"You're sure about this?" Woolsey said, frowning between John and Rodney with a concerned expression. "The last time we used the wormhole drive, Zelenka said that the slightest error in its operation could vaporize the entire city. I chose to take the risk then in the interests of saving Earth from the ZPM-powered hive, but I'm afraid that without an equally important motivation, I'm a little reluctant to try it again. The standard hyperdrive will have us back to Lantea in just nine days, after all."
"Yeah. And according to the briefing I just got from General O'Neill, a minor Goa'uld who's been laying low the last few years came across that hive's track not long after the battle." John grimaced. "I know what you're thinking, without a ZPM a Goa'uld ship would take weeks to get there from here-- but he's already had those weeks. He's going to hit the edge of the Pegasus Galaxy in about three days."
Woolsey's eyes widened in alarm. "And this is the first I've heard about it? The IOA have been here, arguing over the disposition of the city, ever since we landed. Surely they knew about it before now."
"Yeah, and if the negotiations had fallen through? I'm pretty sure they remember exactly what happened the last time we were trapped on Earth and a major threat cropped up in Pegasus," Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Yes; you saved the city, General O'Neill's life, and incidentally my own as well," Woolsey replied tartly, but stopped short of saying anything else either positive or negative about their official employers. The man might have started out IOA down to his ink-stained fingertips, but he belonged fully to Atlantis now, something John appreciated in a commander. He'd liked Carter, but she would always be SG-1 before she was anything else, and they'd all known it. "Which Goa'uld is it, have we heard?"
"O'Neill said Jackson identified the guy as Maahes," John offered with a casual shrug. "Supposed to be one of the sons of Ra, by Bast. In Egyptian myth, he was a lion-headed god of war; the Tok'ra say he was a real pain in the ass back when, but he almost disappeared off the map after we took out his father."
Woolsey blanched at that. "A god of war? With the genetic memories of a former supreme commander and the patience to wait out the succession squabbles before seeking to carve out a new domain? I see. How many ships does he control?"
John shrugged. "Enough to concern O'Neill. If he's figured out how to keep the Wraith from culling his Jaffa, or how to get a symbiote into a Wraith...." He trailed off, grimacing.
Woolsey's expression grew pinched as he turned to glance out the windows at the slightly choppy waves of San Francisco Bay. "As if the Wraith weren't dangerous enough on their own. Very well. Give me an update where you are with the calculations at eleven hundred."
"Thank you. Finally," Rodney grumbled, then stormed off with his tablet computer in hand, stabbing at it and muttering about the parentage of the scientists who'd been in charge of repairing the drives after Carson's hurried splashdown a few months before.
Woolsey watched him go with a frown. "Don't let him forget about the meeting, Colonel. The last shipment of supplies and replacement personnel are arriving in an hour, and we'll need to go over the manifests and discuss assignments. There's been some concern that the IOA will short us, given that we're no longer staying, and I want the city's leadership visibly unified and unworried before we leave."
"Think they will? Short us, I mean?" John asked, thrusting his hands in his pockets.
"I would like to say no; but I suppose the best I can hope for is that O'Neill's support minimizes the shortfall. No one's happy with the compromise he came up with for us to leave, but at least they were smart enough to realize what would happen to the balance of nations if we stayed."
"Over our dead bodies," John grumbled. He'd like to say he didn't think America would use Atlantis' weapons as a deterrent; and that the SGC wouldn't allow the international organization to claim ownership, either, and use her technological superiority as a bludgeon to set themselves up as a world governing body. But he'd been around the block enough to know that was wishful thinking.
"I'm afraid it very likely would be," Woolsey sighed.
The irony, of course, was that they did more or less function as deterrent and interplanetary intercessory power back in the Pegasus Galaxy, where there'd been no such body in the ten thousand years before the expedition walked through the Gate. Thousands of people had died because they woke Atlantis-- and her enemies with her. But... they'd made a difference, too. The scourge of the Wraith was slowly failing, a feat no one else, not even the Ancients, had managed. And the upheaval they'd started was their responsibility to help settle, unlike the petty one-upmanship brewing on Terra.
Earth. Home no longer: John counted himself an Atlantean citizen, now. He knew O'Neill knew it; and was using it to make his own people safer. John respected that.
He'd respect it more after the city was back where she belonged.
"This is going to be a very long day," he sighed, and took his leave of Woolsey to go hunt down Lorne.
The city didn't rip itself apart the second time the wormhole drive activated, either: John was counting that as a win. But it was as plain as the shuddering of the chair beneath him that they hadn't appeared where they were supposed to, either. He hadn't been there when Carson brought Atlantis down on Earth, but he did know what she felt like descending through an atmosphere; besides which, instead of images of familiar stars, the interface system for the sensors was feeding him pure static.
"Rodney!" he shouted over the comms. "I can't see anything. Where the hell are we?"
"How the hell should I know?" Rodney yelped back, shaken but otherwise apparently fine. "Not above Lantea, that's for sure."
"Yes, thank you, Rodney; that really helps a lot."
"Colonel; we are attempting to recalibrate the sensors, but nothing is functioning properly at the moment. Only the most primary systems-- shields, life support, and the main drive-- and the laptops are active. Some type of interference is disrupting the crystal technology."
That was Zelenka's voice. John frowned as he sifted through the chair's interface as quickly as he could, trying to find some unaffected system that would give him at least a ghost of an idea how far above the planet they were. Or even if there really was a planet under them. "Well, then, somebody better get me an eyeball out a window! We're coming in pretty hot, and I'll need to know when to pull up or we're all going to be worm food."
Someone else keyed into the comms, then, and Woolsey's voice joined the conversation. "I'm standing on the balcony, Colonel; though I'm afraid I can't help you." A faint tremor ran under the words, and he was almost whispering, as though speaking more quietly could make what he had to say any less alarming. "There's-- only whiteness beyond the line of the shield. Dense whiteness, as though--"
"We're flying through clouds," John concluded, grimly. Which meant they were already lower than he'd like-- with no way to tell any more than that, since a low-lying enough cloud just became fog, and they could smash right into the ground before they ever saw it coming. "I'm going to start braking the drive, just in case; warn me if anything changes."
"Of course, Colonel." Assent flowed in from everyone listening; and complaining from Rodney, running through everything that could possibly go wrong. John tuned it all out, shutting his eyes and leaning all his concentration into the fire at the heart of the city, initiating what he thought of as the landing sequence; she started slowing, but was barely into 'we might survive this' range when the volume in his ear suddenly increased, distracting him again.
He lost his mental grip on the throttle, and it stuttered alarmingly-- just as sensory information started flowing back into the wide-open fringes of his consciousness. He'd been trying so hard to see that he was almost blinded by the rush of it, and caught only the impression of a thick blanket of presence all around them and a shallow lake that might be big enough to hold the city before the engine cut out entirely, taking the shield and the inertial dampeners down with it.
"No!" he grunted, pushing out with all his will at the surface of the water, as though that would make any difference. An uncontrolled landing now would kill them all as surely as it would have if they'd fallen like a stone from upper orbit; futile or not, he couldn't not make the effort.
He gritted his teeth, bracing, every muscle and tendon tightened with strain.
...What the hell? He let himself relax just a fraction, paying a little more attention to what he could feel... and realized that the city was hovering, just a few feet above that lake. Perfectly centered. And perfectly unsupported by anything but....
Nah. Surely that wasn't...?
"Sheppard, what did you just do?"
"Never mind that, Colonel, it worked! But can you put us the rest of the way down now, because..."
It was. John relaxed a little more in shock at the very idea, his focus dissipating as he tried to analyze how the hell it was possible, then groaned as the weight of the entire city suddenly seemed to fall on him, knocking him right out of the interface and crushing him flat in the chair as though he weighed a thousand pounds. Dimly, he felt the city rock again as it splashed down those last few feet, but his consciousness was already fading.
Whatever new Ancient quirk was lurking in his genome, it was going to have to wait until he woke up.
John didn't dream; or if he did, he didn't remember it. He wasn't disoriented either, when he woke; the massive headache and the sense of exhaustion in all his limbs was an excellent reminder, but even if that hadn't been present, the strange sensory flood, as though he was still plugged into the chair, would have cued him that they weren't in Kansas anymore.
He lay still for a moment, eyes closed, as he tried to process-- but no, it wasn't the chair's systems; those all had a crisp, deliberate feel about them. This felt more like-- like what he'd felt those last few seconds before the city crashed, actually. Which apparently hadn't been the chair's fault, either. He had a vague sense of the size of the room he was in-- the infirmary, probably-- and the vague shape of the city, but clearer than that was the sense of life, a massive mantle over the surface of the world outside, punctured by a circle that represented Atlantis. And with that circle, like he had a mental life signs detector, or something: people. Moving people, still people, busy people, worried people--
Rodney, close enough to reach out and touch. Quicksilver calculations shifting faster than John could follow them, currently threaded through with a banked panic: the sense of him was as familiar as breathing, loud now where it had always been very, very faint before.
"Oh," he said, blinking his eyes open as he abruptly became aware he'd labeled half the mental dots on his map with other names: the long-time residents of the city. And as sure as the names had come to mind, he was irrationally convinced he was right. The whisper-faint mental 'taste' of everyone he knew-- it was something they projected, not a mental association his subconscious had come up with, like he'd always assumed. The question was, then, how? And why, now, had it strengthened so much? Was it some kind of side effect of his ATA gene, triggered by the chair and the extreme circumstances?
"You're awake!" Rodney said, astonished, looking up from the tablet he was working on-- and reached out somehow, clumsily, the sense of him suddenly deafening.
...Or had it affected more than him? How many ATA positive personnel did they have on the city, again?
"Ow. Not so loud, Rodney," he said, sitting up slowly and pressing a hand to his temple. "Was it just my imagination, or did I just land the city with my mind?"
"Um." Rodney squirmed a little in his chair, hesitant as though he didn't think John would like what he was about to hear. "Yes and no?"
"I didn't think there was that much of a grey area to the question," he growled. "Did I, or didn't I?'
"Did. I think. With the help of a few other people, though you were obviously the primary actor; we could all sense you-- doing whatever you were doing. But-- it's complicated." He fidgeted, a little, then fixed his eyes on his lap-- and the tablet floated upward for a few seconds before wobbling and falling again. "Like that. Sort of."
"Complicated, how?" John asked, fascinated and a little disturbed.
"You remember that conversation we had about five years ago with Carson, after the thing with the shield? When he talked about the extra mitochondria-like organelles the ATA gene produced in our cells, and how they put off a kind of energy signature that consistently registered more strongly in the Pegasus galaxy than it did back home?"
"Vaguely, yeah." John's breath caught as he realized where he this was going. "And I asked him, after you left, whether he thought there might be galaxies where it didn't work at all, or where the effects were magnified a hundred-fold."
"Precognition was one of the powers the Ancients were supposed to have, wasn't it?" Rodney smiled at him, crookedly. "Meet the hundred-fold galaxy. And according to the only resident we've met so far, that energy we're all collectively putting off is called The Force. There's so much of it here, especially on this world, that it has currents and moods and a kind of limited consciousness all its own. And of course, like just about everything else ATA-affected we've ever encountered, it really, really likes you."
John didn't even begin to know how to deal with that revelation, so he cleared his throat and addressed the other interesting item Rodney had mentioned. "Resident? Just one?"
"Yeah," Rodney nodded. "He says the world's called Dagobah, and that he's the only one who lives here. He really wants to meet you, too."
"Indeed, I do," a strange voice interrupted then, as a green-- creature, thing-- walked into the room. He was a little shorter than an Asgard, but greener, with wide features, wisps of white hair, and long, pointed ears sticking out on both sides of his head. Despite his even stranger physical features, though, he somehow came off as more human than an Asgard-- and he was wearing clothes, too, something like a bathrobe over a darker, wrapped tunic, some kind of trousers, and a cane.
Rodney looked surprised, then disturbed. "Whoa! How did you-- never mind. I don't think I want to know."
The alien was amused, if the curve of his mouth meant the same thing among his species that it did for John's. "Sense his awakening, I did; arrangement with your healer, I have made. No time there is; much you must learn, before noticed your arrival becomes."
"And I gather that's a bad thing?" John squinted, trying to piece something that made sense to him out of the fragmented sentences. Healer had to mean Beckett. Learn, the new weird ATA effect, probably. But notice...? What had they stuck their foot in now?
"Bad? Perhaps. On the state of your readiness, does that depend. When last your transport I sensed, Jedi I thought your people must be; when activated it again you did, a call I sent out, in hope that alone I would no longer be. Unexpected, the arrival of your city was. Vulnerable it is, if untrained you are when discover you the Emperor does."
The way he said Emperor dredged up images of that first, red-haired Wraith Queen in John's mind. And that bit about a call I sent out....
"You dragged us here?" he swung his feet over the edge of the bed and dragged himself upright, anger lending his muscles strength. "There's a fleet of Goa'uld warships threatening our galaxy, while I've been unconscious for who knows how long, and you want us to fight your enemy before you'll let us go home?!"
The air thickened around him suddenly, shoving him back against the bed like a vast, implacably wielded pillow. The green guy's expression grew suddenly serious. "The first lesson you must learn: in this place, the path to Darkness, anger is. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; and hate leads to suffering. When your will you exert on the world around you, more important, control becomes. When the Force by anger becomes tainted...."
Rodney jerked upright in his seat and went a little white at that. "A feedback system you create," he muttered, unconsciously copying the little being's speech pattern. "I'd better go warn Lorne; the soldiers are already playing around with this, as you might imagine."
The alien inclined his head to him, looking approving, then turned back to John. "The foes you fear, arranged against them allies already are. Here, allies you may become, in similar need."
Of course they were. Of course they were.
John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His people were all safe; the natives were restless; the technology was acting up; and there was a threat bearing down on them. Just another day on Atlantis.
He opened his eyes again and hitched himself back up on the bed before his legs gave out.
"Okay, then," he said. "How 'bout we call a meeting with the senior staff. I need food and a shower first, if it can wait that long. Then you can fill us in, Mr....?"
The alien inclined his head. "Yoda. I am Yoda."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Yoda. I'm John Sheppard." He quirked a smile. "And can I tell you how glad I am you're wearing clothes?"