Ronon collapses hard onto the floor. The loose hair between his dreadlocks is wet and sticking to his forehead where it can. He struggles to get to his feet, gritting his teeth. His labored breathing coming out like seething slushes. A hand reaches over and touches his shoulder blade and, with an adrenaline rush born of the horrors of his past suddenly rekindled by the helplessness from that torture chair, Ronon flings himself backward, slams his back against the solidified door now behind him, and drew his weapon, fully charged.
“Ronon,” Teyla warns.
He barely manages to stop himself from pulling the trigger.
Teyla sits on her knees a few feet away from him with Sheppard partially lying on her lap. Kenmore is the closest to him and had apparently slid back from him at his sudden movement. Her arms are raised in the universal gesture of ‘I am unarmed and I’m not going to hurt you.’ She must have been the one that reached out to him. She’s lucky Teyla spoke first otherwise he would have shot the Lieutenant without a second thought. And right now he’s never felt she’s deserved it more. That was not an experience he ever, ever, wanted to repeat again. They all three are staring at him. Waiting. His eyes dart between them then, slowly, from Sheppard’s look alone, the Satedan slowly lowers his weapon and just sits there trying to get a grip on himself. Sheppard’s eyes go from his friend to Kenmore.
“Where are we,” he pants, still recovering from the after-effects of the phase-shift chair.
Kenmore rolls back off her tip-toes onto her feet and stands up.
“I believe it’s the real Doctor Apotherias’ quarters.”
Sheppard reaches out to her.
“The real Doctor,” he asks.
Kenmore takes his hand and helps him up with Teyla’s aid. Kenmore points at a picture hanging on the wall next to the alcove bed with a collection of written documents hung up in their own frames around it. The picture is of a man, looked to be in his early- to mid-forties maybe, wearing what John has come to understand as the typical outfit for an Ancient scientist, basically a cream-colored, highly tailored labcoat. The man isn’t smiling. In fact, his expression and pose remind Sheppard of the same expression and pose Rodney had put on flags and paintings of himself all around a village the astrophysicist had inadvertently created for real from one of a pair of computer consoles in Atlantis both he and John had thought were merely gaming consoles for something vaguely akin to the Sims. Every self-important genius scientist must have that sort of blatant ego at birth, probably helped with the all-nighters.
“That is the real Doctor Eraen Apotherias and those documents are his credentials. Apparently Docs displaying their diplomas was an Ancient thing we just inherited.”
“What was he doing here with the Asgard?”
“He was a geneticist.”
John stares at her, he needed more than that.
“What was he working on here with the Asgard,” he rephrases more sternly.
Kenmore gestures him over to a desk located against the wall behind he and Teyla. The Ancient designed ones always look like architects’ desks, just coppery, art deco ones with inlayed panels of teal-colored lighting. McKay is working at it. They walk over. There is a computer screen built into the desk’s surface and displayed on it are records, the personal notes of this Doctor Apotherias on this whole disgusting experiment.
“Basically the same thing the Asgard are,” Rodney answers Sheppard’s question, “trying to preserve his race. Apparently when the Ancients were fighting the Wraith, they were already encountering the first signs of the plague that would eventually wipe them out when they moved back to the Milky Way galaxy. The Asgard’s research proved that human DNA could help supplant the DNA they lost from their centuries of cloning and because of their Alliance, the Ancients got that information too. Clearly they thought it could help them too.”
“But did not the Ancients seek to protect humanity,” Teyla offers.
“At first, but apparently facing their own imminent demise changed some things for a few of them. And thus, Project ‘Veritas’ was born. A group of scientists were appointed to look into whether or not the success these Asgard were getting from their experimentation with human DNA could be duplicated for the Ancients. They all believed that they could manipulate stem cells into creating the perfect human DNA to use to save their own lives because apparently plain, good old fashioned Human DNA just isn’t good enough for them. Hence, only pregnant women were brought up here to be experimented on. And from what I can gather, that was all just research into whether or not human DNA could handle Ancient genetic structure and that research ultimately led them to believe that their best chance at survival was to create the perfect human being, the perfect cattle DNA, by blending the two. Hence the egg harvesting and fertilization. As far as they were concerned, they only needed one perfect person to cure their entire race.”
John doesn’t know whether or not to nod or be repulsed when suddenly something Rodney had said finally sunk in enough to hit him—although broadside him would be more like it…
“Wait, a group? There was a group of Ancients doing this?”
Rodney touches the screen in the middle of the desk’s top, the computer opens another window on its screen, and starts displaying what to John looks like Ancient e-mails. Corrsepondence.
“Yes. This place is only one of four.”
Sheppard and Teyla stare at him.
“Four,” the Athosian asks breathlessly.
“Yes, four. There are three more of these places out there still taking people and experimenting on them just like this place,” John caught the look in Rodney’s eyes, “We have to stop them. We have to get out of here now.”
“Did this thing tell you how?”
“No, the computer, which is protected by the phase-shift which explains why he felt comfortable enough to start using one, only holds his records. But this on the other hand does.”
McKay walks in between John and Teyla and past Kenmore over to a built-in niche. John, Teyla, and Kenmore follow and Ronon, finally up on his feet, joins them. And John stares down at what Rodney introduces him to.
“This is a mock up of apparently what this outpost, oh and it is an outpost, looks like.”
The Colonel fought the sudden urge to through his hands over both women’s eyes or at least avert them. It is the most phallic thing John has ever seen and he has one. If people threw fits over the Little Mermaid’s palace, they’d just faint at the sight of this thing on a poster. A domed central ‘spire’—yeah, I’m going to go with spire—stood straight up in the middle of the whole thing then only extending about a third of the spire’s length up and standing on either side of it were two large domed, rounded installations. All manner of transmitter or receiving antennae poking out from the levels about halfway down the rounder side domes on down to the ground where John could identify grounding stations although they definitely didn’t look like the ones on Atlantis. They look more like humans ones found on Earth, boxy little outhouses although John could tell by the size ratios that they had to be anything but little. Also, rather oddly to him, are about a dozen balconies going up the middle of the central shaft—spire, John, spire—at a nice equal setting one right above the other indicating that each belonged to a requisite level of the complex. Then when the balconies run out, they’re replaced by the smooth sprouting of a rounded ‘vein’—dammit John, don’t go there—that continues up the central ‘spire’ for a bit then it too ends absorbing back into the ‘spire’. That had to be where the transporting pads where on their prison levels cause Sheppard sure as hell didn’t remember something as easy or as inviting as open-air balconies to help them identify where the hell they’d been taken to. Sheppard’s eyes retrace the vein—dammit John.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Sheppard finally manages to say.
“Oh and it gets worse,” Kenmore squeaks, “Push the little button.”
Sheppard glances at Kenmore, she’s looking off to her left, not even able to meet his eyes, and she’s fighting back laughter. In this place, laughter? Oh God this was going to be bad. John looks back at the miniature. At the base of it where normally would be a plaque telling you what this thing was exactly if it were a sculpture is a glowing, teal button. Sheppard presses it. His eyes widen as the tip of the domed, central ‘spire’ slides back. Oh my god, it’s circumcisized. John bows his head and pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers. He didn’t know what comment to make to himself now.
“It doesn’t end there,” Kenmore tells him, mildly regaining some semblance of composure, “I can’t believe I’m actually about to say this but…look inside…the tip.”
She ends on a bordering-on-hysterically-uncomfortable-with-this squeak.
Sheppard looks back at the miniature. God, did he really have to do this? He really didn’t want to have to do this, but he starts to lift up on his tiptoes and, thankfully, Kenmore did the same. Thank God he didn’t have to do this alone at least. Embarrassing as it is though, the opening of the domed tip reveals the miniature replication of a lab inside of it. Well at least it’s rewarding.
“Where is that,” he asks.
Rodney doesn’t say anything, he just gestures back past their little assembly to an opened doorway. John looks back at it then back at McKay, why hadn’t the scientist mentioned that earlier, then he walks over to it with his team and Kenmore. On the other side is another round room, much smaller, definitely indicating the central spire, with its floor covered in metal grating, and at its center where in the other round levels they’d been on had a great big gapping maw, this room has a shaft like a round elevator’s. In the shaft, right in front of them, is a door with another one of those crystalline grid panels that had denied the Ancient gene possessing members of the team but had allowed Teyla access to that torture room beside it. The panel is broken like something had hit it with impact and has smatherings of long ago dried blood and torn wires coming out of it. It looks like someone had tried to hotwire their way out of here but had been caught in the process. That didn’t bode well. John imagines some poor soul after making it out of a cell somehow and getting all the way up here or perhaps was already up here—he didn’t want to think that way, only the pregnant women were brought up here—going through that chair, finally making it into this room only to get attacked. His mind flashes a very crime scene investigation recreation through his head of someone desperately reaching out for that pad only for some unseen assailant to come up behind them and probably shove them or pull on them enough that the escapee’s forehead slams into the already broken glass panel, killing them, and leaving behind the dried blood only fresh and saturated.
For a moment Sheppard’s mind strays to that crazy Asgard still sitting quietly in that adjacent anteroom where that opened doorway in the torture chamber had led. They found ‘her’ sitting in a corner playing with some stain on the walls and floor there, rocking back and forth. Rodney had scanned the stain with his detector. It had been organic at one point in time…female…Ancient. Apparently this guy had had an assistant that had gotten left behind and ended up dying in that corner or murdered in it. That Asgard had seemed to have more than a little fun sending each member of his team through that chair, Ronon last by his own pig-headed stubbornness and flat out refusal to let Sheppard be the last one in. John had finally uttered the frustrated word ‘Fine’ and sat down in the chair himself knowing if he didn’t do it now neither of the two men would have sat down because Ronon sure as hell wasn’t going to go before him. According to Rodney, that crazy Asgard couldn’t get into here. ‘No way not in a million years or at least ten thousand,’ he’d said, ‘it would only figure that she had tried in the time since the Ancients had left the Pegasus…so…they were safe, relatively speaking, weren’t they?’ Sheppard starts for the shaft door and immediately Kenmore’s hand comes up and slaps him in his chest, stopping him. He looks at her maintaining her focus on the door.
She reaches into her shirt once again and pulls out her dog tags, slips them off, then chucks them at the broken grid. There’s the resonating clink of metal hitting glass and suddenly an explosion of bright, blue-white streaks of electricity and sparks surge over the grid and shoots the dog tags like a bullet back at their heads. Kenmore, Sheppard, and Teyla, the front line of their observing little assembly, duck and Ronon, behind Sheppard, easily reaches up and catches the tags in mid-flight. The trio straightens back up.
“Holy crap,” Sheppard exclaims.
“Yep,” Kenmore agrees, “I’m bettin’ that thing can fry anything that touches it.”
Kenmore turns to Ronon who not exactly nicely tosses her tags back at her face. She catches them, barely, slips them back on, and buries them underneath her shirt again.
“Is there anything in there that can help,” Sheppard asks.
He hears Teyla’s quiet sigh beside him. John looks over at her and sees her expression, he looks up at Rodney behind her who seems just as frustratedly displeased and keeping quiet about it like he had had this argument before and run into a great big stubborn brick wall about it. And John thought he could pretty much guess who that wall is…
“We haven’t actually been in there yet,” Rodney fesses up.
“Why not,” John asks irritably. He can’t believe he has to ask his team something like this. They of all people should know better than to let something get in their way like this. They should have just steamrolled over her.
“Lieutenant Kenmore…would not let us,” Teyla confesses as well, obviously uncomfortable with the job of tattle-tale.
Sheppard looks over at Kenmore. She’s clearly tense, he’d describe it as ‘protective’ actually.
“Are there any booby traps in there,” he asks her.
“I scanned it, no,” Rodney answers.
“Trust me,” Kenmore tells Sheppard, her eyes not wavering from his for a moment, “you don’t need to go in there.”
Ronon’s grunt of derision comes from behind him and he agrees. They didn’t have time for this. Ignoring Kenmore, John starts for the doorway, she tries to throw herself in his way, but Ronon brings his gun up again. This time right in her face and very close. John can see her breath fogging up the tip on the barrel of Ronon’s gun. Oh that was it, that’s how she managed it. Teyla and Rodney, no matter how irritating someone was, would never have done that. That was a Ronon, and occasionally a Sheppard, thing. Kenmore backs off and slips off to the side again as Sheppard and his team move into the room. As soon as they’re in, Ronon withdraws his gun from Kenmore’s face and, with a sigh and a roll of her eyes, she follows them in.
Their boots crunch and clang on the metal grating underneath their feet. Lining the roundwalls are diagram after diagram of the human body and further explorations of its various systems and internal structures. Okay, just an Anatomy class, nothing really creepy yet. John decides to go left and it only takes a few steps and a startling look to the right, to the exterior walls of the elevator shaft, before he freezes in his steps, staring. Teyla, concerned, comes up behind him and looks at what spooked him, she barely manages to stifle and choke off a scream. Rodney comes up behind her and his horror and disgust overwhelm his expression to the point where he actually greens a little and looks like he wants to barf but is too shocked to. Ronon walks past his friend’s backs and up to Sheppard’s free side, looks at the new horror, and immediately looks anywhere but in its direction. Kenmore comes up behind them all crowded in front of a glass window revealing a cabinet-sized stasis pod designed to look like the one they had found a ten thousand year old Elizabeth Weir in in the bowels of Atlantis during their first year in the city. Inside, like it’s floating in mid-air, there’s the skeleton of a baby, a couple of months old at most, in the fetal position clutching a rattle. Each bone held perfectly in place by long, thin, silvery-white metal wires. Next to the window is another button-plaque. Rodney reaches for it.
“Don’t,” Kenmore begs. There’s a level of pain in her voice that tests John’s adrenaline’s flight response.
“We have to get it out of there,” Rodney says and John whole-heartedly agrees with him.
Rodney presses the button. The cabinet issues a crack and buzz of running electricity. Suddenly the baby skeleton starts wriggling causing the rattle to shake. Immediately Rodney dives off to the side and pukes at the wall underneath a diagram of the human brain. Teyla looks away, obviously distressed by thoughts of her own son moving like that, perhaps with a rattle of his own to shake in her mind’s dangerously horrific image, at that age. Ronon catches her fighting her emotions back as he moves over to look after Rodney still bent over. He places a hand firmly, kindly on the scientist’s hunched back. Anything useful to distract himself. Sheppard swallows hard…
“These people are sick.”
“Really? What was your first clue,” Kenmore retorts.
She lets out a disgusted sigh that tells John he should have listened to her back on the threshold of this room and looks down at her boots. Rodney returns wiping his mouth with his jacket sleeve with Ronon giving him a buddy’s slap to the back and John decides to move them on. He slowly walks four or five steps further and finds another stasis pod-cabinet. Suspended inside of this one is an arm severed at the elbow, starting to show signs of a really slowed decaying process. Probably due to the pod, after all these things only slowed down the aging, or in this case decaying, process, they didn’t stop it. Again, Rodney reaches up for the button. The electricity flows through the pod and makes the arm flex its fingers and move. Okay that was nearly as disgusting. They move on again.
John notices Kenmore stays behind this time, staring down thoughtfully. Looks like she can’t quite handle going back pass the baby. John can’t blame her, after all she had a kid of her own back in Atlantis, and it’s clear she already knows what else is in here. Okay, she had been right to keep them the hell away from what the rest of this room looked like, he would give her that. As they continue around the bend, just before losing sight of her, John watches Kenmore look back up at the window display then back down again and take off her BDU shirt.
They come upon another stasis pod this time with a headless, armless, legless torso in it. Rodney reaches for the button again. John grabs his wrist and yanks his hand away from it, but too late. The electrical current flows. The torso starts moving, the stumps twitching like it was a full-bodied person again fighting against an unseen foe. John stares at Rodney, even the scientist seems horrified by his own actions.
“Sorry…I can’t help it…I keep hoping it’ll open up the glass or something.”
John gently let’s his friend’s wrist go. He can understand that. What was it his mom always said, usually when John and his father had been fighting again and had gone to their separate corners, John to the horse pastures attached to the family estate but still comfortably far from the main house where his father hid in his study/office fawning and sorting through more of the family business’ papers or on the phone with one of his business partners orchestrating another deal, and she kept nagging either one of them to make peace? John called her on it once, asked her why she always tried to convince them to kiss and make-up, when she’d tracked him down consoling himself stroking the bridge of his favorite horse’s, Cranberry’s, nose and she simply responded to him: Hope blooms eternal. John nods at Rodney, Hope blooms eternal.
Kenmore slips off her BDU shirt then stares the arm down as she wraps the olive drab garment around her clenched fist. As soon as she’s got a big enough ball of protection around it, she pauses, still staring at the decaying monument of human flesh, then slams her fist through the glass with as much force as all her rage at this place can muster. The glass, thick as it is, shatters a hole the same size as her balled up fist easily enough but not any more than that. Apparently the glass on Ancient stasis pods works more like the bullet-proof stuff than the fancy stained, relatively flimsy stuff they decorated with. Of course, she’s lucky. The same sort of pods only full-sized in Atlantis usually had a sort of ice as their contents’ protective barrier not glass. She pulls her fist back out carefully and starts knocking the rest of the glass in as the others come running back around the bend, shocked and maybe scared at what might have happened.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” Sheppard asks her and not for the first time, probably not the last either.
Kenmore keeps silent and focuses on the arm. As soon as she’s got a bigger hole broken through, Kenmore unwraps her BDU shirt, shakes the glass out of it, and puts it back on. Then she reaches through the hole and grabs the arm. It feels clammy and cold, basically exactly the way she thought it would but had hoped to God it wasn’t going to. Eww. She gingerly picks it up off the bottom of the cabinet and slips it out of the vandalized pod. She silently walks in between Rodney, who quickly slams himself back against the outer wall in a desperately grossed out attempt to keep what he obviously believed must be some plague-ridden, decaying limb away from himself, and Ronon and heads back around to the door with the electrified broken grid panel. The two men watch her for a moment then look back at Sheppard. Rodney never lost his gapping Sea Bass, open-mouthed shock for a moment.
Kenmore walks in front of the shaft’s door. She holds the arm out in front of her. She takes a few moments to really decide whether or not this is an entirely good idea let alone if it’ll work. Again, Eww. Sheppard’s team walks up to her. It only takes a moment for McKay to catch on to what she’s about to do while the others still remain in the dark for a fraction of a second longer. Teyla’s eyes go wide, so do Sheppard’s.
“No,” Rodney starts, “no, no, no. You cannot do this. You don’t know what’ll happen. It could—“
In his mid-sentence, Kenmore jabs the arm forward as the rest of McKay’s team try to reach out and stop her. They didn’t stand a chance of it. The decaying arm’s limp fingers touch the lit grid. The electricity surges through it. Kenmore instantly let’s go of the arm. It remains levitated in the air by the sheer power of the electrical current. Blood and some other bodily fluids that Kenmore really did not want to know what were suddenly shoot out of its severed end and splatter her. Kenmore gasps and twitches for a moment as though she’d just gotten splashed by cold rain water that a passing car had thrown up at her. The arm’s fingers twitch and make direct contact with five of the broken wires. The panel lights up the same lavender the inlays of the chair had then the panel goes dark. The electrical current dies. The arm drops. The door to the shaft’s interior splits apart and slides open. Then they stare at Kenmore. The Lieutenant, temporarily frozen by disgust, slowly comes out of her stupor and looks at the sickening stuff now on her body. Left with nothing else to do, she gives her arms one good shake. Then stares into the shaft.
“Well, at least, that was worth it.”
It’s not exactly an enthusiastic endorsement. The team step forward into view of the shaft’s now opened door. Sheppard was right, the inside of it is no bigger than your average human elevator and it’s yet another taste of home: an Ancient transporter with a single, teal destination button the size of a fingertip glowing on its back wall.