Chapter 1: Opportunity
By the time Jennifer catches up with the wraith, he’s already sucked dry five guards. At the sound of her voice, he turns with a snarl and is upon her in a second. As if from a distance, he can see her lips moving, but the sound is not even registering as meaningful. After all the hunger, all the isolation, the one clear thing dominating his thoughts is ‘escape’.
Her back slams against the wall hard enough to make her teeth rattle. Before she has the time to utter another word, his hand has descended on her chest. Through the open neck of her shirt, physical contact is immediate. A split second before her skin is torn open by the feeding organ, he pauses. Her words still do not seem to reach him, but somehow the pleading look in her eyes does. He tilts his head. This will be her only chance to get through to him, and stay alive.
“I’m here to help you get out. If you want to live, come with me.”
She then realizes that he may need a more accurate description.
“If you want to live free, follow me”.
His eyes are still wild, but there is a hint of recognition there. All of a sudden he lets go, and she almost falls to the ground. The combination of adrenaline and relief has turned her knees to jelly. She can’t delay though, so she checks herself and takes a deep breath.
“Come” she says, and leads the way at a run.
They are at the final corner to her lab when she motions him to stop. “Wait here” she whispers. She needs to get rid of the guard who is, as always, stationed at the entrance to her lab. The wraith does not answer, but stands still, so she collects herself and turns the corner.
“James, the wraith has escaped. Everybody needs to cover the exits” She hopes her lie is convincing. The young private seems worried about leaving his post. “Don’t worry about me,” she tells him before he has too much time to think “I’ll be in the lab and will lock the door. The wraith is looking for a way to avoid visiting my lab for medical experimentation. He’ll stay as far away as possible.” This seems to convince him and he takes off down another corridor. As soon as he is out of sight, Jen doubles back and asks the wraith to follow her.
He seems hesitant again, his eyes darting back and forth, from her face, to the walls, to the ceiling and back. Wraith have exceptional hearing. Mentioning scientific experimentation on him has put him on edge. Now he’s once again searching for an exit strategy, calculating his chances of getting out without her help, but the truth is that he does not know his way around the complex. Freedom could be at the other side of the next door, or he could keep going around in circles for hours.
“I just said those things to get rid of the soldier. You are in no danger with me.” His eyes run all over her without making eye contact. His head twitches, and it hurts her to know that she is partly responsible for his condition. He was already weak and starving when they found him in the Genii prison, but he has really deteriorated during his years on earth. She swallows the lump on her throat and continues “There is no way out. The only chance we have, to get you out of here alive, is undercover. Trying to fight your way out of this building won’t work; there are simply too many soldiers around.” He lets out a hiss and finally starts moving towards her. Relieved, she turns around and leads the way to her lab. As soon as they are inside, she closes and locks the door with her security code. Only then does she allow herself to breathe, and notices that she’s shaking.
“Ok… Ok…. Right…” She almost hyperventilates now, trying to think of the next step. The wraith is in the center of the room, looking around him, taking in all the details. It’s a secondary lab, which has been allotted to her for the duration of her time at the base. There’s an operating table, most often used for stitching up cuts after a soldier has found himself in a bit of trouble. One wall is covered by medical cabinets with various drugs and liquids. Another by cold chambers, for bodies to be kept refrigerated until they are sent to the city morgue. She had rolled her eyes a little when she had realized that they had given her the temp morgue. Then again, they were hunting a wraith. She had not expected to receive a lot of live patients. A gurney pushed against the wall by the door, her desk and some more lab equipment took up the rest of the space. There were not a lot of places to hide, except for the cold chambers. She doubts this will be very comfortable, though. “I need to hide you, until I can smuggle you out.”
He turns to face her and she has no idea how much he understands. There was a time when he was coherent, when they had retrieved him from Kolya’s prison. But that was a long time ago. SGC first, and Area 51 afterwards, had been even more cruel to the wraith than the Genii had been. Where Kolya allowed him a meal – a person, she shuddered at the thought – every now and then, the humans were not as accommodating. A few months into his captivity he had gone in a fugue, and didn’t make much sense ever since. Nobody could predict if his recent feeding would heal the psychological wounds as well as the physical.
“There are two options: The best one would be to get you in there” she points to the cold chambers. “Nobody ever opens those unless they have to. But it’s cold and... I don’t know how comfortable it would be... Or, you could lie down on that gurney over there – the one by the wall – in a body bag preferably, and let’s hope nobody is curious enough to take a look”
His face stays blank, but he slowly moves towards the gurney.
“Right then...” With efficient moves, she pulls out a body bag, lays it on the metal surface and motions him to lie down, which he does without a sound. She starts zipping it up and has gone as far as his hips when a hand, seemingly made of steel, shoots out and grabs her arm. Breathless at the fire burning in the wraith’s eyes, she can only hope that her whispered “I know” conveys what he needs. She rests her hand on his, in a gesture so tender that the surprise hits him like a ton of bricks and he sucks in a breath. “I’ll protect you” she confirms to him. “Whenever someone is in the room, you need to lie absolutely still and do not make a sound. I’ll figure out a way to get you out safely.” She hopes. Fingers crossed.
“Pray and hope... Pray and hope…” The raspy voice sounds mildly amused and far away. As he finally lets go of her arm, she finishes zipping up the bag, and throws a white sheet over the top, for good measure.
Chapter 2: Allies
It was not his destiny to die on earth...
It did not take long for the first of the bodies to arrive. Every time, she meticulously locked her door again, mumbling something about keeping the wraith out. One by one, bodies were placed on the operation table, then were zipped-up in body bags and stored in the freezers. With at least five soldiers dead, nobody gave much thought to the lump by the wall.
The next time someone knocked on her door, however, the patient was still alive. Just barely, but still alive. It was the detective she had met at the hospital, the one that Rodney was showing around earlier today. John Sheppard. He did not look like he would last more than a few minutes.
“Dear God… It’s Sheppard…” Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a twitch of the body bag. “Stay still!”
“He’s unconscious, doc, how much more still can he get?” Lieutenant Hart seemed puzzled at her reaction.
“Right, Sorry. Force of habit with live patients and all.”
“Dr. McKay said we should bring him in here, maybe the enzyme will help save him…” The lieutenant did not sound convinced.
Keller sprang into action. She threw open a cabinet door and got out a syringe, filling it with wraith enzyme. She injected it to her patient, who, despite her efforts, seemed weaker by the second.
“I need to perform emergency surgery. You have to get out of here, now.” She was placing the IV as she spoke “Nobody is to come in, until further notice – as of now, I need no more germs in this room! Out!”
Lieutenant Hart turned on his heel and left, and she closed the door behind him, draping her gown over the hook so as to obscure the small window as much as possible. She turned around to see a wraith emerging from a body bag, the cover sheet pooled at this waist. The image was beyond creepy. Silently, the wraith approached the table and placed his hand on the detective’s chest. Alarmed, she rushed beside him.
“What are you doing?”
Before she could finish her question, the wraith applied pressure, Sheppard’s eyes flew open and he gasped. Keeping the detective pinned down, the wraith turned to look at her. She understood then.
“Right” she said, and rushed to get the scalpel.
Apparently, whatever the wraith was doing, was keeping Sheppard alive, but it also negated any effects that the anesthesia had had on him. Must be the wraith enzyme, she thought. So, she grabbed a lidocaine injection, cut open his shirt, and proceeded to inject him with the local anesthetic. After a few seconds, apologizing to Sheppard for any pain, she proceeded to cut him open and carefully remove the bullet lodged above his heart. She moved to put down the scalpel and start repairing the damage, but the wraith stopped her.
“The other one” he said.
Sheppard was sure to die of bleeding, she thought, but she did as she was told. Once the bullets were out, the tissue healed itself before her eyes, and in a few seconds all that remained was a red scar over each bullet wound.
The wraith let go, but did not move away. Jen turned to look up at him.
“Thank you” she told him, swallowing hard.
Sheppard pushed himself to his elbows to take a better look around. “What the hell happened?” The detective was looking at them with a mixture of disbelief and incomprehension.
“The wraith healed you”
Sheppard looked from her to the wraith and back.
The wraith let out a dry laugh “I have seen your destiny, John Sheppard. In no universe will you die on this planet.”
This seemed to confuse Sheppard even more. “Okaaayy.” He turned to Keller “Not that I’m not grateful, but, what is the wraith doing here?”
As a matter of fact, he did not sound grateful at all. Still, she decided to answer his question. The wraith was already staring at her curiously, and she felt the need to clear her throat.
“I’m… going to get him out of here” her voice might have been a bit more unsteady that she would have liked, but her eyes never wavered.
It took a few seconds for Sheppard to digest this “You are going to release a serial killer.”
“I can’t--“ She stopped and tried again “What we’re doing here is wrong. On so many levels. We effectively starve him-“
“He eats people!”
“There are other options! We could create clones. Brain-dead clones, nothing more than living flesh! But the military does not want to invest the money; they don’t care if they are effectively torturing him… And now they want to experiment on him, to boot. I have stalled them as much as possible, did everything I could with tissue samples, but it won’t be long before they ask me to cut him open and… I can’t do it! It’s wrong!”
Sheppard sighed and fell back to the bed with a grunt. He was no stranger to the military’s inflexible procedures. Some people wouldn’t give a rat’s ass for human lives, let alone alien ones. No wonder they did not care about feeding their prisoner. To them, he was something to be studied and dissected, the information used to create a tactical advantage. But, the wraith had given him back his life. Although his life did not seem like much lately, he still felt strangely thankful to be alive.
Keller finally looked back to the detective, who was resolutely staring at the ceiling. “Will you help us?”
His head came up then, eyes flew back at her, then to the wraith. The wraith’s face revealed nothing, but his eyes were more alert than they had been in years. “Fine” he said after a while.
“Really?” If the doctor sounded surprised, she could not help it. The wraith seemed as taken aback as she felt.
“I suppose that, if I refuse, he’ll hold me down and you’ll keep me drugged for the next few days, so… what’s the plan?”
A ghost of a smile appeared on her lips. Her original plan had involved sneaking the wraith out in a body bag, along with the other corpses on the way to the morgue. But her presence was not required to drop off bodies at the city morgue, so she would have had to come up with an excuse to go along for the ride. She forced herself not to think about how these soldiers had ended up dead. She could not change the past, and it was her fault she did not get to the wraith in time.
With a live patient, her presence was required for the drop-off to the hospital. She could arrange a single transport for hospital and morgue. The wraith would come along in a body bag, they could drug the driver and escape…
“That is a terrible plan” Sheppard complained once she voiced her thoughts.
“Sit still, I need to bandage your shoulder.”
“There’s nothing to bandage.”
“The rest of the world thinks you received near-fatal wounds. Some bandages are required. Also, if anybody comes in, pretend you are unconscious. Normally you would be under anesthesia for at least a couple of hours, probably a couple of days. And, as far as escape plans go, I’m open to suggestions.”
“Well, I just don’t think that a plan that makes the three of us into fugitives from day one has a lot of potential...”
She sighed. He was right of course, but she had not come up with anything better. She had hoped that inspiration would hit, eventually. She had also known that the opportunity to break the wraith out of his cell would only present itself once, so she had to take the chance when it came.
“The wraith I followed in Vegas… he blended in…” the detective mused and shot a speculative look at the wraith in the room. Said wraith had retreated to his gurney and was zipping himself in his body bag. Again, the image was quite disturbing. Jen shuddered and thanked her lucky stars she was not prone to nightmares.
Sheppard continued, unperturbed “We should be able to find some of the things we need in the hospital.”
“So, we arrive at the hospital, I drug the driver, check you in, we sneak in the wraith-“
“Doesn’t he have a name?”
“Umm…” Jen turned questioningly to the wraith, only his face visible now. He simply looked at her as she approached “Any particular preferences on how we should call you?”
No answer forthcoming, she looked back at Sheppard and shrugged.
Sheppard seemed pensive for a moment before deciding “Let’s go with… Todd.”
The wraith voiced no objections, just limited his reaction to slightly opening his mouth in a smile, so Jen nodded and zipped up the bag, drawing the sheet in place.
Chapter 3: Risk
Smuggling a wraith out of Area 51 is risky business. Being lucky helps.
The plan was straight-forward enough. Using the wraith’s – Todd’s – escape as an excuse, Jen would request that only one driver should come along with her to the hospital. No point wasting resources in a hospital transfer, when there was a fugitive on the run. She claimed the detective should be checked in the same day, and they might as well take some of the bodies to the morgue since they were running out of space at the facility. The head of security was happy to keep as many resources dedicated to hunting the wraith as possible. Nobody gave a second thought to the number of body bags loaded in the ambulance. She took her seat by the “unconscious” patient and only realized she was holding in a breath after they had cleared the perimeter of the facility.
Amazingly enough, it all went down as planned. Arriving at the hospital parking lot, the driver had barely enough time to pull on the handbrake, before he was swiftly injected with anesthetic, his seatbelt holding him upright instead of letting him slump over the steering wheel.
“Clear” she said to John, who jumped out of the gurney and unzipped Todd’s bag. The wraith unfolded himself and stretched, a grin and a twinkle in his eye making him seem more terrifying than ever.
Jen went to take care of check-in, which was a breeze, partly due to the late hour and partly due to the fact that the hospital personnel knew better than to ask a lot of questions regarding patients from ‘the facility.’ When she got back to the ambulance, Todd was dressed in an orderly’s uniform, his hair tucked into his collar, a surgical mask obscuring his face as much as possible. He looked terrible. Jen was counting on the fact that people tend to look at the uniform, dismissing the face. Hospital personnel wheeling a patient on a gurney, accompanied by a doctor, would not be worth a second look. It was for the same reasons that she had made a point to wear her white lab coat.
John retook his position as the patient, and Todd and Jen wheeled him in on the gurney. She was surprised at how cooperative the wraith was. One wrong look, one wrong sound, and he could give them away. This was by far the riskier part of their plan, and her heart was beating at twice its normal speed while they made their way to the elevators. But he kept his head down, and his measured moves did not draw anyone’s attention. In the privacy of the elevator, she let her eyes close for a moment. She tried hard to ignore the enormity of what she was doing. There would be plenty of time to freak out later.
The post-op floor was quiet. The doors to most of the rooms were closed. Somebody had recently mopped, the smell of disinfectant still lingering in the air. The nurses were gathered by the brightly lit nurses’ station, a few meters down the hall, quietly chatting with each other. None of them paid any attention to the doctor and the orderly accompanying a new patient to a room. Jen silently took note of the location of the service elevators and emergency staircases. As soon as the room’s door was closed behind them, Todd tore away the mask and grinned, again. Yep, it was still terrifying.
“I’m going to go deposit the bodies” – they had stuffed two on the second body bag – “at the morgue, then go back to the base.” She gave John the keys to her motel room and information about how to sneak Todd out.
“Get anything you need from the hospital, then get out of here. I will meet you at the motel tonight. Secret knock is 4-2-4” She winked at him, then turned to leave.
“Wait” he stopped her. “Try to find my car. There is a bag in there… with money…”
She nodded and left. She could not risk the driver waking up before she was back.
The driver seemed to buy her story that he fell asleep. Jen had to pinch herself to make sure she was not dreaming. How could it possibly be so easy? Then again, she had made sure that it was one of the young privates that she knew was smoking weed every chance he got, and falling asleep on duty was not a first for him. Just like the previous time she had caught him napping, she promised not to tell. Heck, they had all been overworked and were exhausted due to hunting the (other) wraith over the past few weeks. She smiled to herself all the way back to the base.
Instead of going straight back to her lab, she made a small detour to catch Rodney. He seemed to be on-site day and night, and it only took her a few minutes to locate him. Professional as always, she informed him that she had checked in the detective, and that she could drop off his personal items on her way to her motel. He gave her a piercing look, but did not comment before giving her the keys to the Camaro. It was close to midnight before she locked up her lab and walked out to the parking lot. She retrieved everything from Sheppard’s car, which had been towed there earlier. It amazed her that nobody else had taken the money. Rodney clearly knew what was in the bag, but had showed no interest. She rolled her eyes. Dr Rodney McKay would never concern himself with a bag of money.
The truth was that, for people normally based on Atlantis, US dollars did not make too much of a difference. She smiled a bitter smile, unsure if she would ever make it back to Atlantis herself. No matter how much she tried, she could not come up with a way to get the wraith back to the Pegasus galaxy. And she found it morally wrong to release him unsupervised on the unsuspecting earth population. She sighed while driving home. She had no idea what lay ahead.
What literally lay ahead, was a stop at the hospital – she knew Sheppard would be long gone, but she had to keep up appearances – and then another one at the nearest mall. She bought a sixpack of beers by credit card, and paid cash for a couple of sleeping bags and some other supplies. If she was being paranoid, she thought it was justified. Besides, someone once said that paranoid is just a person who has all the facts. She swung by the pizzeria and got a couple of pizzas. These too, were paid in cash.
By the time she reached the motel’s parking lot, it was well past her bedtime. Still, the adrenaline coursing through her, after the events of the day, was sure to keep her up for a while longer. She knocked on the door as agreed. It did not take long for Sheppard to answer, and his face lit up when he caught the smell of the pizza. She grinned at him and closed the door behind her. As soon as they were both inside, the wraith emerged from the little bathroom at the back. His nose flared at the smell and he looked at her inquiringly.
“Pizza” she explained.
John had already helped himself to a beer and sat down on the bed, his back against the tall headboard, legs stretched out in front of him on the mattress.
“So, still alive and out of prison. Gotta say I’m a little surprised.”
“That you for the vote of confidence.” Truthfully she was surprised herself, but damn if she was going to admit it. She placed everything on the small table by the window. The curtains were drawn tight, but she still felt exposed sitting on the chair by the window, so she took the pizza box to the bed and sat across from John. The wraith hovered behind her and she turned to him.
“Um... want some?”
John raised his eyebrows while the wraith just looked at Jen, looked at the pizza, and moved to the other side of the room.
“Not a big fan of Italian, then.”
John’s comment made her smile and the first answer that came to her head was something dark about John needing to wait until Todd got to meet the *people*, but luckily she bit back the retort. Sometimes her sense of humour bordered on black, and she had to remind herself that, in this case, it would a tasteless – no pun intended – joke.
“So what now?” she asked him as he washed down the last slice of pizza with his beer.
He cocked an eyebrow at her and she had to make a reality check. Sheppard was not obliged to stick with them. He helped Todd escape, and that was already more than she could have hoped for. The assumption that he would make a commitment to stay with them was presumptuous. She blushed and looked away.
John let his head fall back and stared at the ceiling. The bag of money was sitting on the table, tempting as hell. Then again, it was him that was in the clear, with aforementioned bag earlier today, and then decided to turn back and go on a suicide mission. He sighed and closed his eyes. He should just go. His life had been one screw-up after another, and he kept hurting either himself or, worse, the people that surrounded him. And now, somehow, he had helped release Todd on to the human population. He still could not quite understand why he did it. It made sense that he would *pretend* to agree back at the base, but once they were in the hospital, heck, once they were out of the lab, he should certainly have raised the alarm. Why didn’t he? What was it that made him feel he owed this, to the wraith?
His thoughts were cut off by a rasping laugh. “We’re brothers now, John Sheppard...”
John felt goose bumps all over. The wraith looked at him from the other end of the room, and continued laughing, a hollow laugh that sounded like sand and rocks and deception rolled into one. He had released this creature onto earth, and he suddenly felt the weight of responsibility rest squarely on his shoulders. He swallowed, and turned to look at the doctor in front of him.
She was onto him, though. To Jennifer, his face was transparent and she could tell exactly where this train of thought was heading.
“No, no no no! Detective, I know what you’re thinking and let me be very clear: this is *my* responsibility.”
“That’s not what I--“
One of Jen’s eyebrow’s rose, clearly as a challenge to him, and he aborted his excuse half-way through.
He tried a different route “I should have stopped you.”
“Then you’d be accomplice to torture and death, a treatment certainly reserved for Todd and possibly for myself as well.”
He did not have a response to that, so he looked away, running his fingers through his hair.
“If nothing else, I have to stay.”
“You are not obliged to...” Although he would be more than welcome to. She felt sorely inadequate for the task at hand. “But I would appreciate some advice in any case... No reason to take any rash decisions right now.”
He seemed OK with that, so she continued. “I will be the first to admit that I’m out of my league here... This was as far as my plan went.... Ideally, I would like to go back to the Pegasus galaxy, to take Todd back to the Pegasus galaxy.... but I don’t even know where to start. There is only one Stargate from the Milky Way to Pegasus, and it’s impossible to get in there undetected. We also cannot smuggle him on either the Daedalus or the Apollo – the intergalactic ships going back and forth between the two galaxies – you wouldn’t believe the security controls....” She sighed. “I think that, for the time being, we’re stuck on earth” The wraith hissed at that, and she looked back at him. “I’m sorry.”
“Let’s take it one step at a time, shall we?” John was nothing if not practical. “This is how it will play out for the next few days: You go back to work as you normally would, try to get any info you can on when they plan to send you back. I’ll get us another place to stay and I’ll see what I can do about making Todd look a bit more human.”
She nodded at that. It felt good to have someone else make the decisions. Suddenly she felt the fatigue of the day wash over her and could not stifle a yawn.
After watching the two humans half-heartedly argue about who takes the bed (It’s your bed – But you’re the one that’s injured – I’m not any more) Todd hissed and ordered them to share and shut up. Since that was the most coherent thing he had said all day, they gave in.
After they had turned off the lights, Jen saw yellow eyes looking at her from above. Her heart skipped a beat. Maybe Todd would decide to just eat them in their sleep and make his own way, the earth his playground. But she was counting on his desire to go back home, and she was pretty much his only hope for that.
“Hey” she whispered, her hand reaching up to search for his. “Stay with us, yeah?”
She gave his hand – his feeding hand, she thought while she felt the sucker open beneath her palm; why did it always have to be his feeding hand? – a little squeeze and then let her own hand drop down to the bed. Yellow eyes betrayed the movement of his head tilting slightly as he studied her. In the next second, the wraith turned away and walked to the other side of the room. Jen was asleep within minutes.
She woke up disoriented, because she was not used to waking up with another person half-draped over her. She grimaced a little. Not that the detective was not handsome, but they barely knew each other. His body shifted as he turned away from her, releasing her to turn off the alarm. Oh, the joys of working for the military... She missed the days when she could hit the snooze button repeatedly. Then she remembered Todd, and her head jerked up. He was there, sitting quietly on the floor with his back against the far wall, one knee drawn up to rest his hands on. She tentatively smiled at him.
“The birds are chirping, Much to do. The day starts early for the busy bees.”
Fantastic, he was back to talking crazy. It’s not that she could not understand what he was saying – he clearly got some stuff right out of her brain and she was surprisingly OK with this. It was just that... talking like that was not healthy, dammit. She let out a breath and decided to give him time.
Todd gave her one of these short dry laughs of him “Time will tell, time will tell, if the wraith is not well” he said in an almost sing-along voice. OK, that was more than enough to creep her out a little bit. The wraith just laughed harder.
It dawned at her then, and she grinned and stretched “You’re doing half of this on purpose, aren't you?” and somehow that made her feel elated and she almost felt the urge to go give him a hug. His face registered shock at that, and she grinned wider, getting up and turning on the shower. Seems this wraith had a sense of humour. She was ridiculously glad.
She came out of the shower to see Sheppard and Todd staring at each other. Sheppard seemed to wonder when his life started including waking up with aliens. Todd seemed like a cat watching a fly. She rolled her eyes. She was almost certain he was doing in on purpose.
“Play nice while I’m gone” she told them a few minutes later, before grasping her keys and heading out. There was a wraith in her motel room, and she felt all giddy.
By the time she flashed her ID at the card scanner, she had schooled her face to her usual cool indifference. It did not pay to get emotionally attached, she knew. Yet she did, and she cared. She just had grown accustomed to never showing it, when she was on the clock. She allowed one side of her mouth to quirk up, and wondered for how much longer she would continue to be employed by the Stargate project.
The day went by uneventfully. She was told there were no news of the wraith, which had apparently managed to escape the facility undetected. She shrugged at that. It wasn’t as if she cared much, as long as her life was not in danger, right? She came across Rodney at the cafeteria, his face pinched, his usual smoothness gone. Everybody assumed that he expected even more trouble from wraith #2. Woolsey was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he had gone back to the SGC.
It amazed her how nobody wondered about the effects of the power outage at the facility. Her face showed no sign of her thoughts, as she ate her lunch alone. They were in Area 51 for Christ’s sake. A power outage, even one big enough to affect the whole state should not affect them. Not unless someone had tampered with the network. Not many people in the base had the capability or the opportunity to do it. Maybe people did wonder, but were too afraid to speak up. Or maybe there were more people who sympathized with the wraith x-prisoner. She smiled a little at that thought.
John did not even consider getting out of bed before noon. Screw everything, he thought, he hadn’t slept in two days, and he was now unemployed. Why should he bother getting up before he was good and ready? He did reach a point, however, when he could no longer ignore the wraith in the room. With a grunt he got up and headed for the coffee machine, one eye still closed. Only after the second cup of coffee and a hot shower did he start feeling like facing the world. Fuck, who was he kidding? He had not been ready to face the world for years. He had been coasting along. Existing, not living.
“Things are changing, round and round they go, suns and moons will whisper to you...”
And now he had a crazy wraith to keep him company. That was just swell.
However, it seemed that Todd had stayed in the room and not killed anyone in the 20 hours or so that he had been out of his prison. He smiled at that, deciding that he should take his victories where he found them.
“Just a small taste, that was. What is to come? What will you do? Victories await for you...”
“You need to stop doing that, it’s creepy.”
The damn wraith just grinned at him.
Chapter 4: Reaching Out
In which Jennifer connects with Todd, and makes a realization.
When Jen came back, she found both of them in her motel room. She had stopped at the mall to pick up some make-up supplies, for Todd, and some clothes for both her guests. She had also managed to get hold of Todd’s leather jacket. She had told the soldiers that, without the wraith himsel, she needed to recover as much tissue as possible from his clothes. They had complied without questions. The doctor had rolled her eyes.
No sooner had she placed everything on the small table, that John handed her the motel room key.
“So, where are you staying?”
Her mouth dropped open.
“Are you serious?”
“Nobody will ever suspect. Plus, I still have no car. The options were limited.”
“Sorry, your car is beyond salvaging...”
“Figured as much.”
“Wanna take my car to go pick up some dinner?”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“I thought you may want to get out a little. Just keep in mind that the car is probably tagged. Don’t drive it anywhere I wouldn’t go, unless you want secret agents to come knocking at the window.”
The detective could spot a fake excuse, when presented with one.
“Right...” he drawled out the word on purpose.
“Just go for food, take your time, go for a ride but don’t do anything that would look suspicious.”
“I get it, I get it...” he grabbed the keys and was gone before she had the chance to give him any more instructions. Doctors could be control freaks, some times. Most times. OK, pretty much always.
Jen smiled at the closed door. Sheppard was an interesting case. She wondered if she’d ever get the chance to get him to trust her. She wondered if she’d have the time. She wondered if she had the strength...
She turned around to face the wraith. Strangely she was more confident with Todd than with John. Maybe because, in this case, she did not have a choice. She had taken a decision, and now had to follow through.
“Talk to me” she told him with a grin.
“Playing games today, are we?” he managed to sound amused and menacing at the same time.
“Well, I know I have a lot to say, so I figured I should give you a chance to go first.”
The wraith laughed at that. “By all means, go ahead...” he told her, and reclined on the chair.
She did have a lot to say, but no idea where to start. How does one breach the big questions? How does one bring up life-and-death issues? Part of having a discussion is being able to see the other person’s point of view, even if one does not necessarily agree with it. Could the wraith see the situation from the human’s point of view? For all intends and purposes, they were food to him. He would hardly consider them equals. How willing would he be to take direction? Also, his mental condition was changing by the minute. Still, he was there, and this was a conversation that they needed to have. She decided to bite the bullet and go for it.
“How often do you need to feed?”
He looked at her, his expression shuttered, unwilling to answer.
“I need to know, Todd. I need to... prepare... to plan... You know why I got you out, and for the moment it may not look like much, trading the cell for a motel room, but... I want to go back to Pegasus, and I want to get you back to Pegasus. But it’s not going to happen overnight, and we need to figure out what to do in the mean time. We should talk about your ‘feeding habits’ before Sheppard comes back.”
“Did you not suggest a cloning facility?”
“If only it were that easy...” Her eyes dropped to floor. “The military, with their infrastructure, and labs and seemingly infinite money, could do it overnight. But me? I’ve got nothing. I’ve got the theory but no way of putting it into practice, not for the foreseeable future, at least--”
The savage snarl made her heart skip a beat.
“You lied!” he shouted at her, suddenly furious, and before she realized what was happening she was pushed down on the bed, the wraith pinning her down with his feeding hand on her throat.
“You would have me starve!”
She shook her head, or rather tried to. Moving her head was next to impossible, due to the pressure on her throat. He must have felt the movement, more than saw it, because the pressure eased a fraction, as piercing eyes looked deep into her.
“You would let me feed?!”
She took a couple of steadying breaths as he removed his hand, vaguely noting his choice of words.
“Selectively” she managed to croak. Yep, if there was hell, she was going straight there.
He let out a hiss and turned around, allowing her to sit up.
“How often?” she pressed on.
“It all depends. There’s no precision, no pattern, no grand design...” he had moved to the other side of the room, and sounded far away again, sketching invisible patterns with his fingers hovering inches from the wall.
A door once opened, may be stepped through in either direction. She did not remember where she heard that quote originally, but had spent some of the day thinking about it, finally coming to the conclusion that, if the wraith could see into her head, there was no reason why she could not see into his. She had been an empath all her life, and it was one of the reasons she chose medicine as her vocation. She could connect to other people, understand their pain. She had to concentrate on understanding Todd now. Clearly he was more coherent when he was emotionally invested in something. But he seemed unfocused when it came to more abstract concepts. She tried a more practical approach.
She stepped beside him and caught his hand – always his feeding hand – still busy sketching patters in the air. His eyes snapped at her at the contact.
“You fed yesterday, five lives. Then you gave to Sheppard. How much did that take out?”
“So we start with four, then”
He slowly nodded once.
“Will you be hungry tomorrow?”
He shook his head to indicate that he would not be.
“Will you be hungry the day after...? What about the day after that?”
She went on as he kept shaking his head, naming the days, numbering the weeks. Going through the basics, like a week having seven days on earth and a month being slightly longer than a lunar circle. She was pretty sure that he had picked up on these things during his captivity, but she was testing the mental connection more than anything. She was testing whether she could tell that he already knew what she was talking about or not. He knew. The knowledge was there, she was sure. But she felt it was...clouded...
Empathy and telepathy are not an exact science, at least not for humans. There are people who do it naturally but there is never any evidence, there can be no proof. What she received, or thought she received from Todd, might have been dead accurate and coming straight out of his head, or it could have been her subconscious projecting. She had no way of knowing, so she decided to trust her instincts. The wraith were a telepathic race after all. To “talk” to each other, they must be projecting as well as receiving. Affirmation came through the mental link, recognition in his eyes for a brief second, and she could tell he felt relief to sense another telepath, even though she was a poor excuse for one.
Somewhere along the process, he stopped verbally answering, or giving any other indication of his responses. Instead, he attempted to soundlessly project into her brain. When she was unsure about the answer, he would follow up with a hiss. It amazed her how much he could convey with a single sound. Agreement, disagreement, amusement, anger. It felt like a game of Hot-and-Cold at times. A pretty exhausting, telepathic, game. She gave up on the feeding schedule when she realized he would not have to feed for about a month. That was a relief. She told him, or rather thought to him, that they would revisit this point later, and felt his annoyance at that. He could pick up thoughts with deadly accuracy from her brain if she was open to him. Receiving his response was not as easy a process, but she was fascinated by the connection regardless. She felt his reassurance at that, telling her she’s doing much better than other humans would. Or maybe she was projecting her own wishful thinking? His eyes filled with amusement, as soon as the self-doubt formed in her brain.
She smiled at him and let go of the hand she had been holding.
“Tired now” She sure was, if she was unable to form a simple sentence. Then a thought occurred to her: “Can you feed on someone without killing them? Like, only take a little bit?”
“It would not be wise.”
Huh, there’s another titbit, she mused. He’s more grounded and focused after a small telepathic session. The thought crossed her mind unbidden, and she thought she felt a little amusement coming back at her, but without the physical connection she was not as certain, and it seemed he was already retreating from her, as if his mind was running away from her... Suddenly she hated it, hated the distance, hated that she was losing him, and before she knew what she was doing she had crossed the small room in two strides, taken his hand in hers and shouted into his head:
‘Don’t run away from me! You wanna run? Run to me. This is the destination! I am the destination’!
The wraith who accepted to be named Todd looked at the human holding his hand, his feeding hand, which she was squeezing without fear, and he felt terrified. There she was, grounding him like an anchor... So small, and so delicate, and her body could break so easily, and what would he do then? He would be truly lost, then, and this was really not worth it, he thought... But she was right there, unwavering, in his head. He could feel her passion, and her commitment, and he was drawn to it like a moth to the flame. He was unable to break the connection, unable to put any distance between him and this fiery human, not because he could not physically act, but because what would he do then, a telepath alone on the face of this planet full of humans?
Tentatively, slowly, he gave in and did as instructed. He let his mind search out hers, entwining his thoughts with her thoughts, building his anchor, the lifeline to his beacon, tasting her mental energy, letting his own energy wrap around her brain like waves kissing the shore. He tilted his head slightly, always looking into her eyes, seeing the determination burning there just as he could feel it through their mental link – if before it was a door, now it felt like they had torn down the walls – and despite the fear of linking to someone he knew so little, someone whose life was destined to be so brief, he let himself be convinced by her steadfastness. He brought his other hand to the nape of her neck, and bowed his head until their foreheads touched. Closing his eyes, he gave a contended sigh, his mind having finally, after years of solitude, linked with another of his kind. Or, as close as it could get. He’d take his telepaths were he found them.
Jen smiled at the thought, which had come as loud and clear to her as if the words had been spoken, and she realized the phrase had been picked up from John’s brain earlier today. She also realized that cutting the wraith off from Pegasus, from all the other of his kind, had been far more cruel than starving him. Even when no wraith was close by, in Pegasus, they were always there, the galaxy buzzing with their telepathic presence. None of them felt cut off, not completely, not even after years of imprisonment. On earth, however, there was nobody. Suddenly she felt the enormity of his pain, even though he tried to shield her from it. She saw it, because she wanted to see it, she wanted to feel all of it, until all she could think was how sorry she was, because she had not understood, because she should have acted sooner, because she was unable to take him back home...
Standing like this, the telepathic link wide open, supported by the physical connection, it was hard to tell where her thoughts ended and his started. It was a beautiful, comfortable space to be, almost losing herself in him, and he losing himself in her, a place where everything was accepted at face value, because words can lie but thoughts cannot.
“You should do this with John” she whispered, and really it was a waste of time and energy, because he had already picked up the thought before she could utter the first word, and was responding to it with amusement and curiosity.
“I doubt he will be as open as you, or as responsive.” the wraith indulged her in vocalizing his thoughts.
“He needs it, though...” But of course the wraith was right, John would never agree to this, was nowhere near ready to accept or forgive himself.
“You are remarkably accepting of yourself, for a human.” Todd continued on her train of thought.
“I figured out early on, that we need to get along with ourselves first and foremost.”
“Wise...” he mentally nodded his agreement.
They did not disengage from the strange embrace until the knock on the door forced them to.
At Jen’s mental inquiry, the wraith reassured her that it was indeed Sheppard, and that he was alone.
She met him with a smile, which turned into an enthusiastic grin when she realized he had brought enough Chinese to feed a small army. Not her fault if it was one of her favourites, and they did not get anywhere near enough of it on Atlantis.
“You are amazing!” she told him, and pretended not to notice his surprise at receiving a compliment, as she enthusiastically took the food from his arms and started spreading it at the table, then, when she ran out of space, on the bed.
“Well, I figured we may be busted any day now, so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.”
She looked back at him and grinned.
After a moment he could not resist grinning back. “Ok, I may have gone a bit overboard...”
Dinner went by amicably and all too quickly.
“How about we try the make-up?”
Surprisingly the suggestion came from John. At Jen’s startled look, he shrugged.
“I’d like to give this a try while the one person among us who, presumably, has some experience with putting make-up on, is here to supervise.”
Jen turned to Todd, cocked an eyebrow inquiringly and, at his silent agreement, stood up to clear the leftover food from the table, so that the space could be taken over by make-up supplies.
Jen suspected that they may be having more fun than they should. The wraith – her wraith – had lain down on the bed, completely immobile as he let them work on his face. She regretted having to cover up the tattoo, but it could not be helped. They worked in silence, or at least she and John worked in silence, while the mental connection between her and Todd provided a running commentary of the sensations caused by the gentle brushes to his face. Something tickled here, something itched there, and she would occasionally gently rub his skin to relieve an itch, something Sheppard probably found weird, but she was not in the mood to explain now.
John knew nothing about make-up, but he had an extraordinary memory and, between him and Jennifer, they had bought pretty much everything he had seen in the other wraith’s motel room. Using the supplies competently was another matter altogether, of course. While trying to make Todd look a bit more human, Sheppard realized just how much his life had changed in 48 hours. Never mind the existence of aliens in and of itself. The irony of his current situation did not escape him. First hunting a wraith that had successfully blended in with humans, only to turn around and help another wraith, hunted by humans, blend in.
When they finished, the job was not professional, but the result was passable.
“It could work.” It was Jen that spoke first.
John tilted his head to the side “Well, he’s not going to be winning any beauty pageants...”
Jen bit her tongue to stop from responding that this was a good thing, since Todd was her wraith. She was surprised at her own possessiveness, because she had never been a jealous person in her life. Her protectiveness was going overboard and she would have to reel it in.
Todd gave a short laugh and headed to the mirror.
“It will do...” he said after a brief inspection.
Chapter 5: In the Desert
Jennifer, Todd and John take a little trip into the desert.
The following day, John went car shopping. Predictably, he came back with a Camaro. It was old, black and kind of battered, but the radio worked and the engine was a dream. The day after, they decided to take her out for a spin. Jen squeezed herself in the back seat, and let the guys in front. It took a couple of hours of driving for John to find a spot secluded enough for his taste. Truth be told, Jen thought they could have found something closer, but she suspected John loved driving as much as she did. The one drawback of Atlantis was that they did not have cars, she thought wistfully. He parked the car in the shade of some large rock formations, and they climbed up to enjoy the view of the desert in the sunset.
Up there, her legs handing over the small cliff, her two favourite guys flanking her, Jen was more at peace than she ever remembered. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, she laid down on top of the one sleeping bag they had brought, now laying open over the still-warm rock, and gazed at the darkening sky.
It was John who broke the companionable silence. It surprised Jen, because he was the most taciturn of the three of them. Sure, Todd spoke even less, but that was because he felt words were unnecessary. His mental activity was non-stop and, depending on the time of day, situation and distance between them, Jen was aware of it in various degrees. John was the one that kept himself apart on purpose, so when he raised the topic of the wraith’s escape, Jen jumped on the opportunity to interact.
“There’s this thing I don’t get...” he started slowly. “That’s supposed to be a top-secret military facility, presumably with the best security around… it should not be affected by a power outage, not even if the whole state blacked out…”
Jennifer did not bother getting up before answering.
“You’re right. There’s no way this was an accident.”
Todd looked at her inquiringly and she continued “I can only assume it was an inside job. By whom, and for what purpose, I do not know. But I am not going to complain.”
“Don’t you worry that you are being set up?”
“Not really. I worried the first day. But we’ve been hanging out at that motel for 4 days now. If someone had set me up, they would have swept in and busted us by now. Plus, what would be the reason to do this in the first place? Cut the power to the wraith’s cell to see who will dare help him escape? And what if nobody did? Why risk so many lives if not for something concrete?”
“So, either you have another friend in there…” John said pointedly looking at Todd “Or the power outage was just a lucky break for you, and its real purpose was another.”
“Until some new piece of info comes along, it’s impossible to tell. It’s not like I can go around asking people.” Jen grinned at the thought. Maybe an anonymous survey, only of course no survey is really anonymous, asking people if they sympathized with the escape of the wraith. Yeah right.
“Any news on when they’re sending you back to Atlantis, then?”
“As far as I can tell, we’re staying here for the time being. Hunting the second wraith, since we did such a bang-up job at finding the first one.”
Todd right out laughed at that, and Jen craned her neck to smile back at him. Even John’s shoulders shook a little.
It was at that moment that John realized how comfortable he had become with his new companions, and he suddenly felt cold to the core. He had worked long and hard to keep everybody at a distance, and now he was slipping. He pursed his lips, deciding that staying, even for only a few days, had been a bad decision. Another bad decision. He had stopped counting long ago.
Jen noticed the tension in John’s shoulders, felt him pull away emotionally, and she saw the wraith’s eyes snap to look at him. She let her hand rest against Todd’s thigh, re-establishing a full mental contact. Through Todd, John’s feelings washed over her, stronger than she would have felt them otherwise, but still muddled. No clear thoughts came through; just a disappointment in himself, a need for distance, a sense of self-reprimanding for making the same stupid mistake. She asked Todd if he was getting a clearer picture than she was. Todd informed her that John sheltered his mind more than most, and receiving anything from him was difficult. The reason they got as much as they did was because John could not control the intensity of those feelings.
She debated whether this was a good time to have “the talk” with Sheppard. She was acutely aware that they were in the desert at two hours drive from the motel, and John had the only car. Still, it was Saturday night. If he wanted to leave them stranded there, they had all day Sunday to walk back. The logical part of her brain screamed at her that this was a bad decision, at the same time that it was checking what kind of shoes she was wearing – sneakers, great, they could handle the long walk back – and it was also informing her that, if she let John think about this for the two hour drive home, she would have effectively lost him. She needed to put a stop to those thoughts immediately, or he would pack up and leave as soon as they were back at the motel.
She sat up and turned to John “We need to talk”.
Todd stood up, seemingly to stretch his legs, but really to give them a bit of space if not privacy.
John looked at her, a grim, determined look on his face, his eyes hard, his mouth set resolutely as if there was nothing she could possibly say that mattered.
“You can’t leave.”
“Let me rephrase that: I don’t want to watch you leave.”
“Then don’t watch.”
“I’m not going to stop you, if that is your decision-“
“But I am going to insist that you give me at least 5 minutes.”
“No.” He got up and headed back to the car, finding the wraith leaning against the driver’s door. He turned back to give her an annoyed look.
“5 minutes, John.”
He looked at the wraith again, then back at her. She took this as permission to go on.
“I get it, you know. I understand, I really do...”
She could feel him silently screaming at her ‘you don’t’ and she did not even need any mental connection to Todd. Sheppard was transparent to her, had been since the moment she laid her eyes on him.
“Pretty much everyone in the Stargate project has read your file of course, after Rodney came back from that alternate reality...”
“That does not mean you know me.”
“I agree. The file only states the facts. It says that, as a detective, you don’t have a partner because nobody can stand working with you. What it does not say, is that nobody can stand working with you because *you* don’t want to have a partner.” His nose flared lightly at that, and she knew she had hit home. “You don’t want to feel responsible for them, and you don’t want to get close to them, because you don’t trust yourself to keep anybody safe. You think you have made enough bad decisions in your life, and you believe you’re going to keep making them, but, at the very least, you don’t want anybody else to pay for them.” She took a shaky breath before continuing, because she was in uncharted territory. John was throwing daggers at her with his eyes, and the muscles on his jaw twitched, but he said nothing. “It’s scary and you may not admit this even to yourself, much less to me. But deep down, under the layers of denial, you know it’s true. Just like I know that every decision you took was with the best of intentions, no matter how it all ended up…”
She shook her head and looked back up at him. “You’re fucking awesome.” He seemed a little shocked at that declaration, and some of the aggression in his eyes died down. “You are one of the most wonderful people I know, and I’m going to move heaven and earth to protect you, if needed.” The hint of a sarcastic smile touched his lips. “Don’t be so quick to dismiss me, John. I just broke a wraith out of Area 51. This should give you an idea about the lengths I will go to, for the people I care about… You may not need me, and I may not need you either. But, someday, you need to stop running away from yourself. And... you’re wanted here... Both me and Todd, we will never turn our backs on you, because, whatever it takes, you’re worth it. Five minutes from now, or five years from now, we’ll take you back, no questions asked, because you’re one of the most amazing guys on the face of this planet. Simple as that. And I promise you: we will never have this conversation again, as long as you tell me that you understand what I tried so hard to explain.”
He slowly, imperceptibly, nodded. It was a nod particular to him, the head turning more sideways than downwards, but it was a nod. His surprise and apprehension at having given even that little, were palpable. Jen took a step back, signalling the end of their stand-off and, by the time he turned towards the car, the wraith had moved away as well. “The guy you’re looking for does not exist” he told her, without looking at her, while getting into the driver’s seat.
“I believe in you, John. I have no expectations, but I do have faith. Faith in you. Take care of yourself…” Her last words were drowned by the sound of the engine, and then a cloud of dust was all that remained.
Amusement came to her from Todd. Seemed like he expected a long walk back.
“Give him time…” Jen said, before she climbed back up the rock they had occupied earlier. She lied down, looking at the stars, the wraith silently joining her.
For the first half hour, his mind was blank, the only thing driving him was the need for distance. He just needed to put distance between himself and this female who seemed to skin him alive and leave him raw, every part of his psyche exposed. He wanted to scream and shout and hit something but he only gritted his teeth and drove fast, much faster than was prudent, away from her.
Damn her and her piercing eyes, he hated the kindness in them, despised himself for hating it and damn her for making him feel like this anyway. How did he let the situation get so far out of control? He should have left days ago, he should have just grabbed the money and made a run for it. Then he would have saved himself the torture of hearing the sincerity in her voice, because she really did believe in him, and he had no idea why.
All his life, he kept disappointing people. It was the one thing he was persistently good at. He was a royal screw up and he knew it. He told her that the man she as looking for did not exist, and he had just barely stopped himself before saying “any more”. She somehow saw through him to the person he had been in his twenties, before all that happened, before everything went to hell in a handbasket. How did she unearth the person he had buried so many years ago? He wanted to scream from frustration, not wanting to remember, not wanting feel. He wanted to go away, and shut everybody out again, like he had been doing the past decade. He was good at that. He could go back to that.
It was her fault after all, and it served her right if she was stranded in the desert now. Served her fucking right. He was back at the motel by then, throwing his few possessions in a gym bag, when he whirled around, kicked the bed hard enough to send it sliding back a couple of feet and cursed loudly “Fuck it all to hell!”
Rationally, he knew she would be fine. She and the wraith would either find another form of transportation or simply walk back. She certainly seemed tough enough. The thought did not console him. He could not shake the feeling that he had abandoned his team in the desert. Only, it was not his team. She had very emphatically pointed out that he was not responsible for their wellbeing. He had no obligation to go back. And it was not the desert. Well, it was not that desert.
She did not need him to go back for her. But she wanted him to. She wanted him to go back, not so that he could save her, but so that she could save him. She wanted him to want to go back. He closed his eyes and leaned against the door. Damn her anyway.
And then there was the wraith. Todd. Who looked at him as if he did indeed know his destiny and had called him “brother”. Who, with two words, made him believe he had potential. John felt a bitter smile tug at his lips. He was certain there was no potential whatsoever. And yet, there was a tiny part of his heart that was clinging to that hope. The hope that he could be more. It was what made him go back and look for the other wraith. Because McKay had told him that he had “strength of character”, and as much as he thought of himself as a washout, there was this tiny part of him that whispered that he could be more.
Damn her anyway, it served her right to be freezing in the desert night. He snatched his car keys and headed out, banging the door behind him. Damn her anyway.
The sound of a car slowly approaching stirred her to consciousness. She had to stop waking up like this, with somebody else’s limbs tangled all over hers. The amusement in her thoughts passed loud and clear to the wraith, who almost purred and did not move an inch. It was almost dawn, judging by the colour of the sky. Sleeping in the desert would have been cold and uncomfortable if it wasn’t for the sleeping bag, used as a blanked to keep both of them warm, and Todd himself who acted alternatively as a pillow and a mattress, although at some point during the night the roles had clearly been reversed.
She finally managed to unpin herself from under heavy arms and legs, and she sat up just as John reached them. He was holding a thermos, hopefully filled with warm coffee. She reached for it, unscrewed the cup and breathed deeply.
“I love you...” she said sleepily.
John did not know if she was talking to him or the coffee, and decided he did not care much. He was almost certain she meant both. His eyes were imploring, searching for confirmation when he looked down at her.
“Join us to watch the dawn, then.” she told him.
And just like that, he was forgiven, and it amazed him, and he did as he was told and sat down next to her. Suddenly, he felt peaceful. Among friends. Not as a team leader; he was not there to protect them. Despite himself, against all odds, they simply wanted him there. Where else was he supposed to be, if not right next to them, in the middle of the desert, sipping warm coffee while waiting for the dawn?
Chapter 6: Motive
What was it, really, that caused the lights to go out in Area 51? And why?
It was McKay that greeted her at the cafeteria at lunch time. They had never been close, despite both of them being part of the Atlantis expedition, and she could count on one hand the times they had had lunch together. Nevertheless, she could not ignore him, so she politely walked towards him. Despite always thinking of him as a stuck-up and arrogant bastard, she had to admit he was a brilliant scientist. To be fair, he probably thought of her as a cold-hearted bitch. Maybe the faces they showed at work were not exactly representative of their true natures.
“Would you like to join me?”
She had the feeling that he was planning to get information out of her, and wondered what it was about. She could feel her pulse quicken, but ignored it and sat down across from him with a small smile.
“How have you been, Dr McKay?”
“Fine, fine... not a lot of life-threatening situations these days, right?”
“I miss Atlantis too.”
“I suppose that it is unlikely they will send us back before we re-capture the second wraith...”
“It would appear so.”
“So... any leads?”
“No... none so far.... Hey, you wouldn’t be the one to upload the virus that opened his cell and fried the security cameras, would you?”
She chocked on her food, then she started laughing. When she got herself back under control, she grinned at him.
“No, Rodney, I’m afraid you overestimate my programming capabilities.”
“Simple coding, I can do. But, even assuming that I could write something as complicated as a virus, I lack info about the actual software design and the server structure here, not to mention I lack the opportunity to upload the virus to the mainframe. And I also lack the knowledge to make it untraceable. No, the person you’re looking for, either works in the IT sector or, at the very least, has access to the mainframe, assuming that someone else could give him the code in a stick to upload.”
“Good points. But I had to ask. You understand.”
“Of course. Only doing your job. Oh wait...” She looked at him pointedly and raised an eyebrow.
“You had voiced your objections about the course of action that they had taken with the wraith...”
“Indeed, I did not consider it ethical.” She paused and then took a chance. “Did you?”
He looked at her for a long moment, surely weighing in his mind the pros and cons of responding.
“No.” He finally decided to go for the truth. Or maybe he was playing her to see if she would open up. McKay was one of the people she had trouble reading. Must be due to his off-the-charts IQ, she mused. It always seemed like he was thinking of five different things at the same time. They could be totally unrelated to the conversation he was having, or he could have been thinking about 5 different outcomes to that conversation, trying to stay at least one step ahead. Verbal sparring with him felt like playing chess with Kasparov. She simply felt inadequate for the task.
She quickly finished her salad and returned to the lab. Surprisingly, Rodney showed up there not long after.
“I meant it you know. What I said about the wraith.”
She nodded and kept working silently.
“I hope he’s okay and, you know, not killing people...”
“Yes” she nodded. He could take that to mean that she hoped the same, or that he was indeed okay and not killing people. In any case, she was not incriminating herself.
“You think I’m wearing a wire!”
She looked at him, her eyebrows almost to her hairline. The thought had crossed her mind, but the indignation in his voice was unexpected.
“I’m not, I swear, look!” he opened his shirt to show her there was no transmitter and she just cocked her head at him, a silent laugh starting deep in her belly. “OK, right, we both know it could be something smaller than that, even a subcutaneous device with the technology we have encountered... Scan me! You can scan me!”
“Dr McKay, that won’t be necessary.”
“But you don’t believe me!”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because...” he huffed and puffed for a few seconds, failing to come up with a credible excuse.
“Since you are so determined to get my opinion, I will tell you this: I do not think the crazy wraith currently on the run is the biggest problem here. Whoever arranged for the power outage in the facility and the disruption of the video feed, planned on the escape of the wraith providing him – or her – with a diversion. You need to figure out what that person’s real goal was; what they wanted to distract us from. Because, whatever the endgame is here, I have the impression that it will make one wraith on the loose seem like small potatoes.”
McKay’s face was frozen, his eyes huge, as the realization hit him. He left the lab on a run, only to run back in half a second later, grab her shoulders and whisper “I’m so glad he’s okay”, then leave at a dead run again, before Jen had the time to manage any response.
She stared at the door for several seconds, trying to figure out what had just happened. Was it possible that McKay had a soft spot for the wraith? She shook her head. It did not matter. McKay would be too occupied in the foreseeable future to give any thought to whether her reaction was convincing or not.
“So, I played with Rodney today. What did you two do for fun?”
Her two favourite guys turned to look at her.
“Sheppard took me shopping for a wig. Please elaborate now.”
At her insistence, the wraith was trying to become more talkative.
Her eyes darted all over the room in search of a wig, because the thought was just too funny.
“No, you can’t see it yet.” It was Sheppard that grinned at her now, looking at her over a slice of pizza.
She sighed and explained to them her meetings with Rodney.
“Can’t believe they had not figured that out by themselves.” John was shaking his head looking incredulous.
“Well, to be fair, we have the advantage of knowing that it wasn’t me.”
“How were you planning on getting around the video surveillance system anyway?”
“I had mapped out a way, was planning to disable the cameras with a small, targeted EMP... But when the lights went out, I heard a small pop from the camera, like a fuse had blown. When I checked it, it was dead. Fried. No energy at all. The power returned to the rest of the facility right away, but the surveillance and communications systems were dead. I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, I just made sure that the rest of the cameras on my path were equally out of commission.”
She nodded, washing down the spicy pizza with ice tea.
“You know, they finally had to replace the whole system, the equipment had been rendered useless by a power overload.” She froze. “Oh shit” She looked up at John. “I know what they were after!”
The question of whether or not to share her assumptions with Rodney, was rendered moot the next day, when he stormed into her lab first thing in the morning, shouting that she was right.
“Why did you not tell me earlier, and is everybody else here stupid? Wait, don’t answer that”
“Of course they were after the ZPM, I can’t believe we did not see it, it could be halfway around the globe or in any other part of the galaxy by now! You’re being reassigned.”
The apparent change of topic threw her.
“My team.” Rodney was pacing the length of her lab
“I’m not a physicist nor an engineer.”
“I’m a medic.”
“I know. You just need to stay there and make sure nobody else missed something as glaringly obvious as this. We need a new perspective. And you can code. I’ve seen you tinker with the medical equipment in Atlantis.”
“I’m not going to join your team, McKay.”
“But I want you there!”
“And I don’t want to be there!”
This made him stop his pacing and finally look at her for more than a split second.
“Why not?” She simply stared at him “Okay, I know that I can be insufferable at times...” at her pointed look he continued “maybe even most of the time... but you’ll get a raise for that.”
She laughed. “Are you telling me that people in your team receive financial compensation as an incentive to keep working with you?”
She was laughing so hard now that she had to lean on the desk. McKay huffed and puffed at her.
“I’ll let you know.”
“I need you now.”
“I’m flattered” she said coyly, and he backed up two steps. It made her grin. “Very well, how about we do a test run today, and see how it goes, and I’ll give you my final answer tomorrow. By then, you may have decided to take the offer off the table yourself.”
“Follow me.” he was already at the door.
“Can I get changed first?”
“Oh! Yes. Of course. I’ll... wait outside”
She gave him a tight smile and closed the door.
This was an unexpected development. But one thing was certain: she would have access to a lot more intel in McKay’s team, and if she wanted to have any hopes of sending Todd back to Pegasus, she had to take the position. She steeled herself for 8 hours of Rodney McKay and, after giving herself a look in the mirror, went out to meet him.
She wished it was 8 hours. Long after the other teams had gone home, McKay was still relentless. She called John to tell him she’d be late and asked how Todd was. The call was brief, lasting all of 30 seconds, and still McKay managed to overhear half of it.
“A cat. I was going to meet a friend for dinner. That was...” she theatrically looked at her watch “...one hour ago! So I called to cancel, and asked about the cat. Is that OK with you, or do you need any further info?”
They were alone in the corridor and she had no qualms about showing her anger.
“Sorry, it was just weird...”
“Because that was the name of the wraith... in the alternate reality I visited, I mean... that was the name of their wraith ally...”
She was lucky that she was still angry, otherwise her shock would have shown, for sure.
“I... didn’t know that. It was not in any of the reports, was it?”
“No, it wasn’t. Considering the wraith we kept here, I did not think it wise...”
“What does it have to do with our wraith?”
“That’s the thing.... I’m pretty sure it was the same wraith.... their version of it at least....”
By the time she rolled into the motel parking lot it was close to midnight, and the room next to hers was dark. She was hungry and exhausted, and doubted that she would last more than 5 minutes on her feet, but she was still glad when John pulled the door slightly open and motioned her in.
The room was dark, and he moved to turn on a light.
“Don’t” She stopped him. Her eyes were killing her, after staring at computer screens for the past 12 hours.
“I saved you some pizza. Cold now, sorry.”
“You’re an angel...” she was grateful and devoured a couple of slices in a matter of seconds.
“So how did it go?”
“Fine. Tired. Rodney thinks you are a cat” she said turning to Todd.
Sheppard almost fell off his chair laughing.
“Let me guess, he overheard you on the phone?”
Todd silently requested to know what a cat is, and she sent him a mental image. He hissed. She laughed.
“Funny thing is, it was the name that caught his attention. Apparently, when he visited an alternate dimension, a variation of our own reality, Todd was our wraith ally in Atlantis”
That left them speechless for a couple of seconds.
“Same Todd?” asked Sheppard.
“He thinks so, although apparently he didn’t actually get to see the wraith, he just heard about him.” Then something clicked and she turned to Todd “You knew, didn’t you?” The wraith grinned at her in the dark.
“It was but a dream...” he whispered.
“How could he possibly know?”
“Telepathic creature, rift in space and time, maybe something slipped through the cracks... Sadly, last week was not the first time that someone had been playing with the fabric of reality itself...”
“I guess that explains the ‘I have seen your destiny’ declaration too...”
The wraith laughed from his corner.
John shot him a look but otherwise ignored him. “You’ll accept the offer?”
“I guess I have to. As a medic, our chances of going to Pegasus were close to non-existent. By joining Rodney’s team they would be ‘very very slim’ so that’s a step up.”
“I like how you automatically include all of us...”
“You know it’s right, and you know you want to do it, so stop playing hard-to-get.”
“Well, I need to keep up appearances...”
“I’m beat, I’m going to go to sleep. You should search for alternate accommodation tomorrow. I’m getting a raise and it’s time we get out of this motel.”
Chapter 7: Roomates. Family.
It was time to move out of the motel, really...
It was January, which was lucky for them, because darkness fell early. John had arranged a couple of appointments with real estate agents in the evening. He preferred not to take Todd anywhere under daylight, if he could help it. By unspoken agreement, Dr Keller and he had decided not to leave Todd unattended. Not that they didn’t trust him, but... why tempt fate?
So it was, that he found himself driving around winding streets, with an alien riding shotgun. The first real estate agent, a middle-aged man, who sweated profusely even after the sun had dipped over the horizon letting a cool breeze settle in, had two furnished apartments to suggest. John didn’t like any of them. One was on the 2nd floor, not providing enough privacy for their taste, and the furniture of the other was in such a state that he had to ask himself what the apartment had been used for, up to that day. The wraith seemed as eager to get out as he was.
They grabbed a beer before meeting the next agent. Todd had taken a liking to darker beers with a fruity taste. John planned to have him try as many of them as possible. Regrettably, the alcohol level did not seem to have any effect on the wraith. Then again, maybe this was a good thing.
The second agent was a cheerful young lady, no more than 25, clearly stuck with the late appointments because of her junior position. She seemed eager to help, though, and offered them a sincere smile when she asked them to follow her car. She only had one apartment to show them, she said, but she was certain that one would be all they would need. John couldn’t quite suppress the smile that tugged at his lips. She brought out the charmer in him, despite the fact that his skills were desperately rusty.
She was correct, however, one apartment was all that was needed. It was on the top floor of a residential building, in a neighbourhood that had enough traffic to ensure they go unnoticed, but not so much that it would be an annoyance. There was public parking all around, and a big multi-storey car park a couple of blocks down the road. The apartment itself had 3 bedrooms, a big living room and a small kitchen. He didn’t think Jennifer would mind the lack of counter space. With the working hours that she kept, she would be lucky if she had the time to cook a couple of home-made meals per week. He questioningly cocked an eyebrow towards Todd, who nodded his agreement.
The following day, Jennifer went to another real estate agent, all by herself, and rented a tiny studio, a couple of blocks, but in a totally different direction, from the multi-storey car park. Maybe she was being paranoid. So what.
They moved in the big airy apartment a couple of days later. John didn’t know if he should be glad or disappointed that he would not be sleeping with the wraith any more. He liked his privacy of course. Cherished it, really. But the presence of the wraith had been discreet, except for his annoying habit to pick things right out of his head, but this did not happen often enough to be anything more than a nuisance. Besides, it seemed that, for some weird reason, Keller could read him with just as much accuracy, which brought down the creepy factor a notch.
He shook his head as he thought about the telepathic bond that Jennifer had developed with the wraith. He had caught up to it, after a few days. The wraith seemed more grounded every time the doctor was around, and there were instances when he had felt he was missing out on some inside joke. At the end, his curiosity had gotten the better of him and he had demanded an explanation. Jennifer had talked about it as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He did not quite agree with her, but she was a strong woman. If anyone could dwell into the head of a crazy wraith and come out swinging, it was her. John did not dwell into parts of his own mind most of the time. That train of thought bothered him more than he cared to admit, so he dropped his bag by the window and went to the living room in search of his friend.
“Let’s go shopping” he told him.
They came back with almost more bags than they could carry. Everything, from books, to video games, to a set of chess, had made their list. John had drawn the line at buying a deck of cards, declaring that he was positively NOT going to play poker with the wraith. To his surprise, Todd produced a deck of cards from his back pocket as soon as they sat down on their couch. At John’s bristling look, the wraith simply shrugged. Clearly shoplifting was not below him.
Jennifer had settled into a semblance of routine at work. Most of Rodney’s team had resented her presence at first. It was understandable; they did not feel comfortable with an outsider among them. They soon warmed up to her though. It was partly due to the fact that she brought warm muffins in, for her first (well, second) day at work, and partly due to the fact that she could reign in Rodney when needed. Zelenka, who knew her well from Atlantis, gave her tips on how to handle the different personalities on the team. Jen knew some of them already, of course. Kusanagi was always sweet and helpful and had had a crush on McKay for years (he was oblivious). Kavanagh was still selfish and egocentric and would sell his soul to the devil to prove that he should be valued as much as McKay (he shouldn’t be). Everybody else was somewhere inbetween.
Predictably, the one raising the most objections to her being there, was Kavanagh. The arguments usually started with “she’s not a physicist” to degrade to “I don’t need someone controlling my work” at which point McKay would step in and tell him to shut up unless he wanted to spend the rest of his years watching whales in the Atlantic. Kavanagh was not a fan of fishing, or the ocean, or strong winds. Being in charge of radars tracking the movement of whales, hour after hour, was probably his personal version of hell.
Jen’s job had more to do with project management than anything else. Scientists were notorious for getting caught up on the details and missing the bigger picture. Twice a day, she rounded them up and asked for updates.
First was the team that was checking the code of the virus. How much progress had they made, had they find anything useful, and had they noticed any patters in the code that would point towards a specific person? It was a little-known fact that coding could be as personal as writing. Never mind the fact that some people are vain enough to leave comments and hints, on who built each program, in the software itself. Even without any hints at all, it was as difficult to change one’s coding style, as it was to change one’s handwriting. Possible, certainly, but with thousands of lines of code, slipping up was inevitable. The trick, of course, was that you had to know someone’s coding style, in order to recognize it. So the team was not only tasked with analyzing the virus itself, but also a selection of other cutting-edge programs, both military and commercial, trying to identify the writer.
After the virus group (she hated that name, but they loved it, go figure...) came the ebay group. She had to roll her eyes when she heard that name. They were monitoring all known black-market websites. It would have been great to find a ZPM on sale, but mainly they were looking into anyone buying products that, paired with a ZPM, would create a very, very, bad thing. Rodney had compiled a list, and, to their irritation, he added to it every day.
The ‘forensics’ team was last. She failed to see the actual connection to forensics. They were the ones that went over the possible scenarios of how someone could get to the ZPM and take it out of the chair room. They were running computer simulations of the different routes, trying to identify which one the thief had used. Their problem was that there were too many unknowns. With no video footage whatsoever, they had everyone’s starting point at approximately 16:40, and then nothing after that. The ZPM could have been stolen in the next 10 minutes, which they thought was the most likely scenario, or in the next half hour. That gave someone enough time to walk thought the whole base, and increased the number of routes they could take exponentially. Since they had not discovered that the ZPM was missing until days later – replacing the live ZPM with a depleted one had been a smart move – they had not run energy scans of the cars leaving the facility that night. Also, someone could have stashed the ZPM to a safe place to retrieve later. Heck, it could still be on-site. Jen sighed. Too many unknowns.
“Stop getting into my head!” The aggression in John’s voice was punctuated by him sending the contents of the box flying, while the box itself crashed against the wall of their new living room. “I don’t want you there, I don’t want anyone there, it’s fucking private!”
Todd could simply not figure it out. To the wraith, mind connection was as natural as breathing, other people’s thoughts were perceived just as clearly as their words were. It was not something he could turn off, any more than a human with normal hearing could choose not to hear the sounds around him. The vehemence in John’s voice was new, though, and despite himself, Todd felt frozen in place. His piercing yellow eyes never left Sheppard’s, the black slits having narrowed to little more than a thread.
Maybe he would have been able to control his telepathy towards humans, if there had been other wraith to focus on. But there was none. He was alone, had been for years. The one wraith presence that he had weakly sensed over the past few months had now been muted as well. Isolation and starvation had taken their toll on him. Maybe he would have been capable of connecting with that wraith, if he had not been in that condition. Maybe he would have been capable of a lot of things. But he wasn’t any more. A long last look at Sheppard’s face told him as much. His human brother did not want him. Feeling little spiders crawl all over him, the wraith got up from his chair and moved to the window. There, he stood by the ledge, watching the traffic on the road below, one long fingernail tapping rhythmically at the glass. He just had to keep himself together until his Queen returned.
Part of his mind shied away from the word ‘Queen’. Part of his mind didn’t care.
There were dark places in John’s mind and soul, where he never allowed himself to venture. The last thing he wanted, was for someone else to discover them and bring them to light. Still seething, hating how anyone could make him feel so vulnerable, he headed to his bedroom. Always the military man, he kept his possessions down to a minimum, and packing was a matter of seconds.
He literally bumped into Jennifer on his way out. She took one look at the bag in his hand, pursed her lips and promptly slapped him. It did not surprise him, and he didn’t even flinch. He deserved that. Not for leaving, but for leaving without a word, and possibly for being too harsh on someone with such a frail grasp on reality as Todd. Not wanting to wait for the elevator, he headed to the stairwell. What did surprise him, was her voice trailing down the hall after him. “We still love you, John”. That, he did not deserve.
Todd was surprised. His Queen had come back to the hive earlier than expected. He fought the need to go to her. Instead, he stayed immobile by the window, unseeing eyes looking down to the busy street. If he was not worthy of being in the presence of his human brother, he felt sorely inadequate to be in the presence of a Queen. But she was there, and, as every single time that she returned, he felt that something inside him relaxed marginally. He let his head rest against the cool smooth surface, fingernail still ticking away like a clock counting the seconds.
Jen softly closed the door behind her, and leaned against it, closing her eyes. Dealing with her two favourite guys, as she had come to think of them, was immensely rewarding but intensely draining. Her heart slumped as she considered John’s departure. He was beyond words, which was always a bad sign. But she had long accepted the fact that people had to take their own decisions, make their own mistakes, and sometimes they would simply refuse to accept any help. She sighed and moved towards the one that was still there. She could not stop John from running away, but she sure as hell could do something about Todd.
She approached tentatively, unsure of what he was thinking. He seemed to completely ignore her, not that he was busy doing anything at all, other than stand by the window. Jen suppressed a shiver. She was no psychologist, not that any human psychologist would be qualified to help the alien, but she imagined that it was to be expected that Todd would have his ups and downs. She hoped it would be limited to mood swings and not any acts of aggression. She noticed the things scattered over the floor. A game of cards and a chess set next to the couch. A puzzle box, its pieces now scattered over half the living room, lay against the wall. There was a picture of a fighter, an F16, she realized with a pang of nostalgia. She assumed it was Sheppard the one responsible for the state of the living room. If Todd had been the one pissed off, she might have found a dead body or, at the very least, a hole through the wall. Thank God for small mercies and all. She could see how it had gone down: The fighting falcon must have reminded John of something he really preferred to forget, his feelings too intense to contain, the wraith had picked up on them and made an unfortunate comment. She bit her lip.
She was standing next to Todd by then, who had yet to acknowledge her. Tentatively, cautiously, she mentally reached out to him. Her mental touch was the equivalent of a softly whispered ‘hey you’, the words redundant between them, the sentiment more than enough to carry her meaning across. She let her fingers rest against the back of his hand, which was still raised against the windowpane, his fingernail now still against the glass.
At first, Todd did not dare to lift his eyes to Jen’s face, afraid of what he would see there. But, at the caress of her mind and her hand, he became, slowly, breath by breath, reassured. He followed his Queen to the couch, and curled up beside her, his face on her lap while she calmly stroked his hair. His Queen wanted him. That was all that mattered for now.
It was hours later when she heard the key turn in the lock. The wraith smoothly detached himself from her arms and disappeared towards his bedroom. Her legs had grown numb long ago, and she stretched them out, enjoying the feel of pins and needles.
John stood awkwardly in the hallway, unsure of what to do next. He had driven around in circles for most of the night, until he came to the realization that he would not be able to outrun the guilt. He was no stranger to the feeling, his life had been filled with it so far. He had become somewhat of an expert at burying it deep down and could ignore it, or convincingly pretend to ignore it, most of the time. But he certainly did not want to add to it, not if he could help it. He could make things right, for once. He brushed a hand through his hair and let the bag fall to the floor beside him.
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.”
He slowly started walking towards Todd’s bedroom.
When he did not receive an acknowledgement to his knock, he took a steadying breath, opened the door and went in.
The wraith was at the other end of the room, seemingly trying to keep as much distance between himself and Sheppard as possible. John could not find the words to even begin to describe what he wanted to convey. The silence stretched until Todd broke it.
“Did you come back for more?” His voice was harsh, his words clipped, and John felt like he had been stabbed in the chest because he knew that he was the one responsible for his friend’s pain.
The wraith hissed, eyes glowing dangerously in the semi-darkness.
John bit his lip and continued. “I’m sorry. I can be an asshole at times. It wasn’t my intention to...” Hurt you, treat you like crap, walk out on the one person who calls me brother and means it... John sighed. He was terrible at this. “You know what? You can look into my head all you want. Just try not to comment on it, okay?”
The wraith cocked his head and regarded the human across the room. He slowly nodded once.
John nodded too, a bit more emphatically, half-trying to convince himself that he was not terrified at having given permission to Todd to see into his head – he didn’t even want to think what the wraith would find there – and turned to retrieve his bag from the living room. He was exhausted and looked forward to a few hours of sleep. He would spend the next days (or months, or years) ignoring what had just happened and, if he was lucky, Todd would let him pretend.
Chapter 8: Investigation underway: Help needed.
Rodney needs some help tracking down the ZPM. Also, boredom does not look good on a wraith.
Working with Rodney was surprisingly fun, in a frustrating and infuriating sort of way. It helped that she had started out as his equal. Not that he would ever admit to medicine being as important as physics, but at least he knew her as a colleague, before he insisted on having her as a member of his team, so he treated her marginally better than he did the others. Mr Woolsey paid them a visit a couple of times per week. Apparently the whole galaxy, as well as the next, had been mobilized to try to locate the missing ZPM.
“We can’t find the ZPM if we don’t find the culprit. If we find out who the inside person is, maybe we will get an idea of what the endgame is.”
“What, you think they’ll come up to us and say ‘here, THIS is what I need a ZPM for!’?”
“If only we were that lucky...” She did not appreciate Rodney’s sarcastic remark. “No, I assume that, whoever the inside person is, they’re not the final recipient of the ZPM. They just got a whole of a lot of money out of the transaction. Or maybe some other perks, who knows... The point is that once we identify them, we will be able to search their background, see who they had been in contact with, and hopefully identify who’s behind this...”
“So how do you suggest we proceed? We’ve been at that code for over a week and there is no trace of who made it, or when it was uploaded”
“Forget the code for now. We need to find out who physically stole the ZPM and replaced it with the depleted one.”
“And again I ask you: How? All security footage has been erased.”
“Guess we’ll have to go at it the old-fashioned way then.”
Rodney looked at her quizzically.
“People had been solving crimes long before security cameras were invented, McKay.” She took a few bites from her sandwich. “What we need to do, is retrace everybody’s movements through the facility that day. We may also need a bit of luck and a good detective...” she smiled at Rodney.
“You’re talking about Sheppard, aren’t you? Forget it, he left the hospital the same day we brought him in, and he has turned in his badge. There’s been no trace of him, not that we’ve searched extensively...”
“Who knows, maybe he’s turned freelance...” she said in a teasing tone.
“You know something, don’t you?” It was hard to get one past McKay.
“Do you think you can get him sufficient clearance? He’ll have to interview literally everybody in here, and you know how touchy the locals are.”
“Someone stole a ZPM under their noses. I don’t care how touchy they are, we’ll interrogate them until kingdom come... Huh, guess that enzyme worked then.”
“It sure did.” the fact that it was straight from the source and accompanied by the gift of life was left unsaid.
“Hope you don’t mind, I kind of volunteered you to head an investigation.”
They were having dinner in the living room, take-out cartons on the low table in front of them. “What did you do?” John leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him
“Need to find who stole the ZPM, the old-fashioned way. With no surveillance footage. Imagine the drama at Area51.”
John grinned “I guess I can see their problem.”
“Amazing how, people who are used to having 24 hour surveillance, feel completely lost once it’s gone.” She shook her head. “I’ll let you know once clearance comes through.”
“Chances of going to Pegasus just went up again, didn’t they?”
“From ‘very very slim’ to just ‘very slim’. Progress.” The wraith hovering at the corner looked at her and she could swear he winked.
She had made Todd promise her, really promise her, that he would not go roaming the city by himself. It wasn’t a lack of trust, the wraith knew. She was simply afraid that someone might recognize him for something other than human. Still, it was frustrating. How had he let himself be convinced by a human? His human. He reached out to her mentally and found her having a croissant for breakfast, chatting with... Sheppard. He was not jealous of Sheppard, not exactly. He was simply jealous of Sheppard’s ability to be around Jennifer in broad daylight. Then again, he would not willingly set foot back in that facility if his life depended on it, so maybe it was all for the best. But the wraith was bored, and could not be held responsible for the state that the apartment would be in, when his two roommates returned.
That night, before driving back to the apartment, Jen swung by the mall and bought a laptop. She had felt the wraith totally and completely bored earlier in the day, and chastised herself for not thinking in advance. It wasn’t fair to Todd to force him to stay in the apartment alone all day. She hoped that, with the new laptop, he would have fun exploring the internet, if nothing else. It may give him more of a taste of humanity than he’s prepared for.
The moment she stepped through the front door, she came to an abrupt halt. For a second she wondered if this was the correct apartment, but her key had opened the door so... John’s head appeared behind one of the drapes blocking the hallway. Multiple pieces of woven tissue, cotton, silk, even something that looked like a fur rug, were stapled – stapled! – at the ceiling. She cringed. There goes their deposit.
“Todd redecorated”. John’s explanation was laconic and quite unnecessary. Somehow, the wraith had managed to give the apartment the feel of a hive. Thankfully, nothing organic was growing out of the walls, a small miracle in and of itself, she was sure. Spot lights emitting a soft yellow glow were covered with see-through material . She ran her fingers over one. It felt like silk tulle to the touch. Cables run all over the ceiling and the walls, some liberally hanging in loops. She carefully walked through the maze, finally reaching the living room. Todd was on his feet, in front of the TV, playing some kind of game on a console Jen did not know the name of, and he was gleefully shooting down fighters. The second set of controls was resting on the couch.
“Hey, I had hit ‘pause’!”
She assumed that this meant it was John’s fighters that the wraith was shooting at.
“And I hit ‘unpause’. Can’t take breaks in the middle of a battle, Sheppard.”
John dove over the back of the couch, and had already started shooting back, even before his feet had touched the ground.
“By all means, continue...” Jen closed her eyes, shook her head, and headed to the kitchen. She unpacked the laptop, disposed on the packaging and took it, with some leftover take out (at least now she could warm it in the microwave) back to the living room. She took care of software installations and charging up the batteries while her roommates had fun. She smiled sweetly at them, taking advantage of the fact that they were not looking. Boys will be boys she guessed, even if they come from different galaxies and have a huge age difference. Her grin became wider. As the device in front of her beeped for her attention, she reluctantly took her eyes off them and concentrated. She assumed Todd would like linux more than windows and he would like even more the choice of multiple operating systems. So, she had some work to do...
Chapter 9: An unexpected development
In which Dr Keller is thoroughly surprised, and John takes a risk.
The day that Rodney broke the law, had started as any other day. He woke up to the sound of an insistent alarm clock, washed up in a spartan bathroom and headed down to the communal cafeteria for a hot cup of coffee. He had taken to sleeping in one of the spare rooms on the base. Considering the amount of hours he was spending on-site, driving to and from a hotel every day had seemed a ridiculous waste of time.
Most people knew better than to talk to him before his second, maybe third, cup of coffee. His replies would be limited to grunts, if they were lucky. The truth was that coffee did nothing for Rodney, but sipping at it provided the perfect excuse to avoid answering stupid questions. He also used the mug to hide the grimaces that came unbidden at the idiocy of just about anyone. Later in the day, he would have the energy to school his features into cool superiority. But it wasn’t going to happen at 7:00 am, so: coffee mug.
Zelenka was there with a couple of scientists, and waved at him, but he ignored them. Three days had passed since Sheppard had received clearance, and, last night, the x-detective had given him the report with everyone’s whereabouts on the day of the wraith’s escape. Maybe he should think of it as the day that someone stole the ZPM. He sighed and walked into his office.
Jen woke up in her hive-like bedroom, stretched in the semi-darkness and silently padded towards the kitchen to prepare some breakfast. It was the brightest room of the apartment, meaning Todd had not totally obscured the windows. She was still amazed what teleshopping and same-day deliver could do. God bless the old USofA.
She felt Todd stir and sent him a mental smile. The wraith did not need to sleep as much or as often as humans did, but he had taken to seeking some down-time during night hours. It was more like a state of meditation than sleep, as far as she could tell. Sheppard would not be up for at least another hour. She made sure warm coffee would be waiting for him when he got up. It was barely 7:30 am when she left the apartment.
Rodney was waiting for her when she entered the lab, and motioned her to follow him.
“Sheppard gave me the preliminary report yesterday.”
“It only includes the Atlantis team, physicists, IT techs and security guards. He hasn’t been over the civilian personnel or anybody in auxiliary functions yet.”
She nodded. She knew of course. They had reached his office by then, and when Rodney indicated that she should take a seat, she complied silently.
He sank down in his own chair behind his desk. “Your report is missing” he said, then he continued before she had a chance to speak “Missing may not be the correct description. He told me that you should give your report to someone else. To avoid any... conflict of interest.”
She nodded again. If anything went wrong, there was no point in incriminating both of them, so they had decided on that route.
“As you know, the power went out on 16:42 exactly. Would you like to tell me where you were between 16:30 and 17:00 on that day?”
Jen had expected to be interviewed, but she had assumed it would be by a member of the security personnel. Her throat felt a little dry while she looked at Rodney.
“I was in my lab. I saw the lights go out, and I run outside to see what was going on. I reached the first body, and I understood that the wraith had escaped. I then turned back, informed private James, who went to cover the perimeter and block any exits, and I went back in to my lab, locking the door.
Rodney nodded. “The first body... where was it?”
“I found it in the corridor, right outside the wraith’s cell.”
He nodded again. “That’s, what? A five minute walk from your lab? Less if you are in a hurry.”
“Five minutes sounds about right.”
“Private James says that you did not come back until 16:58. He noticed the time on his radio, when he tried to contact his superiors, but of course comms were down.”
“I may have spent a few minutes with the body.”
“I’m a doctor!”
“Yes, and it was death by wraith, something you must have realized in about 3 seconds. Nothing you could do for him, so no reason for you to stay there.”
Damn it, this was why she did not want to be interviewed by Rodney.
“I was shocked. It took me a few minutes to compose myself.”
“And then instead of running back to your lab, you took a leisurely walk back?”
Rodney was not buying this.
“I might have been wearing heels.”
Rodney looked at her with this calm look of his, which told her he was on to her. She did not move a muscle in her face as she opened wide the mental link to Todd.
‘Todd’ she waited a second for an acknowledgement and continued when it came ‘Get dressed, make sure you look as human as possible and get out of the house. Go to a casino or something. Make sure you’re losing more money that you are winning. Someone may be on to us. I don’t know what they will do. In case they pay a visit to the house they can’t find you there.’
Todd was worried about her, but she could do nothing about that now. She asked him if he could tell Sheppard, but it seemed that it was too late to let John know. He must already be on his way to the base. Todd desperately urged her to get out of there. Unfortunately she could not. Running away was not going to work, she had to be stoic, ride this out, and face the outcome. He screamed and snarled in her head, and she could only send him back a caress as she was forced to close down the link. She could not get through this day with a screaming wraith in her head. So she clamped down on the mental connection, reducing it to a small thread, an awareness of the existence of the other person but nothing more.
Rodney had been looking at her impassively all along, waiting for her to say something. Now he looked down to the files in front of him and shook his head in disappointment
“I expected better from your Jennifer. You sacrificed your career... For a wraith! Was it really worth it?” The disappointment and incomprehension on his face were plain for all to see. To McKay, there was nothing more important in the world than his work.
Jen smiled patiently. “You know, Rodney, there are more important things in life than one’s career.” He looked up at her then and she went on “For example: not compromising one’s moral values. Sometimes, the only way to do what’s right, is to do something wrong.”
His piercing eyes were still looking at her when they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Rodney was informed that Woolsey wanted to speak with him in the conference room. Jen was dismissed, and returned to her old lab. She felt she needed to move, so she carefully opened and closed all the cabinets, making sure that there were no loose ends. Everything was already labelled and catalogued, but she went through the motions anyway.
It wasn’t long till she was called away.
When she entered the conference room, she found Woolsey, Rodney and a couple of other people that she recognized as high-ranking members of the security team. Sheppard was there was well. She was a bit taken aback by the lack of hostility in their postures, so she tentatively took a seat at the conference table that the others already occupied.
“Dr Keller, now that you’ve joined us, we can start.” It was Woolsey who opened the meeting.
If she looked a bit pale, nobody commented on it.
Rodney was resolutely not looking at her, while Sheppard was being his usual silent self.
“So, we have the movements of all the senior staff, including Atlantis personnel and security personnel, along with physicist and on-site IT support, is that correct detective?”
Sheppard nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Woolsey shuffled some papers around, finally coughing and looking up.
“For the benefit of Commander Jackson, who as you know is the security head of the base, I’ll go through the list.”
Woolsey, McKay and Zelenka had all been together, along with several other scientists when Sheppard had called them to inform them that he had located the wraith. Most of them had never spent a second alone during the rest of the day. Sheppard himself of course was off-base, being involved in a cowboy-style shoot out.
“...and it seems that Dr Keller was in her lab. Private James saw her going out just after the power outage, she reached the wraith’s cell where she found the first of the bodies, then proceeded as far as the dart bay as evidenced by her code being used at 16:49 to open that door, before making her way back to her lab as witnessed by private James at 16:58... Dr Kontis on the other hand...”
Woolsey’s voice became background noise, while Jen’s eyes had snapped at Rodney who was regarding her calmly. She was incredulous. He had effectively given her an alibi. She could now say that she was checking the dart bay, making sure the wraith would not use one of the better maintained machines to escape. None of them were in any state to fly of course, but she could claim ignorance of that fact. The feeling of shock and relief that washed over her was of magnanimous proportions. It took all she had not to break down in tears right then and there. Instead she covertly swallowed before looking back to Woolsey, who apparently had not noticed anything at all. Instead, he was still shuffling papers and continuing with his report. Sheppard sent an inquiring look at her, but this, too, went unnoticed by the others. She was in the clear.
She tuned Woolsey back in, and spent the rest of the morning in the same conference room, mapping out the personnel’s movements throughout the base. Woolsey complimented her on her idea of using ‘old fashioned methods’ for identifying the culprit and informed her that Rodney was complimentary in all his reports regarding the work she was doing in his team. For the time being, she should consider herself Rodney’s second in command as far as operation ‘hunting the ZPM’ went. That was not an official term of course. No doubt the military would eventually come up with something idiotic like ‘operation tincan’ like they always did.
She sent a small mental message to Todd, letting him know things were going well. Regardless, he should stay out of the house for the time being. Who’s to tell that they were not simply playing her, hoping she would lead them to the wraith as soon as her guard was down? She sighed. Working for a military organization really did make one paranoid.
It was Sheppard who suggested they go for lunch outside the base. The three of them got into his new (old) Camaro and had barely cleared the perimeter when Sheppard turned to Rodney with a grin.
“Dart bay, huh?”
Jen froze because he was incriminating himself, suggesting that he knew what she had been doing, or at least that she had never gone to the dart bay. She leaned forward and let her head fall between the two front seats, letting out a sigh.
“He saved your ass.”
“I know...” she turned to Rodney and words failed her. Finally she managed to whisper “Thank you...” and it was filled with so much sentiment that it made her shiver.
His response was just as hesitant “You’re welcome....”
“So, you’re part of the gang now.” John was strangely upbeat about this.
“No, no, I don’t want to know anything about you-know-who.”
“Todd.” Sheppard helpfully provided.
“There’s no cat.” Jen almost groaned.
“I knew it!” Rodney turned to her “You named the wraith Todd? How did you get that idea?” Jen simply pointed at Sheppard. Rodney didn’t miss a bit and turned towards him “That’s no name for a wraith.”
“You have any better suggestions?” before Rodney could open his mouth John continued “Well, it’s too late now.”
“How many people has he killed?” Rodney seemed like he did not want to know the answer.
“Relax, he has not hurt anyone... well, anyone outside the base.” Jen sighed.
“Yeah, I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.”
“I don’t think it’s your bridge to burn.”
“Yes it is.”
Rodney looked at her then, and understood. It was her decision to let the wraith out. His feeding... requirements... would be on her conscience. He pursed his lips and nodded.
“How about the brain dead clones that you had suggested?”
“Got all the science and no idea how to implement it.”
“Right. Sometimes having military back-up is convenient.”
“Tell me about it.”
They talked about other things in the restaurant. Football and hockey dominated. They were back in the car when Rodney brought up the subject of the wraith again.
“So where is he?”
“I thought you didn’t want to know.”
“Well, I’m curious.”
“How do I know that you’re not playing me to get to him?”
“I hacked the system and made it look like you made it to the dart bay!”
“And it could have been part of an elaborate plan to get me to trust you.”
“You’re more paranoid than me, and, quite frankly, it’s scary.”
“If he was playing you, wouldn’t they have raided the apartment by now and brought him in?”
“They would not have found him.”
“When did the ‘never leave the house alone’ rule fly out the window?”
“This morning. I filled him in on what was going on, told him it wasn’t safe to stay.”
“And did you give him the updates too?”
“Yes, but told him to stay away until I was sure...”
“Hey, wait a second” Rodney sounded confused “I know you had some time alone in the morning, but when did you give any updates? You haven’t left my sight all morning.”
John chuckled. “They are into each other’s heads. You ask me? Creepy as hell...”
“If you’re mentally linked to him, how do you know that he did not manipulate you into letting him out? Maybe it wasn’t your decision at all.”
“The mental link came afterwards.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I was the one who initiated it.”
“You actually decided to mentally link yourself with a crazy wraith?”
“He’s not too crazy.”
“Don’t tell me he was pretending.”
“Not quite” Jen sighed and continued. “It’s a telepathic species. Maybe we did not do it on purpose, but, by bringing him to earth, we effectively locked him in isolation for years. It’s understandable that he was... is... a bit off...”
“Oh. I hadn’t realized that...” Rodney had the decency to look somewhat embarrassed.
John searched her eyes in the rearview mirror. “If you want the odds to move from ‘very slim’ to ‘this could work’.... we need him.”
“The odds of what?” Rodney looked from one to the other
“Let me talk with Todd.”
Jen opened the mental link and waited for Todd’s acknowledgment. Once it came, she filled him in on everything. She felt like they could trust Rodney, but, then again, Rodney was... tricky. And if he was indeed leading them on, Todd would pay a very high price for her placing her trust in the wrong person. The wraith considered everything for a few minutes. Finally, he concluded that a face to face meeting was needed. He was not excited by the idea, but, as the telepath of the group, he was the only one with half a chance of judging the sincerity of Rodney’s intentions.
“We’ll meet after work. Location still unknown. I’ll have to remove your subcutaneous transmitter before we go.”
Chapter 10: Meeting
Jen concentrated on the reports in front of her. Not surprisingly, there were quite a few people whose whereabouts could not be cross-referenced. Which did not mean that they had any shady motives. They may have been exactly where they claimed that they were during the power outage and the half hour that followed. Or not. She sighed. Sheppard was continuing with interviewing civilians. It was a long list, and he was thorough. She pulled out the video files of some of the interviews. Some people she trusted. Others, not so much. A couple seemed downright suspicious to her. Her instincts had never let her down, so she shared her feelings with Rodney.
“But these two have an alibi...”
“Yes , they used each other.”
“You’re saying they are both lying?”
“I don’t know if they’re doing it for the same motive, but yes, I believe they are.” Rodney frowned at her, so she felt compelled to explain “My guess is one of them is responsible for the virus and for stealing the ZPM. Whether or not the other is in on that plan, I do not know. But if not, then he also had something to hide regarding his whereabouts, which is why he readily agreed to provide the first one with an alibi”
“But who is who?”
“I don’t know. But I’d bet it’s one of them. They have the knowledge and the opportunity and something about them feels... off”
“This is a serious accusation. We need something more than a hunch.”
“We would, if this was a civilian case in a court of law...”
“...but it is not. I see where you’re going with this...”
They filled in Sheppard on their deductions the same evening, while Jen was extracting Rodney’s subcutaneous transmitter in her lab. She gave him an extra scan for good measure.
“You still don’t trust me.”
“Give me time.”
‘We’re on the way. McKay is with Sheppard. You’re sure you want this?’ The wraith laughed in her mind and sent her the address of a restaurant. Sheppard was dutifully following her car. In a few minutes they had parked and walked into the restaurant. The place was brightly lit, and had booths along the walls, with a few tables scattered between the windows and the bar. The wraith was nowhere to be seen, so Jen walked towards one of the booths and sat down. They waited for several minutes until Todd sent her another address. She smiled. That was the last precaution, apparently. Rodney seemed annoyed, but complied when they left, this time on foot. A couple of blocks down the road, they spotted the world-wide recognized logo of Pizza Hut. John laughed.
“Apparently we are more predictable than we thought. Hope you like Pizza, McKay!”
Rodney tried to get over the absurdity of a wraith in Pizza Hut, and followed them inside. They had settled in a booth and had just ordered, when the wraith slid next to Jen. She automatically reached for his thigh, the mental connection opening wide, feelings of relief at seeing each other safe and sound washing over them both. For a few seconds she looked into his eyes - green now under contact lenses – a small smile tugging at her lips.
She finally broke the spell and looked across the table to the others.
“Hey Todd” Sheppard’s easy greeting came naturally “won anything at the slots today?”
“I had to break even. She told me not to win any money”
Rodney looked shocked.
“Wow” he whispered. “He looks... different...”
Jen did not blame him. The white hair was tightly hidden under a dark wig. His skin looked like marble, his green eyes stunningly alert. He was not beautiful by any means, but he did look striking. They had tried to go with a more “normal guy” appearance, and it just did not work. Todd was imposing, in any incarnation. The blazer hugged his frame as if it was made for him. Brand new jeans struck the perfect balance between casual wear and high-class. He looked like a millionaire casino owner, taking a stroll through his domain. One thing was for sure, he looked nothing like a wraith. Jen watched Rodney as the scientist took in all the details, before he finally spoke again.
He had to clear his throat and check his voice before he managed “So, how are we going to do this?”
The wraith hissed at him, but after a moment’s hesitation, laid his left hand open on the table. This is what they were there for, after all.
“Take my hand, and open your mind to me”
Rodney looked at the hand, hesitant.
“McKay, the point of no return has already passed” John provided helpfully.
“Where was it? I must have missed it...”
Jen looked at him encouragingly. “Go ahead”
Rodney finally took a deep breath and complied. The wraith held his hand in a vice grip and closed his eyes. Rodney’s eyes darted to Jen.
“Relax, Rodney. Just be open.” Rodney looked like he had no idea how to do that, so she walked him through it “Think about how you realized I was being... evasive... about my whereabouts” he nodded so she continued. “How did it make you feel? What were your thoughts? ... When exactly did you take the decision to cover for me? How did it make you feel when you were hacking into the system and ensuring my code would show up at the dart bay entrance? ... Now go back to the conference room with Woolsey... what were you thinking while he was reading the reports? Could you see my gratitude when I looked at you? What did you think? What did you feel?”
When the wraith let go of McKay’s hand, Rodney had to flex his fingers experimentally to restore circulation. Jen knew that the pressure had been unnecessary. Just a tiny bit of payback for what the wraith had gone through the past few years. Todd was aware that McKay was his best hope of escaping this galaxy, though, so he was not planning on any more retribution.
The pizzas arrived right on cue, and everybody dove in. Todd limited himself to tasting the cherry tomatoes in their salad. He found the sweet and sour taste intriguing. They did not have cherry tomatoes in Pegasus. Then again, it had been 10’000 years since he ate human food with any regularity, so his recollections were not exactly accurate.
As he mused over that, he also sent to Jen his impressions from his brief visit to McKay’s brain. Jen was assaulted by images, designs, thoughts and revelations too bright and brilliant too describe. It was all a fleeting impression, no exact data or calculations, as Todd had not been interested in that. And then shock, disbelief, hurt when he had discovered she was ‘evasive’ as she put it... Surprise at her words, respect at her conviction of doing the right thing.... The nagging feeling that it had been, indeed, the right thing to do... the guilt over his own failure to do something about the wraith... the disappointment in himself for having ‘sold his soul to the devil’ by going along with the IOA’s plan for the wraith... his resolution to do something about it. His fear of being discovered when he quickly hacked the system to give her an alibi, his resignation at having chosen this road while Woolsey was talking in the conference room...
Jen felt like getting up and kissing him, but she limited her reaction to a heated look. The depth of emotion almost choked her. “Thank you” she finally managed.
“So I take it our resident telepath just gave McKay the thumbs up?”
“You could put it that way.”
“In that case, you should see our hive.”
“You have a hive ship??” Rodney seemed flabbergasted.
“No! Seriously, where do you think we could hide that?” Jen rolled her eyes “John is referring to the apartment. We’ll give you a tour afterwards. At the time, it seemed like letting the wraith redecorate was a good idea.”
Todd laughed and John refrained from pointing out that this was not exactly how things had gone.
“You’ll love it. We’ve got an xbox, playstation and two monster TV screens. They just delivered them last week.”
Rodney seemed intrigued. Jen rolled her eyes some more.
“What we don’t have, is a guest bedroom. But we’ll figure something out.”
The apartment had come with three bedrooms and at the time she had thought it would be more than enough. She sighed. Maybe they should check if the apartment next door was free. She flashed back to the motel arrangement and shook her head.
Despite the logistics, the whole situation left her surprisingly optimistic. It was not long ago that she was hiding a wraith in a body bag, not knowing whether she would be able to sneak him out of the facility, much less the planet. Now they had Dr Rodney McKay on their side. Things were certainly looking up.
Rodney fell asleep on the couch. Jen woke him up and moved him to her room, waving away his objections. ‘Shut up or I’ll feed you to the wraith’ was a surprisingly effective threat. She lazily smiled as said wraith stretched beside her. There was a subject she had to revisit with Todd, she knew. But she figured she could postpone the talk for a few more hours. Content, she closed her eyes and snuggled close to her favourite pillow.
Chapter 11: Bonded
Explaining the nature of the bond between Keller and Todd...
When she woke up, her hand was laying on top of Todd’s chest, right about where it would be, if she was a wraith wanting to feed. His own hand covered hers. She gently rubbed her face against the muscles of his upper arm. Having Rodney on their side made their goal a lot more achievable, but time-line wise, they were still far off.
‘You will need to feed soon’ His unease when she broached the subject was palpable, but she pressed on, both mentally, and physically snuggling closer to him. ‘You’ll have to be stealthy. Carefully dispose of the bodies. Leave no trace.’
He turned to look at her ‘That’s not all you require...’
‘I can’t obligate you... but I would be very grateful if you could... basically, if you could only kill bad people. It’s a big city, there are a lot of criminals... If they go missing, less people will be inclined to look for them...’
He considered her with alert yellow eyes. ‘So it will be.’
A feeling of relief washed over her, and she closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of his chest as she pressed the length of her body against his.
‘What will you give me in return?’
Her eyes flew open and she looked up at him. Disbelief, then realization hit. This was no longer a wraith going crazy in cell. This was a 10’000 year old commander who felt he had already conceded on too many points. From now on, he would press on any advantage he had. He was cunning and calculating and suddenly she felt that she meant very little to him. She shivered and pulled away.
‘What is it that you require?’
The wraith hissed. ‘Sheppard.’
‘He’s not mine to give.’
‘You could convince him.’
‘Then I have no reason to accept.’
‘Then I have no reason to help you back to Pegasus.’
Another hiss, as the wraith realized he was being outmaneuvered. He could walk away and spend thousands of years feasting on the humans of earth as he pleased. But he would be effectively wiping out the chances of ever getting back to his own kind.
Jen saw the advantage and pressed on ‘Here is how this is going to work: You’re going to play nice, and do what I tell you to, and be discreet to boot. There’s not going to be any bargaining or blackmailing. In exchange for you being an acceptable citizen of this planet, I am going to try my best to get you back to Pegasus. If you don’t like this, you can walk away right now. Maybe you can even kill all three of us before you go. But then you’ll be on your own. Your choice.’
She closed the mental connection as best she could and headed to the bathroom. McKay would be up shortly, she was sure.
A wave of frustration washed over the wraith. He thought he had her right where he wanted her. She seemed so accepting and kind and giving. He had miscalculated her steely determination. The last time someone had demanded something from him, it was the queen of his hive. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The old commander was not used to giving without receiving, and he certainly did not like being out of options or bargaining cards.
Jen bit her lip to stop herself from screaming and stepped into the shower, letting the water wash away both the blood from her lip and the shame from her soul. How could she, even for one second, entertain the thought of a domesticated wraith? She wanted to smash her fists against the wall till they were bloody, but that would raise too many questions. She silently stepped out of the shower and started drying her hair.
She drove Rodney back to work silently. She considered herself lucky that he was not a morning person and required no frivolous chit chat.
In the base, she found it impossible to concentrate on anything but the most basic tasks. She was going to be useless to the ‘investigation’ today. Luckily, Rodney and John had this under control. She slipped out at lunch time and drove to the nearest pharmacy. A headache was killing her since she had left the apartment.
She told Rodney she was feeling unwell, and that she would sleep it off in her lab. Once there, she locked the door, took two sleeping pills and cried herself to sleep.
Todd paced the length of the living room for hours. He considered going to the casinos as a human. He considered going there as a wraith. The second thought was mildly entertaining, but he ended up dismissing both ideas. He didn’t want to go out, he wanted to go to her. The feeling of unease would not subside until he had reconnected with her, he knew. It was a wraith thing, one he had brushed aside at first because he was half-crazy from isolation and secondly because he never thought it would happen to him. Not with a human. Not after so many years without a queen.
There were stories of course. Stories of wraith being so intricately connected to their queens that any separation would manifest as physical pain, any disagreement could not last more than mere seconds due to a molecular need to yield to their queens. Any rejection, from the part of the queen... it could send them in depression, often with suicidal tendencies. He snarled. It could not happen to him, certainly not with a human. He had been so careful, for so many years, only to slip up due to his weakened state. Luckily, Dr Jennifer Keller was not a wraith queen. He assumed the ‘manifestation’ of the bond would take another, much weaker form. He feverishly hoped he was right about that.
Eventually Sheppard came knocking on her door. She reluctantly got up to let him in. Judging by the look on his face, she looked like hell. Somehow, she could not bring herself to care. She did not object when he offered her a ride home.
“Wanna talk about it?”
That seemed enough of an explanation for him. It was not enough of an explanation for herself though. She had never suffered from headaches in her life.
She walked through the apartment like a zombie, ignoring the wraith that actually did look like a zombie in the living room and headed straight to bed. Maybe she would be ready to face the world again tomorrow.
Then again, maybe not, she thought at the sound of knocking on her bedroom door.
She turned around and switched off the light.
“What is going on with you two? You got her pregnant or something?”
Todd just looked at him. He had been sent away by his queen – not his queen he mentally snarled to himself – and he was not in the mood for talking. He was in the mood for brooding. Still, he felt obliged to correct Sheppard
“Wraith do not... procreate... the same way as humans do”
“What a relief...” John had his feet up on the coffee table, watching a football match on TV. He then looked back to the wraith speculatively “How do you...?”
The wraith hissed at him and did not answer.
The following morning Jen took two pills before even getting out of bed. She waited for the headache to subside, and thought that she would be useless at the base anyway. The problem was that she did not want to stay home with Todd. She groaned and got out of bed.
The wraith was sitting on the floor against the wall outside her bedroom. She had to step over his stretched legs on her way to the bathroom. He looked at her intently but did not speak and she meticulously avoided any physical contact. She was not as lucky on the way back. He was waiting for her on his feet this time, and did not give her any chance to avoid him. He simply took her arm and almost smashed her against the wall. The headache was back with a vengeance. It brought with it all of his feelings of anger, frustration and confusion.
“Why are you not answering me?” He blinked then. “What have you done?”
Todd reached out with his mind and could not connect with Jennifer. He could tell she was there, that the mental link was active, but that was about all he could get. Her brain was obscured from him. Then it dawned on him.
“You have taken drugs”
“I have a headache that’s killing me. Now let me go”
He could barely contain his anger. How could he make her understand, when words were so inadequate?
“I cannot talk to you like this.”
“Serves you right for trying to manipulate me.” she regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth, but they were effective. Todd dropped her arm and took a step back as if he had been shot.
She waited until John was up and asked him for a ride to the facility. He readily agreed.
“Don’t know what’s wrong with me. I never had headaches in my life...”
“When did it start?”
“Yesterday, first thing in the morning... well, second thing...”
“What was the first?”
She shot a quick look towards the wraith “Never mind...”
John suddenly got serious. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the door. “You’re not going anywhere. Whatever it is, you two need to talk about it”
“I’d really rather not...”
“Yeah, I know the feeling!” He cocked an eyebrow at her.
He had a point of course. After the stunt she had pulled at the desert, she could not blame him for being less than sympathetic.
“I’ll pick you up at lunch, and I expect the headache to be gone by then” he said with a pointed look at Todd.
Jen headed to the couch and closed her eyes.
“So, John seems to think you can make my headache go away...”
“I may have a suspicion regarding its origin.”
“And you didn’t say anything?’
“Serves you right for not talking to me.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him darkly. Finally she sighed and conceded the point, motioning him to go on.
“There are some stories, about wraith that successfully linked their mind with that of a Queen’s. The link was so intricate, so close, that any separation from her resulted in physical pain, they would feel compelled to yield to her every wish and her dejection would often result in the wraith’s untimely death”
“Why would they do that?”
The wraith looked at her inquiringly.
“I mean... sure I can understand the Queen’s point of view. She effectively would have servants even more willing to fall on their knees for her. But why would any wraith choose this? I can’t see the advantage for them. From what you’re saying, they are essentially losing their free will and the whole thing never ends well for them. What do they have to gain?”
“Feeling the mind of a Queen... being privy to her wishes, knowing oneself to be her favourite... You underestimate how powerful that is... But it is not the only reason, of course. The wraith linked with the Queen is virtually untouchable. Not only are the others respectful of his position, but, when in battle, the Queen’s strength can flow through the bond, enabling him to achieve much more than he would have on his own.”
“I see. So what does it have to do with us?”
“When we linked, this is the kind of bond we created.”
“Oh.” she paused “So you’re saying that I have a headache because now I’m programmed to yield to your desires, and I refused to do that?”
Todd hissed “No. That is not what I meant.”
“Please elaborate then.”
He snarled at her and turned away.
“I do not know if the headache is a side-effect, caused by the fact that you are human, or if the wraith Queens never revealed it, being reluctant to show any weakness.”
“Oh.” The implication left her speechless for several minutes. The headache was a nuisance, sure. More than a nuisance really, but she realized that it must be so much worse for Todd. Physical pain, he had mentioned. A need to do what the Queen asked. Rejection leading to self destruction. She realized how selfish she had been. But how could she have known, when he had not given her any clues? He hadn’t implied that the mental link was anything but telepathy. Clearly, what she had initiated a few weeks ago was more than a convenient way to share thoughts. It seems that it was a bond which went much deeper than that. She understood, now, that Todd’s reluctance to accept her request was a form of rebellion, he was trying to hang onto his identity because he did not want to admit that he was forced to do – even longed to do – what a human asked of him. But the perceived rejection, even thought temporary, had been hard on him, much as he did not want to admit it.
“I am so sorry” she finally managed. She extended her hand towards him. “Why don’t you come here?”
He still seemed agitated, nowhere near ready to settle down, but he did come. She snuggled against him on the couch. “Drugs will wear off in a few hours.” He automatically wrapped his arm around her, feeding hand resting on her belly. She placed her own hand on top before she let herself drift back to sleep.
Chapter 12: Brilliant Idea
The wraith was helping John down the stairs, backing up slowly, his hands securely placed around his patient’s waist. It was painful and slow progress. John was leaning on the banister with one hand and on Todd’s shoulder with the other, every step accompanied by grunts, hisses and heavy breathing. Who knew stairs could be so unforgiving?
Jen was crouched over the remains of a device on the floor, Rodney on his feet next to her, a wireless device on his hand. They were in the basement of their new house, having decided to move yet again, after Rodney started spending more nights in the city rather than in the facility. This time they did not let the wraith redecorate as extensively, although parts of the living room still had a distinct hive-like feel. But they needed more workspace now, so the basement had been allocated to scientific research, and Jen had declared hands-off the kitchen as well.
John’s voice drifted towards them.
“I know… I was an idiot…”
The wraith beside him hissed but declined to offer further any comment.
“Jen, do you have a few minutes?”
“Okay… I deserved that…”
“Look, I’ll do anything it takes. I’ll spend the next week on my knees if I have to…”
She got up, rolled her eyes and walked towards him.
“No need. You’re forgiven anyway.” She went up the stairs passing him by without another look.
John turned around, painfully half bent over the rail, and looked up at her.
“You don’t sound very forgiving.”
She stopped and looked back down at him.
“Well, you’re forgiven as long as you let Todd carry you back to the bed, and this time you stay there.”
As John did not object right away, Todd grabbed the opportunity to sweep him off his feet – literally – and carry him back upstairs. The pained look on John’s face might be due to his injuries, or due to the embarrassment of being carried by the wraith. None of them commented on it.
On reflection, his actions may have been a bit reckless. But he had not endangered anybody. Well, nobody except for himself. It wasn’t like he knew that the apartment would be booby trapped. McKay’s warning, that he should stop and let him check it out first, had rung some warning bells in his head, but clearly not loudly enough. He grunted. Next time he would let McKay run any scans he was inclined to, instead of deciding to take off after a suspect on a wing and a prayer.
As the wraith carried him back up the stairs – really he could manage the stairs on his own, even if it did take him 15 minutes, and why did it feel so good to let Todd carry him anyway? – he let his eyes fall shut and took stock of the state of his body. Battered. Sore. Painful. Absorbing the brunt of an explosion will do that to you. Strong arms kept him safe against a muscled torso. Todd was surprisingly gentle going up the stairs, using his own body as a shock absorber, and John felt like he was floating up rather than being carried. After a moment, he let his head rest against the wraith’s shoulder simply because his neck muscles were screaming at him to give up the pretence. He would resume his tough guy act tomorrow.
Todd brought him dinner later on. He set the plate at the nightstand and helped John sit up.
“How come you’re the one stuck playing nurse anyway?”
A dry smile formed at Todd’s lips. “After making sure that your injuries were not life-threatening, Dr Keller simply wanted to punch you.”
John grinned. “Sounds about right.”
The following morning they gathered in John’s bedroom to recap.
“This is what we know so far” Rodney was pacing back and forth “Kavanagh and Thomson tried to cover for each other. After the follow-up interviews, we now know that none of them was where they claimed to be during the outage. Thomson apparently was off getting high somewhere. Clearly we won’t be seeing more of him. Kavanagh, on the other hand, was replacing the ZPM used to control the drone chair with a depleted one. Unfortunately, it seems we scared him off before we put the pieces together, giving him the opportunity to flee. He must have booby-trapped his apartment, so as to destroy all evidence in case we uncovered the truth. There’s a team of hackers going through his complete electronic presence as we speak. Where he traveled to, who he spoke with, what kind of coffee he bought – we’ll have it all. Maybe it will be enough to lead us to the buyer. Obviously Kavanagh has been put on a no-fly list, but we have to assume he has changed his name and/or appearance already. Procuring a fake passport will not be a problem for him. We know that he was in Nevada 36 hours ago. We know he has not been through the Stargate and he has certainly not been picked up by any of our ships. I would tend to assume he’s still in the continental US, unless someone picked him up with a cloaked ship, which frankly would mean we have a much bigger problem that we thought. Still, I can’t see him being that important to anyone off-world… Thoughts?”
Jen considered this. “I would agree with your last point, I don’t see him as being important enough to anyone that they would risk detection to help him get off-world.”
“So we’re looking for a needle in the haystack instead of a needle in the barn.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few seconds following John’s declaration. Then, Jen spoke up “Todd!”
Her companions turned to look at her quizzically. The wraith raised one eyebrow.
For the benefit of the others, she explained.
“The only thing Kavanagh cannot hide, is what he doesn’t know can be seen, or identified. His mental signature. He may have taken steps to change his appearance, his name, cover his electronic traces. But each of us has a unique mental signature. We never think about it because, as humans, we’re quite hopeless at this. Telepathy is considered paranormal and no scientific research has been able to provide us with anything concrete in order to measure it…”
“You want to use Todd as a radar?”
“It’s going to be a huge risk”
“But what a bargaining chip it would make, if we could pull it off.”
She turned to Todd “Is it feasible?”
“But not impossible” She grinned. They had a plan.
They needed to find a way to boost Todd’s abilities. Jen vetoed any plan that would require the wraith to set foot back in Area 51. She pointed out that, if they divulged the details of their plan to anybody else, they risked prison for life at the best of cases. Never mind what would happen to Todd himself. The development of any equipment would need to happen off-site and in secret. They could build bits and pieces in the facility, but nothing that would draw attention, and everything would be finished and assembled in the comfort of their own living room, more or less.
It took Rodney less than a week to come up with an initial design. Combining Jen’s expertise in the wraith’s brain functions, which had been extensively documented during his captivity, and McKay’s unparalleled brilliance, they found out that building a telepathic radar was indeed possible. Nobody had ever thought about doing something like this before because, let’s face it, how many cooperative wraith were laying around allowing their brains to be used? Truth be told, it was more of a booster than a radar in and of itself. They did not have the technology to identify, record and then search for ‘psychic signatures’. What they did have the technology for, was to extend the wraith’s current scanning abilities. The device would not work without a wraith controlling it, and it could only help the wraith search for a mental signature that he already knew. Luckily for them, Todd had encountered Kavanagh various times during his imprisonment.
Building the device took a little longer. It gave them the time to search for Kavanagh by more traditional means. All attempts to locate him proved futile, some of them even proved near-fatal. The third time that John came home covered in stitches and bandages, Todd dragged him aside, pushed him against the wall and snarled at him.
“I told you that you will not die under these stars, John Sheppard. Stop trying to prove me wrong.”
John had frowned, then cocked an eyebrow. “Worried about my welfare?”
“You don’t make it easy.”
John had grinned and limped to his room. As far as he was concerned, it was nothing that a few hours of rest would not fix. The wraith had stared at his door for a long time.
Chapter 13: Party Night
Because everyone needs a break once in a while ;-)
“I’ve already explained: this will never work! We need to factor in the earth’s magnetic fields and it will totally screw up the output.”
By way of a response, Todd snarled at Rodney and turned away. They had been stuck for the past 2 hours, and Jen felt like banging her head against the wall. Something about keeping track of a tiny magnetic signature while controlling energy levels and providing enough power to extend the radius without electrocuting the wraith... It was all way beyond her understanding. Even John was in a bad mood, their displeasure rubbing off on him.
“OK guys, that’s enough for today.” She got up and moved to gather the papers and designs scattered all around them. “Get dressed. We’re going out.”
“There’s one single advantage to being on earth over being in Pegasus. Over here, we can go dancing.”
John cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Really?” He drawled it out as if she should not have made the assumption that he would accept.
“Yes. Really. Alcohol and music. Unless you have any better suggestions?”
He seemed to think it over for a minute, but finally got up and dragged the wraith towards the bedroom. “You heard the lady. Time to make you presentable.”
Rodney grumbled and complained until the first tequila shots got into his system. He was slightly more upbeat and amiable after that. Despite protests that they did not have time for this, Jen dragged him to the dancefloor and she could swear he was actually having a nice time. John and Todd stayed over at the bar, watching the couple dance. Todd had the most curious expression on his face. Necessary as it was, Jen would never get used to his ‘human’ face. If they were in Pegasus, Todd would not need any disguise to get around. Not that they could have gone anywhere in public together. Human worlds would not welcome a wraith, and she doubted that hives had anything resembling a bar and a dancefloor. Some worshipper towns maybe? She rolled the thought over in her head, but decided to let sleeping dogs lie. They had enough trouble getting back to Pegasus, no point making plans for what came after that.
Despite his initial reservations, Rodney proved to be a competent dancer, and she was having a ball. She took care not to perform any of her provocative dancing moves, namely rubbing against her dance partner. Rodney was married to Katie Brown, the botanist back in Atlantis. She seemed nice and quiet and totally unimportant, but then again it wasn’t Jennifer who was married to her, so what did she know?
From the corner of her eye, she could see Sheppard leaning close to the wraith, so that he could talk to him over the sound of the music. Whatever he said must have amused Todd, because he cocked his head and gave Sheppard one of his long looks which meant that Todd found human habits hilarious. She beckoned them over. They declined. She could push, of course. But male bonding was equally important in releasing stress, so she let them be, for the time being. She would revisit the point after another couple of beers.
When she and Rodney headed back to the bar, they were sweaty and grinning. Jen kicked off her heels and squeezed in the bar stool between Todd and John, while Rodney went off in search of pen and paper. Apparently dancing had inspired him. Go figure.
“Having fun, boys?”
“You know,” Sheppard drawled out, “I think we should be offended at this...” He gave her a teasing look. “I’m certainly older than you, and he,” hooking his thumb towards Todd “is much, much, older than you…”
“It’s not the miles, it’s the mileage” she teased back. Oh, they both had her beat, she knew that, but it was no reason to give up teasing.
“Pretentious, are we?” John grinned his easy grin, the one she got to see more often as each day passed. She cherished it every time.
“Well, until proof to the contrary, I’ve got you beat on the dancefloor.”
John looked at her and she could see it was difficult for him to back away from a challenge. The fact that he had consumed a fair amount of alcohol probably helped.
“I’ll just need to provide some proof then...” he agreed and slowly got up.
Jen slipped her heels back on, grabbed Todd’s wrist and tugged him along. She loved nothing more than dancing with two partners. She hadn’t had the chance to do so since college. Back then, by unspoken agreement, all the flirting had been fake and temporary and hadn’t meant a thing. It was the one time when they could forget the rules, pretend they were up for anything for a few minutes, enjoying the bravado that came from the knowledge that it was not going to go any further than the dancefloor.
Todd considered resisting, his hesitation evident through their mental link when supported by the physical contact. ‘I’ll walk you through it’ she silently sent to him, but it was her wordless request for trust that got to him. He found it ironic that the music currently blasting from the speakers mentioned secrets that cannot be exposed. They may be apart from everybody else on earth, but, to each other, they were as close to hive – family – as they could get. And so, he followed his companions, intrigued by the idea of a new adventure, however small.
One hand holding onto John, the other on Todd, Jen placed herself between her two partners and started swaying to the music. She let the rhythm, and her body’s response to it, flow through the mental link to the wraith, who promptly caught on and placed one hand on her hip. Apparently, it was quite easy to explain dance moves to someone, provided there was an active telepathic connection. Her fingers entwined with John’s, pulling him a bit closer, although not close enough for their bodies to touch yet. She let her other hand trail down his torso before reaching behind her for Todd. She could be a tease when she wanted to, and she certainly wanted to, so she decided to turn on the heat a little bit. With a challenging look at the x-soldier, she kept rocking her hips sideways, slowly dipping lower and lower, her hand trailing down from his shoulder to his thigh, until she was almost in a crouch. She felt Todd following the movement partway down behind her, his feeding hand on her belly, covered by her own palm, and she grinded into him all the way back up. Oh yeah, he liked that. She noticed John’s appreciative stare, but was promptly distracted by the alien in human disguise, who chose that moment to bury his face on the crook of her neck and pull her even closer. Not wanting the actual human to feel left out, she cupped his face with her hand, letting her thumb brush over his lips. He unconsciously parted them under her touch, and she marveled at the fullness of his mouth. She had never noticed, before, just how kissable those lips looked, and she instinctively licked her own. Not wanting to go too far too fast, she closed her eyes and let her head fall on Todd’s shoulder.
She felt John’s breath at the other side of her neck, tingling against her sweaty skin, and a soft sigh escaped her. She pushed back just enough to give herself space to turn around. Immediately, Sheppard let his arm snake around her waist, his hips imperceptibly thrusting towards her. Facing Todd, once again she regretted that they were on earth. She loved his wraith face, and wished she could be looking into slit-pupiled eyes right at that moment. Amusement mixed with desire came back to her through the mental link. Clearly the wraith appreciated the sentiment, and he dipped his head, closing the distance between them until he was but a breath away. She let her hands roam over his body, memorizing every curve, and then pulled him even closer, until their lips almost but not quite touched.
They were not swaying to the rhythm of the song any more, which was now telling stories of a cheerleader and was much too fast for their current dancing. It was a little known fact that she had been a cheerleader back in high school. She had joined the team to support the football team of her school, which permanently occupied the last place in the local championships, and had found the sports environment interesting enough to take a couple of courses in sports psychology, once she decided that medicine would define the course of her life. She let herself enjoy the feeling of her two favourite guys pressing against her for a while longer, then placed a soft kiss on the cheek of each of them as she broke free. She considered herself the quintessential single woman. Independent, successful, treasuring her liberty. She did not need complications.
Rodney was waiting for them at the bar, an unreadable expression on his face.
Chapter 14: Deal. Let's go hunting.
It was the humans' best chance to find the thief. It was the wraith's best chance to get back home. A deal was inevitable, and the hunt is on.
Testing the device proved exciting. The first attempt resulted in sparks and Todd throwing the thing to McKay who was lucky to catch it before it broke to pieces. The following attempts went a little better. Finally they were able to calibrate it with enough precision that Todd was able to pick up Sheppard’s location over a distance of more than 200 miles. They then asked Todd to search for Mr Woolsey at Stargate command. When that worked, they knew they had a winner.
The time for negotiations had arrived, and Jennifer was glad that she was not the one charged with the task. When they decided that the only thing left to do was seal the deal, Jen silently asked Todd to go out and feed. She then took meticulous care to close down the bond, and cried on her bed until dawn. When she woke up in his arms the following morning, her eyes were still red, but he said nothing.
The most efficient way to scan the planet, would be onboard a cloaked puddle jumper. The biggest problem was that they had no idea if they could trust anyone from Area 51 or SGC to honor any deals made that would involve the wraith. They figured they should have a contingency plan, just in case...
Rodney was the one to approach Woolsey. He told him the wraith was aware that they were searching for Kavanagh, and had offered to help in exchange for a ticket back to Pegasus. The scientist claimed not to know the identity of the wraith’s informant in Area51. When Woolsey pressed on, Rodney pushed back asking if the IOA was more interested in the person potentially having contact with a wraith, or if they wanted to retrieve the ZPM. Finally, Todd would be on an Atlantis jumper all the time, fully under Woolsey’s command and control.
It wasn’t as if Woolsey had any interest in seeing the wraith walk free. But the fact that the military branch had taken possession of the prisoner and shut the Stargate administration out of any decisions involving the wraith had been a sore point for a while. And so it was, that the wraith acquired yet another unlikely ally.
Woolsey had participated in some heated negotiations in his life, but bargaining with the IOA regarding the wraith’s return to Pegasus ranked right up there with the toughest of them. The administration of Area 51 was livid. They claimed that the wraith was their prisoner and therefore they should be the ones to decide about his future. Woolsey countered that the wraith had indeed been under their jurisdiction while he was a prisoner, but this had ended the moment that he had escaped the compound. During the search for Kavanagh, the wraith would be onboard an Atlantis jumper, and therefore fully under Woolsey’s control. He did not intend to let the military get their hands on the wraith again, no matter what. Begrudgingly, after hours of back and forth, the IOA had finally agreed.
Colonel Lorne and his team, in an Atlantis jumper, rematerialized through the stargate a few hours later. The flight to Area 51 was a very short one. There, they boarded Rodney and Jennifer – because it’s best to have a medic onboard when dealing with a crazy wraith, right ? – and took off again. The rendez-vous point had not been decided yet. Sheppard had stayed with Todd, and Rodney called him at a disposable phone as soon as they were airborne. After Jen had mentally assured Todd that everything was going according to plan, Sheppard informed Rodney where he could pick them up.
“And this is...?” Apparently Lorne had no problem accepting the wraith on his jumper, but civilians not affiliated with the Stargate program were another matter altogether.
“The newest member of my team.” Rodney responded.
If Sheppard was a little surprised at that, his reaction revealed nothing.
Once the door to the jumper closed, and as if it was the most natural thing in the world, Sheppard took the seat next to Lorne. Lorne shot him a look but did not object. Rodney and Jennifer were at the back, setting up their new “radar”, with Todd hovering nearby and three marines supervising everything.
“Might as well start with the US” Sheppard gave Lorne a map which had been divided by grids. “Just fly slowly over the grids, Todd will be using the radar and will let you know if he gets anything”
“The wraith. Todd the wraith.”
Lorne just stared at him for a beat “So you’re on a first-name basis?”
“I’m a sociable guy.”
Jen silently shook with barely contained laughter. By the look on Rodney’s face, he was equally amused.
Lorne took the map and went back to the controls. At McKay’s signal that they were ready, he smoothly took off.
Todd placed his hands on the two control handles. A small screen was located between them, a dot on its center signalling their location, a map scrolling under it. They hovered over Las Vegas for quite a while. It was a big, busy city and Todd wanted to make sure that they did not miss anything. Kavanagh was not there though, so they moved on. Hours passed, the jumper silently and invisibly cutting back and forth over the continental US, hovering over major cities, then moving on.
“Are you sure this thing works?” A member of Lorne’s team was either getting bored, or annoyed. “Looks like you’re just taking us for a very boring ride from the west coast to the east and back”
Rodney looked at him and had to bite his tongue not to reveal anything. His usual answer would focus around the uselessness of explaining the science of the machine to someone with the brain of a peanut. But since nobody was supposed to know that it was McKay himself who built it, he limited himself to a quipped answer. “It works, I’ve seen it.” Technically not a lie. Woolsey had assumed that the wraith built the machine once he realized that finding Kavanagh would be his bargaining chip to get back to Pegasus. McKay had simply nodded. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than get the credit.
They were above Kentucky when they decided to call it a day. Everyone, including Todd, was tired, and the humans needed food and sleep. They chose a big empty expanse of land and landed the jumper by a river. Reports were sent back to headquarters, food was unpacked and tents were set up around the jumper.
“How do we know he won’t escape?” Another marine was asking Lorne.
“He had escaped... What we need to worry about, is him taking us hostage.”
The marine turned away uncomfortably and Jen shot a quick look at Rodney. Lorne can come a bit too close for comfort to their contingency plan. At least to one of them.
Jen and Rodney shared a tent, and Lorne with his three marines took the other, intending to keep watch on shifts. Todd stayed in the jumper with Sheppard. In a typical macho demonstration, Lorne warned him that, if he placed a foot outside the jumper, he would be shot.
The wraith hissed “Is that all?” There was no doubt about who had the upper hand in that exchange.
John laid on his back in his sleeping bag and thought about his life, because it was marginally better than thinking about his present situation, namely that, once again, he was sleeping next to an alien. Todd. The wraith was actually tired enough that he had fallen asleep right away. John was left contemplating the ceiling of the jumper. Less than two months ago, he was a detective with a serial killer on the loose. Now... he didn’t know what he was now. He felt as if he was suspended between his past life and his future life. He doubted that ‘wraith’s best friend’ came with a retirement plan.
It was not the first time in his life that his future was uncertain. But this time was different. In a way, he felt as if he was simply along for the ride. He had agreed to let Jennifer and Rodney take him to Atlantis. Somehow, despite the absurdity of leaving earth for another galaxy, he was not worried about it. He was not even particularly worried about whether their plan would succeed or not. He briefly wondered why that was. Todd turned around at that moment, and threw an arm over John’s torso. He had declined to use a sleeping bag, and at that instant John could not decide whether to be glad or not about that. The wraith was subtly and consistently protective of him, and John felt a pang of guilt. Not for the first time, it occurred to him that the wraith felt protective of another John Sheppard, in some other universe, and he would never be able to live up to that.
Todd’s grip tightened for a second, and John felt, more than heard, Todd whisper to him “Sleep, Sheppard”. The wraith could be pretty demanding at times, but it was hard saying no to a 10’000 year old creature, so John let his eyes close and his mind gently drifted to sleep.
When Jen opened her eyes the following morning, her first thought was that, seriously, this was getting ridiculous. This time she did not have somebody’s limbs draped over her, courtesy of the sleeping bags. Instead, Rodney had managed to pin her between his body and the side of the tent. She could not even move her arms to unzip the sleeping bag. So, she silently laid there and reached out with her mind to see if Todd was awake. He wasn’t. He was very contentedly sleeping with John at his side. He was not going to wake up for a while. She smiled. All her favourite guys were safe and close by. Life was good. She heard noises outside, and figured that some, if not all, of Lorne’s team was already up. Still she did not move. Lying under McKay was far better than being on her feet among the marines.
She had a new-found appreciation for the scientist now. She had always thought he was brilliant, as did most of the people who knew him. But she now understood that he was also caring, in his own way, and under the bravado and the professionalism he hid a deep insecurity about himself. He never cultivated strong relations with the people around him, partly because he considered them inferior – he was nothing if not arrogant – and partly because he was indeed so much head and shoulders above everybody else on an intellectual level, that few people understood how his mind worked. Now herself, and Todd and John, were all part of his inner circle. For different reasons each, they were his equals. He had accepted them, as they had accepted him. Despite the circumstances that threw them all together, Jen believed that it was the start of a friendship destined to last.
“Come on, everybody, time to get back to work!”
Lorne had taken the last shift, which meant that he had been up for a couple of hours already when the rest of his team emerged from their tent. He heard McKay grunting from inside the other tent, so he assumed that both he and Dr Keller had awakened. With the benefit of the pre-dawn light, he had seen Todd sleeping half-wrapped around Sheppard, which he had found deeply disturbing. He had, therefore, decided that giving an official wake-up call was the best way to put an end to that scene, before any other members of his team caught sight of it. He so did not want to go there.
It took McKay exactly five seconds of rummaging through their supplies to locate the coffee. It took him another twenty to convince everyone that they could spend 10 minutes to boil some water and enjoy a hot cup of coffee before heading back out. Even the wraith came out to sit around the small campfire, under Lorne’s watchful eye.
“He drinks coffee?”
Rodney feigned ignorance and shrugged “Hand-warmer, I suppose.”
The wraith grinned at them both and provocatively took a sip, making a show of savoring it. The marines shifted, clearly uncomfortable with the wraith’s behavior, but Jen got the feeling that Lorne had understood the game.
“Maybe tomorrow we can try pancakes.” Lorne suggested, a lop-sided grin forming on his lips. Yes, the colonel was certainly amused.
Sheppard sent him a speculative glance. “I’ll hold you to that!”
As it happened, they would not get the chance. They were crossing over I-95 when Todd hissed and a small blip appeared in the radar screen.
“Stop!” Rodney was on his feet immediately. “Go north!”
Lorne complied, sending the cloaked jumper over the interstate.
“He’s driving towards DC.”
“Lucky break.” The derisive snort of one of the marines was unjustified, Jen thought. He was the same one who claimed to be bored yesterday. He gave off weird vibes and, if Todd had not been busy applying his telepathic abilities elsewhere, she would have asked him to check this guy out.
“Let’s see if he stops at any rest points.”
They approached silently until they were able to pinpoint the exact car, a silver Ford Taurus which had seen better days. Todd let go of the radar’s controls then, and sat back on the bench with Jen. She thought he looked exhausted. The marines didn’t seem to notice. She discreetly established physical contact and let her mind slowly intertwine with his, his feelings of satisfaction on a job well done contrasting with her feelings of preoccupation. Todd assured her that he was fine, but she could discern his relief at finding the person they were looking for so soon. Lucky break indeed, because one thing they had not been able to test was Todd’s endurance. Todd seemed annoyed at her train of thought, so she let her mind quieten and simply sat there while Lorne and Sheppard watched the silver car below.
Now that they were forced to travel at the same speed as the car, they were bound to go nowhere fast. Lorne had sent the update to HQ. With any luck, the traditional forces would come in play and pull up Kavanagh.
‘Talk to me about this bond then.’ She was curious to know more, both about the specific bond and the wraith culture in general.
What she got in response was an inquiry about her intentions.
‘You know a lot about humans, I feel at a disadvantage.’ Then a thought occurred to her ‘But, if this is tiring you out, we could do it some other time.’
‘I assure you, it does not tire me. Very well then, since you asked, I will tell you. The bond is initiated by the Queen. The chosen wraith, assuming he accepts the link, is called The Elect.’
‘What if he doesn’t accept?’
‘I have not heard of anyone not accepting. I suspect they may not have survived to tell the tale.’ Jen flinched inwardly while Todd continued ‘The Elect is considered to be above all others in the hive, even if he had not occupied a crucial position before. His wishes are considered the Queen’s wishes. It has even been said that a Queen may use the elect as an instrument to carry her voice, literally taking control of his body.’
Jen shivered. She suddenly felt glad that she was not a Queen. Todd shared her feelings.
‘The Elect has a direct link to the Queen’s strength. He is therefore able to utilize this, either in a fight or during an interrogation.’ Todd paused for a moment, seemingly to gather his thoughts. ‘Due to the Queen’s strength and support, the Elects are often feared and envied by the other wraith. Some of them had acquired a status coveted enough that they ended up being assassinated by their own kind. Others stayed with their Queens for years, even centuries until the Queen got tired of them. At the Queen’s rejection, the Elect is obliged to leave the hive. They will most often try to join another hive, preferably one without a Queen. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the transition is not easy, and most often results in their death one way or the other.’
Jennifer gulped. Clearly Todd did not want to revisit the topic of depressed, suicidal wraith, so she did not insist.
‘What will happen to us?’
‘That, I do not know.’
‘Is the bond of... the same quality?’
Todd considered this. ‘From what I have been told, and what I have experienced with you, I would assume that the bond of an Elect with his Queen is like the bond that we have when we are in physical contact. The Queen would be able to much more easily discern the thoughts of the Elect, of course, while in your case you seem more receptive to emotional states.’
Jen nodded imperceptibly. ‘Of course. It makes sense that a Queen would be able to maintain this connection without needing the physical contact...” She paused and frowned. “Todd? You’re going to be alright when I’m not there anymore, right?’
She was not talking about Atlantis or Pegasus and he knew it. There are not a lot of things that can be hidden between a Queen and her Elect. Once again, they were back to talking with images and feelings and it was unclear which thoughts originated in her brain and which in his. When she initiated his bond she had no idea what she was doing. She was trying to get through to him, and it had been obvious that he was reaching for something, so she had made herself available. But her goal had not been to tie him to herself for life.
The pain and rejection that suddenly stabbed her in the heart were completely unexpected and made her gasp. His feelings of inadequacy, and anger and betrayal, all mixed into one, almost made her scream back at him. Todd was proud and strong and intelligent but he had spent so many years as a prisoner, first with the Genii and then on earth, and he had been so alone, and so lost, that he had started to doubt himself. No wonder a Queen did not want a crazy wraith, he thought, and the urge to bang his head against the jumpers metal surface was almost too big to resist.
‘No!’ She did scream – in his head. And when she found resistance, she screamed louder and persisted until she forced him to listen to her. She explained that she had not meant it as a dismissal. She had not intended to suggest that she did not want to have him around for the rest of her life. In fact, she would be honored to be bonded to him for the rest of her days. What she meant, was that she did not want to tie him down to her. She valued his independence and freedom. She had not meant to start a relationship that would take away any of his free choice.
It felt like pleading with the sea during a thunderstorm. Amazingly, it worked. Slowly and surely the waves subsided. She realized at that moment, just how tired Todd was. If he had not spent the past day using his telepathic abilities to the max, he would have been able to discern the true meaning of her thoughts, instead of just scratching the surface.
‘Don’t ever lie to me again.’ It was all she could do, not to snuggle up to him under the watchful eyes of the marines.
Chapter 15: Against all odds
When double-crossed, it helps to have some back-up plans.
It had all gone down hard and fast, and Jen was left breathing hard, sprawled on the floor, blood seeping from a wound at her temple. Betrayal sucked. It was not completely unexpected, but the disappointment she felt towards the US military was beyond description. Individual persons could be trusted, sure. The organization as a whole? Never.
She took stock of the situation around her. She was in an airborne jumper. She took that as a good first sign. From her vantage point, namely on the floor in the back compartment, she could see the remains of their radar machine, now blown to bits beyond repair. She let her eyes fall shut for a moment, then forced herself to open them again. She turned her head slightly, ignoring the pain that came with the movement. A foot, then a leg, appeared in her field of vision, followed by a torso and Lorne’s head. She could not tell if he was dead or unconscious. She supposed it was her duty to check, but couldn’t quite move yet.
She must have made some sort of noise, because suddenly McKay was looming over her. He looked unsure, which as far as she knew was not a look he sported often. She had heard the stories. Apparently, once upon a time, before his assignment to Atlantis, McKay was the typical geeky scientist, unsure and lovable and as arrogant as they get – this at least never changed – but she had never witnessed it herself. He was looking at her now, hesitating between crouching down to her or offering to help her stand up, while stealing glances towards Lorne’s body. He finally settled for sitting on the bench near her.
“What do you remember?” he asked her.
“That we were double-crossed by one of the marines” She couldn’t quite recall his name. Smithson? She didn’t really care. They had just landed a bit further back from the multitude of military vehicles which had encircled Kavanagh’s car in the rest stop. They were supposed to take Kavanagh on board, to get him back to SGC as soon as possible, Rodney maybe getting some info out of him, on the way there. Two of the marines had stepped out to take care of the transfer. The third had turned around, used a high-voltage tazer on Todd and shot Lorne with his handgun. He had brushed her aside when she went for him, and she had fallen against the jumper’s bench, hitting her head in the process. She had no idea what happened after that.
“Yes well... Smithson managed to stun Todd and shoot Lorne – and won’t he be happy to know he ranks lower than the wraith on the ‘whose life is more important’ list – but his plan fell to pieces after that. I activated the forcefield, so that none of his buddies could join him and then got you out of there” The forcefield had been step 1 of their contingency plan, and was designed to extend a few meters around the perimeter of the jumper. Clearly a good idea. The device was small and Rodney had surreptitiously stuck it at the jumper’s ceiling as soon as they boarded. “Sheppard and Smithson had a shoot out, which, as you can see, resulted in the destruction of my beautiful machine...” Rodney seemed more upset about the loss of the machine than anything else. “I guess he was not counting on us all being in league with the wraith. Or on Sheppard being armed.” That was the understatement of the century. Sheppard was carrying more firepower than a small army.
“Sheppard’s flying the jumper.”
“He has the gene.”
She nodded, then regretted it, as her head protested the movement. “Is Lorne alive?”
“So far. Poor guy... Being shot by one of his own... Guess the big guys knew that he was a man of his word and loyal to the head of the Atlantis expedition.”
“Fascinated by the jumper.”
She grinned. “Plan B?”
“Plan B” he confirmed.
Rodney had done a decent job of bandaging Lorne. A quick inspection proved that the bullet had not hit any major organs and had passed right through him. The major had been exceptionally lucky, all things considered. They couldn’t risk dropping him off at SGC, which meant they would have to take him all the way to Atlantis. Lorne had seen enough before losing consciousness to know that Rodney and Jennifer were both working with the wraith. Additionally, they didn’t know who to trust in SGC. It could be that they would let them go through the Stargate to Atlantis, honoring the deal made with Woolsey. Or, they could come across someone more loyal to the military command than the Stargate project, and the situation could deteriorate very fast. In any case, stopping there and handing over Lorne, with all he now knew, was unwise.
“Did Woolsey buy it?”
“If he didn’t, he made a decent job of pretending.”
Jen sighed. The cover story was that, after being double-crossed, Todd had taken everybody in the jumper hostage, forcing them to take him to Atlantis. They were counting on Rodney being indeed invaluable to the Stargate project to ensure Woolsey’s and the SGC’s cooperation. Once in Atlantis, they would dial right back out to another gate in the Pegasus galaxy. If that failed, the jumper bay’s doors would open with no more than a thought from Sheppard. Through that route, it would take hours to reach the next Stargate with the jumper, but it was feasible.
Essentially, once they were back in Atlantis, they were home free, one way or the other.
“We’ve entered Colorado.” Sheppard looked like he belonged at the controls of the jumper. “How do you wanna play this?”
“We radio Woolsey, ask him to open the silo.” Rodney had moved to stand between Sheppard and Todd. “I’ll dial us up from here, but keep the cloak on until we’re literally in front of the Stargate.”
“Understood” Sheppard established a connection with Stargate command, identified himself and asked to speak with Woolsey. After a few seconds, a familiar voice was at the other end of the line.
“I apologize for what happened earlier in Virginia. I assure you, I was as surprised as you were.”
“I don’t know, we were pretty surprised... Especially colonel Lorne, seeing as he was shot by one of his own team.”
Woolsey cleared his throat “How is he?”
“Still unconscious, but Dr Keller ensures us that he’s going to make it.” McKay took the lead and got right down to the point. “Mr Woolsey, the wraith promised us that we will be able to drop off the colonel to the care of Atlantis medical personnel, as soon as we are through the gate.”
“And you believe him, Dr McKay?”
“He kept up his end of the bargain by finding Kavanagh” The fact that someone else had not kept their end of the bargain was left unsaid. “Speaking of which, he should be on his way to you now. We would have delivered him ourselves if it wasn’t for... unforeseen events.”
“We’re opening the silo doors for you now, Dr McKay. I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“We’ll dial from the jumper. McKay out.”
They dialled Atlantis, and then hovered close to the silo’s entrance for a few seconds. No missiles came out to meet them, so they decided to take this as a good sign and descend.
They uncloaked a split second before going through the gate.
As soon as they rematerialized, Jen took control.
“Rodney, force field. Sheppard, back up the jumper a few meters, and land us.”
As soon as they touched down, Jen and Rodney carried Lorne outside, gently laying him on the floor on his back. Carson was already there, waiting for them to clear the area before he could get to his patient. Rodney rushed back in to dial their next destination, the first of several jumps they intended to make, while Jennifer gave the cliff notes to Carson, who urgently waved them off, wanting them to shut off the forcefield so that he could get to his patient. Wormhole established, jumper doors closed, forcefield disengaged and the jumper disappeared into the event horizon in mere seconds.
Two jumps later, they were on an uninhabited planet at the other end of the galaxy. Sheppard gently let the jumper touch down on a lush patch of green. As they stepped out, Jen realized that her legs were shaking.
“I can’t believe we made it.”
Sheppard grinned at her and moved to walk around the jumper. He trailed his hand on the surface affectionately.
Rodney gave her half a smile before following him. His words trailed to her ears “So, Sheppard, you think you could get used to this?”
Todd silently came to stand behind Jennifer. He had not talked to her at all during the flights, which she found odd, but maybe he was still tired as far as telepathic abilities went, so she had not pushed it. Now, as he put his arms around her shoulders she felt it all: his anger at himself for not having identified the threat on time – he would have, if he had not been focusing all his attention at locating Kavanagh – the frustration at being betrayed, the relief that one of their plans had miraculously worked and his regret at now having to leave her. But, most of all, she felt his gratitude for having brought him back home. She turned around and let her hands trace the patterns of his jacket. She was going to miss him.
“Being bonded to you is an honor, Commander.”
“Likewise, my Queen.”
Again he touched his forehead to hers, and it occurred to her then that this must be where the typical Athosian greeting had originated. From a species that actually could share thoughts, a species to which touching foreheads was deeply poignant. She resolutely decided not to share this titbit with her Athosian friends. Some things are better left unsaid.
When they disengaged, they noticed Sheppard and McKay looking at them.
“So what happens now?” McKay’s question was directed to the wraith.
“Now I go to join my people.”
“Next time we see you...”
“All bets are off.”
“No, no, all bets are NOT off, and where did you get that phrase from anyway?” Jen felt a bit ticked. “You’re not allowed to kill these guys” she said pointing at McKay and Sheppard.
Todd inclined his head in acceptance. “As you wish.”
She then turned to the humans “You’re not allowed to kill this wraith.” She was met by two looks of mild surprise, but both men accepted readily.
Before stepping through the Stargate, the wraith turned and addressed all three of them “I will not forget what you did.”
‘Good luck’ Jen sent him, as his coat billowed at the wind behind him. The three humans looked on as the wraith commander stepped through the ring and then the even horizon blinked out of existence.
“So, what if he’s in a hive, and we’re in there shooting wraith, and we can’t see his face...” It was Rodney, trying to come up with every possible scenario. Jen suspected he did it more for fun than anything else.
“Figure it out, McKay!” She stepped through the dividing door and took a seat behind Sheppard. “Take us home, John.”
Sheppard complied, and started the dialing sequence for a bounce-off planet. Home. Atlantis. He couldn’t quite contain the ripple of excitement that went through him at the mere thought.
As soon as he stepped foot onto the jumper bay, he understood on a molecular level: He was indeed exactly where he belonged.
Atlantis seemed to breathe in his scent. Her favourite son was here at last.