead ship. She was inspecting various images that were being transmitted from her forward trio fleet.

She was worried.

The city's drone counter-attack was massive, just like in the old days. But the shield had not gone up. Why did they not raise it?

Her Consort entered her throne chamber. "My Queen."

She was not happy. She pointed at the recorded image of the dart raid. "Explain this. Your plan said..."

He raised his hand. "My Queen, I have good news."

"Yes?"

"Our Champion's infiltration mission has succeeded, far greater than we had hoped."

The queen was encouraged. "It has?"

"Oh yes. They have no power crystals. They are helpless. And there's more.."

She stopped him from speaking. "You have told me all I need to know. Inform the remaining duo to begin the invasion. No retreat."

He bowed, "By your command."

His head rose up again.

He said carefully, "However, I do recommend that we ought to delay the invasion by one day."

"Delay? Why? You said they are helpless."

He told her.

"I see. Excellent. Proceed."


Two days later McKay was looking at the short range scanner.

"I don't like this."

The Guardian was standing behind him in the Control Room. She leaned in close behind as she extended her arm past him to adjust the wall display to zoom it in. "What are they doing out there?"

The L2 point was now magnified. Both of the remaining hive ships and their two cruiser trios were slowly roaming around the L2 Lagrange point, moving back and forth within it.

McKay frowned. "It's like they are collecting something from all that space junk."

The Guardian asked him, "You think they are grabbing the remaining drones so we can't use them?"

"Maybe. But if that was the case why only L2? We identified over two thousand dead drones across L1, L2, L4, and L5. They must know we can still harvest a lot more from the other three L points. Besides, they don't know how many we already have. I don't get it."

The Guardian said, "Well, it gives us an extra day. The mines are up, and everything else is ready. We should take advantage of the delay to do more pilot combat training."

McKay said absently, "Yeah, go ahead and help Sheppard buzz around. I'll stay here."

The Guardian left as McKay continued to study the display with concern.


The Guardian entered the gym where Teyla was busy demonstrating anti-Wraith melee combat techniques to Lorne's men and to some of Everett's red berets.

The Guardian had only rarely visited the gym before. In the past Sheppard had invited her to conduct combat training sessions with his men but she had always declined. She explained to him that her own fighting techniques were not applicable to humans. She did, however, describe how to most efficiently kill a Wraith using a P90 and a knife. (Riddle the central nervous system and the heart, and then, if time allowed, decapitate.)

Teyla was wrapping up her training session. Lorne thanked her on behalf of his men. He gave a wink to the Guardian, and they all left.

The Guardian and Teyla were now alone. "That was impressive. You are an excellent fighter."

Teyla bowed to the Anquietas. "Your words are high praise. I would be honored if you sparred with me." She picked up a staff and offered it to the Guardian.

"No thank you. I can't."

"You cannot?"

"I mean no disrespect, but I literally can't. Not with you."

"Not with me? May I ask why?"

"Teyla, if it was any other human on this base I could probably do it because there is no chance of them actually getting a strike in. But from what I saw just now you could actually hit me at some point. That must never be allowed to happen."

"Why not?"

"My reflexes are hardwired; I can't turn them off. Those reflexes go directly from my sensory nervous system through my hindbrain to my somatic nervous system. If I was being attacked, my somatic nervous system reacts faster than I can think. If you got a lucky strike in, I might automatically react by seriously injuring or killing you before I could stop myself."

"I see. I have heard you say in the past that you are a living weapon. I did not think you meant that literally."

"No, I was being precise."

"I understand now."

"Teyla, there are two people on this base that I must never fight. One is you, and the other is John Sheppard."

"Really? I have sparred with Sheppard multiple times and have always defeated him."

"I know. He is dangerous for other reasons."

"Oh?"

"When necessary he fights dirty and cheats. Same as me. That makes him the most deadly human on this base."

"I see."

The Guardian picked up a towel and tossed it to Teyla, who proceeded to wipe herself off. With the Guardian's limiter at 0% she was able to now sense Teyla's guarded wariness of her. It was subtle but it was there.

She decided to sit on the bench, hoping it would make her appear less threatening to the Athosian. It seemed to work. Teyla sat next to her as she toweled herself off.

The Guardian spoke carefully. "Teyla, thank you for spotting the Wraith infiltrator. I am very much in your debt."

Teyla replied deprecatingly, "I was merely doing my duty."

"Yes, well. Some day I will try to find a way to repay you."

"That is not necessary. The gate address you suggested for New Athos was ideal for us. All your perceived debts were more than fulfilled by that act alone."

They were both silent for several seconds. The Guardian could sense that Teyla was relaxing her guard a bit. That encouraged her. She said haltingly, "I, uh, still want to be your friend. Not just saying the word. I mean for real."

"I do consider you a friend."

"Thank you." Then she added awkwardly, "You are so.. closed to me. I can't tell if you are just saying the word or if you mean it. That's unusual."

Teyla realized she was not being rude to her, just being honest and direct. "I understand. I do admit that some part of me still fears you a little. My conscious mind knows that you are my friend, but my unconscious mind is not quite there yet."

The Guardian said earnestly, "I hope that will change?"

Teyla gave her a gentle smile. "It will, over time."

Teyla looked down. She appeared to be debating something internally, then she turned to the Guardian and said, "As your friend, may I please give you some advice?"

"Certainly."

After a moment she said, "Anquietas, please be careful when you fight the Wraith. It is easy to become caught up in bloodlust. Remember that you are a Lantean. Remember who you are fighting for."

The Guardian looked away and thought for a moment.

"Yes."

She turned back.

"I will try."


The Guardian and Sheppard were climbing down the stairs from the hanger, having just finished a training exercise with the ATA pilots.

The Guardian said, "John, that is a good tactic. I wish my people had thought of it during the first war."

Given the extra pilots and the Chair being offline, Sheppard had worked out a new method for using the jumpers as a fighter screen. They just finished some trial runs and were pleased with the practice results.

The problem was that although the jumpers had better straight-line acceleration, the darts were more maneuverable than the jumpers. That meant the darts were superior in 1-on-1 close-in dogfights.

Sheppard called his tactic 'Shoot and Scoot': Launch a drone in the general direction of a dart, and then run. The trick was to use two pilots - one to steer the drone into the dart while the second pilot flew the jumper and evaded. Sheppard had gotten the idea from the two-man crews in US fighter jets like the F-15E, a multi-role fighter with two pilots, one being the weapons systems officer (WSO).

Having two pilots in the same ship while flying manually made the work much easier. Now that they had enough ATA pilots to go around, the two-man crew system could be implemented. In their practice runs it seemed to work well, even for pilots using jumpers they were not familiar with. Sheppard's own personal jumper was still damaged as was the Guardian's, so they were both flying in unfamiliar craft.

The main remaining limitation, in addition to the fact that the jumpers could not fire while cloaked, was that each jumper could hold only six drones apiece. A system with a NASCAR-style pit crew was worked out where a jumper could rapidly enter the hanger and be quickly reloaded, then take off again with a fresh load of drones in less than a minute.

Sheppard and the Guardian entered the control room where they saw McKay, Weir, and Colonel Everett all watching the main display panel on the wall. As they walked up Sheppard asked, "Something happening?"

McKay kept his eyes on the display. "Several targets are approaching the mines." He kept adjusting the display. "I'm not sure what they are yet."

The Guardian asked, "Wraith signature?"

"No. They're coming in fast too."

"How many?"

"There are thousands of them, some pretty big. I'm getting naquadah readings. What the hell?"

The Guardian worked the display and zoomed in tighter. "Look! That is a piece of the dead defense station at L2!" The view shifted. "That is a piece of one of our battleships."

McKay understood. "So that's what they were doing at L2 yesterday. They were collecting garbage to chuck at us like meteors. They are throwing our own junk back at us."

The Guardian shook her head. "No. The target isn't us. It's.."

Everett said, "They're headed for the mines."

The Guardian yelled, "Turn them off, quickly!"

Sheppard turned. "Can't they be deactivated?"

Everett said tersely, "No."

Soon four huge white spots appeared on the display.

McKay plopped back into a seat. "Well, that's that. Your mines make one hell of a bang, Colonel - I'm sure the Wraiths' ears are ringing."

The Guardian was in shock. "That's impossible."

McKay looked up at her. "What do you mean?"

"No, no.. it makes no sense." She was pacing. "We never used mines before. Too crude. There was no way they could have known."

"Well, they spotted them obviously. The EM stealth must not have worked."

"No.."

Sheppard asked, "Sara, what are you thinking?"

"If they were detected they would have just sent some darts to shoot them. They would not have stopped and wasted a whole day just to collect thousands of pieces of space junk."

McKay understood. "So they knew the mines existed.."

She completed his sentence, ".. but not where exactly."

Everett frowned. "What are you two talking about?"

Sheppard said, "Sir, wait a moment. They're doing their magic. Just watch."

McKay jumped up. "That Wraith. We couldn't detect it, track its movements inside the city.."

".. and it was here for hours before we spotted it.."

".. so what was it doing before it went into the drone bay?"

"The conference room was empty and unattended.. "

".. and it has two entrances, one in the front from the Control Room, and.. "

".. another one in the back that nobody watches or guards."

Everett's eyes widened. "No!"

The Guardian growled and ran into the Conference Room.

When the others caught up she was crawling under the large conference table. McKay joined her by checking under the chairs and the rest joined in.

Her open ungloved hand slowly moved along the back wall. Her hand stopped moving at a certain point. She put her glove back on and punched a hole in the wall with her quasi-diamond gloved fist. She stuck her hand inside and pulled out a bug.

A literal bug. It was squirming. The beatle-like insect was about two inches long and had a small antenna affixed to its back. She crushed the bug between her fingers.

Everett said darkly, "We've been compromised. The Wraith listened in and heard everything that we said in this room. That's how they knew about the mines."

Sheppard said, "They know we still have two trump cards."

The Guardian asked, "Rodney, can you rig a way to remotely pilot two jumpers?"

"Uh.. I dunno. Maybe? The theory behind your mental control isn't well understood."

{ It's in the public database. I'm transmitting the locus to you. }

{ Got it. I'll be in the lab with Zelenka. }

{ I have faith in you. }

McKay ran out.

Sheppard said, "We have to assume that the Wraith know everything we said in here. Fortunately we never discussed Shoot and Scoot."

Everett said, "Then that is our biggest asset right now."

Chuck said on the PA, "Picking up incoming darts. At least sixty. Moving fast."

Everett ordered Sheppard, "Get the fighter CAP up."

The Guardian said, "We have to assume some will get through and beam down commandos. I need to stay here to stop them from reaching the gate."

{ Genie, wish me luck. }

{ Happy hunting. }

{ You too. }

Meanwhile Everett left the room while ordering his men to prepare the railguns.


The dart attack came quicker than expected. They flew in groups of twelve. The jumper counterattack of 'Shoot and Scoot' was effective, and they succeeded in shooting down the majority of the initial wave.

Everett was barking instructions into his headset.

Soon one railgun went offline. Then another, then another.

"What's happening? Gun 3 report!"

The Guardian ran like the wind to the Gun 3 emplacement. Nobody was there.

She yelled into her radio, "They were culled!"

"How?"

"I don't know!"

Her keen eyes saw Gun 4 in the distance, about halfway up the South Tower, with tracer bullets sweeping the sky. A dart flew in low, and then she saw a culling beam.

The beam was nearly horizontal. She saw the dart neatly scoop up the firing crew and Gun 4 went silent.

"The bug! It told them about the 30 degree limit!"

The Wraith had overheard the Guardian's advice to Everett, so they had modified their culling beams with a greater deflection angle to go right under the awnings to grab the gun crews.

"Dammit! Gun 5, pull back your rig!"

Another voice said, "Wraith life signs in the city. Grid references B4, B6, C2, E5, more."

C2 was a nearby naquadah generator location. The Guardian snarled loudly and ran to it, where she quickly spotted four Wraith. They were ready for her, firing their stun weapons while crouching behind protected positions. She had her thermo-optic cammo turned on and they were firing blindly in her general direction. There was a rush of air as she moved behind them. In one balletic motion she kicked out the spine of the first Wraith and whirled to punch the second through the heart, and then in second single sweeping motion she snapped the neck of the third with a high kick while simultaneously firing her palm-mounted energy transfer device at full power to drill a hole through the chest of the fourth.

She saw one of the dead Wraith still clutching a small rectangular device. It was a Wraith life sign sensor. She saw a blinking white dot at her location.

So. They could track her now, at least her general location. But it still wasn't accurate enough to get a weapon lock. She had no time to consider it further as she ran to B4.

She killed the Wraith at B4, B6, E5, E2, D1, D4, C3.. She had lost count. After E2 she had to turn off her thermo-optic cammo because her bioenergy packs were getting low. By C3 they were drained completely, and she was now burning her limited energy reserves from her own body.

Sheppard was also becoming exhausted. He was the only pilot flying solo, as he felt that he could both shoot and scoot better by himself. By now he had shot down at least 20 darts all by himself, but they still kept coming. They seemed endless.

He kept hearing reports about the ground invaders all over the city. He estimated that for approximately every ten darts they had shot down, one managed to get through to land troops. So far two jumpers had been lost versus over 100 darts. Normally a 50-1 combat loss ratio could be considered a victory, but not with the Wraith. They simply kept coming.

In his exhaustion he did not see a dart that had managed to sneak up behind him. He jinked hard to the left but the dart got a lucky shot on his right aft engine pod. Alarms sounded as smoke filled his jumper. He guided it in for a very bumpy landing on the South Pier's landing pad as the dart flew away to deposit its troops.

He cursed and unbuckled his seatbelt. He knew the transporters were all down, so that meant a long hard run and stair climb back up to the hanger at the top of the central spire to get another jumper. He tumbled out of his smoking jumper at the end of the pier and started running towards the South Tower.

He went inside to run through it. It was dimly lit, with emergency lights only. As he ran he heard faint hisses and snarls ahead of him in the distance. He pulled out his pistol and moved slowly forward.

There he saw an amazing sight. He found the Guardian slashing at a group of Wraith in hand-to-hand combat, fully visible. She was slathered in black blood, twisting and moving like a wild animal, teeth bared, eyes flashing. Soon all the Wraith were now dead but one, a Wraith Champion.

He was huge. Bare chested, covered with tattoos, filled with over a dozen human souls, he looked invincible.

The Guardian snarled a challenge. The Champion roared back his own. They circled each other warily while Sheppard watched. Both were bare handed. Then there was a blur of motion and swooshing sounds, followed by a sickening crunch. The Wraith Champion was now flat on its back with the Guardian's knee crushing his throat, pinned and defeated. She removed her knee as a pool of black Wraith blood flowed out from underneath him.

Then the blood stopped moving and reversed itself. The Champion was regenerating. His neck repaired itself.

The Wraith was still trying to stand up when something happened.

Sheppard was stunned. He would never forget what he saw for the rest of his life.

The Guardian had removed her right glove and had slapped her open palm on the Wraith's chest. Her eyes lit up with ecstasy as the Champion writhed in howling pain.

"See this tube that runs up her arm into her palm where it spreads out to these metallic flanges just under the skin?"

"You mean she's part Wraith?"

"Actually I think it's the other way around... I think she's much closer to the original design than they are."

As she finished her feeding, the Wraith Champion had shriveled up to a dry dessicated corpse.

She stood and roared with power. Her biopacks were now at 500% energy.

Sheppard stood dumbfounded. { Genie..? }

She whirled to face him, battle ready, panting like a tiger. She nearly pounced at him, feral, stopping herself just in time.

Her eyes blinked as she finally recognized him. She took a step back.

{ John, no. Don't look. Don't look! }

{ What are you? }

More radio chatter. Wraith commandos were still beaming into the city.

She turned on her thermo-optic cammo and disappeared.

Sheppard stepped over the shrivelled corpse and continued his run to the hangar.


Hours later the battle finally ended.

The Wraith dead had far outnumbered the humans, by at least 10 to 1, but it was still too many. Four gun crews were missing. Colonel Everett himself was attacked. Captain Radner was able to pump enough bullets into the attacking Wraith to stop it mid-feeding, preventing Everett from being completely drained.

The pair of hive ships retreated back to L2.


The Guardian was waiting in the hangar for Sheppard to join her. She was calm and composed. He saw that she had somehow removed all of the Wraith blood stains from her battle suit.

The nukes were already loaded by Everett's red berets. Weir knew, but McKay was not told. They both entered their jumpers and took off in silence.

By unspoken agreement neither had said goodbye to their respective partners before their kamikaze runs. She couldn't face McKay after what had happened.

A radio message light from the city appeared on her dashboard. She ignored it.

As the pair of nuclear-equipped jumpers were nearing orbit he spoke into his radio, which was set to short range transmission only. "Switch to private channel 21, scramble."

"Copy."

"Which one do you want?"

"I'll take the nearer one."

"I'll take the other."

"We need to hit them both simultaneously."

"Do the speed corrections as we approach."

"Cloaking now, leaving orbit."

"I'm right behind you. Keep the radio at low power, short range."

"Copy."

They flew for almost an hour in silence.

Finally he asked, "So.. you wanna talk about it?"

"No."

More silence.

Fifteen minutes later she heard him again. "Did you know you could do that?"

She finally decided to answer him. "Nobody told me. My memory is vague but it happened at least once before, I think."

"It must be an automatic response when you are low on power and Wraith are near."

"John, I am not a Wraith."

"I never said you were."

"Did you tell anyone?"

"Nope."

"I don't want Rodney to know."

"Well, I ain't telling him now."

"Good."

"Beckett thinks you pre-date them. Your design, or whatever."

"I don't see how. The Wraith evolved over 100,000 years ago, a genetic mixup between a human and an Iratus bug."

"That's what your public database says. We both know it's full of BS."

"John, we would never create the Wraith!"

"Didn't say your folks did. Maybe it was an accident?"

"That's ridiculous."

"Well, something happened that got your people all bent out of shape enough to make them completely ban doing genetic modifications."

More silence.

She finally said, "I'm sorry."

"Hey, I had a good run. You too."

"Yes. I have no regrets. Except for one."

"I know."

"John, I know you have one too."

"Eh?"

"My limiter was at 0%. I picked it up from both of you as she watched us take off for the training run."

"Picked what up?"

Silence.

He added, "Genie, I know the rules say you are not supposed to reveal another person's thoughts. But hey, if we're both dead.."

"John, you already know what I'm talking about."

Silence.

Finally he said, "Yeah."

"She would never have made the first move. You had to do it."

Silence.

"But you weren't sure."

Silence.

"John, would you like to know?"

More silence.

Finally, "Yeah."

"She would have said yes."

Silence.

"Thanks."

15 minutes later.

"I figured out that it was you who blew up that Wraith in the brig. I watched the tape at least 50 times. He flew apart simultaneously everywhere. No explosive compound does that. Then I zoomed the video in and could see blurry bits of him deflecting around your head where you had that protective energy shield up over your face."

She sighed, "I thought so. I have an internal shield as a failsafe, the same as the external one Rodney was wearing. It's surgically implanted. I use it very rarely because I can't recharge it."

"Genie, you are so full of cheats."

"War isn't supposed to be fair."

"No it isn't."

Another 15 minutes.

"John, I almost gave in. It was very close."

"Yeah, just my luck."

"Well, it wouldn't have worked out between us anyway."

"Oh?"

"Laura Cadman explained it to me. She said that girls like the bad boys, but they end up marrying the good ones."

"You saying I'm a bad boy?"

"Yes, you're a very naughty boy."

"Well, thank you."

"You're welcome."

Silence.

"Coming up on L2. I need to speed up on the farther one so we hit them at the same time. Accelerating."

"Go for the dart bay. Time for radio silence."

"Goodbye, Genie. It's been a pleasure serving with you."

"Likewise. Signing off."


"Major Sheppard, Guardian, please de-cloak immediately."


McKay and Weir were watching the display panel.

Two bright lights appeared, then faded.

Chuck said quietly, "Both targets were neutralized."

Weir wiped her face. "They did it."

McKay was numb. "Yeah."

She didn't even say goodbye.


Sheppard whirled around, disoriented. He was standing on the bridge of the Daedalus.

Colonel Caldwell was sitting in the captain's chair. He pushed the intercom button. "Doctor Novak, did you get the Guardian?"

"Hermiod reports that he was not able to get a lock. He said that something blocked the transport beam, then he lost the target."

Sheppard quickly assessed the situation. Yes, by a miracle he was still alive. But where..?

He collected his wits as he walked towards the front window of the bridge. He saw two large glows fading away in space.

He turned to Caldwell. "She teleported out of the jumper. Used her shield I bet. She might still be floating in space out there. We gotta find her!"

Five Wraith cruisers were now targeting the Daedalus. Caldwell said testily, "Major, I'm a little busy right now."

A sixth cruiser had collected some darts and was turning away from the battle.

Sheppard pointed. "Don't let that ship get away!"

It was too late. The sixth cruiser had already jumped into hyperspace. The remaining cruisers then retreated and jumped away as well.

Sheppard stared at the empty expanse of space.


The Guardian was dreaming. Or was it a nightmare?

In her dream she had teleported out of the jumper with her shield up. A dart. A culling beam. Nothingness.

She awoke on a rough hewn table. She could feel some kind of large ugly metal clamp holding down her head like a vise. She was not otherwise tied down, but her limbs refused to move. She looked up and recognized the dark mottled organic roof of the chamber.

She was inside a hive ship.

"Ah, you're awake. Good."

She was able to slightly turn her head. She saw a tall Wraith with a star-shaped tattoo over one eye.

"Welcome back."

Forgotten memories began to return. She recognized him. 6,000 years ago, she was captured just like this. Except last time he had used a weakened Iratus bug to keep her paralyzed.

The Wraith showed her a broken tiara, an older one with a different design. "The last time you escaped you left this behind. It was damaged, but I managed to reverse-engineer enough of it to create this crude facsimile of it. Basically it mimics your limiter at 100%. The paralytic is an added feature. I admit it is not nearly as elegant as your own device, but it serves its purpose, don't you think?"

It was him. The Wraith that she called Talker.

"It's you. Talker."

"Talker? Is that what you called me? Ah, I see. I suppose I do like to hear the sound of my own voice. I admit I am a little odd for a Wraith. Yes, I do like to talk. I also like to experiment. I'm a scientist, you see, just like your Doctor McKay. But unlike him I have a bit more ambition. My real name is Guide."

He continued his monologuing. "You should be thankful. I saved your life 6,000 years ago when my previous Queen Death had defeated you in a one-on-one mental battle. That battle was extraordinary. You almost won. She was never the same after that. In her weakened state it allowed me to exert my influence over her. Thank you for that, by the way.

"She was going to mind-rape you and drag out every bit of knowledge you had, every secret of the Lanteans, but she was too weak at that point to do so. Instead she turned you over to me for the mind extraction.

"I was curious about you. Your abilities. So I first examined you. Your body, my dear, is full of all sorts of interesting little Lantean gadgets, like that prototype feeding device. I also made a neural map of your brain. It was fortunate for you that I did so, because I discovered the Termination Fuse embedded in your medulla.

"If your mind was ever broken and overthrown, the Termination Fuse would trigger and kill you instantly and painlessly. You are very fortunate. If I had not spotted it, it would have fired and we would not be having this delightful conversation right now."

This was a conversation? It was decidedly one sided.

"Oh, by the way, did you know that you have three Command Words embedded in your brain? One for Paralysis, one for Control, and one for Termination. Let's see.."

He was looking at a display monitor. "Hurr.." He was not happy.

She finally asked, "Something wrong?"

He looked up at her. "I'm comparing your current neural scan with the old one. It appears that someone has already used the Command Words for Paralysis and Control. Only Termination is left. I need to disable that, but it might take time."

"You know my Termination Word?"

"Oh yes."

"But then why didn't you use it.."

He approached her. "Oh, I would never do that. It was the whole point of the invasion, you see. To capture you. Alive. No other reason."

"I.. I don't follow.."

"It's quite simple. Whoever controls you controls the city. Whoever controls the city controls the gate. All we need to do is control you, and we have everything we need. And, as a bonus, we get all the information in your pretty head including access to your amazing Forbidden Archives."

"You, my lovely dear, are the gateway to power beyond your imagination, in ways that you still do not fully comprehend." He sighed, "I am rather annoyed that someone has already used your Control Word. It will make things more difficult."

"Just kill me and get this over with."

"Oh, you would like that I'm sure. Be a heroic martyr. Die a good death. Yes? No, I could never allow that, dear grandmother."

She tried to raise her head. "What did you call me?"

"I called you grandmother for a reason. You see, the queen that laid my egg could be called my 'mother', and your kind, the Valkyrja, were the original prototypes for a biological Lantean super-solider that could sustain itself indefinitely on the battlefield by feeding on its fallen foes. Your kind served as a biological template for an illegal experiment that took place about 900 years before the war began by some Lantean scientist who was trying to achieve physical immortality*. The experiment went wrong, and it created us instead. That is why I call you grandmother."

"We would never do that!"

"Oh, you did. Not intentionally, but you did. Then your kind created the Replicators to try to stop us. Hurr.. such hubris. Well, we are the perfection of those original experiments." He was holding a large syringe with a long needle. "Now, this won't hurt."

He jabbed the needle deep into her thigh, striking and piercing the bone.

"Aaah!"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I lied."

"What are you doing?"

"I'm extracting some adult stem cells from the bone marrow in your femur. I tried to use regular cells the first time. My mistake. I was inexperienced back then. Then you escaped. How did you do that by the way? We all thought you were dead. You can imagine my delight when word reached my new Queen Death about your apparent resurrection. I was overjoyed."

He pulled out the needle. The syringe was filled with bone marrow. "There. Plenty of adult stem cells for the union."

"Union?"

"Yes, my dear. I will attempt to fuse your DNA with my Queen's DNA. A new species. Can you imagine? A Wraith-Lantean hybrid that has all the abilities of both Wraith and a pre-Ascendant Lantean. Not to mention that you have a working digestive system. You see, our greatest weakness is our dependence on our limited food supply. We will still feed on humans of course, but it will be more like a delicacy than a requirement. All those billions of delicious humans.."

An alert noise beeped on a console. Guide walked over to it. He frowned.

He brought up a display image in front of the Guardian. "What kind of ship is this?"

She saw a strange looking ship with a configuration that she had never seen before. It was a bit smaller than a Lantean battleship but not by much. She saw two large landing bays, a rather impressive looking beam weapon, and railgun turrets.

"I have no idea."

He looked at display monitor that showed her neural output. "You are telling the truth." He turned away to look at a different display monitor.

Wait, railgun turrets..

The Rail Gun / Ballistic Battle Turret is our state-of-the-art close-in defense and anti-spacecraft weapon system, originally designed for mounting on the starship Prometheus.

{ Rodney! }

{ Sara! I hear you! Where are you? }

Guide was busy looking at a different monitor and did not see the sharp increase in her neural activity.

{ I'm on a slab in a hive ship. They have a limiter clamped on my head and I'm paralyzed. }

{ How are we talking then? }

{ The Bond bypasses my limiter, remember? }

{ Oh good. Kit, I thought you were dead.. }

{ I'm sorry. Can you find me? }

{ Uh, yeah. I have your general direction. We're in a cloaked jumper approaching your hive ship. There are twelve of them. You're in the lead ship. Ugh, scary. }

Guide moved back to look at the neural display. He saw abnormally high mental activity in her pre-frontal cortex. "Hurr.. what are you doing?"

"I'm just imaging all the creative ways I'm going to deal with you before I kill you."

"Hmm. I see that you are lying."

"Who, me?"

"Yes, you. Are you communicating with someone?"

She refused to answer.

"I see that the answer is yes. How are you doing it?"

She wasn't talking.

"Hmm." His lie detector could only detect lies or attempts to hide the truth. It could not reveal hidden information.

"You need to go to sleep." He pushed a button and she lost consciousness.

He frowned and left the room.


The next thing the Guardian remembered was waking up in the Atlantis infirmary.

She sat up quickly and saw Doctor Beckett smiling at her.

"Hello, lass. Welcome back to the land of the living."

The doctor's eyes glanced behind her and she turned her head to follow.

She saw McKay sitting next to her on the other side of the cot.

"Sara, we have got to stop these meetings. And no more heroic suicide attempts, okay?"

She grabbed him. "Oh, Rodney, I'm so sorry.."

He looked at Beckett, who took the hint and left.

She asked, "What happened? Is the city safe?"

"Yep."

"But.. the duodecim.."

"It's okay. I took care of it."

"How?"

"I blew up the city."

She gave him a look. "Rodney McKay, I am not in the mood for listening to your strange sense of humor."

"No, I did. I used the cloak-emitters in the jumpers to hack the shield to also work as a cloak. The Daedalus dropped a nuke on the shield while it was turned on, which we made to look like a self-destruct, then I flipped over to the cloak while the mushroom cloud was still hiding us from orbital view. The whole city is invisible. It worked. The Wraith left."

"You're kidding."

"Takes some energy, but hey, with a ZPM you can do anything, right?"

"Rodney, you thought of that all by yourself?"

"Yeah."

"Without any help from me?"

"I get 100% credit this time."

"My love, you're amazing."

He basked in her effusive praise. "Thank you. And you know the best part?"

"No.. what?"

"They are on track to locate a second ZPM. If they do find one, that means we can go back-and-forth to Earth. Hey, you want to take a little vacation with me?"

"Yes." She thought a moment. "Tahiti?"

"Kit, it's like you can read my mind."


45 days later

The senior staff of the Atlantis Expedition watched the Daedalus land on the South Pier. The Guardian's eyes were shining brightly, and she was positively giddy with anticipation.

The hatch opened and Colonel Caldwell emerged. A certain faint smell eminated from the hatch. He looked rather put off. He made a perfunctory salute to Colonel Sheppard as he drew in a large breath of fresh clean sea air.

"Finally. After that smell."

Sheppard made a grin. "Sir?"

"I can't believe it. Converting my F-302 fighter bay into a grainary and horse stables? Do you have any idea how much manure 24 horses can make in 19 days?"

"Uh, no sir."

Teyla spoke up. "I hope you saved it. It is most excellent fertilizer."

"You can have it. All of it."

McKay was smirking.

{ Now, Pooh Bear, be nice. }

{ I told you to stop calling me that! }

{ Rodney, it is my secret term of endearment for you. You call me Kit, so I will call you Pooh Bear. Pooh Bear. }

{ There is no way you thought of that on your own. You got that from Sheppard. Admit it! }

{ Who, me? }

{ Kit, you can't lie to save your life. }

One of Caldwell's assistants walked up to Weir holding a clipboard. "Doctor Weir, here is your requested consignment: 24 horses, 150 bushels of seed corn, 50 bushels of plantable raw potatoes, 100 bushels of Canadian winter wheat, 30 bushels of sorghum seed, and 50 bushels of raw soybeans. Sign here." She did.

"Two of the horses are marked as gifts." They had been delivered directly from the Everett Stud Ranch in Montana.

The group watched two magnificent animals being escorted out of the figher bay. Caldwell's assistant explained, "This one is Snowmane, an Arabian stallion for the Guardian. This one is Sapphire, an Arabian mare for Teyla. Congratuations, you are now the owners of these horses."

The Guardian ran up and beamed at Snowmane. He reacted, whinnying and stamping a hoof.

{ Kit, are you talking to that horse? }

Sheppard said quietly to Weir, "Yep. She's a horse whisperer. Shoulda known."


The Guardian and Teyla had just finished delivering the bundle of magic seeds to P49-K27, along with written instructions on how to plant them and harvest them. They were being handed out to worlds that had agreed to the proviso that at least 50% of each crop for the first three years be allocated to additional seeds for distribution on three other worlds, and with instructions for those worlds to spread the seeds to three more, and so on.

The Guardian said, "Well, that's that."

"This is a nice world. Almost as pleasant as New Athos."

"Yes, it is." The Guardian patted Snowmane from her saddle.

The sun was setting along the high ridge. "We should head back to the gate before it gets dark."

A crowd had gathered to gawk at the woman wearing white while riding upon the great white stallion, an animal that no one had ever seen before. The Guardian saw the crowd and asked Snowmane to rear up for them. He did gladly, rising on his rear legs as the Guardian's cape whipped in the wind.

"Let's ride!"

The pair galloped off into the sunset.

One of the villagers was a painter. The amazing vision he saw that day of the white horse and its angelic rider rearing up had impressed itself upon his mind, and he drew a painting that would soon become famous: copied, redrawn, copied again, photographed, and shared from world to world across the Pegasus Galaxy. And that image, in simplified stencil form, would soon became a secret political symbol of resistance against the Wraith. It was shared, copied, hidden, given between families, between villages, and soon across whole worlds, as a mighty symbol of hope and deliverance from the monsters that controlled the heavens:

The White Rider.


Guide was thrown to the ground in front of Queen Death, the whip marks from his punishment still bleeding from his back.

His fingers grasped the floor as she continued to berate him, blaming him for the entire debacle. Losing the Guardian, the city, Earth. All of it. He barely escaped with his life.

Some time after he recovered from his wounds he received a secret transmission from his intelligence network. One of his human Wraith worshippers reported seeing a woman in white riding a great four-legged animal while distributing magic seeds.

He thought a moment, then he sent a reply.


A/N:

* See the official novel Stargate Atlantis: Secrets (2012), the fifth novel in the Stargate Atlantis: Legacy series.