Episode Three- The Ruins- Epilogue

Epilogue

Sheppard walks across the gangways above the perimeter of the disembarkation floor of the gateroom.  He looks down below and stops.  Lieutenant Kenmore is down there, doing a last minute check on her gear, alongside Lorne’s team.  The gate is activated and waiting for them.  Kenmore looks up and catches John standing at the railing staring down at her specifically then Lorne tells something to his team, probably that they had a go, and Kenmore walks through the gate with them.

“She’s still a part of your team, Colonel.”

John looks to his left.  Richard Woolsey, who had obviously approached him while he was distracted, is standing there looking at John.

“She’s just assisting Major Lorne’s team.  That’s the third time they’ve been back to collect supplies then return to their mission.”

Sheppard nods.  Woolsey comes to stand beside him and look down at the now empty floor.

“I take it,” the former attorney starts, “that the funeral went well.  I understand from Mister Halling that Athosian burials such as these can take up to a week when given the time to be performed properly.”

John nods.  Woolsey bows his head and they observe a mutual moment of silence.

“What mission,” John asks finally.

“What?”

“What mission is Kenmore assisting Lorne’s team with?”

“They’ve gone back to Athosia,” Sheppard straightens up.  He faces Woolsey, worried and more than a little angry and about to tell Woolsey that when Richard puts a hand up to stop him, “They are exploring the city ruins.  That’s what she went there for after all.”

“If just those caves took us someplace like that outpost—“

“The ruins are relatively safe, Colonel.”

“Relatively?  Who’s been hurt there already while we’ve been away?”

“They were just minor burns, easily treated.”

Sheppard starts again, but Woolsey puts his hand up again.

“Relax, Colonel, both you and you’re team will be able to see for yourself.  I’m ordering you to join your fifth team member on Athosia.”

“She’s not our fifth team member and when?”

“As soon as Teyla returns from her people.  She still has another day left in the traditional period of morning following the burial.”

*                      *                      *

Teyla’s foot lands on a whole different set of soil.  This one is just as fertile as her new homeworld’s, but this one was the first her feet had ever touched.  The gate shuts down behind her as she steps away from it with the rest of her team.  The morning fog still clings to the spaces in between the trees.  She looks over at Sheppard, he nods, and she leads them back to her village once again.  The journey is not long as it had not been before but unlike the last time she was here, there is no feeling of unresolved connection.  Although this place had been her home for many years, the place where she had been born and the place where she had suffered the loss of both her parents and the place where she had first met the people she serves with now, this place is no longer her home anymore.  There are no more ghosts to run beside her.  She had buried them almost a week ago now.

As they near the village, curious sounds reach her ears.  The village was alive again.  People are talking to each other, laughing nearby, yelling to each other to not forget to bring things along with them.  The team stops at the gap that opens to the main avenue of her village and the lake across from it.  She looks towards her village.  Yes, indeed, she had been right.  SGC scientists have turned the destroyed huts that are still somewhat usable into shelters again.  They are milling through the village much as her own people had when other members of their expedition had first arrived here.

“Colonel Sheppard,” the voice comes from the direction of the lake.  They turn to see Sergeant Stackhouse walking up to them from the lake’s shore, “Mister Woolsey told me you’d be coming through.  Come on, Sir, Lieutenant Kenmore is in the city.”

With a smile, he starts leading them up around the lake’s perimeter.

“What have you discovered so far,” McKay asks as they walk.

“I think it’s better if you just see it.”

“Well can’t you at least just give us a clue?”

Stackhouse looks back at Rodney.

“It took us twenty-four hours just to figure out how to open the front door.  Can you imagine how many Athosian days that is?”

Well, considering the average Athosian day is six hours long and has an equivalent night.  Wow, McKay’s face quirks, either they are working with really dumb people, dumber than I thought they were, or this place really is complicated.

It takes five minutes to walk around the bend of the lake and as they get closer, the ruins begin to stretch out beyond their view and seem to go right up to the mountains in the distance behind.  There does seem to be a city center though, the broken down remains of a massive, much larger than anything else around it Temple.  Its open welcoming arch was the one that could be seen from the shoreline in front of Teyla’s village.  It seems to be the only structure left somewhat intact.  Everything else seems to have been reclaimed by both time and weather and perhaps nature too but the mountains and the remains of the city are too far off to tell if that’s true or not.  The team starts for the arch but Stackhouse draws off to the left, he stops.

“You can’t go through there yet.  We’re not too sure about the structural integrity of the arch.  You have to get inside from over here,” he informs them then starts walking again.

The team takes a fleeting look at the arch, Rodney’s attention remains much longer than everybody else’s, but they follow Stackhouse anyway.  He leads them around a tall line of what remains of an incredibly tall wall that encircled the place.  There’s enough of the wall left that it still stands a good foot taller than Ronon might be able to reach, even on his tippy-toes although John didn’t think the giant Satedan would go that far.  He’d probably jump for the top and even then John figures it would be unlikely for his fingertips to catch a good hold on the lip of what remains of the wall’s edge.  Eventually the wall ends, finally broken and crumbling into nothing but they’ve long gone past the front of the Temple so it doesn’t reveal anything about the front of the building they weren’t allowed to see yet.

The wall of the main building stretches up high enough to block out the rising sun coming up from the horizon’s treeline on the distant other side of the building.  Passing into the shadows makes them feel as though they were walking around one of Atlantis’ taller spires, but it also makes it easier to examine the wall as they walk beside it.  It had been smoothly honed at one point in time and, like the rest of this city, time and weather has roughed it up.  Roughed it up badly enough that part of its brickwork has simply weakened and given way, leaving a giant hole big enough for a puddle jumper with its engine pods fully extended to pass through it easily in the side of the wall with the fallen and broken bricks tumbling away from it and already partially retaken by the soil and grass.  They pass a duo of scientists lugging a container out as they enter.

Inside, Sheppard has to hold himself in.  He stares all around him, it was like walking into Atlantis for the first time all over again.  This big Temple is relatively simple inside like Ancient décor had a tendency to look from the outside and it is all carved from stone.  The room extends up about as far as the jumper bay’s roof does.  Even then that was just a shaft big enough to fit a jumper through, this is an entire room five times the perimeter of the gateroom including the command center.  Normally John would exclaim ‘Holy crap’ or something like that, but words fail him at the magnitude of the room.  Just like they had when he first stepped foot into Atlantis’ gateroom, but this is much more than Atlantis’ gateroom at first sight.  And just like the gateroom, there are gangways just lining the walls all around them.  Only half of one remains intact though, showing that rather than like Atlantis’ simple metal railings on their gangways, these had ornately carved stone ones.  Probably an aging reminder of the civilization this once had been and the heyday the Ancients might have been leading humanity through here in the Pegasus Galaxy before the Wraith.  All the other gangways have fallen to the floor leaving barely recognizable remnants of themselves behind on the upper level.  In the center of the room, excavated from the layers of debris from the collapsing elements in here and dirt from the natural elements blowing in from outside through the gaping hole that have combined on the floor, is an ornate floor medallion inlaid with strips of silver and copper and the polished iridescence of some sort of seashell, probably the Athosian equivalent of abalone or mother of pearl, depicting an inner circle with an outer ring.  The inner circle shows what looks like a white glowing star shape, John knew that that is what Ascension looks like, and the outer ring is divided into four different quadrants with equally artistic art nouveau representations of the four elements.  North, earth and set of beautiful mountains untouched by snow or sky and peppered by rock representations of other gorgeous minerals that look like various granites and marbles.  South, fire and sumptuous flames curving and writhing this way and that.  East, air and luscious, bubbling and billowing clouds.  West, water and a richly-hued, roiling ocean with giant vivid breakers.  Set around the room and positioned in between the four natural compass points are podiums that look like the one an Ancient had commanded out of Atlantis’ disembarkation floor when she and her crew had returned home and taken a very short-lived command of the city before the Replicators killed them, with two of the regular computer consoles that they used in Atlantis’ command center attached to either side of it.  Dead and buried, it’s already spectacular.  Revisited…When they get done with it, John would love to see what Atlantis’ archeologists’ ‘computer generated theoretical recreation’ of this place would look like.  It’d be mind blowingly beautiful.

Teams of two, three, or four scientists are gathered around each podium and plugged into them with a handful each of computers and tons of other gadgets with a bunch of cords and wiring spread over the floor of their immediate areas, doing their scientific thing.  As Sheppard and his team walk further into the center of the room, their boots echo and crunch on the dirty, stone floor.  Standing by one of the podiums and watching its group of worker-bee scientists, Lieutenant Kenmore looks up and walks over to them.

McKay’s eyes look like they will never fit back into his skull ever again as he continues to look around.

“What—what”

Sheppard stares at him, Holy crap, Rodney can’t form words.

“It’s a school,” Kenmore answers the question struggling to be asked.

McKay stares at her.

“A school,” his whole body is giddy, “a school, we actually found an Ancient school.”

Kenmore nods but her expression remains serious.  Sheppard lights onto that.

“What’s the catch,” he asks.

Kenmore takes a deep breath, Oh boy, then starts…

“According to what we’ve discovered so far, the Ancients really did back the Asgard in their efforts to save themselves by using human DNA, well, at least some of them did.”  That wasn’t good, John’s stomach drops, weren’t the Ancients supposed to be the good guys?  Kenmore goes on, “But,” she holds up a finger, “but they were extremely selective in who they gave to the Asgard.”  Gee those lucky few.  “That’s what this place was,” she extends both her arms in a gesture meant to introduce the expanse of the place, although it really doesn’t need it.  The place introduces itself as soon as you stepped inside of it, heard the echoes of your own footsteps, and realize just how small you really are in the world or at least its world.

“That’s it,” McKay snarks, obviously feeling a hell of a lot of stuff is missing in her explanation, “This is just a school for picking out good genetic material?”

“An academy actually, the whole city,” Kenmore drops her arms and starts to lead them off into the middle of the main area of the massive room.  She gestures at the four podiums of what John can only guess are science stations, “Every building here was meant to teach the humans of this planet everything the Ancients knew involving the sciences.  Starting with the basics.  Earth,” she gestures to the northwest podium, “fire,” southeast, “air,” northeast, “and water,” southwest, “and how they blended together to represent everything in the universe.”

“The elements,” Rodney scoffs.

“We beamed out of Asgard Hell with alchemy and you’re griping about studying the four basic elements of life,” she asks him, sounding not the least bit perturbed by him in any way.

Rodney stalls, John glances at him.  Okay so, so far in this whole thing Kenmore has scored how many points over the great genius of Doctor Rodney McKay?  If he hadn’t just come from a funeral, John might have cracked a lopsided smile at the astrophysicist’s expense.  She’s gotten more points on him than even Zelenka or Carson normally did.  But the Colonel didn’t crack a smile and Kenmore goes on.

“These podiums represent the final tests of these four schools of study of this Academy.  That’s where the Asgard come in.  Only when someone was able to pass all four were they then sent to the Asgard to undergo what were called the ‘Final Challenges.’”

“How do you know they were called the Final Challenges?”

“Because, Doctor McKay, we found the personal study of the Ancient that ran this place.”

They all start at her.

“Why didn’t you mention that first,” John snaps, although he really hadn’t meant to.

She looks at him, “Because there were things you needed to know first.”

“Like what,” he asks.

“Like there wasn’t a single Ancient in Atlantis that had a clue about this place.  Oh, they knew about Athosia, don’t get me wrong, and they knew that there was a school here.  They had a large hand in building the place, that’s why Athosia’s name comes up so soon in the database even though the database isn’t alphabetized and it’s not just because the planet’s still inhabited and has an operational gate on it either.  It’s because of the school.  But they didn’t know at all that some of the brainiacs this place was turning out were being smuggled to the Asgard.  It was a conspiracy between the Asgard, four scientists, their flunkies, and the guy that ran this place.  Apparently they were all united under the same cause.”

“A conspiracy?  You really expect me to believe that there was a conspiracy this huge operating right under the Ancients’ noses and they didn’t know about it?”

Kenmore starts leading them off in the direction of the front door of the complex, towards a permanently open set of double doors at the far end of the room, “I got one name for you, Doctor McKay:  The Trust.”

Rodney gives her that one.  That was a huge sore spot for any member of the SGC.  It had been embarrassing when the Tollans and a couple of other races friendly to the SGC or that the SGC had been hoping at the time would become friendly with them came and accused the SG teams of stealing technology the SGC had previously asked for and had been denied.  That’s when the SGC learned of an organization using them as cover that simply referred to itself as the Trust and was going around taking whatever they wanted and leaving all the legitimate SG teams to take all the heat.  Oh and there was that little matter of Janus having a secret lab in the heart of Atlantis herself right under the noses of the Ancients too, not the least of which was the Lantean Council.  And he hadn’t been the only Ancient to do it, there had been another Ancient, Doctor Josua, who had inadvertently managed to do the same thing by creating an assistant/companion hologram that developed an…unhealthy attachment to him, closed off the lab from everything outside it, and trapped him inside it until his death and Rodney’s arrival…

Rodney’s mouth works.

Sheppard’s team follows her.  She walks them to the end of the raised platform they had apparently been on, down its few stairs then the forty yards further to the exit.  Their footsteps echo the entire way and Sheppard notices doorways at the corners of this massive room leading off to places he can’t see before he leaves.  There again Kenmore hasn’t immediately mentioned the particulars of this room either like where those doorways lead to.  Kenmore leads them into another expansive room, well they had thought it was a room.  Once they walk out from under the covered knave walkway going around the perimeter of the rectangular-shaped area, they realize they’re in an open-air courtyard.  They’ve entered it on its width which makes it seem even more expansive just stretching out on either side of them, perhaps measuring the equal of the room they just exited if they had entered more on its length than they did.  Kenmore leads them right down the middle between two bowl-shaped pits.  McKay tries to look them over as he simultaneously tries to keep up with the group.

“They’re fire pits for meditation,” Kenmore says without looking back.

Rodney looks at her back then over at Sheppard beside him, the Colonel shrugs, and they keep on walking.  The Lieutenant leads them to the brink of another stretch of hallway but instead of going down it, she turns right and returns back under the cover of the knave.  Both Sheppard and McKay glance at the long, wide, fat stretch of hallway that extends for at least fifty more yards and apparently ends at the front door.  Although it’s itching at John to go there instead of following a Lieutenant whom he already knows is keeping things about this place secret from them, he keeps telling himself that the prospect of walking into an Ancient personal study is far more important to them than him wanting to bolt for the front door throw it open and see what the hell they didn’t get to see in the first place.  He turns and they follow the Lieutenant all the same.  God he wants a crack at what’s down there or at least at what’s outside that door though.  It was a tempting prospect, the Lieutenant hadn’t exactly been close enough to stop them if he’d just kept on going and left her to follow behind them.

This part of the walkway is darker, Sheppard’s eyes need to readjust, snapping him back from his lagging musings.  It takes a moment then John sees a light coming from the end of the covered walkway; it’s creamy and has a tendency to undulate, casting a fuzzy, shifting haze of light only a few feet beyond an open doorway.  If the light were more silver and cast a broader gleam, the Lieutenant Colonel would bet at least a month’s pay that its source is an active stargate.  Please God, that was all they needed, another stargate, a little personal sized one just the right size for only one person to go through at a time.

“You know if that light were more silver and cast a broader gleam of light from it, I’d say that its source was an active stargate,” McKay leans over and whispers to him, Sheppard looks at the scientist, “Perhaps a personal one, just the right size for only one person to go through at a time.”  John continues to stare at him.  It really is freaky sometimes how often they think alike.

Kenmore walks up to the opened door and gestures them in.  Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon hesitate, eyeing her, but Rodney just walks right in without a second thought of “trap”.

His speed slows, McKay almost staggers to stop as he stares around him, gapping.  He had expected at least something like Janus’ secret lab but this is…

“What the hell happened to this place?  Now you can’t say that this was done by the elements.”

The rest of the team enters at Rodney’s little rant and Kenmore follows them in.

Rodney stares around the room, turning in a slow circle to take in everything he already knew his eyes were registering but his mind was having an enormous amount of trouble grasping.  The place is a dump.  From what he’s come to expect via pristine Atlantis, this place looks even worse than his own disheveled genius’ apartment back on Earth.  There were no signs that air current from strong winds coming through from the broken outside or the position of this room’s door relative to the exterior room funneling said wind into this place could throw things around as violently as they appear to have been.  Papers were blow, strewn, whatever, flung everywhere along with books of all shapes and sizes.  The four what must have been computer consoles at one point in time before someone looks like they took a bat to them sit in the room at nice, orderly intervals like desks in a classroom, apparently one ravaged by its own personal hurricane.  On the left side of the wall and the right are shelves that go up to the ceiling almost a foot shy of touching it, and that foot shy has all manner of things just crammed into it.  From where he’s standing in the middle of the room, Rodney can pick out tattered and dusty old clothes, crumpled papers, more broken equipment, random knickknacks like geodes, clumps of quartz crystal, and other utterly useless geological things, and books, both whole and practically ripped to shreds.  What might have been bare stone walls at one point in time are covered in artistic sketches and renderings of various subject matter from the human body and brain to planets Rodney has never seen before and symbols he can’t even begin to imagine what they mean or represent to the schematics for machines he can barely even begin to fathom what they are let alone what they’re meant to do and mathematical formulas that leave him with the same feeling.  In fact, to him, they look like some dead mathematical language’s answer to gibberish.

“Well, you know, with how big this place is and beat up it is, Rodney, maybe the wind just blew through here,” Sheppard tries staying as close to the door, and subsequently Kenmore, as he wants to while still getting as big an idea of what surrounds them as his teammates are.

“Oh, please,” Rodney snarks, “like wind can really break up computer consoles like that without treelimbs or fallen debris.”  The scientist gestures towards the intact ceiling.

John nods.  Okay, he has to give Rodney that, the ceiling is still up in here and as far as John can see, there aren’t any treelimbs in here either.

“If the Wraith landed, they could have come in here and done it themselves,” Ronon offers.

“No,” Teyla shakes her head as she looks over one of the computer consoles, “I have never heard of the Wraith landing on my planet before.  They simply cull with darts or their hiveship then leave us to pick up whatever is left and continue to live in fear of their return.”

John looks over the broken computer console nearest him.

“Maybe it was an overload.  When the Ancients picked up stake and ran back to Atlantis, they tried to destroy as much important stuff as possible before they left so the Wraith couldn’t use it or get access to it,” he adds.

“No, there would be signs of that, charred circuitry, molten glass,” Rodney denies.

“He did it himself.”

They look back at Kenmore standing just a step inside the doorway.

“Who,” Rodney asks her.

“The Ancient scientist that ran this place.  He went nuts.  And he busted things up.”

“How do you know that?”

“He told us so.”

Rodney’s eyes bug out of his head, “You found him?  He’s alive?”

“No, he’s dead.  His tomb’s in the front yard but—“

“His tomb!  You could have taken us to his tomb.”

“Yeah,” Kenmore nods.

“Why didn’t you take us to his tomb?”

“’Cause he’s dead.  He ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

“Oh and this stuff might?”

“You never know,” Kenmore says and McKay starts eyeing everything like he’s waiting for each individual item to turn into zombies and come and get him.  Kenmore reaches over to the top of a stack of papers, picks up a red leather-bound book, and holds it up for Rodney to see, “He wrote a lot in his journals.”

“Journals,” Sheppard asks.

“Yeah,” she nods, “almost all of these books in here are journals he handmade.  This is the last one,” Rodney looks back at the bookshelf on the left side then walks over to it, picks up a blue leather-bound book, and starts to read it, “It starts out pretty okay then it starts to go downhill.”

“How,” Sheppard asks.

“He starts to refer to himself in the third person.  Eventually he just snaps and only refers to himself in the third person.”

“Okay,” that actually doesn’t sound so bad to Sheppard, they’ve encountered weirder and far worse degrades into insanity than that, “so what’s his name?”

Her expression changes, not entirely in a way he likes.

“That’s where it get’s freaky.”

“Like it wasn’t that way already,” Rodney comments as Kenmore opens the book to its last page.

John shoots McKay a glare as she holds open the book’s spread to John.  There’s very little writing on the page, about half of it.  It would have been less than that but as the writing goes on over the course of the page, the spaces in between the lines gets bigger and the letters do too, but no matter how large they get John still can’t read it, he doesn’t read Ancient.  Puddle jumper Ancient, yes; this sort of Ancient, no.  But he doubts anyone else can, as the lettering and the gaps in between the lines too got larger, the ink—was that ink?—starts to splatter and bleed like whatever writing implement had been used had practically been mashed into the paper at the end like the guy’d been getting angrier and angrier as he wrote and at the end, finally exploded in rage.  John shakes his head at her.

“It’s that last giant, blotchy squiggle,” she tells him.

“I don’t know how to read Ancient,” he finally admits to her, not that he particularly wanted to but he needs her to start coughing up information and if this is going to be the way to do it, then he can take a little grief.

“It’s Nemesis.  His name was Nemesis.”

John swallows hard at her, as the others look back at her.

“Well that’s disheartening,” Rodney says then returns to the book in his hand.

John had to agree.

“Did you find out anything else,” he asks.

“Yeah, this whole thing began on a nice first note—well nice for them,” John nods, Kenmore goes on, “This place was the center of the campus like the HUB of a college.  You’d come here for your final exams which meant facing four challenges.  Each one representing one of the four elements.  Each time you pass a challenge, you’re taken back to that main area for evaluation.”

“What sort of evaluation,” McKay asks.

“A genetic one,” McKay looks up at her, “apparently actually passing the challenges wasn’t necessarily the point.  Don’t get me wrong, they showed that you were smart and trusting.”

“Lambs,” Rodney says, John glares at him again.

“Yeah,” Lieutenant Kenmore continues, “except that every time you do the task it specifically aligns to that person doing the task which means that only one person at a time can perform the challenge.  However, that only-one-at-a-time-genetics thing doesn’t count with the Ancient gene.  Apparently every person meant to do the task was also supposed to have an Ancient supervisor with them.”

“Making sure no one figures out a way to cheat the test,” Rodney says.

Kenmore nods.

“So what are the tests,” Sheppard asks.

“I don’t know I’m not seeing anything that really goes into any great detail about them,” Rodney answers before Kenmore can but the Lieutenant’s eyes don’t leave Sheppard for a moment.

“Well maybe if you check the library…,” she trails off smartly.  John could almost smile at her…almost.

“There’s a library,” Rodney’s head shoots up from the book, “Why didn’t you mention that before?  Why did you take us here first,” he exclaims.

“Because of the back of the room,” Kenmore points at the tattered, aged red what looks like velvet curtain behind Ronon.  They look back.  “That’s a separate room.  The books in there aren’t journals, they’re the records of his own experiments.”

“What experiments,” Sheppard asks as Ronon strays to the red curtain and tries to pull it back but it’s so worn away already, made fragile by thousands of years of rest, natural wear-and-tear maybe blowing through into here, and a madman tearing crap up, that the curtain just tears away.  Ronon let’s go of what little of the fabric is actually left in his hand and just let’s it fall in a dusty lump onto the floor at his feet.  What’s revealed is, by comparison, a bizarrely pristine room—well, relatively pristine, everything’s still got more than one healthy layer of dust and age on it.  It’s definitely a smaller room, about nine feet wide and maybe five feet in length.  There’s another bookcase that goes from the floor to the ceiling and covers the entire back wall of the anteroom except it’s books, all still intact, are perfectly ordered and all still nice and neatly residing on their shelves.  The other stone walls are bare.  On the floor and off to the right side is a very large cylinder, that comes to a point, on a step-up platform.  It’s not lit up although it’s pretty obvious that it’s meant to.  It’s got all the bells and whistles, the coloring, the Ancient writing, it looks like it belongs in Atlantis, but it doesn’t look like anything Ancient they’ve ever encountered before.  It’s the wrong shape, the wrong general design.  So far the only Ancient things they’ve encountered that are round have been the puddle jumpers.  And absolutely nothing cylindrical, again except for the puddle jumpers, either.  It’s all so bizarre.  They stare at the revelation as Kenmore goes on…

“Like I said this place started out on a nice note but apparently Nemesis started to believe that the others were conspiring to kill him.”

“So we can add paranoia to the insanity,” Rodney had to make the bordering on snarky comment.

“It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you nor is it insanity if you’ve got the proof they’re out to get you.”

He looks back at her and she points, off-handedly again, at the cordoned off area’s back wall bookcase of perfectly still in place, leather-bound books, “All of those books either contain handwritten accounts of his reporting his colleagues suspicious behaviors, those are the blue ones, transcripts of subspace transmissions the others exchanged between each other with or without knowing he had secretly tapped into the signals and listened in on them, those are the red ones, or actual letters that were exchanged between the other four that he outright stole from them, the yellow ones.”

“And what was the experiment,” John repeats.

“Oh it was simple, he was trying to figure out a way to get them first.”

“So what was he using,” Rodney asks as he wanders forward into the private area with Ronon, “Poison?  Gas?”

“The Wraith.”

Their expressions shoot back to her, but Kenmore’s expression is focused on Teyla.  John doesn’t know whether he likes that or not.  He takes a step towards his friend, placing himself just slightly in between the two women.

“You’re people were right about stepping foot in these ruins.  He was working on a way to use the Wraith to stop the others from continuing the experimenting on humans and he found it.  That podium in there is actually one big beacon that sends out only one message and it sends it out on a Wraith frequency.”

“And what message would that be,” Ronon asks as Rodney eyes the podium while simultaneously keeping his distance from it like his breathing on it would somehow activate both it and some catastrophic event.

“A set of coordinates.  The location of this planet.”

Teyla slowly turns her head and stares back at the podium, “He was the one who brought the Wraith to this planet,” she said it with anger, seething, accusatory anger.

Kenmore nods, “And he used this place to do it.  Luckily though,” Teyla’s head shoots back with a clear glare aimed at the Lieutenant that as usual the Lieutenant ignores, “you’re people started to associate here with the Wraith.  The more you avoided it, the less the Wraith came.  It was more due to the crap they were beating into Atlantis at the time actually than this place, but whatever.”

“Why isn’t this thing still transmitting,” Rodney asks, cagily edging towards it.  John eyes him carefully, just in case the eager astrophysicist actually managed to trigger the thing and that catastrophic event.  It’s dumb, he knows, the Wraith already know about this planet but still…

“He only set it to transmit until the Wraith arrived and when they did, he turned it off.”

Rodney looks back at Kenmore, gees he’s going to go back to Keller complaining about whiplash, “You mean…”

She nods again, “Yep, he was still here when the Wraith culled this place the first time.  He just hid here during the bombardment and hoped that the others would get totally screwed over, humans included apparently.”

John glances over at Teyla, he watches her seethe at the podium some more.  Her people have respected, even worshipped, the Ancients for thousands of years, trusted them even now, trusted the Atlantis Expedition because of it.  And now she finds out that it was one of those Ancestors that had sold out her people to be eaten by the wraith over and over again for the rest of their existences.  She looks like she wants to blast away the podium right now, but instead she simply spoke with a quiet voice laced with hate…

“Where are these tests,” her voice has gone past the sort of outrage that warbles it like Wraith hybrid Michael threatening the life of her then unborn child.

“According to the map, the fire one’s in the library.”

“Map?”  Rodney looks up, Kenmore nods again and walks back out.

Without hesitation, Teyla turns and follows her.  The three men exchange a look with each other then follow the women out.

 

 

Sheppard, Ronon, and Rodney walk out from under the covered knave and towards where they see a shadow leaving them behind, Teyla’s.  They finally get to walk into that open, long, wide, fat stretch of hallway that extends towards the front of the building.  John sees Teyla’s back enter an open doorway on the left wall that even from his angle and distance away looks large enough to fit one massive set of double-doors.  They follow her into a room that rivals the main room they’d first entered into.  It is so totally different though.  Where the rest of this place looked like Atlantean chic meets the Middle Ages, this place looks all Ancient.  First of all, there are computer databanks all over the room on their own half-circle platforms going in columns and rows all the way up the metal walls.  Metal probably built and forged over the stone that’s behind it like a sheath.  John starts at scuffling sounds coming from above his head and immediately crouches down in a moment of paranoid silence staring up above his head at the platform coming out of the wall above the entrance to the room.  The scuffling comes again and suddenly Doctor Radek Zelenka’s head appears over the platform’s edge, looking down at Sheppard with an ecstatic smile and an enthusiastic wave.

“Good afternoon, Colonel.  You would not believe this place,” and immediately the Czech scientist descended into super excited gesticulations and mile-a-minute musings in his native tongue.  John, still a bit sheepish and guarded—and embarrassed, simply nods at him and slowly comes out of his crouch and releases the trigger his finger had nearly pressed, but he doesn’t relax his P-90 as he waves back at the excited scientist.  He looks back at Rodney and Ronon, to which they give him the look of “Jumpy much,” then they walk into the center of the room.  Well as much as of it as they can.

The center of the room is taken up mostly by a giant holoprojector displaying an equally massive hologram of the Athosian planet itself; the thing reminds Sheppard of that one scene in Return of the Jedi.  He’d make the remark “Cool” but the lighting in the room is so much like the spooky aquarium lab that that severed head had talked to them in.  Except that the spotlights of creamy white light are placed over the entrances/exits and right in front of a collection of maps against one side of the wall rather than highlighting some sort of operation slab in the middle of the room on which some poor bastard was about to be experimented on by someone whose people he grew up believing he could trust with his faith let alone his life.  Embedded in the floor at the bottom of every other open space between the columns of computer platforms are circles in silver and the same iridescent sea-shell as the medallion back in the main room softly lit up by glowing strands of blue and silvery white light strips.  Mini-transporters, John guesses, figuring that’s how you get from platform to platform, just stand in the circle and think of which platform you wanted to go to up the column and presto, you’re there.  It’s a little thing that adds hugely to Kenmore’s assertion that this place required its non-Ancient visitors to have Ancient gene-possessing supervisors.

The magnitude, the technology, around them is humbling and John notices that for as many databases glowing, lighting up the dark room with their eerie Ancient tonal-values of oceanic blues, sea foamy greens, and silvery whites, only four teams are actually working on them.  Zelenka and a technician are stationed on the database platform, above the entrance from the hallway and two columns to the right and four rows up is another pair of scientists working on another database.  Stationed on another platform over the other entrance into the library, and John would have to tell Kenmore later that calling this room just simply a library was clearly an understatement the likes even layman’s terms couldn’t justify that John would rip her a new one for let alone Rodney, is another pair of scientists.  John can see an old dead garden outside the other entrance with another dilapidated fire pit at the heart of it.  Its semi-circle perimeter wall made up of dead hedge shrubs, obviously a mediation garden meant to get you even closer to nature…and evaluation.  Well that explains where Teyla’s people get their penchant for meditating from, it’s a bitter thought, If they only knew…John looks away, the final pair of scientists are working on the giant holoprojector itself, trying to get the image of the rotating lush green and blue and white planet it’s currently showing to change to hopefully something else that will prove more useful than a pretty topographical map of Athosia.

His team spreads out and finally Rodney comes out with it…

“So where is this map that tells us where the challenges are located?”

Kenmore looks over at the holoprojector team and they look up at her.

“Fire it up boys,” she says and they go back to work on the computers they’ve hooked up into the thing along with a generator the kind they used to power the chair back in Atlantis.

In a few seconds the peaceful image of Athosia shifts into a rotating three-dimensional layout of what they can only assume is this building.  There are four symbols pulsing at different locations around the map.  John recognizes enough Ancient and especially one of those symbols to know that for all their ornate detailing they’re the numbers one through four, and it looks like number one if his directions are right, although it’s kind of tough because the image keeps rotating like the planet had turned, but it still looks like number one is…John turns to his right, trying to keep his focus and his alignment with the map as it too shifted…like number one was…he gestures off to his right while the map turns beyond what he can manage to turn without losing sight of it…or maybe it was…he gestures to his left.  Rodney rolls his eyes at what he considers to obviously be his fearless leader’s Neanderthal-discovering-fire leanings and practically explodes…

“Oh for God’s sakes, it’s says it’s over there,” McKay points back at the collection of maps against the far wall.

The maps are almost exactly like the big glass displays in Atlantis’ Command Center, where there they usually display scans of Atlantis’ solar system or any other relevant schematics or diagrams or other maps of their own area.  Framed in frosted glass, trimmed here and there in geometric slats of silver metal with a central display of clear glass; the only difference is size, these maps are four times maybe five times the size of the ones in Atlantis.  The central display still has that brushed undulation look like water streaming and trickling over the image and distorting the view of what’s underneath it.  As far as John can tell there are four individual maps, one is displaying a topographical display of the mountain range these ruins are nestled at the base of, which is massive, the one behind that one shows the outlying regions, John can plainly see the lake just outside the front of this place and Teyla’s village on the other side of it, and the other two behind those are so distorted by let alone their own undulations but the other two on top of them, he can’t tell what they’re showing but he figures they probably have to be more land maps given the two he can see.  It’s another little taste of home.  Teyla approaches the maps slowly like she’s waiting for her sheer presence to set off some sort of trap Nemesis had left behind…like those burns Woolsey had mentioned.

“It’s not booby-trapped,” Kenmore says behind McKay, “We’ve already set that off.  Djajej caught on fire.”

John looks over at her as they continue towards the maps and Rodney turns to her and asks, “Who?”

“Franci Djajej, the German chick.  Her arm got the worst of it but we put her out in enough time,” she gestures back towards the main hall, “Worthy took her back through the gate.  She should be fine in a couple of months.  Her arm’ll take a little bit longer than that though.”

John glares at her.  Minor burns, his ass.  Why the hell hadn’t he been informed of something like that?  Yes, he had been offworld at the time but that doesn’t mean he stops being the military leader of this expedition God damn it.  Kenmore shrugs him off as Teyla steps up to the maps and starts looking them over.  McKay, Sheppard, and Ronon come up behind her.  The maps look harmless enough.  Ronon certainly can’t see where fire can come out of them.  In fact, he can’t see where there’s much of a test here.  He looks over at Sheppard and catches the same thought coming back at him.  They aren’t seeing it, whatever ‘it’ is.  Rodney looks up at where the maps hang from the ceiling.  Even though it’s insanely dark up there, he can’t see any difference in these suspension systems from those that hold the much smaller displays in Atlantis.  He pulls the little flashlight from his tacvest, flicks it on, and aims its light at one of the eight suspension rigs.  He peers.

“Well I don’t see anything that could generate fire…or an electrical current strong enough to catch fabric on fire,” McKay says as Teyla stares at the map of the mountains, “Are you sure—,” then she reaches out and touches its side.  The map suddenly slides over to the right and clear out of the way of the map underneath it.  The Athosian stares at it, so does Rodney.  But the other two men turn leveled glares back at the Lieutenant calmly standing behind them.  She looks totally unfazed, she knew that was going to happen.  Teyla could have caught on fire and Kenmore wouldn’t have done a thing to prevent it.

“So I take it that that was not the part where Déjà Vu caught on fire,” McKay asks.

“Djajej and nope,” Kenmore shakes her head, “Keep going, you’ll find the door.”

Rodney looks back at her as Sheppard and Ronon look back at the maps with Teyla.

“You knew there was a door here all along and you never thought to say ‘Gee why don’t you go over to that wall over there, that’s where one of the tests is,’” Rodney McKay growls.

Kenmore shrugs, “You asked where the map was.  I figured you knew how to read it.”

Rodney starts towards her, shaking his finger at her with his flashlight in the same hand, and that ‘Oh don’t you start with me little girl’ look on his face.  Kenmore, again, looks totally unfazed.  John turned to watch as soon as Rodney started towards Kenmore but before anything can start between the scientist and the upstart, Teyla reaches forward and touches the same side of the second map as she touched on the first one.

The map slides to the right but only half of its width to the side, not entirely away like the one before it had.  She frowns at it then touches its other side and the map slides off to the left and entirely out of the way just like the one ahead of it had.  She touches the other maps out of her way, drawing everyone’s attention to her.  Behind all of the maps is a door that looks exactly like the doors in Atlantis except it doesn’t have a side-panel of control crystals.  Teyla takes a deep breath, she wants to know what this man had done to her people, and she steps up to the door.  It slides open at her presence showing nothing but darkness at first then suddenly little sconce lights like the ones in Atlantis come on one by one just the way John and Rodney remembered them doing in Atlantis when they first arrived in the darkened city and it came to life at the presence of the Expedition.  It is again a souring bizarre taste of home.  Teyla eyes the slightly illuminated path before her.  What happened to her people?  What did he make my people do?  Silently, Teyla walks the path.

And the others follow.  The four crews of scientists watch them disappear into the relative darkness.  Kenmore stops in the middle of the threshold and casually turns her head to face the crew at the holoprojector.

“Tell the main room we’ll see them in a moment.”

The scientists nod at her then she turns and follows.

 

*                      *                      *

It is the sort of foreboding darkness that reminds Teyla and the rest of her team, save for Ronon who was not part of their team at the time, of that world in which Teyla’s mind had been taken control of by a man named Dorane, whom they thought was a lone-surviving Ancient of that world, and she was forced to turn John into a horrible creature called a Koan, a creation of Dorane’s meant to torture the true inhabitants of that world in revenge against the Ancients.  Rodney had described that place as a reliquary.  The atmosphere then had made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, a feeling John had described to her as the same sentiment to be found in “zombie movies.”  She is not feeling that same thing now, but everything around her was reminding her of walking the halls of that broken place with her friends trying to find its secrets only to discover rooms, cells, with remains they dare not touched left inside and run into the madman who had experimented on those people in horrible ways as punishments for the Ancestors not helping him.  Now Teyla thought that perhaps that madman’s people had been spared the worst.

The sound of her own footsteps did not reach her ears nor did the footsteps of the rest of her team she knew was behind her.  They would not let her enter into such unknown darkness without them.  Still they are surrounded by relative darkness and silence.  It is one of the things causing her mind to wander to what it must have felt like for one of her people to have walked this path before her accompanied only, according to Lieutenant Kenmore, by an Ancestor.  Did they feel the same haunting sense that the people from Dorane’s reliquary had when they were being led to their punishment?  Or were they proud as they walked here, trusting in their faith in the Ancestor that followed them in here as a supervisor, faith in that Ancestor’s goodness?

The sensory deprivation is total but just barely not enough for Teyla’s heightened senses, but it is only due to Teyla’s own deep perceptions of her own body.  She can feel the angle of descent the path under her feet is taking.  But the air is not chilling as she feels herself descend rather steeply if she is calculating right.  Then there is another spotlight at the end of the tunnel’s path, highlighting another door, with a short podium, the sort the Ancestor that had returned from a sublight voyage to reclaim Atlantis had summoned from the city’s gateroom floor, stands in front of it emitting its own light.  Teyla slows her pace and feels her friends walk closer to her back.  She steps up to the podium.  They wait as she stares down at the podium’s blank and empty surface.  Teyla looks back then tries to peer around Sheppard, he takes the hint and moves aside to give her a clear view of Lieutenant Kenmore standing some steps behind them.  Kenmore doesn’t say anything.  It is as Teyla figured it would be, as she had wanted it to be, she has to do it alone.  Teyla turns back to the podium, not seeing the measuring look Sheppard gives the Lieutenant before returning his attention to protecting his friend should the need arise to save her from herself.

What was it the Lieutenant had said in Nemesis’ lab?  Suddenly Teyla presses her hand, palm-down and spread, onto the top of the podium.  She hears Rodney flinch beside her.  But she does not catch on fire.  Instead, the podium lights up entirely.  The spotlight on the door goes dark.  They look up.  The door’s frame is glowing now.  Illuminating every facet, every groove, of the Ancient design in brilliant blue so that the door looks like this heavenly gateway.  Like a gift from the Ancestors.  The podium retreats into the ground.  Teyla steps forward with her team following close behind her.  No sooner does she step up to the door then suddenly a medallion the size of her head lights up at her eye level.  There is the strangest image she has ever seen inside its circle.  It is another circle like the ring of the Ancestors but there is no whirlpool in the middle just these strange geometric shapes, some cut off, some not, and five small glowing holes.  Teyla glances back at the Lieutenant again.  Again there is no answer.  No sign of the Lieutenant planning on giving her aid either.  Teyla returns to facing the medallion.  She sees, out of the corner of her eye, Rodney start to reach out to the medallion and once again she remembers the Lieutenant’s words.  Suddenly Teyla moves much faster than Rodney’s tentative reach forward and plunges her fingertips into the five holes.  As Rodney flinches beside her with a hiss, Teyla suddenly hears a locking mechanism click inside the door.  Pressure wraps around each of her fingertips.  Teyla tries to pull out her fingers but they won’t come.

Rodney silently panics beside her, afraid to breath, afraid to make a sound in case that is the fire’s trigger.  His hands panic in the middle of the air between him and her.  He wanted to help her but is so afraid that it is going to set her on fire.  Behind her, she hears Ronon’s weapon power up, undoubtedly being pointed at the Lieutenant.  And she has no doubts either that John behind her is equally aiming his own weapon at the Lieutenant but torn between wanting to kill the Lieutenant and seeking to aid Teyla.  But Teyla couldn’t let them kill the Lieutenant, not until she knew everything about this place, everything the Lieutenant had discovered so far about this place.  She can’t let them kill her, she needed to know everything that had happened to her people here.  Trying, Teyla turns her wrist, trying to wriggle out as best as she can that way and suddenly the inner circle of the medallion turns with the movement of her hand.  She breathes as she hears Ronon’s weapon power down.  This is it, this is the next step in the journey.

Teyla begins to turn the medallion more and more.  As she twists, some of the geometric shapes align, some don’t.  But she notices something about these shapes.  They are the writing of the Ancestors.  There were words here.  Meanings she knows well.  Teyla starts thinking of the old stories her father used to tell her…she starts thinking of Charin, the other villagers.  Searching her mind for any keys words, phrases that would help her now that she has trapped herself here like this.

Then suddenly it all comes back to her.  The words of the song she had sung at Charin’s funeral…at her father’s funeral only days ago.  Beyond the night…Teyla peers at the medallion, was it really that simple and yet all so complicated?

Teyla turns the medallion and as before some of the symbols align and some do not and remain broken, but Teyla freezes there in the spot she has chosen and keeps the inner circle there, confident in her choice.  After a moment, the pressure releases her fingertips.  Teyla pulls her hand free and hears the satisfying sound of the door unlocking.  Then it splits open revealing a small, wide, circular room sparsely decorated like a lab in the lower levels of Atlantis.  Strangely, it reminds Teyla of the lab in which they had discovered an elderly woman whom they thought to be an Ancient left behind by her fellow Ancestors but had instead turned out to be a ten thousand year-old Doctor Elizabeth Weir.  But rather than the wall ahead of her harboring a stasis unit with an old woman inside of it, the wall is a set of staggered steps lined completely with candles.  Brightly, serenely burning cream-colored candles.  The same sort Teyla and her people use for their meditations.  Teyla isn’t sure what she had expected to see but whatever it had been, someplace that reminds her of a peaceful, tranquil refuge was not it.  She feels her friends press closer against her and she steps further into the center of the room.  Teyla gasps but manages to hold her balance as suddenly the inner circle of the floor rises up a step above the level she had been on.  The candles’ flames burn brighter, larger…like they are greeting her.

“Let me guess.  This is where that woman’s arm caught on fire,” Rodney says.

“Yep,” Kenmore nods, “Turns out she picked the wrong flame.”

Teyla turns to ask what the Lieutenant means when she realizes that there are two stasis chambers in the room guarding either side of the entrance.  They’re empty though and it looks like they are meant to be that way.  However their interiors aren’t what captures Teyla’s slightly open-mouthed attention exactly, it’s the reflections in their transparent glass.  She sees the flames of the candles gleaming brightly back at her with their creamy-orange light, all except for one that shines the same bright, brilliant blue as the door’s frame had glowed.  Teyla looks back at the actual candles.  She sees no blue light among them, she looks back at the reflection, but there is one there.

“What’s wrong,” John stares at her, alarmed by her looking back and forth.

Teyla looks back at the real candles.

“One has a blue flame.  I need to find the one with the blue flame.”

She looks back at the reflections, steps back further on the central raised platform, and starts analyzing the reflections for any indications they can give her.  She can count what step the blue flame is on, but in what row of candles on the step and what column is more difficult.  The candles may all be of the same width but are of varying heights.  Their flames’ glares are bright, slightly blinding and blurring her vision.  She has to focus, she has to concentrate.

John doesn’t like this.  He starts to lift his leg to step up on the raised platform with her.  Teyla flings out her hand at him…

“No,” she orders him.

John freezes.

“I must do this alone,” she tells him.

John still doesn’t like this but he puts his foot back down on the ground.  He still trusts Teyla’s judgment but…he glances back at Kenmore waiting by the door, it’s warning enough.  Then he goes back to watching Teyla.  If she needs him, he’s here. But John doesn’t do well sitting on the sidelines.

Teyla gathers herself, stares at the candle she believes to be the one she is supposed to find, but the imagined image of a member of the Atlantis Expedition’s arm catching on fire makes the hint of self-doubt she usually suppresses become a nagging feeling she finds she cannot quiet in herself.  Teyla looks back at the reflections and watches her own reflection in the glass slowly extend her hand out and start to move it towards the blue flame.  Suddenly a sweep of blue light passes from right to left across the threshold right in front of Sheppard and the reflections in the glass of the stasis chambers vanish and show only the illuminated interiors of the still empty chambers.  Teyla gasps as she straightens up, yanking her hand away from the candles in case she was reaching for the wrong one.  She does not want to die set on fire here but now there is nothing to help her except for her own instincts.  She looks to her friends for help.  John catches the look in her eye and starts to move again to help her…

“You can’t do that,” Kenmore’s voice comes from behind him.  He turns on her.

“You knew that was going to happen,” she keeps silent facing the raging John Sheppard unable to reach Teyla, “and you didn’t say anything,” he shouts at her.

“I couldn’t.  That’s how Djajej’s arm caught on fire,” she says coolly and calmly; she could be practically Vulcan sometimes damn it, “Whatever systems operate this challenge view any voice other than the recognized performers voice speaking while it observes the performer’s movements indicating they’re in the final process of choosing the flame as a violation and automatically renders the correct flame null and void.”

“It thinks you’re helping her pick the flame,” Rodney says.

“Yep,” Kenmore nods at him.

“But I asked her what was wrong before and she answered me?”

Kenmore nods, “And as soon as she uttered the words about the blue flame, that’s when the test officially started and the systems start observing with intent.  After that anyone else’s voice other than Miss Emmagan’s would render the test a cheat until the field comes across,” John looks back at Teyla, “She’s truly alone in there.  We’re not allowed to help her now.”

Ronon looks back at Kenmore.

“You’ve been talking a lot.  Why isn’t she on fire now?”

Kenmore looks at him.

“Because that blue sweep was a force field being activated across the threshold.  It seals her in there and it’s sound-proof.  She can’t hear us in there.  We could scream ‘Pick Door Number 3’ at the top of our lungs right now and the computer running this test would simple read us as running our mouths.”

“And if we touch the force field,” he asks, picking up on Sheppard’s intent as his friend eyes the field out of the corner of Ronon’s eye.

“She goes up like a Roman candle.  Fwoosh,” Kenmore makes a sort of single-handed exploding gesture with her sound effect.

Sheppard looks back at her with a deep seated glare and fingers his weapon.  God, of all times he really wanted to blow a hole through the dangerous, obnoxious little brat right now, but it might be her that’s ends up being the only one able to get Teyla out of there, dammit.  His blood is boiling, it’s never done that before, he’s never felt like this before.  He takes a deep breath then…

Teyla watches as John starts screaming like armed fury incarnate at the Lieutenant who is taking it calmly, but this is not helping Teyla, here…now.  She wants to hit the force field but thinks better of it.  When the Replicators had trapped her and the rest of her team as well as Mister Woolsey and General O’Neill, they had discovered that the force fields projected in between the metal bars of their cell stung significantly more than they had previously thought they would.  And, after all, Lieutenant Kenmore has been very secretive about how a fellow member of their Expedition had caught on fire while performing this test.  Teyla stares at John as he starts to take slow, menacing steps closer and closer to the Lieutenant who maintains her position and ease standing beside the closed only entrance into the room.  She cannot take it anymore…

“Stop it.  Just stop it,” Teyla yells at them.

John looks back at her suddenly, clearly shocked.

Kenmore watches the back of Sheppard’s head as his brain metabolizes what he just heard.  After a moment he looks back at her again.

“You didn’t say we could hear her.”

Kenmore nods again, “Tread lightly Colonel, it’s still monitoring what we’re saying,” she caught sight of Ronon shifting about, itching to do something with his hands to draw Teyla’s attention towards him, “and how we’re moving,” the Satedan looks back at her, “No cheating.”

Rodney looks at Teyla and what he can see of the area she’s trapped in, “Only one person at a time can do it…under supervision,” he turns to look back at Kenmore, “You never said that the Ancient supervisor wasn’t a person.”

“Oh there was a physical Ancient supervisor required, apparently someone had to come in and take out the torched bodies.”

“And now Teyla could be one of those bodies,” Sheppard snaps.

“Not if both she and we play by the rules.”

“It’s not a game.”

“Not to any of us, Colonel, but this place would beg to differ and there’s six casualties so far that would back that up.”

“Six about to be seven,” Ronon comments.

“Wait, six,” Rodney mildly panics, “You only mentioned one.  What happened to the other five?”

“Problems with the other tests.”

“What problems,” John takes another menacing step towards her.

“John stop.”

He turns at Teyla’s order and she faces him.

“I know what I am doing.”

With that Teyla turns and stares again at the candle she had chosen before and it’s comforting, inviting, creamy orange flame.  She starts to step towards it.

The others watch tensely, except for Kenmore, whose ease seems permanent.

“What happened to the others,” Rodney asks as Teyla slowly approaches the steps of candles.

“Two got frostbite in their hands from what we call the Water test.”

“How’d they get frostbite?  It’s not cold enough anywhere near here for that except maybe at the top of the mountains.”

“At the top of the left tower of this place is another Ancient chair, it’s a time machine.”

The three men look back at her.

“A time—you could—did you,” McKay stumbles into catatonic breathlessness.

Kenmore shakes her head at him before he can form whatever words or phrases he was to floored to form, “It only takes you back through three different time periods:  ten billion years ago, a billion years ago, and two hundred-fifty million years ago.”

“So—“

“No, anytime you get out of the chair, it,” Kenmore snaps her fingers, “pops you right back to this time period and standing right back in front of the chair like it’s a transporter.  You don’t get to talk to any Ancients.  You don’t get to pass ‘Go.’  You don’t get to collect two hundred ZPMs.”

Rodney glares at her, his demeanor one of exasperation.

“Just get in, do whatever you’re supposed to do, get out,” Kenmore finishes.

“And what are you supposed to do,” Sheppard asks her as Ronon goes back to watching Teyla still slowly approaching the candles.

Kenmore shrugs, “Beats the hell out of me.”

“I’d like to,” Ronon says under his breath.

“You wouldn’t stand a chance,” Kenmore quickly returns.

He looks back at her and again she isn’t fazed in the slightest by his lethal glare, isn’t backing down from it either.  Reluctantly thinking better of it, really reluctantly, Ronon returns his eyes to Teyla.  Right now his friend needed him.  Kenmore’s really satisfying butt-kicking can wait.

“And the others,” Sheppard asks.

“The Earth challenge.  Sergeant Hobbs almost got crushed at the bottom of a ravine if Daedalus hadn’t beamed her out in time.  She’ll spend most of the next couple weeks barfing her guts out, but other than the prolonged motion sickness caused by the mid-fall beam out, she’ll be fine.  Off the active duty roster for a little while but fine.”

“And the others?”

“Apparently there’s more than one way to die in the Earth challenge other than what the Daedalus scanned and discovered was a dead drop down fifteen hundred miles,” Rodney grimaces at the vivid re-creation of such a thing his imagination conjures up at the Lieutenant’s words, “It’s enough to liquefy a person at the bottom.  Daedalus’s sensors picked up some organic residue to confirm it.  One team member almost drowned to death in a pool so crystalline and dark you couldn’t even tell it was there.  The other bad choice is to drop into a pit of molten lava.  Yeah, we found that out with a MALP rigged up with a DNA sample.  Poor MALP.  Then there’s the Air test where the other two almost gassed themselves into a coma picking the wrong bug,” Rodney stares at her, she holds up her hand and shakes it a little, “Don’t ask,” then Kenmore suddenly tenses up as she stares beyond Sheppard.

The men’s attentions are immediately drawn back to Teyla.  Her outstretched arm, hand spread, fingers poised, is reaching for a flame.  This is it.  Either Teyla goes up in flames or she survives.  Sheppard shifts his grip on his P-90.  Should she need him…

They hold their breaths, even Kenmore.  Then Teyla touches the flame of a short stubby candle fifth one in from the right in the second row on the third step…and nothing happens.

They let their breaths go.  Suddenly a blue sweep of light scans over Teyla like she’s a photocopy then it looks like her whole body is being sucked back through some air vent they can’t see above the entrance to the room like water being sucked away by a vacuum cleaner.  She’s being distorted, torn apart, torn away from them.

“John,” Teyla’s yelp echoes and she’s gone.  Sucked away into the wall itself.

The force field comes down but the three men turn on Kenmore.  Ronon brings the barrel of his gun to bear, aimed right between Kenmore’s eyes.  John’s trigger finger isn’t quite so jumpy but it’s just as ready to go off.  He wanted to know where Teyla is first before he blows away the Lieutenant, regardless of her having a child to go back to in Atlantis.

“Relax,” the Lieutenant utters calmly, her demeanor driving him crazy.  You bet your ass, I’d shoot a Vulcan, “she’s back in the main room.”

Kenmore slowly puts her hand against the metal of the room’s door and it opens easily at her touch.  She holds up her hand and waves it at them, “Remember, the Ancient gene naturally goes back and forth through everything here.”

Sheppard stares at her for a moment then plows right past her, out the door, and back down the hallway.  Teyla is more important to him than the Lieutenant, no matter how mad he is.  God that kid is lucky sometimes.  Rodney runs after him.  Ronon lingers, keeping his gun trained on the Lieutenant, unwilling to let her take up the rear, unwilling to let her get off so easily.  Kenmore rolls her eyes at him with a sigh of put-upon exasperation.

“Fine.  Look, I’ll go through first, okay.  Walk with me.”

He doesn’t respond.  She gives up on the ‘with me’ part and slowly walks through the door, facing him the entire time.  Clearly she’s just as unwilling to be shot in the back as he is to let her go unchecked despite the strong possibility of Teyla being in peril at this very moment.  He follows her, keeping his aim steady the entire time.  As soon as they’re both clear of the door, turning as they came out so that Ronon is now in front, Kenmore slowly reaches back and puts her hand, keeping it in clear view the entire time, on the opened door’s molding part of its frame.  It closes.  They’re plunged into sensory depriving semi-darkness again.  They hear Sheppard’s voice call Teyla’s name echo back down to them from further up the tunnel.  Ronon turns and runs.  The spotlight comes back on in time for Kenmore to see the Satedan’s quickly fleeing back re-disappear back into the darkness down the rest of the tunnel.  Kenmore sighs, again in exasperation, then casually walks after the racing Satedan.

*                      *                      *

Sheppard keeps calling Teyla’s name as he races out of the library and back across the open central courtyard, bolting for the main area as fast as he can.  He breaks into the main room and sees her standing in front of one of those podiums one of the science teams had been working on.  Everyone is staring at her.  She seems shocked to be there more than anything else.  But all John can think of is that she’s safe.

“Teyla,” he calls again.

He takes the stairs and the landing in a few easy strides and in a handful of seconds is by her side.  She’s panting but alright.  But just to make sure…

“Are you alright?”

She nods, breathlessly, still facing the station like she’s unwilling to move in any further way in front of it.

“The journey was…interesting, to say the least,” she looks over and smiles at him.  And John knows everything is alright.  He relaxes as Rodney and Ronon join them and bringing up the rear rather nonchalantly is Lieutenant Kenmore, looking like she’s going for a walk in a park.

“What’d she manage to turn on,” Kenmore asks.

John looks back at her, she’s looking at the technicians on the other side of Teyla.  John works his mouth, he could yell at her for not at least looking at Teyla as she walks in.

“It’s up and running,” one of the technicians bursts out excitedly as she practically leaps to her feet but suddenly her enthusiasm dulls as she looks back at the podium in front of Teyla, “but nothing’s happened,” she glances back at Kenmore, hopeful, “yet.”

Kenmore nods at her then comes up beside Teyla and looks down at the lit up podium with a blank, glassy top.  Nothing, she harrumphs.  Sheppard glares at her.

“I take it you knew this was going to happen too,” he growls through gritted teeth as Teyla returns to staring down at the top of the podium waiting for something, anything to happen.  She’s come this far, why is this not showing her what else had happened to her people?  What final test had they been put through here before they were sent to their horrific deaths at the hands of the Asgard and the Ancestors that aided them?  What is the term the people of Earth sometimes used, ah yes…God damn it!

Kenmore looks over at him.

“Yeah, Major Novelo was the first person to get through the test successfully, but nothing happened when he got here.  The podium didn’t even light up.  He was just transported,” she gestures up and down at Teyla, “here.”  The Lieutenant let’s her arms fall to her sides.

“So that means this thing’s broken.  You sent her through a broken transporter.  It could’ve ki—“

Teyla’s hand shoots out in the middle of Sheppard’s build to an almighty ripping and plants itself confidently on top of the podium just like she had with the other podium in front of the door.  They all freeze and stare.  Almost instantly there’s a blue sweep of light that scans her hand from bottom to top then, as soon as that goes away, Teyla feels a sharp prick in her index finger.

“Ow,” she yelps and yanks her hand away.

Teyla looks down at the palm-side of her hand.  There is a big drop of deep red blood blooming from her middle fingertip.  She looks back down at the surface of the podium, on a lit up grid just like the scanner that had accepted the scan of her eye but not the others in the Asgard facility is a smudge of her blood.  As she watches, the podium’s glass seems to absorb the smudge of blood, sucking it into the glass and somehow below the crystalline pane.  Beneath the glass she sees the blood become encapsulated in something she cannot see but must be there, unless the pearl of blood is acting under the influence of the viscous weightlessness of space.  The podium’s interior lights up almost blindingly with white light like the sort that happens with the Asgard beaming technology then everything goes dark again and there is no more blood nor any sign that it had ever been there.

“Oh dear Lord, tell me that didn’t just go to someplace with Asgard still—“

“Lorie and the Daedalus already checked the other locations.  There are no more Asgard outposts like that out there anymore.  They’re all abandoned.  Well—now they’re all abandoned,” Kenmore cuts McKay off.

“What do you mean ‘like that’?  There are more Asgard out there?”

“At the last place Daedalus went to, it’s still orbiting it in fact while Lorne’s team beamed over to the next location, there was a holographic war being simulated both in orbit and on the ground using technology I believe two Expedition members discovered, kind of like this grid of holographic generators with a main console that tells people how to cut their hair, what sort of clothes to wear, where to find food, who’s face to stick on their flags, what technologies to advance.  Like, oh say, zeppelins with nukes?”

She looks pointedly at Sheppard and McKay, standing side by side.  Rodney looks sufficiently like a censured puppy while Sheppard just works his mouth, pissed as hell, Damn it she even scored a point on me that time!

“When they got to snooping around, they found that the outpost was receiving transmissions and when they tried to find out where those transmissions were coming from, they went silent, no trail, no nothing.  Just space noise.  So…those transmissions, in the Asgard language, had to come from someplace.  They’re still out there, I just cut off their last old processing line.”

Great, John looks at the podium, yet another enemy even more pissed off at us now than they had been before.

Suddenly Kenmore’s shoulder radio crackles…

“Uh, hey Urs,” Lorne’s somewhat concerned voice comes through staticy from being funneled through two stargates, thousands of light-years of distance, and the Daedalus’ radio systems as well as Kenmore’s own, “One of the computer consoles here just lit up and something beamed in using Asgard tech.  When we checked it out, it was a blood sample, small but enough for the computer to register it as a positive.  Now the computer wants us to reply.  I’ve got red and purple buttons here.  What do you want us to do?”

“Let it go through,” Kenmore orders into her shoulder radio, “Press the purple.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

They wait in silence, everyone in the room watching the podium, except for Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard…he’s eyeing Lieutenant Kenmore, his mouth still working.

“If anything happens to her—,” he begins to warn.

“Bite me Captain America,” Kenmore says keeping her eyes focused on the podium.

Ronon eyes Sheppard and Sheppard catches the glance, Do you want me to shoot her?  John is honestly preparing to reject the unspoken offer in lieu of the fact that he wants to be the one to Swiss cheese the snot when suddenly the podium lights up to full power like some sort of weird beacon and a projection shoots out and blooms from the podium’s glass top.  The tiny faces of people from hundreds of little videos lined up side by side in dozens of rows and columns talk in hundreds of happy, excited voices all at once in front of Teyla.  My people that have gone before me.  As the technicians scramble around her, she looks at the faces of her own that had been stolen away from their homeworld to be sent to a place worse, in her opinion, than the bowels of a hiveship.  But they are all so happy, so proud.  Some of the overjoyed faces speak of the pride that they are bringing to their families for being chosen, for passing the Ancestors’ test.  It is all so…disturbing.  So disgusting.  Her stomach churns not with revulsion but with anger.  A sheer unadulterated rage that she has only felt previously for a Wraith hybrid named Michael when he attacked her unborn child in what should have been the safety of her womb with his own hideous experiments.  When she had the opportunity, when her son was safe, she fought Michael with that rage in defense of her child, her family, her friends, her home, and kicked him off the top of the city.  Teyla feels her body trembling…What she will do to these Ancestors, these Asgard, if she is given the opportunity.

“They’re recordings,” the technician practically shouts as she looks down at the computer tablet in her hands then she looks up at the rest of their waiting faces, except for Teyla’s whose sickeningly furious focus is still zeroed in on the collection of videos, some now repeating, some not, “apparently every person who passed the test and the genetic evaluation got to record a message.”

“Why isn’t Teyla recording a message,” Sheppard asks as McKay snatches the tablet out of the female scientist’s excited grasp, leaving her a little crestfallen, and beginning his own investigation.

“Because,” Rodney answers, “we’ve managed to screw up the wiring inside.  Instead of recording a message, she can now access all of the other previously recorded messages.  Which is…when you look at it, not really that bad after all.”

They look to the Athosian leader again.  Teyla chooses to look at John when she finally does chose to look over at someone.  He nods at her; they’re with her, all the way.  He sees the determination in her eyes, the chilly fire.  No one is going to stop her, she won’t let them.  She looks over at Kenmore looking over all the videos.  After a moment, Kenmore returns Teyla’s attention.  The Athosian waits.  Kenmore nods.

“Go ahead.  Pick one,” she tells her.

Teyla looks back at the projected wall of talking happy faces.  Her people gone before.  She closes her eyes, breathes, opens her eyes, and reaches out…

THE END.

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