Chapter 1: One Small Step
It was wrong, they all felt that, but everyone had different reasons for why.
But the crux of the problem was that they had a Wraith in their prison, and nobody really knew what to do with him. Atlantis had returned home to Earth, and Todd had been placed in stasis because nobody was willing to find the Wraith food.
Now, however, was a different problem entirely. Months later, Atlantis was to return to the Pegasus Galaxy, and that meant returning to the Wraith. The problems facing Todd would no longer exist, and that meant they had to reevaluate what they'd do with the slumbering Wraith.
Todd still had connections to the Wraith, and some authority. If they ever had any hope of inoculating the Wraith and changing their diet . . . unfortunately, their best chances probably lay with Todd. Even if Todd was untrustworthy.
Which had brought them all to Richard Woolsey's office, each determined to argue their case about the Wraith in question.
Teyla had argued that he was still sentient, still deserving of their respect (and Jennifer herself had agreed). Ronon mostly wanted to shoot him. Woolsey, of course, thought negotiation might still be on the table, and well, Sheppard mostly agreed with Ronon. McKay wanted more ZPMs, more technology, but he also didn't like Todd or Wraith in general, so he mostly complained about the whole deal. Carson, at least, was mostly silent, but Jennifer suspected that he felt there was more they could learn about the Wraith before they released Todd.
Woolsey, however, continued to press his case that Todd could be a useful ally if he kept up his end of the deal . . . though Sheppard had quickly argued that Todd would never agree to help them. And, if he did, he wouldn't bother to follow through.
At some point in the discussion, Dr. McKay had snarked, "Well why don't we just wake him up and ask him, hmm?"
Ultimately, Todd had been awakened, though he'd looked surprised that he was still alive.
Once awakened, however, Todd had been swiftly returned to his prison cell, and Woolsey had promptly descended on why they'd awakened him. The whole ordeal had taken entirely too long with Woolsey's bureaucratic attempts at negotiation, but Jennifer didn't dare complain.
"You understand that this arrangement is final," Woolsey explained patiently, after outlining the deal he'd drafted that Todd would be allowed his freedom in order to convince the Wraith to work alongside humans to perfect the serum. "There'll be no changes, no rearranging, no retracting, and no withholding information. Do you understand, Todd? That's the name you go by, right?"
Todd didn't answer beyond a small grunt of agreement, mostly because Sheppard didn't let him.
"I still don't trust the guy," Sheppard complained, leaning against the wall by the prison doorway. "Every time we make a deal, it ends up in his favor. What's to stop him from doing it this time?"
"I seem to recall quite a few of our deals benefiting you as well, Colonel Sheppard," Todd hissed back, drawling out each syllable in the colonel's name.
"We practically gifted you leadership of all the hives!" Sheppard glowered right back, but Todd didn't seem particularly intimidated.
"Leadership I've no doubt lost since my imprisonment here," Todd retorted dryly.
"You stole from us!" Sheppard moved to stand in front of the prison door.
"And you stole from me, Colonel Sheppard," Todd replied, moving to stand in front of the colonel on the other side of the prison. "Neither of us are without our own share of the blame."
"We can't just send him somewhere alone!" Sheppard turned to face Woolsey. "He can't just be allowed to go out there on his own."
"I'll go," Ronon volunteered, leaning back on the opposite wall besides Amelia. He stopped twirling his gun around on his finger, and pointed it straight at Todd. "I have no problem shooting him if he gets out of line."
"I'll go, too," Amelia volunteered, placing a calming hand on Ronon's arm.
Or, at least, that's what Jennifer assumed she was doing.
"Why bother sending the brawn?" Rodney complained, glancing up at last from his tablet. "They can't read Wraith! For all they know, he could be typing in his little Wraith language where we are and how to kill us as soon as he leaves here!"
When everyone turned to look at Rodney, surprised that he seemed to be volunteering, he promptly waved his tablet around. "What? I'm not volunteering! I have no desire to be around a bunch of life-sucking vampires!"
Todd looked as unhappy with the idea of being stuck with Rodney as Rodney himself looked, though Todd, at least, didn't bother to say anything.
Jennifer sighed to herself. She cared about Rodney—she suspected she always would—but though he'd been her intellectual match, and she'd been thoroughly charmed in the beginning, it had begun to dry out. It wasn't his fault, she admitted that to herself, but while at first she'd thought his stammering and scaredy-cat attitude was cute in his own way, now she couldn't help but wish that he was more than ego and fear. Rodney was brilliant, and he was caring, but it wasn't enough to balance out the rest.
Perhaps that was why she'd broken things off a few weeks before.
"Well, who else would you recommend, Rodney?" Sheppard's tone was mocking, and Rodney easily rose to the bait.
"Send Zalenka! He's not me, of course, but he should at least be able to keep an eye on one Wraith!" Rodney huffed as he typed something in on the tablet.
"Neither Rodney nor Zalenka have the diplomatic skills necessary for this," Teyla spoke up, eyeing Rodney and Woolsey carefully. "And I cannot leave my son or my people for so long, Mr. Woolsey."
"You don't need diplomacy, just someone who understands medicine and DNA," Jennifer added with a shrug. "That's what we want, right? A cure for the Wraith?"
"Yeah, but do the Wraith want it?" Sheppard demanded, waving a hand towards Todd.
"We do," Todd agreed. "It is to the benefit of both of our peoples to find a working cure as quickly as possible."
"He's said that before," Ronon pointed out. "I still say we shoot him. We can figure this out on our own."
"I don't know, Ronon," Carson spoke up. "What we've done so far isn't working. Nobody understands the Wraith better than the Wraith. I think Doctor Keller is right, that we should work side-by-side."
"Yeah, but who's to say he'll use the cure after we find it, make it, and then release him?" Sheppard clearly sided with Ronon, and without any trust, there was no way their plan could go through.
"We have a deal, Colonel," Woolsey reminded them.
"And he's broken those before," Sheppard pointed out.
"I would not do so this time, Colonel Sheppard," Todd replied, sitting back down on the bench in the cell. "But the longer I am in here, the more power I will lose out there."
Jennifer exchanged glances with both Carson and Teyla; this was getting them nowhere. They could sit around and argue until they were blue in the face, but unfortunately, Todd was their best chance of solving the puzzle. Without him, it could easily take years, if not decades.
"Look, we can't work on it here," Jennifer spoke up, hoping that, this time, the others would be more willing to listen. "We haven't been able to work out the enzymes needed to substitute his diet. But if we all worked on mutual ground, together, we might get somewhere. Carson and I," she smiled at Carson, who nodded, "are both willing to go and take whatever risks to make this work."
"You may be, doctor, but we can't afford to lose both of you," Woolsey remarked calmly. "I'm afraid I could only let one of you go."
She knew he'd pick Carson before Woolsey said anything further. Carson was still, in some ways, seen as an outsider, a clone. As much as he'd proved himself, to many others in the IOA and back home, Carson was still a security risk, and therefore, more of an acceptable loss.
But Jennifer refused to let him go. This was why she'd returned to Atlantis. This project needed her as much as she needed it, and she did need it. She'd save so many lives if she could work this out, and that was why she'd gotten into medicine in the first place. She took risks, she reveled in them, but most of all, she craved adventure, craved the adrenaline that rushed through her. But more than that, she wanted to heal, she wanted to make a difference, and most of all, she needed to be needed.
If Carson went, she'd return to being his replacement on Atlantis, and she could be so much more.
So, she interrupted Woolsey before he could continue.
"Okay, then I'm going." She spoke with finality, daring them to argue with her. "Dr. Beckett started out studying the Wraith, but I took the project over, and I've worked with Todd before. I know what he's capable of, and I know his tricks. I've been working on the cure myself. Dr. Beckett, he may not be trusted by the Wraith—he helped create Michael. Not that it was your fault, Carson; we couldn't have predicted that," she added, giving him an apologetic smile. "But it's different with me."
Teyla inclined her head. "The Wraith . . . do not handle betrayal well."
"I'm not sure I agree," Woolsey replied. "Dr. Beckett has a lot of experience with Wraith DNA, and I'm sure the Wraith will understand why he's necessary. You could help from Atlantis, of course," he quickly added, "but I think it'd be best to let Dr. Beckett accompany Todd. I'm sure Todd wouldn't disagree."
Jennifer moved to stand in front of Todd's cell, though whether she did that because she wanted to prove she could handle the Wraith's overwhelming presence or because of something else, she didn't know.
Todd, however, met her gaze head-on as he rose once more to his feet, and narrowed his eyes as if he dared her to look away.
She didn't. She glared right back, though her heart pumped furiously away in its excitement. In her mind, she saw the times they'd worked together before, his tricks and games, and her heart raced with the thrill of the challenge.
This was worth living for. Todd could keep her on her feet, and challenge her in ways Rodney never could. That even Atlantis couldn't.
"I will accept your terms, Mr. Woolsey," Todd drawled a moment later, "but only with Dr. Keller's aid."
"Now, Todd—" Woolsey began, but Todd seemed to have lost his general lethargy and apathy.
"It is on those terms, or we have no bargain," the Wraith pressed.
"I don't think you really understand your situation here, buddy." Sheppard glared at Todd from beside Jennifer, but the Wraith didn't seem to move his eyes from the doctor. "You're the one in the cage, and you're the one who's going to starve if you don't help us."
"And yet without me, you will have no cure, and no way to pass it to the other Wraith," Todd drawled. "Do we have a deal, Mr. Woolsey?"
Jennifer held her breath, hoping no one else would argue, hoping they would let her, hoping—
"It has to be a planet of my choosing for the compound," Mr. Woolsey said, straightening his tie. "I want Atlantis personnel allowed on the compound at all times, and I want progress reports daily. I also want information on the Wraith who join the compound, and the addresses of your hive ships."
"Done." Todd agreed too easily, and Jennifer narrowed her eyes as he studied her.
He's up to something, I know he is, she thought to herself as Woolsey almost reached out to shake hands with Todd to seal the deal.
But even as Sheppard and Ronon looked unhappy with the deal, even as Woolsey made plans, she kept her eyes on Todd. And once the bargain had been struck and settled, Todd, slowly, smirked at her.
And Jennifer, without realizing it, fell into a new obsession.
Chapter 2: The Ominous Shadow
"I don't like this," Rodney complained for what felt like the umpteenth time as he leaned against her desk. "I don't want you to get hurt."
Jennifer barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes as she finished packing the gear she'd wanted to take with her to the base they'd set up for her to work with Todd. "Rodney, I'm going to be perfectly safe." She did her best to keep her voice smooth and level, but after three days of Rodney's panicked worrying, it was beginning to wear her patience thin.
They were scheduled to leave that day, and still Rodney was hanging about, complaining and worrying as she packed up the last of the supplies from the medical bay. She just didn't know what to tell him—how she could make him understand that this was what she needed, what she craved.
That she was going to go, whether Rodney liked it or not. They were friends now, nothing more, and despite Rodney's ever-growing list of worries, he couldn't stop her now.
"He eats people, Jennifer!" Rodney shouted, waving his tablet in the air. "Don't forget that part, because I certainly won't!"
"Ronon's going to be there, Rodney," she reminded him, closing the lid and sealing one of the larger black cases shut.
"Like Ronon's really going to stop a hungry Wraith," Rodney scoffed, as he watched her begin to move the case to the other side of the room with the others. "D-do you need some help lifting that?"
"Rodney, he fended off Wraith for years as a Runner. I'll be fine," she replied, eyeing his body. Rodney had clearly lost a little weight over the past few weeks, but he'd shrugged off her attempts at a check-up. It was unusual enough behavior for Rodney, who generally coveted being coddled, even for something as small as a splinter.
But without there clearly being anything truly wrong with him, there wasn't anything she could do.
"Rodney, what's this really about?" she finally asked him the question that had been bothering her for the past few days, as he'd hovered around her and meddled with her preparations. "You know I can handle this, so what's really bothering you?"
Rodney's eyes widened for a moment, and then he sighed. "It's nothing," he said quickly. "I'm sorry, Jennifer, for everything. Good luck."
She watched, surprised, as Rodney turned to leave the medical bay. When he was nearly at the door, however, he suddenly turned back around and offered her that same, crooked, charming little grin that she'd once fallen in love with.
"Oh, and, um, stay safe, okay?" He nearly stammered the words out before he abruptly turned and walked out the door.
Jennifer found herself smiling as he walked away. There was still something charming about Rodney, and she appreciated how much he cared. She'd forgotten, in the months they'd been back on Earth, the feeling of friendship and family Atlantis had given her, and now that she had it again, she wondered why she'd ever wanted to go back.
She quickly packed up the last case and nodded at the Marines hovering nearby. "I'm good to go. This should be everything we need."
She threw her pack across her back as the Marines began moving the equipment out of the room. All she had to really do now was find Ronon and Amelia, and head to the gateroom. Sheppard would be bringing Todd, and according to Mr. Woolsey, he'd stay with them for a few days while they settled and got the information they needed from Todd.
Once that happened, Sheppard and his new team would return to Atlantis, and the rest of them would begin researching a new and improved drug to revert the Wraith's feeding needs.
However, as she walked out of the bay, Ronon and Amelia found her. Ronon had a small pack slung over his shoulders, but other than that, he didn't seem like he was bringing anything else. Amelia, on the other hand, had a larger pack similar to Jennifer's own.
Jennnifer suspected, however, that it wasn't full of medical supplies, and probably had few personal items, despite the fact most of the Atlantis crew had been able to bring a lot more with them on their return.
From what she knew of Ronon, and of Amelia, it was likely full of sparring gear—Ronon had expressed an interest in Amelia's kickboxing, she'd heard—and probably weapons.
She eyed the guns on both Amelia's and Ronon's hips, and decided the pack was most definitely filled with guns.
"Hey, Jennifer," he greeted her. "You almost ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," she replied, smiling. "I feel like I forgot half a dozen different things I'll need once I get set up, but right now, I can't seem to think of anything I'd be missing."
Amelia laughed. "We can always come back for more."
On one hand, Jennifer knew Amelia was right. They could come back for more; nothing would be stopping them, especially not if it was needed for the Wraith retrovirus. It was only one gate address away, and the planet Todd had helped select for the base was remote and quiet, so there wasn't likely to be any attacks, or need for delay.
However, Jennifer had the feeling it wouldn't be so easy. Something inside seemed to insist they wouldn't be coming back, not for a long time, and that feeling drove her to try and make sure they'd want for absolutely nothing.
She'd even packed all of her personal items. It felt like a waste of space, with everything else they were bringing, and yet she couldn't bear to leave anything behind. She'd even packed her cocktail dress, though she couldn't fathom what she'd use it for in an abandoned facility they'd revamp into a science bay in the past two weeks.
There was simply nothing else for her to pack, and yet she couldn't shake the feeling that there was.
"I know," she finally agreed. "Even Carson can't seem to think of anything I'm missing, but I still can't shake the feeling that I am."
Ronon laughed, and looked oddly sympathetic. "It's just nerves."
Jennifer had to laugh at the strangeness of Ronon trying to comfort her, though she was almost positive he'd attempted to do back before she'd gone out with Rodney.
Amelia, however, looked impatient. "Are you ready to head to the gateroom, Doctor?"
"Oh! Right, of course," Jennifer offered her a friendly smile, but Amelia seemed hesitant to return it. "Let's not keep Sheppard and Todd waiting."
As it turned out, Sheppard was waiting—impatiently—but though Todd had been shackled and had every reason to be impatiently awaiting his makeshift freedom, he looked more amused than anything.
I knew it, Jennifer thought to herself. He's definitely up to something . . . I just wish I knew what it was. I don't think he'd want to interfere with researching a cure for the Wraith, but then what is he planning . . . ?
"It's about time," Sheppard grumbled as the Marines followed Jennifer and the others into the room with the equipment. "I was beginning to think I'd die of old age before we got anywhere."
Behind him, Todd chuckled.
"And stop laughing! This Wraith here is too damn happy. I don't like it," Sheppard continued to grumble, but when Woolsey walked into the room, he settled for grumbling to himself.
"Don't forget our arrangement, Todd," Woolsey said, moving to stand in front of the Wraith. "Once you're on the other side, you'll get the coordinates from your fellow Wraith and turn it over to Colonel Sheppard, who will relay it back here."
"Oh, I shan't forget, Mr. Woolsey," Todd drawled. "I quite remember every aspect of our . . . arrangement."
To Todd's left, Sheppard snorted.
"Doctor, don't forget to report in daily with your progress," Woolsey said, turning to face Jennifer. "Dr. Beckett will be working over here, as well."
"I'll radio in every morning," Jennifer reassured him hastily. She was getting antsy and anxious to go through the stargate, and until she reached the other side and settled into the compound, she doubted she'd lose the feeling.
"Make sure you do. Don't forget why we're doing this," Woolsey announced. "Oh, and good luck, everyone."
He nodded to Rodney up at the command center, and the gate began its dialing sequence.
Woolsey moved back as the gate activated, and Jennifer forced herself to wait as the drone went through first, followed by the soldiers and her equipment as soon as the all-clear was given.
Jennifer moved to the gate, but Ronon and Amelia beat her through. She could feel the presence of Todd and Sheppard behind her, and the nagging sensation in her stomach grew as she reached the surface of the stargate.
Still, she'd come so far and fought so hard for this assignment, and she wasn't going to back out now. She plunged into the stargate, but as she went through, she felt a shifting sensation through every atom of her being.
And then, she suddenly felt wrenched out of her skin, and dragged.
Chapter 3: Disappearance
Thanks for the kudos and the comments, guys. They were a definite kick in the butt to update this. -___-"
Also, not so much Jennifer and Todd in this, but that'll be fixed next chapter. Promise.
The first thing Jennifer noticed was that she was most definitely not on a planet, let alone the one she was supposed to be on.
She was on a Wraith ship.
More specifically, she was in a Wraith cell. A familiar looking Wraith cell, she thought, but then, they all seemed to look rather similar. The Wraith weren't exactly keen on redesigning cells designed to hold humans before questioning and feeding. Probably wasn't much point in keeping your food happy anyway, she reminded herself, but her weak chuckle only served to draw attention to her pounding headache. She tried a few pressure points around her head and hands to stave off the headache, but when it failed to work, she decided she'd just have to suffer until it went away.
She sat up slowly from the bench she'd apparently been dumped on, one hand on her head in a futile attempt to alleviate her throbbing headache. There didn't appear to be any one else in the cell with her, and she hoped that meant she'd been the only one captured. But if that was the case, where did Ronon, Sheppard, and the Marines and everyone else go? How had she managed to be taken, and why didn't she recall being kidnapped?
And by who? She vaguely remembered something off about the gate, but if something had happened with the gate, it should have affected everyone else who traveled with her. And it was unlikely that she'd have ended up on a Wraith ship because of the gate, anyway.
There had been no Wraith ships anywhere near Atlantis' scanners, nor had the planet Sheppard and new his team had so carefully selected showed any signs of recent Wraith activity. The only Wraith they'd had any contact with had been Todd, and—
"I apologize for the headache you no doubt have." She turned at the familiar purr to see Todd standing before her . . . on the other side of the cell.
"There was very little time to check my calculations," Todd continued, folding his arms across his chest. "It seems my haste came with this . . . unexpected consequence. It should abate in a few hours."
She stared at him dumbly, trying to process what he was saying—and not saying. What she noticed, however was that there was no one else besides Todd. There were no Wraith guards, no queens, no other commanders, nor did she see any signs of her friends, and that's when it finally sank in. This had been Todd's doing.
"I've double and quadruple checked my calculations, and I'm telling you, there's no reason they shouldn't be on the planet right now!"
Both John Sheppard and Richard Woolsey winced at Rodney's shrill tone, but Sheppard at least had the pleasure of several solar systems between them. Rodney was back on Atlantis with Woolsey, while John and the rest of the new base personnel were at the new makeshift research facility on M4H-212. As soon as John had realized who was missing, he'd immediately dialed back to Atlantis.
"Well, I'm telling you, Rodney, that no one's here," John replied, "and I'm pretty sure that Wraith is the one responsible."
"T-that's impossible," Rodney blubbered, though John noticed that Woolsey behind him didn't seem quite so sure. "I secured the gate against everything. After the last security breach, I made sure there would be no unauthorized access to the gate, and—"
"Then where's Ronon, Dr. Keller, Banks, and the Wraith, Rodney? They didn't just disappear!" John wanted to throttle something. His people were missing, and he just knew Todd was responsible. The damned Wraith had been too happy at the prospect of going to the planet, and he doubted it had anything to do with the chance to do more research. Todd had clearly been one step ahead of them the entire time.
What mattered how, he reminded himself, was getting his people back. And to do that, he needed Rodney to figure out just how the hell the damned Wraith had managed to escape in the first place.
"Maybe there was a glitch or a surge in the software." Rodney began furiously pounding his little tablet, no doubt to check his calculations again, but John wasn't buying the excuse.
"If there was a glitch, Rodney, how come the Marines, the other scientists, and I all made it through safely?" John could feel his agitation growing, but he forced himself to breathe deep, steadying breaths as Elizabeth had once recommended.
"It is possible there was a glitch," Radek Zelenka spoke up from Rodney's right. When both Rodney and John turned to glare at him, he rushed out, "There is much we do not know about the Ancients' technology, Rodney. We do know that objects with immense mass, like a black hole or a supernova, or even an event like a solar flare can disrupt the materialization and dematerialization of matter through the gate. It is possible something could have redirected their matter to another active gate, and been brief enough not to affect the rest of you."
Radek held up his tablet to show John through the screen of the M.A.L.P. "There is something weird embedded in the code of the gate," he said, pointing to several lines with his pen. "And there is also something strange about the data we recorded from the gate around the time you went through. It could take us a few days to go through all of the data, but I'm confident that when we do, we should be able to locate where Dr. Keller and the others went."
"And I'm confident that you're full of crap," Rodney snapped. "There's nothing wrong with the code; it has to be a glitch with the interface. Oh please," he added when everyone turned to eye him. "You can't honestly be buying into this, can you? There's nothing wrong with the code. Even a six year old could see that! The error had to come through the other end, perhaps a surplus surge of power, or—"
"Rodney, there were serious additions made to the code! Whether it was done deliberately or not, I cannot say, but there is definitely something unusual about the code, whether you like it or not!" Radek looked just as irritated as Rodney, and he began muttering to himself in Czech as he pulled his tablet away from the screen.
"Rodney, how long would it take you to go through all of the code and the reports from the gate?" John prompted, hoping to distract Rodney from another argument with Radek.
"I don't know, three days maybe?" Rodney huffed.
"A week," Radek corrected.
"Three days," Rodney emphasized. "But it's a complete waste of time—"
"Do it," Woolsey spoke up. "You have three days," he added as Radek threw his hands up in the air with another foreign mutter. "I'll report the recent events to General Carter as well. In the meantime, until we can ascertain why the gate is disrupting travel and to where, all gate travel is suspended. Get comfortable, Colonel Sheppard. Your mission's been delayed for now."
"Great. I always wanted a vacation in the middle of a damn forest," John snapped, though he was more frustrated at being grounded. He wanted to be out there, and the fact that part of his old team was lost somewhere without him, and there was nothing he could do but sit around and wait, nearly drove him insane.
"If there is sabotage, Colonel, we need to figure out how, and by who, before anyone else is lost," Woolsey explained, readjusting his glasses. "I won't lose anyone else."
That was the worst part, John decided. It was exactly what he would have done, if their situations had been reversed.
For now, he'd have to wait for them to prove what he already knew, and reverse the damage.
Chapter 4: Intent
Apologies for my lateness. I am doing NaNoWriMo, rewriting the second draft of another novel, switching careers, and attempting to write three fanfics simultaneously. I easily lose track of time.
I try to update each at least once a month. If it's been longer than that, feel free to sort of push me and leave comments, or I'll forget that I haven't updated yet.
In the meantime, enjoy some lovely Jennifer/Guide action aaaaand some Ronon/Amelia fun, too. :D And it's a nice, long chapter, so maybe you'll forgive me, right? Riiiiight?
"Why?" Jennifer ignored her pounding headache as she dragged herself to her feet and wobbled over to the door of her cell. So help her, no matter how badly she felt, she was going to meet Todd head on. "Where are the others? Where's John, Ronon, and Amelia? And the Marines?"
Todd heaved a sigh that seemed to echo through the cell. "The others should be safely on the world we were gating to," he said after a long moment. "The code I entered into your gate was designed only to transport you and I away. Unfortunately, I seem to have erred slightly."
Todd chuckled, but Jennifer failed to find humor in the situation. She admitted privately to herself that yes, she'd wanted an adventure, but this wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind.
"It doesn't seem like you erred to me," she finally retorted, folding her arms across her chest and giving him her best scowl. Even John had known better than to argue with her when she'd used it, but Todd only sported an amused smile.
Her irritation rose further.
"Ahh, yes," he purred. "I could see why you'd think that, given your current location." He nodded at the prison walls. "I have no intentions of keeping you in this cell forever, Jennifer."
"Doctor Keller," she corrected through gritted teeth, but she didn't know why she bothered. Todd always seemed to do as he pleased, anyway.
"Nor do I intend to keep Ronon and the other human in their cells permanently, either," he continued as if she hadn't spoken. "It is only a temporary—"
"Ronon's here?" she interrupted, ignoring Todd's momentary scowl as she felt relieved. If Ronon was here, then she had a chance of escape at some point. But who was the other human Todd referred to?
She closed her eyes for a moment, and remembered that Amelia had gone through the gate with Ronon. If Todd had truly made a mistake—and she had to admit, she was surprised that he would, much less that he'd admit to doing so—then chances were that it was probably Amelia.
She opened her eyes to find Todd so close he was almost pressing against the bars.
"It seems the effects of interrupted gating were worse than I'd anticipated," he growled, raking his eyes down her frame. "You are weaker than I'd anticipated."
It took her a moment to realize that he'd assumed that she'd closed her eyes because she'd felt dizzy. "I'm fine," she said, waving a hand. "I've been through worse, trust me."
She wasn't sure why she bothered to reassure him. Todd may have been apologetic about her state, but he wasn't apologetic for the reasons behind it. Whatever purpose he'd had in stealing them away from the base and the deal he'd made, he clearly had no intentions of going back or undoing his actions.
When she met Todd's yellow-green eyes again, she was surprised to see a hint of softness. "I see," he replied. He opened his mouth for a moment, and then shut it, evidently changing his mind about saying whatever he'd intended to say.
"Why?" she prompted again when he didn't speak up. She decided that since he'd stated Ronon and Amelia were safe for now—and he had no reason to lie, not when he didn't even have to tell her they'd been taken, too—that he had a reason for keeping them alive and on board his ship. Obviously, he could have escaped on his own, free and clear.
But he hadn't, and she wanted to know why.
"Why did I leave, or why did I take you with me?" His voice had taken on the purring quality again, but this time, it was deeper, and rougher, than she'd heard him use before.
She nodded, licking her dry lips. Suddenly, she was thirstier than she could ever remember being, but she couldn't get herself to ask him for water. Hell, she wasn't even sure if he drank water, let alone would have any he'd be willing to spare.
It was several long moments before Todd met her eyes again and answered her.
"With the poisoning of the food supply, and the fracturing of the Wraith, we stand in a precarious position," he finally replied. "It would be to our advantage to secure a way of feeding that would not bring us into conflict with other Wraith. Your proposal was . . . not unadvantageous, should it succeed."
"There's no reason we couldn't do that at the base Atlantis set up," she pointed out. "All of my medical equipment and samples are there, and my notes. I don't have access to the Atlantis database, either, and Carson's one of the best minds out there—he was the one who started the retrovirus in the first place! None of that's here!"
She waved her arms around the empty cell, suddenly acutely aware of her loss. There was nothing except the clothes on her back in the cell with her, and she'd never felt more naked. Without her gear, her tech, and her supplies, she wasn't Doctor Keller. She was simply Jennifer.
And back on Atlantis, they would see her not as Doctor Keller, but as Jennifer in need of rescue.
"I have already taken the necessary precautions." Todd exhaled slowly. "We will be provided with everything we need to complete a proper retrovirus, one that does not remove what makes us Wraith."
He left it unsaid that that was what Atlantis would have tried to do.
"Colonel Sheppard's not going to forget this, and neither will Woolsey," she pressed, ignoring the rest of his words for the time being. She'd read enough about Wraith labs to know he wasn't lying, if that's how he intended to set her up, but that, she decided, wasn't the problem. "If you take us back now, maybe we can fix the damage—"
"Back?" he hissed. "Back on that base I was nothing more than a possession! Tell me, Jennifer, would your people have allowed me to feed?" He paused just long enough to take in her horrified expression. "No, they would not offer someone up if I hungered. And, Jennifer, I hungered." He purred the word so deeply she barely registered it, but it seemed to vibrate through her body. "Out here, I am free. I am free to be Wraith. No matter what cure we develop, Jennifer, I will always be Wraith."
He turned away from her. "As soon as you are recovered, you will be moved to your new labs." He turned to look at her over his shoulder for just a moment, just enough for her to catch a hint of his starburst tattoo. "This is my hive; I will allow no harm to come to you while you work."
With that, before she could even think past what he'd said to open her mouth and protest, to make him see reason, he walked down the corridor and out of her sight.
Guide strode towards the control room of the ship, resisting the urge to go and find solace in his own labs, in his bed, or any of his other usual places.
This was his hive, and these were his Wraith. They belonged to him as surely as the humans he was keeping in his cells, and were just as much under his care.
He hadn't lied to John Sheppard when he'd told the colonel that every moment he spent away from the hives, he lost power. With the Wraith at war, queens were becoming harder and harder to come by—the easiest way for another hive to take power, after all, was to remove the current queen and install their own. With the constant in-fighting, many hives, like Guide's own, were left queenless.
Without a queen, leadership fell to those like Guide, but their hold was tenuous at best. A rival hive with a queen could move in at any time to facilitate a takeover, but there was also the risk of others defecting to bigger hives or hives with queens, and forging their own alliances.
As he'd told Sheppard once, the Wraith were not without their own honor, but that honor was owed first to the queen. Without a queen, it often fell to the elders, the ones with prestige and the skill necessary to lead a queenless hive. There was nothing more dangerous than a hive without a queen.
Guide had managed to solidify over twenty queenless hives under his authority, and bring them into his own alliance. Since his captivity with the Atlanteans, however, that number had dropped drastically, and he'd been forced to chart his escape to the one hive he knew would never falter—the hive that he himself had helped create hundreds of years ago. He was as true a leader to them as any queen would have been, and it was only on that hive that he could guarantee the work that he had to accomplish would be done successfully.
He would be forced to tread carefully in the next few months, in order to ensure that all of his planning came to fruition. He was too close to his end goals to allow himself to falter now.
He dropped into his chair with a grace that belied his great age, and reached out to his second with his instructions.
Wordless, his second in command turned and began redirecting the hive ship on the course Guide had indicated.
But as Guide closed his eyes to once again go through his plans, he was met instead with a very human pair of hazel eyes, meeting him with a challenging defiance he'd never before seen, and his plans fell to the side for a moment.
There was something peculiar about the doctor, and Guide allowed himself to revel in his curiosity. At this age, there was very little to be curious about, but somehow, the doctor had managed to pull both his instincts and his curiosity to the front.
He reached out and pulled one of the sweet, pink-skinned fruits that had been left out in the room for any to partake of. Absently, he rolled it around his feeding palm.
Just how else would Jennifer fit into his plans?
"I can't believe we're stuck on this hive ship with the Wraith." Amelia hissed the last word, and Ronon didn't have to look up to know she was scowling.
He didn't blame her. After all, Todd hadn't bothered to visit them after he'd unceremoniously had them dumped into the cell and informed them they would be waiting there for a short duration. By Ronon's count, that had been close to six hours ago, and there was no telling how long they'd been unconscious before that.
But six hours was more than enough time for Atlantis to discover what had happened, and Ronon had complete faith that Sheppard was already planning on how to rescue them—if Ronon didn't get them out first.
"Don't worry," Ronon spoke up from where he was currently sitting against the wall. He wished the bastard had left him with his blaster, or any of his knives, or, well . . . any of his hidden weapons, but he wasn't surprised Todd had removed them while both he and Amelia had been knocked unconscious by the gate. "I'll get us out of here."
Amelia turned from where she was pacing by the doorway. "Oh, and what am I, a useless limp noodle?" She tried to sound miffed, but her breath caught at the smirk he sent her.
"Nothing about you is useless." He got to his feet and walked over to her. When he reached her, he gently tugged her arm out until she offered her hand. "This hand beat me at arm wrestling." He traced his fingers along the contours of her palm, enjoying the feel of her callouses against his fingertips. She was a bold woman, a proud woman—a warrior spirit to match his own. "You're as great a warrior as any I have ever seen. We'll get out of here."
She met his eyes just as she twisted her hand and captured his. With one sharp pull, she brought him into her. "No," she breathed, tugging sharply so that he was off balance. She used the momentum to twist him into the wall, and then she pressed herself against him.
Surprise showed clearly on his face. "No?" he repeated, shifting against her.
He didn't dare move away from her. They'd been dancing around like this for weeks. Sometimes, he'd been the hunter, and sometimes, she'd done the hunting herself, but the ancestors be damned because Ronon had no intention of fleeing her, even if he could have right then.
"No." She moved closer, until their whole bodies were touching. "I'm going to be the one to get us out."
He knew a challenge when he heard one, and he accepted the dare for what it was, just as he accepted and then returned the hot kiss she pressed on him a moment later. As he slid his fingers into her hair and around her waist and felt her mimic his actions, it never occurred to him that, for the first time, when he looked into a woman's eyes—into Amelia's eyes—he never once thought of the woman he'd loved and lost on Sateda.
All he thought of then was how good her lips felt against his own.
Chapter 5: Common Ground
SORRY for the delay, guys! I have literally been working about 50 hours at my new job, and so I've sort of fallen out of whack. I'm also sick as a dog, but I labored out of love and here's the next chapter, so I hope it makes up for the dry spell!
Also, I've gone and named all of the chapters. I don't know why; I never do that. But oh, well, they're named and that's that, so I hope you enjoy.
And once again, thanks for kudos, follows, and especially reviews, because they give me the kick in the butt I need to get a-writing again!
As soon as Jennifer's headache abated, she was up and pacing the length of her cell. True to Todd's word, she'd been left alone to the point of abandonment. No guards were posted nearby, nor did she note any patrolling by her cell.
Not, she reminded herself, that there aren't any guards at all.
Todd wasn't a fool—he'd certainly more than proved that when he'd managed to kidnap herself and the others without anyone being the wiser. Well, except for the colonel, who'd been suspicious, she remembered. But she'd been so confident that Todd had wanted results as much as she had . . .
She rubbed her hands over her face several times, but she couldn't shake her frustration. Sure, Todd had stated that he still planned to research a cure, but it was obvious that what he wanted and what the members of the Stargate program wanted . . . well, needless to say they weren't on the same page.
The worst part was that she didn't know how long she'd been kept in her cell. It was unlikely that Todd seriously intended them harm if he hadn't already done so—she was under no delusions that Todd was any less dangerous than the rest of the Wraith—but that didn't mean that she was exactly safe. The colonel had accused Todd of using her people before, and endangering their lives in the process, and she'd been foolish to forget that herself.
Still, she wanted a cure, badly. The doctor in her couldn't turn a blind eye to the suffering caused by the Wraith—or amongst the Wraith.
"I trust you have sufficiently rested?"
Jennifer jumped at Todd's question. She hadn't heard him approach, though she didn't know if that was more his fault, or her own. She'd been lost in her thoughts, but the Wraith seemed to have the ability to move silently when they wished.
She half-turned, just enough to see him outside her cell, but not enough to fully face him. "How's Ronon?" she countered, without answering his question. She figured he didn't really care for an answer, anyway. She was, after all, a pawn to him, and she wasn't going to delude herself further. Even if she did manage to successfully create a cure that met his high standards, she doubted he'd see her as having any true value beyond that.
"He is well enough." Todd paused just enough to scowl at her. "As is his companion. But you did not answer my question, Jennifer."
She ignored the way his purr seemed to vibrate down her spine, and resolved to set her own temper and misgivings aside. She was a doctor, and it was high time she own up and face the fiddler, and do what she'd intended to do—even if Todd had thrown a monkey wrench into her plans.
Instead of snapping at him with a ferocity that would have even cowed Ronon, she marched over to face him, eye-to-eye, resolving not to let him intimidate her from here on out. He may have held most of the cards, but he still needed her help, or else he wouldn't have gone through the trouble to take her with him.
"Point the way," she said shortly. When he raised a brow out her, with the audacity to look rather miffed, she elaborated, "The way to the lab you're dumping me in? As you can see, I'm fine, and ready to begin the work I left home to do."
She almost cheered out loud at the surprise on Todd's face.
Guide tried not to let himself feel pride over the way she, a human, met him with all of the courage and command of a Wraith queen. There was no reason to feel proud of her, he reminded himself. She was a human, little more than chattel, and she certainly was not worth the respect given to a queen.
And yet, though she was not his for more than a short duration, part of him was proud of the way she met his eyes, as though she was truly his equal—or better. Another Wraith, even another commander, would not have dared to look him in the eye as the human doctor did. He was Guide, one of the eldest in their race, so old that none would dare breath his true name, even should they ever recall it. He had seen the rise and fall of great civilizations, had been the conquerors of those the humans called the Ancients, and was known to be both the boldest and most treacherous of their kind: a queen-slayer.
With his own race so divided, and queens so few and far between, his past had become especially fearsome, and it was this reputation he had capitalized on when conquering queenless hives.
"I do not intend to simply 'dump you,' Jennifer," he answered after a pause, ignoring for now the sensation of her own irritation. He expected her temper and frustration—those were emotions he had prepared to deal with, and they caused him far less internal turmoil to boot, for Jennifer confused him by acting queen and not-queen—and therefore, paid it little mind for the moment. "You will not be abandoned on my ship. Rather, you shall be assisting me."
"But," he added, sensing her growing hunger that only agitated his own, for he hadn't had bothered to take the time to properly feed since his return, "only after you have had a meal."
"What about Ronon and Amelia?" she demanded, hands on her hips.
He just managed to keep his surprise from showing. "What about them, Jennifer?"
"Don't give me that," she snapped. "Did you even try to look after their needs, or is it just my own because I'm the one that's most useful to you? Well, I don't know how long the Wraith can go without feeding, but us human beings need to eat frequently or our bodies begin to break down."
The fact that she seemed to place more value on her companions' well-being over her own gave him pause. The Wraith had stronger bonds of brotherhood than humans could ever imagine, but the ferocity with which Colonel Sheppard and the doctor protected and cared for their companions startled him. Especially in the case of Jennifer, for queens amongst his own people generally had little regard for those that served them.
Humans, he knew from experience, were generally quick to sacrifice each other if it ensured their own survival. Though Sheppard had proven himself to be an aberration, Guide had assumed that it was due to the colonel's strong code of honor that Guide had been perturbed to note so echoed his own. Jennifer, however, was clearly not a soldier, and she lacked Sheppard's presence, and therefore, Guide assumed, his code, as she hadn't been a member of his team.
She was also unlike Teyla—who, despite her protests, made quite the exceptional hive queen—nor did she possess Teyla's warrior presence. He'd assumed Jennifer would be softer, easier to work with. He hadn't expected her to be as biddable as the lowest soldiers of his hive, nor as eager to please as many young blades were, but he'd thought, clearly erroneously, that her curiosity would win out above all else, as a cleverman's might.
So, then, why was Jennifer so different? Queen, yet not-queen. Human, yet not-human. He growled at himself in annoyance. Why did he insist on finding the Wraith traits in her? The very notion left a bad taste in his mouth, like rotting fruit and ill humans with little life left to feast upon, and he decided it was an aberration. A side effect of near-starvation, and something he'd be sure to remedy after he ensured that the human had been looked after.
Jennifer tapped her foot against the floor repeatedly, drawing him out of his thoughts—though, from the look on her face, he assume not quickly enough.
He stifled the urge to apologize. She is not a queen, he reminded himself. "The other humans will be given food," he said after a moment, recalling what she'd originally demanded.
He wasn't giving into her, of course. Rather, he was offering her a gesture, to engender enough faith that she'd willingly work with him. Her kind of work, after all, could not truly be forced.
She folded her arms across her chest, but didn't say anything else.
"Follow me," he said, satisfied that she would do as he bade. She seemed pliable for the moment, but as he moved his hand to the panel to release her, she suddenly moved, and he realized how deeply he'd underestimated her.
She struck at him, and had he been another human, it was possible she would have hit either with her fists or the attempt that followed to grasp the weapon he kept holstered at his side. However, he was Wraith, and she'd underestimated his speed. In the time it took her to draw another breath, he had her pressed back against the wall. He kept his feeding hand clenched by her side, but rested his off-hand in warning against her throat.
She was too valuable for him to kill just yet, however, and he knew from the rebellious look in her eyes that she knew it. He needed the knowledge the humans held, for they'd come closer to a cure in a few short years than his people had in millennia. But the people of Atlantis would not allow him close anytime soon, nor would he likely get a chance to steal away the other expert from under their noses.
"Enough," he growled, shaking her slightly to try and still her struggles.
"I'm not going to be treated like a prisoner or food, Todd," she snapped, and he found he hated the way she spoke that name, and he cursed Sheppard silently for giving it. It was not his, and he hated hearing it from her mouth, even though the human before him had no right to know his true name or title. "I had wanted to work as equals, on common ground, and that just wasn't good enough for you."
"Humans could never be equal to Wraith," he hissed back. "Answer me: would your people have allowed it? We were not equals on Atlantis, nor would we be equals anywhere your people controlled. I was a prisoner there, Jennifer." His grip relaxed slightly, just enough that, he hoped, she would sense his intent. "But you are not a true prisoner here, Jennifer."
She scoffed. "Even if you believe that, I don't. And even if I did, Ronon and Amelia are still prisoners."
"For their own safety," he ground out, breathing in deeply to prevent her from getting the rise out of him that she would no doubt relish. "Neither of them are likely to prevent from attempting to escape."
"And what makes you think I'm not going to?" She struggled again for a moment, but his grip on her neck reflexively tightened just enough that she stilled.
"You made it your goal to help save the Wraith and the humans. Besides, you will not be able to escape while I am by your side," he reminded her. "Now, allow me to see to your hunger, Jennifer."
Before, he added silently, yours drives my own beyond tolerance.
Chapter 6: Hunger
It was more than a little ironic, the meal that the Wraith had served her.
For all of their carnivorous actions, Jennifer was given a meal of fruits and vegetables, along with a side of smaller grains similar to couscous on Earth—inar, she'd thought she heard Teyla call them.
Todd had disappeared sometime around when she'd walked into a room with a table of food and sat down to eat, though he'd left her in the company of three masked Wraith who hovered around the table behind her. No doubt left there, of course, in case she decided to take a chance.
He needn't have bothered, because the odds were not in her favor. She'd played enough poker to know when to bluff, when to throw down, and when to risk it all.
Right now wasn't the time. She didn't know where they were traveling, nor did she know where anything was located on his ship. Even if she had managed to escape in the first place, it would be a matter of time before she was caught, and potentially punished.
She wouldn't risk Amelia's or Ronon's lives or freeing them until she had a better idea what was going on around her.
She turned her attention to the food in front of her, determined to keep her strength up.
And damn it all if it wasn't delicious. Didn't it figure?
Ronon didn't bother to hide his surprise and suspicion as a Wraith dropped food unceremoniously into their cell.
Neither did Amelia, for she also made no attempts to rush towards it even after the Wraith left.
"You don't trust it either, do you?" she asked him, propping her arm on her leg as she rested her head on his shoulder.
He shook his head. "The Wraith don't care about the well-being of their food," he said bluntly. "If they're trying to keep us alive without cocooning us, then there has to be a reason—and I don't like not knowing what it is."
Amelia seemed as unnerved by that as he was.
When Todd returned, he was greener, less pale, and Jennifer immediately assumed he had eaten as well. She tried not to shudder at the thought. Her only refuge was the knowledge that it wouldn't have been Ronon or Amelia. He was too smart to give up those trump cards right off the bat and risk her cooperation.
Instead, he'd asked her if she had found the food to her liking, and she'd stumbled out a surprised affirmative. He'd told her she was free to take some with her to the lab, but she'd been too stunned to do so.
Her contentment should not have mattered to him, because the only thing that mattered to him was her brain, and the cure it could find for him.
But, she'd reminded herself, he doesn't want to be cured of being Wraith. He wants a cure so he can be Wraith.
She'd expected him to whisk her straight off to the lab as soon as she'd indicated she was full.
He had done so, but instead of setting her straight to work, he'd explained the tools she'd have at her disposal, the progress that had been made so far—it was as halting as her research back on Atlantis had been—and informed her there would always be someone on hand to read Wraith for her until she herself learned, even if he himself was otherwise occupied.
She'd stopped him then. "Just how long do you think this is going to take, Todd?"
And why would he trust her enough to teach her Wraith in the first place?
He inclined his head. "I am unaware that your research came with a timeline," he replied easily. "I was under the impression the Atlanteans have been researching this for years as it is."
She understood what he didn't explicitly state: she would be stuck here, with Ronon and Amelia, until the results he wanted were obtained.
But she couldn't say she was surprised, either, because she wasn't. She'd expected that the moment she'd awoken in Todd's cell. If Todd ever allowed her to leave alive, it would be after he'd felt all of her work was done.
"Why do you want the cure so badly, if you still want to stay Wraith?" she asked instead.
He seemed to consider her question, but he waited long enough to answer that she'd begun to think he wouldn't. "A human's diet is far less specific," he answered instead. "Fruit provides sustenance the same as grains or meat might."
She puzzled her way through that as she absently ran a hand through her blond hair. "You want to keep all of your abilities, but you want to diversify your diet?"
"We would not accept anything less," he stated simply. "It is what makes us Wraith."
He turned way from her, and began scrolling through lines of Wraith text on a giant screen in front of him. Clearly, that was a signal from him to familiarize herself with the laboratory and get to work.
Jennifer sighed to herself, because as far was answers went, the one he'd given was positively obtuse. She suspected, however, that it was the only answer she was likely to get from him with things as they were now.
She was by no means an expert on Wraith DNA. Nobody was, not even Carson. It was why the retrovirus had failed at every occasion, and it was why Michael's hybrids had ultimately not worked out the way he'd intended. In fact, every attempt to alter Wraith DNA, no matter how small, had ended horribly.
It was as if someone or something did not want them to succeed, and the thought bothered her. Why?
From an evolutionary standpoint, the Wraith had evolved too quickly not to have had help. Carson had believed the iratus bug had, over time, developed human qualities, but this galaxy was seeded by the Ancients. It wouldn't make sense for the enemy to have been sleeping during their stay here, because they'd brought humanity and civilization out here. There wouldn't have been a way for the iratus bug to become the Wraith with nothing to feed on, so they couldn't have predated the Ancients' arrival.
And the Ancients, according to Daniel's and Rodney's research, didn't appear to have stayed in this galaxy as long as they had in the systems around Earth. There was simply not enough time for the Wraith to evolve on their own.
Not to mention that it wouldn't make sense for the Ancients to have left humans on a planet where the iratus bug was, once it started evolving, when they so easily could have stopped it.
She stared at Todd's back, wondering if there was more to the story than even he knew—or, more likely, given his age, if he knew more about the Ancients and the Wraith's history than he'd previously mentioned.
"When did you first meet the Ancients?" she asked, making a show of rummaging about. She figured Todd was too smart to fall for her ruse, but it couldn't hurt to try.
"Many years ago." He turned back to face her. "They are not important to our research, Jennifer."
"How do you know that for sure?" she retorted, crossing her arms across her chest. "Their database is huge; we haven't been able to access more than a tenth of it."
She didn't tell him about the database the general had discovered before he'd retired, back when he'd had to have the Asgards remove it from his memory before it had overwhelmed his mind. Jack hadn't been able to keep more than a secret or two from it, but from what she'd heard, there was a wealth of knowledge that eclipsed everything humanity had already learned.
There was no way a database that size, with that much help, had nothing that could benefit them.
"And yet, you cannot access that database aboard this ship, Jennifer," he purred. His voice had dropped to that dangerous, delightful note, though she refused to shiver before him and give him any satisfaction of his unusual affect upon her.
Every time he used that voice, it seemed to be deliberate, to distract her. He obviously didn't want to talk about the Ancients, but that only convinced her further that there was more going on than he'd told her.
She decided to drop the matter for now, and work on trying to get on Todd's good side . . . if he even had one. Until he trusted her, he wasn't likely to tell her a thing.
So, first things first. If she wanted to help both the Wraith and everyone else, she have to find a cure.
And in order to do that, she'd have to convince Todd that she was his ally—and a friend.
The trouble was, she didn't know which of the two labels would bother him more.
Sorry, darlings. I had major surgery, and it knocked me out for quite some time!
BUT! I updated! Woot!
Todd, however, didn't stay with Jennifer for long. It wasn't surprising—despite his brain and his obvious talents, he also had a ship to run.
And, if things hadn't changed from Teyla's last stage, it was a queenless hive to boot, and Teyla had hinted more than once the dangers of a hive without a queen.
She estimated that about half an hour after he'd shown her about the laboratory, he'd suddenly straightened and walked out without another word. Whatever the complication was, he didn't say, though he also hadn't seemed particularly concerned, either.
But, true enough to his word, he'd left another Wraith with her. A Wraith who, as far as she could tell, was everything that Todd was not. His hair hung in silky strands, the top half of which was pulled and tied neatly at the back. He also lacked a mustache or beard—if what the Wraith called facial hair could even be considered a beard—let alone any sort of facial tattoos. His clothing, too, was simple, fluid, and black, without any decorations or designs that would suggest its use as armor.
It didn't take long for his silent stare to get to her.
"What do I call you?" she finally asked.
He didn't answer.
"Surely you have a name," she pressed, but she wasn't surprised at his continued silence. Todd, likewise, had refused to ever share his name, and if Teyla had ever picked it from his mind, she'd never shared. "I'm not going to make one up for you like the colonel does."
The Wraith indicated the science equipment with a wave of his hand.
"Alright, alright." She sighed as she made her way over to one of the computer screens. "I just hope you don't keep quiet when I need you to read something in Wraith," she grumbled to herself.
Guide quelled the resentment at the issue at hand, which pulled him away from something far more important: the future of his race.
There wasn't much he hadn't done to ensure the survival of his own race. He had discovered critical knowledge that had led to the downfall of the Ancients, but before that he had also been the one to lead his people from their former captivity at the hands of those who had created them. He had helped crack the coding of the Ancients' nanos, all to prevent further devastation from a race that had not known when to cease.
Those were achievements his own people recognized, and celebrated.
But his work had continued even into the shadows of their civilization. He had killed queens and destroyed hives, and he had formed a tenuous alliance with humans who thought themselves advanced because they dwelled within an ancient city. To his people, he was as much a phantom as he was a hero, because they never quite saw the same picture.
And now, he had brought a human to his own hive to form a bond that would ensure his kind would change once again for their future. This time, however, he feared how those changes would affect his people as a whole, and it was that fear that made him strive to make the change as seamless and changeless as possible.
His lips curled as he stared at the screen in front of him. He'd been tempted to ignore John Sheppard, but he had no desire to make their alliance any more unstable than he already had. If the doctor was indeed correct, it was very possible he might require Atlantis' aid in the near future, and for that reason alone he was entertaining the colonel's temper.
"Sheppard," he greeted as soon as the colonel's face came on the screen.
The screen flickered, and he realized whatever trick Sheppard had used hadn't been perfect, to say the least.
"Dammit, McKay." The colonel's connected fizzled out for a moment, and then popped back. " . . . do anything right?"
Guide wasn't surprised to hear McKay's comment a moment later.
"Oh, like you could do better!" he snapped, and the connection again winked out. " . . . try bouncing a signal from three locations!"
The signal faded again, and Guide found himself hoping it wouldn't restore itself, allowing him plausible deniability for future communication.
"Where's Jennifer?" Sheppard snapped a moment later.
He resisted the all-too human urge to sigh. "She is well," he drawled.
"Well forgive me if I don't take your word for it." The colonel glared at the screen, but it faded abruptly out before Guide could appreciate the effect. " . . . where are you?"
"Safe." Guide didn't so much as blink. "The doctor can do her work here without interruption. Once the cure is discovered, she will be returned safely."
And before the communication could freeze again, Guide ended it himself.
He turned to his second and glared. Do not interrupt me for this again.
He walked out with the knowledge that his message was received and understood, and headed back towards the laboratory where he'd left Jennifer. There was no guarantee of what time he'd have before his next interruption, and he intended to make use of every second assisting the doctor to ensure that a cure was found before his hive finished its circuit of the abandoned solar systems he'd directed it through.
If the hive came across any other ships, queenless or not, there would be a battle, and he had no desire to waste his time on meaningless conflict when there was a far bigger prize in store.
I have a bad confession. Honestly, I wasn't sure I'd ever continue any of my fanfics. I was unmotivated, and, well, there was no crazy influx of anyone clamoring for more to help encourage me.
So, I focused on my own work instead. But a few comments and many months later, and I'm trying again. No promises, though, but I would like to finish these.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It took hours for Todd to return to the laboratory he'd stashed her in.
Jennifer didn't have a clock, and she couldn't read Wraith to tell the time on the computer in front of her, but she was positive of that. And the entire time she'd been left alone, the shadowy Wraith in the corner was silent. He didn't speak when spoken to, he didn't answer questions Jennifer needed him to—all he did was stare blankly at her, like she was a painting at the Louvre, and he was a human dragged by an overenthusiastic girlfriend.
If she was lucky, he'd pull something up on the screen for her, but only after incessant nagging on her part.
She hated it.
She admitted to herself that she hated the silence more than anything. Back at Atlantis, she could turn and talk to Carson. There were always patients and nurses coming in and out, chattering to themselves, and she'd found it peaceful. And if she wanted conversation outside of the medlab, she could talk to Sheppard or Ronon or Teyla or even Rodney, who tried his best to be interested in the role of a medical doctor, even though they both knew better. Even Zalenka had turned out to be a surprisingly witty and amiable man.
Which, she reasoned later, is why when Todd returned, he'd found her talking to herself about the irritating Wraith chromosomes.
"Can't have twenty-three pairs like normal humans, oh no, that would be too easy," she'd groused to herself as she sat back in the chair with a huff. Frankly, she'd been surprised to note the room had furniture for her human comfort, as it appeared Wraith preferred standing over reclining. "No, Wraith have to go and have twenty-seven. Twenty freaking seven! What am I supposed to do with twenty-seven pairs of chromosomes!? What do they even need them for?"
"There are twenty-eight," Todd had said suddenly from behind her.
She'd bit her lip to keep from shrieking in surprise. There was no way she was ever going to let him have the satisfaction of scaring her.
Instead, she'd turned to face him with a carefully schooled smile. "I can count, Todd," she'd said dryly, pointing to the screen. "There are twenty-seven."
Todd had leaned over her, and she'd tried not to feel like a deer crowded by a hungry lion. "There have always been twenty-eight chromosomes, Jennifer."
"Doctor Keller," she'd corrected, but again he ignored her. "And when was the last time you looked?"
"At my own?" he'd asked, and though he hadn't change expressions or tones, she had the feeling he was surprised. "A matter of weeks before Atlantis', hmm, hospitality."
She'd waved a hand at the screen. "Then whose are these? Because there are definitely twenty-seven here, Todd."
He'd leaned back, and she'd sighed internally with relief. "I shall find out."
And that, she estimated, had been at least a half an hour ago. There were three large computers in the room, with each screen taking up most of one wall. There were two chairs in the room in front of two of the three computers, for a total of four, and two of those had what passed for a Wraith desk in front of them. In the center of the room, there were two tables full of supplies she had no name for, but assumed to be either medical or scientific in nature.
Todd continued to stare at the largest of the screens where she'd been studying the chromosomes.
Jennifer had enough. She was here to work, and by god, that Wraith was going to make it easy on her, or she was going to make him miserable.
"That's it," she snapped, slapping her palms on the desk in front of her and shoving herself to her feet. She spun around to glare at him with a fierceness that would have had Rodney cowering.
She was only slightly molified that he instantly turned away from the screen with a raised brow that she assumed as surprise, even if the rest of him didn't show it.
"I'm not here for decoration," she continued heatedly. "I'm a medical doctor, Todd, and dammit it's about time that you treated me like a partner in this lab!" She folded her arms aross her chest and waited.
Guide stared at her, waiting for an explanation. Her outburst was childish, he thought to himself uncharitably, and he waited for her to prove herself like all the other humans he'd met. Would she demand comfort and luxuries to continue her work, neither of which he was in any position to supply even if the human woman had been worthy.
She was more like a queen than he felt comfortable with. A queen saw to her comfort first, but most did not do so to the detriment of the hive. A queen was vital to the wellbeing of the hive itself, for without a queen, they could not replenish their numbers, and were more suceptible to the actions of other hives. Some, however, did so to excess, and hives suffered. They culled their Wraith mercilessly, all the while focusing on their own wants and needs.
His last queen had been one such queen, and the only reason he had not done away with her was her willingness to allow him to move freely and take action aboard the hive as he saw fit. Teyla had merely continued such an image for him.
Jennifer was not Wraith, and in his experience, humans rarely put anyone before themselves. Even Teyla was willing to sacrifice others for her son.
But again, Jennifer surprised him.
"You're hurting my effectiveness," she snapped. "I can't read Wraith, Todd, and none of this," she flung one hand to the screen next to her, "is in anything I can read. Mr. Silent and Deadly over there doesn't translate, doesn't navigate the computer, and doesn't reply to my questions."
He felt mildly chasitized. She didn't know how much the room had already been altered for her comfort, but he had failed to consider the limitations he uncomfortably recalled the Atlanteans bringing up earlier, before he'd fled the city with his capitives.
"And," she continued after a deep breath, "you ignore me while I'm here. We aren't partners, Todd. And if you want my help, you're going to have to fix that."
He didn't even look at Shadowblade. Leave. Stand outside the door.
As the cleverman left, he considered how to salvage the situation. Teyla, known to his hive as Steelflower, their queen—he did not expect this human to rival her stubbornness.
"It was not my intention to ignore you," he said finally, hoping she'd accept his words at face-value. "I merely became absorbed in this...abnormality." He decided to go ahead and tell her his thoughts, which he hoped would engage her and distract her from her temper. "It would appear that the younger Wraith, those born in the last twenty years or so, have begun to suffer a loss of a paired chromosome."
"Why?" she asked, unfolding her arms to place them on her hips.
He was unsure if her actions meant she was more angry, or less so, but still, if he wanted her aid, he would have to be honest and hope that would be sufficient to dissolve her ire. "I am not certain. Perhaps it is an effect of the cloning or loss of queens. It is most odd."
Jennifer removed her hips and shrugged as her walked over to his computer. "Maybe, but it may not be a bad thing," she said, staring at the screen she could not read. "It means those two chromosomes don't have any impact on your feedings, since it appears they're feeding fine, right?"
At his slight nod, she smiled slightly. "Then identify them on here for me so we don't waste our time. Besides, it's thought humans used to have more chromosomes, and it's possible we lost at least one paired set of chromosomes ourselves. We function just fine."
It took him a moment to realize she'd attempted to comfort him, assuming he'd be upset at the news and seeking to reassure him. Oddly enough, though it had been many millenia since anyone had attempted to truly comfort him, he found he didn't mind that this human tried.
It was, he decided, an offering of peace. "I will ensure a Wraith will remain here to aid you in the language and our systems even when I am not here," he said after a moment, recognizing her request wasn't unreasonable, and he wanted her to be efficient.
The sooner she solved the mystery, the sooner he could return her, hopefully before any other hives discovered his "pet" and either attempted to take her themselves, or attack his ship. He could war and consolidate power later, once he had this trump card in his hands.
But... if she should die of old age before they could? He was positive he wouldn't have the chance to make off with another human from Atlantis—so what then? What if it took longer than either of them expected?
It took the Wraith millenia to get where they were now, and while he was confident the two of them could find a cure, he was less confident as to when.
"The chromosomes," she prompted, interrupting his musing, and he dutifully indicated the two on a second string of chromosomes he pulled up for comparison. "How old are you, Todd?"
"I have not kept track," he said off-hand, because he hadn't, but also because she had no need of such knowledge.
"Well, are your parents still alive?" she continued when he didn't elaborate.
He was amused at the idea. She truly had no knowledge of who he was...or how he'd come into being. "It is not important," he said.
She huffed. "Look, Todd, I'm not a geneticist, and I'm not asking this to pry. DNA mutates over time, and it can erode, too. I need a string of DNA for comparison that is as close to the first Wraith as possible."
That was reasonable, and what he, too, had been doing, but for different reasons. He wanted to test his DNA first, for he would have to be the change others would emulate. He pulled up his own DNA, but did not tell her whose it was. "This one should suit your purposes."
There is trouble, his second, Obsidian, said. Many hives are headed this way.
Guide immediately straightened. I will be there momentrily. He then reached out for a young cleverman, one still eager enough to please, given that Guide's hive had given him a home after his own had been destroyed. Blue, you are to report to this laboratory. You will be assisting the human with her research in any way she needs, unless it conflicts with your oath to this hive.
Yes, commander, the youthful voice said, giving the impression of a Wraith bow.
"I will return," he said to Jennifer, who was staring at the chromosomes with interest. "I have called one to assist you with what you need."
He left without hearing her response, and not for the first time he wished he had the freedom to study this thing without interruption.
If you've read the books, I plan on creatively and sort of taking artistic license on Wraith and the plot of the books, so don't be surprised going forward! I want to do more with Guide than I could otherwise. Keller, too.
John Sheppard glowered at the gate before him.
It had been three days, and all Rodney had been able to do was restore gate functionality. Whatever coding Todd had added to the gate had been removed, and the gate had been tested before he and the rest of the people stranded on the planet with him had been allowed to return to Atlantis.
That had been yesterday, and still no one had any answers for him on where Todd had taken his people.
John wanted his answers now, so he could point his gun at Todd and shoot him. It would at least solve one of his problems, though he knew Woosley would not approve.
Too bad he won't be there when I rescue our people.
"We must be patient," Teyla soothed as she walked up to him. "Rodney and Radak will find a way to track them."
John knew Teyla meant well, but her words didn't help. He had four people he, personally, was responsible for, in the hands of hungry Wraith, and if there was one thing he'd learned, it was that the Wraith could not be trusted.
"Forgive me for being so uncharitable." John didn't bother to keep the sass from his tone. "But I have four people and a Wraith prisoner missing, and no one has any answers for me! It's been three days, Teyla."
"I am aware." Teyla put a hand on his arm in a comforting gesture. "I am sure they are working as hard as they can. Todd will not harm them, John."
"You don't know that," he snapped, but he didn't shake off her arm. "No one knows that! What do we really know about the Wraith?"
"More than you may think." Teyla sighed. "Todd is not Michael, John."
John snorted. "Of course not. In case anyone forgot, Michael's dead. We killed him."
He didn't bother to hide his pride.
"Have faith." Teyla pulled her arm away, "I must see to my son, John, but please get some rest. We are beginning to worry about you."
John didn't bother to reply. Instead, he stalked off to find Rodney to see what was taking so long.
Ronon and Amelia had been more or less left alone.
Ronon could only guess at how long they'd been on board the Wraith hive ship, but Amelia was far less concerned. As she'd said, clearly Todd intended to keep them alive, or he wouldn't ensure they had food.
But Ronon didn't like that Jennifer was somewhere on the ship alone.
"The colonel will find us." Amelia had been firm on that.
Ronon wasn't as sure. He trusted Sheppard, and he trusted Rodney more or less. At least, he trusted the whiny scientist to get answers if Rodney was under pressure. But honor and courage were two things the scientist lacked in droves.
But he didn't want to discourage Amelia, either. She remained positive, but she didn't stop trying to find an escape, so he figured that it did little harm allowing her to hold onto that hope. Not that they'd been successful yet, but sooner or later, they'd find a way out.
At least for now; Wraith didn't let you hope for long.
Sooner or later, their situation would change.
"Where do you think Dr. Keller is?" Amelia asked after awhile.
Ronon shrugged. "Depends."
"On what the Wraith want from her."
Amelia considered that as she sprawled on her bench. "What do you think they want?"
Ronon considered her question. It was unlikely that they were brought here just for food. Ronon might be turned into a Runner again, but Todd wasn't stupid. Feeding on them, or doing them any harm, would result in war with Atlantis that Todd probably wasn't in any position to deal with. If he was, then he'd have already fed on them.
"I don't know," he said finally.
"I wonder if it's the science." Amelia began an exercise she'd called bicycling; both of them were determined to remain in shape. "Didn't you say Todd was interested in a cure for the Wraith?"
Ronon scoffed. "Not a cure, Amelia. A way for the Wraith to feed on an alternative food source. They'd still be Wraith."
"Do you think that's why? It would explain why Dr. Keller isn't here with us."
"It's possible." Ronon looked out of the prison to the empty hallway. He kept expecting to see Wraith walk towards them any moment, but so far, none had except to occassionally serve them meals.
So far, they'd had five, but Ronon wasn't sure if they were being fed on any regular schedule.
"If that's the case, will they send us home when she's done?" Amelia didn't sound like she believed the Wraith would do that any more than he did.
"I don't know," he answered honestly.
Amelia stopped exercising and looked over at him. "I could use a distraction," she said with a pointed look. "So could you."
He laughed as she approached him. Never had he known a woman as bold and confident as she, who both knew what she wanted, and wasn't afraid to reach for it.
He liked it. He was surprised at how much he liked how she matched him, and the way she tried to order him around.
So, he didn't protest when she pulled him into her arms, and moved to kiss him.
Kissing her, loving her, was the best thing he'd done in a long, long time.
I promise, we'll get right back to Guide and Jennifer next chapter. But this one needed to be here.
A/N: It was never my intention to leave any of my WIP stories pending for any length of time. That said, I'm right in the middle of preparing my book (finally!) for self-publishing, and time has gotten away from me. Once the book is live, my distraction level should decrease significantly (I hope).
The Wraith Todd sent this time to stay with Jennifer was completely different from the one before, to the point she was taken aback.
She'd always assumed that being broody, silent, and secretive was part and partial of being Wraith, but the cheerful Wraith before her was either an aberration, or Atlantis knew far less about the Wraith than anyone had ever assumed.
"So, what do I call you," Jennifer had asked when the Wraith had dutifully moved closer to help Jennifer read a long string of Wraith text.
There had been no hesitation at all. "Blue." The name was offered up so easily and was so innocuous that Jennifer guessed it couldn't be his real name. After all, weren't the Wraith all about maintaining their image of being fear and awe inspiring?
Blue simply didn't fit.
But as the hours wore on, she began to revise her opinion. Whether or not Blue was the Wraith's real name was a question she doubted she'd ever get the answer to, but she was forced to admit that the name fit.
"The commander stated I am to attend to your needs," Blue confessed at one point, and when Jennifer raised an eyebrow, he added with a blush—a blush! lord almighty, Wraith can blush!—and an awkward smile, "My prior hive didn't keep humans, and I'm unfamiliar with what I am sensing from you. I don't know how often hunger or your other needs stir, or how they may feel. But I'll learn quickly," he added eagerly. "Soon I'll know exactly what you are feeling at any given time."
That caused Jennifer herself to blush, to her own surprise. "I'm not hungry right now," she said, but her stomach chose that moment to rumble and belly her words.
She was rendered speechless when Blue laughed. "I will have food brought to you."
Later, after food arrived, Jennifer asked the question that had been looming in the back of her mind. "You can sense what I'm feeling?"
Blue bobbled his head in response, and Jennifer couldn't decide if he was just young, or naive, or both.
"Can all Wraith sense that?" she pressed, hoping he'd say otherwise. The idea that Todd constantly knew what she was feeling had her want to give in to the childish urge to hide from him and prevent him from seeing her intimate self.
Again Blue nodded. "Though obviously those of us who keep humans in our hives are better at understanding them."
In other words, Jennifer thought to herself in a wave of acute embarrassment, Todd knows everything I've been feeling. Everything. How embarrassing.
She'd never had that closeness with anyone before, not even Rodney. To be fair, Rodney was rotten at reading emotions or the mood anyway, but even so, she'd always had the comfort of being her own person in her own space.
Now it sounded like that would be impossible on the Wraith ship. On one hand, it was a good thing she hadn't seriously contemplated escape—or, to be more accurate, had immediately dismissed it as an impracticality, given the fact that she was on a Wraith ship in the middle of what was most likely deep Wraith territory—but on the other, it meant that Todd, her prior Wraith guard, and everyone else were intimately aware of her person at all times, and for Jennifer, that idea was more than a little hard to stomach.
But then Blue surprised her. "We are aware of each other's emotions at all times, Jennifer." He enunciated her name slowly, stressing the Jenn and making the 'i' long in a way that was eerily reminiscent of Todd. "But it is polite to refrain from speaking of it unless the bond is close."
From that, Jennifer took away two things. One, that the Wraith were far more of a psychic race than even Teyla had guessed, and two, that some sort of social code kept them from deliberately intruding on each other's thoughts even though it must be second nature to do so.
She was mollified. Even if Todd knew what she thought, it sounded like he wouldn't remark on it, so she was just going to act as though Blue never told her.
There had been silence after that while she'd eaten, but once she turned back to the code, Blue answered each of her questions as quickly as she'd asked them. Unlike Todd, he wasn't intellectually capable of being her equal—not that he was lacking, but more the feeling she had that his intelligence lay elsewhere, given that he understood science well enough to answer some of her more complicated questions—and so she still struggled to make progress.
What she really needed was someone who understood Wraith genes. Back on Atlantis, that would have meant Carson, but here on Todd's ship, it meant Todd himself. Without him or a viable way of testing the chromosomes to see what would influence what traits, she was left to guess and poke around without much success.
The best she'd been able to accomplish was marking all the spots on the chromosomes that matched a human equivalent, after Blue had uploaded her own sample to compare to. Those, at least, she felt safe in noting as not related to Wraith feeding.
Whatever Todd was doing, she hoped it was equally important to the task at hand.
Guide's lips thinned as he felt the stare of his second.
Obsidian was the only other Wraith aboard Guide's ship that knew the full brunt of what Guide had done. Not all of it, and certainly not Guide's past as a queen-slayer, but Obsidian knew of Jennifer, Atlantis, and what Guide was working to achieve.
Obsidian also knew the truth behind Steel Flower and her human life as Teyla.
What do we do? Obsidian was young compared to Guide, but far older than most of the newest members who had joined Guide's hives after losing their own queens. Other Wraith had deflected by choice, caught up in the drama and power-plays, but most had fallen to Guide because they still desired a place to call home, and that was the one thing denied to a hive that had committed the greatest atrocity and allowed the demise of their queen before the demise of themselves.
Obsidian was different, and he continued to intrigue Guide. Obsidian had left a war-queen, Dark Night, when she was in her prime and had several under-queens that owed her allegiance. In the world of queens and politics, Dark Night was a queen to flock to.
But when Dark Night had demanded Obsidian be her consort, instead of agreeing, as most males would have without question to such an honor, Obsidian had sought sanctuary elsewhere in a rival hive. When that hive had fallen into Dark Night's army, Obsidian had sought another, and then another, continuing to evade the queen who pursued him out of rage.
Dark Night had eventually fallen victim to one of her own sub-queens, but his hive had not forgotten the slight. And it was Dark Night's replacement, Silver Tongue, who vowed to enact retribution in order to consolidate her own power and position.
Silver Tongue had taken advantage of the power vacuum left by Guide's imprisonment. Obsidian had observed from a distance while Guide had been imprisoned as three rival queens had sought to take control of all the remaining hives, but Silver Tongue currently held the advantage by way of numbers and sub-queens. She'd absorbed most of Guide's leaderless fleet.
The other two rival queens, White Flower and Firestorm, had been left scrambling for crumbs, but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in cunning and ruthlessness.
Obsidian's voice had been flat when he'd delivered the news. All three queens were converging on Guide's position.
Now, his second waited quietly for Guide to reveal their next move.
A jump would alert them to our presence, Guide intoned as he stared out at the vast expanse of space that would soon become a battle ground. There is little we can do but wait.
The queens had likely chosen the same area of space for the same reason Guide had: it was beyond the reaches of Atlantis, but close enough to habitable worlds for supplies, and in an area that could be easily enough defended.
And when they notice us? Obsidian moved to stand just behind Guide. What then, Commander?
Despite the approach of Silver Tongue, there was no hint of apprehension in Obsidian. Silver Tongue's punishment would likely be long and drawn out, to better set the example, but Obsidian remained unexpressive.
We do what we must to continue our mission. Guide's words were just as impassive. Our species as a whole must survive.
A sense of grimness swept through them both at the ominous words, but if Obsidian understood Guide's intentions to eradicate any who stood in his way, queen or not, he never said a word.
There was an odd sense of urgency when Todd rejoined Jennifer. To her surprise, he didn't dismiss Blue upon arrival, nor give any other indication of the other Wraith's presence save for a slight nod of his head.
Todd's mood was off, but why she couldn't say. Did Wraith get anxious? Upset? Sad?
If so, what would they even be sad about? The question kept her musing, distracting her from the genome in front of her. As far as Carson's notes went, it appeared that the Wraith didn't have familiar bonds, and though John's file on Todd had indicated Todd had once said the Gift of Life was reserved for the most devote of servants and their brothers, no one had ever observed any semblance of what anyone would call a Wraith friendship.
She knew they got hungry, knew they had a sense of humor—albeit a twisted and sadistic one—and that some seemed to relish in a sense of enjoyment, like the Wraith who had enjoyed eating human food for the apparent pleasure of doing so.
Her eyes drifted to Todd who was currently standing before his own screen, leaning forward as he enlarged one of the sections she'd marked earlier as a non-possibility for the feeding gene. She'd found herself standing whenever he was in the room, feeling too uncomfortable to be the only one sitting down. At least Blue had sat down beside her, likely in acknowledgement to the discomfort he felt emanating from her.
Todd had always looked unkempt, with an air about him that said he cared little for the perceptions of others, with a self-confidence she couldn't help but envy. When most Wraith had never dared to look less than impeccable, Todd had always appeared to have other, more heavy thoughts weighing on his mind.
Were the Wraith more human then they'd guessed?
She tried not to shudder at the thought. It was difficult to ascribe humanity to a creature that took such delight on stealing the life of others, but then an uncharitable voice reminded her that humans, too, killed to eat. Most didn't relish it the way the Wraith did, but some did enjoy the hunt of their prey in a similar manner.
She dragged her gaze back to the computer before Todd noticed her staring. The Wraith genome, though far more complicated than her own, did indeed carry more human markers than she'd thought possible. And it wasn't as though the human genes were spliced in; the Wraith genome was a perfect replica of the human genome, though there were more genes spliced in that potentially came from the iratus bug or some other creature.
All life on Earth had evolved from the same creature: bacteria. And from there, the creatures had branched out, but the entire human genome could be traced back to each of its distant ancestors, all the way back to that simple bacteria. And along the way, the genome showed the traits it had picked up at each stage as it evolved. Some were recessed, dormant, within the genome, but they hadn't disappeared.
She ran her hands through her hands. It was impossible—it had to be—but the evidence before her disagreed. If the Wraith had truly evolved in a different planet, descended from the iratus bug, then they would have human DNA spliced within, but they wouldn't have the exact same genome. They would have the genome of whatever paths life had taken on that planet before developing into the iratus bug.
She nearly blurted out the revelation in surprise, but she immediately recalled the problems Michael encountered when he'd tried to return to Wraith society. The Wraiths had sneered at his human taint, and had apparently refused to ever accept him as one of them again.
Did the Wraith not know?
Once again she found herself staring at Todd, but this time she looked for every similarity she could find between her species and his. If he was truly another evolution of the human species—though clearly more advanced, given the genome—why had his Wraith traits overtaken his human ones?
Or had they? He had a human mouth, equipped with teeth and tongue, despite the fact that adult Wraith didn't eat with it. And though his eyes appeared better developed to hunt at night than a human's, they were the same shape and in the same location as a human's. He still had two arms and two legs, same as she, and given the similarities in their genome, it stood to reason Wraith could reproduce in the same manner as humans, and thus had the same or similar gonads. He even had a head full of hair, despite the fact it probably provided no advantages to a life in space.
For all intents and purposes, if one ignored the Wraith feeding process, he was a bipedal human, same as she.
How had they evolved? she wondered, gaping at Todd as she sagged against the table. Do they know the truth of their origins?
Jennifer couldn't decide the answer. It was possible that they did and simply looked down at humans as their more primitive cousins and unworthy of their attention beyond a food source, but it was equally possible that, in the ten thousand years that had passed since the Ancients left—and who knew how long the Ancients had dwelled within the galaxy before they'd left—that the knowledge had been lost.
She rubbed her hands over her face, trying not to broadcast her distress.
Evidently she failed because Todd suddenly turned his head to look down at her, one brow raised in an obvious question.
She decided to test the waters. "I had Blue take a DNA sample from me," she explained, proud of how calm she sounded, "and we used that to mark the genes that were similar. Your genome is similar enough that I can say with relative confidence that those genes don't contribute to your, ah, unusual feeding."
"I see," Todd rumbled deeply. "That is most useful, Jennifer."
He didn't seem at all perturbed, and she narrowed her eyes in suspicion. She didn't know if Todd knew the truth about his ancestry, but it was clear that he did know more than he let on.
She sighed to herself. Todd would have been a killer poker player if he'd been a human on Earth. If the Wraith had anything similar for entertainment, she rather imagined he dominated the game.
"Do you have any ideas on where to start?" she asked him dubiously. Though she'd eradicated quite a few genes from the list of possibilities, there were still plenty of possibilities on the twenty eight pairs before her. Well, twenty-seven, given the missing one had been removed from the list, too, since it had been lost in recent generations. But unfortunately, human scientists hadn't identified what all the parts of the genome related to, and Jennifer herself was a medical doctor. She'd never studied genes beyond rudimentary classes in med school.
Todd remained quiet, but finally he pointed to two of the genes that had no human correspondents. "I suspect it may be one of these." Though he sounded sure, she had the feeling he was just as bemused as she was.
She moved to stand beside him and look at the ones he'd pointed out. "Why?"
Todd shrugged one shoulder. "Intuition, perhaps?" There was a faint rumble to his voice that sounded amused, and she narrowed her eyes at him again.
"You're enjoying this," she said, deciding to call him out on it.
Both brows raised, but there was a slight twitch to his mouth that told her he was repressing a smile. "Perhaps."
She snorted. "And they say Wraith don't have a sense of humor. Next thing I know, you'll be telling me a joke."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blue look downright startled, as though he didn't expect to hear a human tease a Wraith.
Well tough, she thought to herself. If she was going to be living amongst the Wraith until this was solved, they were going to have to learn how to deal with humans. A little interaction would be good for them.
And, she thought cheerfully, if she could help Rodney develop a more pleasant personality, she could certainly work her charms on a couple of Wraith.
The skin around Todd's eyes crinkled and he couldn't fully suppress his smile. "I doubt you would understand our jokes, Jennifer."
She knew a challenge when she heard one, and she put her hands on her hips. "Try me."
She heard a cough from Blue that she firmly suspected was a chuckle.
"Later," Todd said instead, and she decided it was a promise she was going to hold him to. "For now, we most focus at the task at hand."
Jennifer threw her hands in the air. "We've been doing this for hours, Todd! My brain is fried! If I have to look at this genome one more time without a break, I'm liable to scream. Or throw something."
Todd turned to face her and he seemed to take a moment to study her, as though weighing the truth of her words. "This is important, Jennifer," he said finally. "We must complete this before the situation of my people worsens further."
She waved a hand. "I'm not saying walk away, Todd. I'm saying I need to think of something else for a moment. I'm sure you Wraith don't have this issue," she hoped her sarcasm wasn't blatant, "but we humans can spend so much time focusing on one small part of the picture that we miss the rest. A break allows us to come back and look at the issue fresh and see what we've missed."
Todd tilted his head and seemed to think. Finally, he said, "How long do these breaks take?"
Instead of answering him, Jennifer grinned. "Have you ever heard of a human card game called Poker?"
As Jennifer had expected, once Todd had learned the basics of poker, he'd caught on quickly and soon she was struggling to find any hint of a tell.
Todd, on the other hand, seemed to have no difficulties. He seemed to read her like a book and there were several hands she'd gotten the distinct feeling of being led around like a horse around a track before he'd inevitably decimated her and won. Every so often he had this little smile at the corner of his mouth as though he was laughing at her and she couldn't figure out why.
It frustrated her to no end. She'd known, of course, that she had tells. Everyone did. The trick to poker was to know both your tells and your opponent and, well, Jennifer's personal knowledge of Todd was lacking.
She vowed to remedy that starting immediately. She was the queen of poker and she wouldn't hand over her title without a fight.
Blue, in comparison, was horrible at poker. He grasped the basics of the game but lacked the finer understanding of building the perfect hand and misleading opponents.
After several rounds, Jennifer began to get the impression that Blue must be very, very young. All of the Wraith she'd been exposed to up until this point had been devious, calculating, and ruthless.
But Blue seemed more like a puppy in her mind. A vampire puppy perhaps, but a puppy nonetheless. He seemed eager to please Todd but lacking in the traits that she'd assumed had been innate in all Wraith up until now.
It was obvious that Blue looked up to Todd with a mixture of adoration and cautiousness and Jennifer couldn't help but wonder what Todd had done to earn such a reaction. Whatever it was, neither Wraith was volunteering anything.
Todd had requested food while they played and to her surprise, he'd sipped a sweet, alcoholic smelling beverage while she'd eaten. Blue hadn't been offered the drink and hadn't asked and Jennifer had the amusing thought that perhaps Blue was underage.
But once the food was gone, her cards were packed up back into the box to return to her bag later and back they'd gone to studying the genome. The break had helped, but despite Todd's intuition about the possible causes, they were no closer to identifying the true source of the feeding gene.
Suddenly, Todd had straightened. He'd looked over at Blue and then strode out of the lab without so much as a word to Jennifer.
She decided right then and there that she'd had enough. She was tired of his disappearing acts, tired of the lack of answers, tired of the misleading information and frustrated attempts at communication.
She was going to have answers and she was going to get them now.
She looked at Blue. "Escort me to Todd." When Blue gave her a disapproving look and opened his mouth, she added, "Now. Or I'll find him myself. Don't think you'll be able to stop me, either."
Blue closed his mouth and seemed to think. "The commander won't be happy."
"Fuck the commander," she hissed.
Blue blushed and Jennifer belated realized that the Wraith probably understood the word, somehow, but not the intent behind her words, but she didn't get a chance to remedy his misunderstanding. "Oh," Blue said shortly. "Ah, that may not be the best action given his location."
Jennifer, despite her age and experience, blushed herself at the insinuation that Todd was probably with someone else. Perhaps several someones. Not likely to be a queen, since all the intel they'd had up until this point proved that Todd had been telling the truth about being a queenless hive.
And then, despite herself, she'd had to wonder. Blue didn't seem repulsed by her accidental insinuation which suggested that the Wraith weren't as repulsed by humans as they made themselves out to be. Otherwise he'd have reacted much more strongly to the suggestion that she was interested in banging his commander. That or they'd slept with humans before killing them for their own amusement, which she supposed was equally possible.
She wasn't really sure what to do with that information, either. In a way, it made sense. If there was only one queen for a hive then most of the males either were celibate or they all got it on with the queen. And if the queen was selective then it made sense that humans would be the only other alternative for a male the queen didn't want.
But can they reproduce with humans? She glanced over at the genome as Blue fidgeted.
The genes suggested that they could. Humans had reproduced with at least two of their close relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, proven by the genes those species had passed down to their mixed descendants. Some scientists suggested that such interbreeding had been common throughout the history of the homo genus, though there was no evidence to support those claims.
But with the similarities, it made sense that humans and Wraith could potentially reproduce, too, and produce healthy offspring. But would their offspring be viable and able to reproduce? Would they be able to feed like humans or would they be forced to feed like Wraith?
Blue coughed lightly. "I have been ordered to keep you here," he said finally, interrupting her wayward thoughts.
She suddenly remembered her ire. "Well then you can stay here. But I'm leaving."
Blue nodded. "I realize that. It is safer to stay with you than to allow you to go alone."
And though Blue seemed reluctant, he opened the door and ushered her out of the lab she'd been cooped up in. Silently, he'd led the way through the halls of the hive ship. They passed several Wraith guards along the way and there seemed to be some unspoken communication behind them.
The telepathy, she realized. Teyla had mentioned that the Wraith are all connected via the same neurological network. They can communicate mentally.
It was the first time she'd seen physical evidence to support Teyla's claims and it astounded her. It didn't seem to be just words that were exchanged but something more. As though they didn't need to speak at all and were somehow aware of each other, all through their connection to their network.
But Jennifer didn't have much time to dwell on that realization, either, because after a few minutes they were outside of a door. Blue hesitated but she had the feeling it was more to announce their presence or get permission than any true hesitation.
After a moment, Blue opened the door and ushered her inside.
She was inside what she'd have called the command center of the hive, though she had no idea how the Wraith referred to it. Todd stood in the center, surrounded by several immaculate Wraith all accessing panels on the hive ship interface, but Todd's gaze remained focused on the screen ahead of him. Though she knew he had to be aware of their presence, he never made any sign that he acknowledged them at all.
She turned to see what had captured his attention.
And before her eyes, she saw an army of hive ships on the radar closing in on their position. There were three distinct groups, each varying in size and power, but all three seemed to be converging with deadly intent. One of the groups had already deployed darts and as she watched, the other two deployed darts as well.
And then all the ships seemed to hold their position as though they were waiting for something.
"Oh shit," was all she could manage to say.
"Oh shit indeed."
"Alright, Rodney, it's odd. I'll give you that," Radek Zelenka said, glaring at his companion. "But it isn't enough to prove that the gate was tampered with."
"Oh please." Rodney snorted derisively. "Even a circus monkey could tell this was sabotage. If you look here," Rodney circled an area of the code on the tablet with his stylus, "you can clearly see foreign code. And it's obviously Wraith."
"It is not Wraith," Radek immediately argued. "There are none of the usual markers the Wraith use when they've attempted to hack Atlantis previously."
"That's because," Rodney dragged out the word, "they are learning! It's like I'm speaking another language here!"
Radek cursed in Czech.
The colonel walked up just as Radek threw his hands up in the air. "I take it that's not a good sign," he drawled.
"I think we've found the reason the gate didn't work." Rodney puffed out his chest. "The Wraith sabotaged our gate."
"No, you've found something odd. That's all. It could simply be a coding error. Computers glitch, Rodney. This is hardly proof of Wraith sabotage," Radek immediately argued. "We don't have enough information to prove one way or the other."
John Sheppard looked at Radek and then Rodney. "So you're saying you've found sabotage in the coding."
"Yes," Rodney said at the same time Radek said, "No."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes," he stressed, "we have. Look here." Rodney showed the colonel the coding he and Radek had been arguing over.
"Great." John folded his arms across his chest and raised a brow. "So where are they?"
"We don't know," Radek said, glaring at Rodney. "That is just a bit of code. We haven't decoded what it does or how it would affect the gate let alone where it might have sent Dr. Keller, Ronon, Amelia Banks, and the Wraith."
"Oh please. Like that's hard." Rodney snorted.
"Then do it." John didn't seem impressed with Rodney's bragging.
"We're working on it." Radek held up his tablet. "If Rodney's correct, then the code should tell us where they were gated. But it's a big if, colonel. It could also be a run of the mill computer glitch or a code designed to do something else entirely. We just don't know."
"It's Wraith," Rodney repeated defiantly. "And I'm never wrong."
Radek and John exchanged glances.
"Look, I'll send Lieutenant Rivera Garcia to help. She has a background in coding. But we need this solved now, Rodney." John reached for his walkie talkie to bark out the order.
But a moment later John was summoned to the gate room.
He walked into find Woosley standing in the command room looking perturbed.
"The Genii just contacted us," Woosley explained. "They're giving reports of three different hive fractions converging on each other."
"Good. Let them blow themselves up." John rested his arm on his gun. "Less of them for us to kill."
"Hmm." Woosely gave him a disapproving look. "Now that our gates are functional and Dr. McKay has reassured me we won't have any future issues with the gate, I think it's worth checking out. We need to ascertain the Wraith's position and see if they are preparing to continue or end this civil war they are embroiled in."
"And I disagree. We should focus on getting our people back," John argued.
"Dr. Zelenka and Dr. McKay are doing just that. But meanwhile things continue to happen, colonel. Check the rumor out. It shouldn't take long." Woosley turned around, evidently dismissing John.
"And I disagree." John stepped in front of Woosley. "I'm the highest ranking officer on Atlantis and that makes me the military leader of this base—"
"I'm well aware of your position," Woosley said smoothly. "And as the military leader of Atlantis, it's your duty to investigate all possible security risks to this base. Check out the rumors, colonel."
John pressed his lips together but he couldn't think of anything to say to refute Woosley's order. Irritated, he stormed out of the control room, careful to keep his irritation to himself lest he look like a toddler in the middle of a tantrum.
But damn if he didn't feel like one.
And the plot thickens...
Jennifer stared at the sight before her with an awed sense of horror.
She was a medical doctor, not a military leader. She'd sworn an oath to save life.
But the Wraith had no such oaths—aside from some vague version of brotherhood that she'd heard had been mentioned by the Wraith before—and they were warriors first. Even those who seemed to be more geared to science, like Todd, were warriors before they were scientists. Todd himself was a master strategist and she suspected his early, formative years had been spent killing rather than studying.
The sight before them was intimidating. It wasn't three large hive ships but three fleets of hive ships, and she swore that altogether there were more darts than had even been launched in the attacks on Atlantis.
No attacks had been made yet and the darts had yet to turn the direction of Todd's ship.
But why? Jennifer glanced over at Todd, who was calm and collected despite the blatant threat before them. He hadn't said a word since he'd echoed her own cursing, and if she hadn't seen the threat with her own eyes, she wouldn't have guessed anything was wrong.
Blue, on the other hand, was notably fidgety as he shuffled from one foot to the other. He obviously was unnerved, but he continually stopped to straighten his posture as though he'd realized he was acting nervous and hoped to regain his composure. He'd then hurriedly glanced over at Todd, who didn't seem to be paying him the slightest bit of attention, before he relaxed and ultimately ended up fidgeting again.
The rest of the Wraith in the command room seemed as equally unfazed as their commander, as though they somehow were feeding off or reflecting the calm Todd so effortless emanated.
But the calming effect, whatever it was, that Todd was sharing didn't reach Jennifer. Perhaps it was because she wasn't tied into their neuro-network or perhaps it was just simply because she was too stubborn to let someone subconsciously influence her, but Jennifer remained locked on her own reflection of the situation at hand.
After several long moments passed, Jennifer could no longer stand the silence.
"Well?" She raised a brow as she met Todd's gaze. For a moment, he'd looked surprised, but the expression was gone so quickly she couldn't be sure. "What are we going to do?"
Silver Tongue, White Flower, and Firestorm all had launched darts but had stalled any attacks in a stalemate as they sized up one another's armies. Each, Guide knew from experience, would believe she was the best, the most fitting to rule the rest, no matter how many hives and darts they commanded.
He, personally, had only met White Flower, but none of that mattered. He could feel their energy jarring through the Wraith's innate connection and knew their hostility. Each Wraith queen believed she alone had the power to consolidate the remaining hives, and each queen was willing to do whatever it took to accomplish that fact. Each queen was radiating her own ego so strongly that even those on his own ship had picked it up, resulting in the youngest, Blue, shuffling as he tried not to act on the blatant command to destroy all others so that that queen would win.
But none of the queens directed their attacks on his hive ship and for now that meant they'd been successful in avoiding detection.
Though Guide himself had only one hive ship, and one that was severely diminished at that, he knew that if his hive was detected, the queens would have cast aside their battle plans to launch an attack on his hive. Each would crave the honor of either obliterating him or capturing him, no matter the cost.
And that was all without knowing Guide's darker side, his reputation that had far preceded him but one that left no survivors to share who, exactly, had done the unthinkable. Most hives knew him as one of the Ancient Ones, one of the few that had been with the Wraith since the era of the Wraith had began. Few knew he was one of the original Wraith, and fewer still knew what his true purpose had been when he'd been created.
But none knew that he was the one they'd whispered about, the queen-slayer, though all knew the stories of their boogeyman who left no survivors in his mad lust. True, it had been many years since he'd wrought such devastation, but when one lived as long as most Wraith did, old stories died hard.
He glanced over at the sole human in the room as she demanded an answer.
"Well? What are we going to do?"
We. The word seemed to echo quietly through his mind.
Guide didn't know if Jennifer had realized it, but consciously or subconsciously she'd included herself in both Guide's plans and his hive. And without his conscious thought—for now—he accepted her as such. He no longer saw her as one of the humans residing in Atlantis, pumped up on their own twisted morals and sense of self-worth. In the time she'd been on his hive, she'd become someone separate. An unique being.
Few humans could lay claim to such when it came to the Wraith, because few Wraith would allow themselves to become so attached to a being that they might not only one day have to eat, but also one that would perish before any sense of depth could be explored.
Fewer still could make that claim with him in particular. In fact, it had been only one, one who had been the original resident in the city the Atlanteans now resided in. Ironic that both were Atlanteans, though of different races, but the thought never fully settled in his mind.
Instead, he directed his attention to her question at hand.
"We wait," he said simply.
The Wraith in his command were already doing such, but Jennifer was human and he could not direct her thoughts the way he could with his own kind.
She huffed and folded her arms across her chest. "In case you haven't noticed, we have one hive ship," there was that word again, "and they have an armada. I'm a doctor, Todd, but even this screams to me 'retreat!'"
"Would we," Todd said calmly, "they would most certainly notice our hyperdrive activating."
There is no reason to attract trouble was insinuated but he would not insult her intelligence by stating the obvious aloud.
Jennifer sighed and he picked up on the tension and nervousness emanating from her. Part of him wanted to console her, but the rest of him simply wanted her settled so she'd stop distracting him from the potential crisis at hand.
In the end, he decided it was best to explain enough of the situation to put her at ease.
"We have moved to the dark side of the planet and turned off the equipment that would attract notice. The three queens are prepared for battle, but only against each other."
His words soothed her, enough that he was able to put her out of his mind for the moment.
He turned his gaze to his second. Prepare to warp at my command.
Despite his comment to Jennifer, if they were noticed, their only option was to flee as she'd indicated, and hope they were able to escape. If not, Guide and his many, many years of research would be lost.