Episode Four- Veritas- Prologue

Prologue

Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore lets her head fall back and from her slack jaw emits a, “Dear God Michael.”

Beside her, Michael Kenmore, the Lieutenant’s five-year old son, trots bouncily.  The small light-skinned, blonde haired, brown-eyed little boy only has about half his heart in the walk, the other half is like any other child…

“I don’t wanna go to school Mom,” he whines.  He only ever called her Mom when he felt she was being unfair, every other time he called her Mommy or Momma.

“It’s not like it’s like school on Earth,” Ursula tells him.

“But—“

“Michael,” Ursula warns.

Michael holds his silence for maybe, maybe a heartbeat…

“But Mom.”

Ursula sighs again.

They follow the curve of the windowless Atlantis hallway they’re walking down, there is stark morning light occasionally shining on them and the walls and the floor.  But it’s only the light coming from the opened doorways of the rooms lining the hallway’s left side, rooms that have a bank of windows taking up almost the entire top half of the room’s farthest two or three walls from its doorway.  The light provides a glaring against the rust-colored marble flooring and the turquoise patina-ed walls trimmed and lined by copper-colored flat, blocky-edged wall trimmings about every four-foot wide section of wall as well as in its corners.  The brightness is eye hurting, but they wouldn’t have to endure it for long as they continue following the hallway’s path further into the heart of the city, a part of the city whose rooms became as windowless as its hallways here are.  As they do, Michael again stumbles to a stop, stalling to reheft the backpack strapped to his back into a more comfortable position.  Knowing full well that the backpack was never going to feel comfortable, he didn’t want to be wearing it.

“Michael, you’re going to school.  No ifs, no ands, no buts, you’re goin’.  Now just behave yourself.”  She says firmly, making it clear to her son that even if he decided to fake sick, his butt is still going to school.  She could understand the hesitation if it were an Earth school, frankly her memories of school until college were the stuff Hell is made of.  Let alone had Dante apparently written about too narrow an area of Hell, he’d sugarcoated it too.  And she remembers the news reports on her television set before she got posted against her will to Atlantis, bullying was no longer the bullying she had experienced as a kid, it’s now the stuff suicides are made of.  It’s not bullying, it’s downright torture, abuse, and harassment now usually ending in much more than a really traumatized crying session in a bedroom alone.  It now ends in God awful child-sized body bags and standard-sized gravestones.  But this isn’t an Earth school…

They finally enter Atlantis’ gateroom.  As soon as their boots set foot on the still rust-colored marble floor tiles, bisected with wide tracks of silver marking the outlines of large wide geometric shapes, of the embarkation floor, Ursula looks up at the Command Center, catches Chuck Campbell’s, the DHD console technician’s, waiting eye and nods at him.  He nods back and immediately begins working his console…and the massive, just shy of twenty-two feet tall Stargate comes to life.  Its inner track begins chasing through lit glyph symbol after glyph symbol.  The first of its Caribbean waters blue chevrons ka-chunks open and clunks closed again, locking the glyph and the chevron into place.  The glyphs begin to rotate again, this time chasing each other in the opposite direction, as Ursula brings her son to the foot of the large room’s grand stairway made of the same rust-colored marble and whose steps are edged with the same silver whose strips decorating the embarkation floor.  Definitely clear of the reaches of the Stargate’s wormhole’s activating kawoosh when it would happen.  Immediately the mother gets on her knees before her son and begins tidying up his appearance, making him presentable.  Straightening up his short-sleeve black Lego STAR WARS t-shirt then the red long-sleeve shirt underneath it.  His medium-colored blue jeans look okay, at least they’re not stained yet…and her son rolls his eyes and sighs.

“But Mom, I don’t want to go to school, I want to stay here in Atlantis—“

Ursula freezes and shoots her son the ‘Mom’ Look.  He rolls his eyes again with a heavy sigh.

The City,” he recites as she and his Uncle ‘Lorie’, Major Evan Lorne, have been drilling into his head to refer to his new home as as they equally have been drilling into his head that it is dangerous to call the Ancient city-ship by her real name anywhere but in the city itself, “with you and Uncle Lorie and everyone else.”

“’Everyone ‘else’ isn’t here,” Ursula goes back to fussing with her son’s shirt collars, trying to make sure that the two line up just right and don’t ruffle her son too much, he’s finicky about the two collars lining up directly over the other and coming up too close to his throat and giving him the feeling of gagging or choking, “Uncle Lorie vouches for this man Halling and his son Jinto and I trust Uncle Lorie.  I also trust Mister Halling and his son, their good people.”

Her son isn’t buying a word of it, he’s still staring past her at the staircase behind her and she can imagine what he’s really thinking, other than his mother is being so unfair.  He has his father’s scientific curiosity and is most likely wondering what the Ancient writing cut into the silver panels and backlit bright brilliant white on the front of the stairway’s steps says…well that would be a question answered another time, but not now.  Maybe Ursula could take a photo of the staircase and pass it along to someone heading back to Earth so that they could give it to Doctor Daniel Jackson, one of Ursula, her late husband, and their son’s dearest friends, another ‘Uncle’ like Lorne.  Not a blood relation but an experience relation.  Maybe Daniel could translate it and send her son some mail from Earth, that would be a nice treat for him.  Mail from their homeworld.  Think of that, ‘homeworld’…And that gets Ursula thinking of another tact she could use to get her son in a better mood to go to school.

“And think of it this way,” her son looks her in the eyes as she finally finishes messing with his clothes, “how many kids get to go to school on an alien planet?”

“Well there is that,” Michael grumbles, still not buying it but buying it just a bit more than he had before.

“Michael, New Athos will be fine.  It’s not anything like pre-school back home was.  I’ll bet it’s not like any school back on Earth.  No other kid will be able to say they had this sort of Kindergarten.”

The seventh chevron locks into place behind Michael’s back and the Stargate activates its coalescing artificial wormhole with a familiar and powerful kawoosh.  Ursula gives a final sigh.  No frustration, nothing but the resolved sigh a mother gives when she knows she finally has to let go of her child and let them enter the classroom.  Although a part of her is feeling that if this actually were Earth, the teacher would have to pry her son out of Ursula’s cold dead hands, and even then the teacher would have a fight on their hands.  Ursula claps her son on his shoulders.

“Be nice, play nice, and remember you manners.  I don’t want to get a call from the Command Center, saying Mister Halling wants to talk to me because he’s sending you back before he has too,” she eyes her son.

After a moment, he nods, equally resolute and frankly depressed about the situation; maybe as depressed as she is but for a different reason, “Yes ma’am.”

And that was another dig at her, whenever Ursula won an argument, or made it blatantly clear her son wasn’t going to win, he resorted to referring to her as Ma’am.  It’s his last ditch effort to needle her into letting him get his way.

“Good,” Ursula leans forward and kisses his forehead, it’s warm and smelling of a combination of his shampoo and the strawberry body wash they both use, then pulls back and brushes the strands of his blonde hair that’s so much like his father’s back and forth into place.  Fussing over him for one last time before having to let him go to school…go through the Stargate for the first time without her.  She understandably chokes up and fights back the shaking she thinks her body might lapse into if she doesn’t.  Ursula stands up and looks down at her son, “Now go to school.”

She turns her son around and walks him up to the Stargate.  Face to face with the undulating surface of the stabilized wormhole’s event horizon, she takes her own moment of anxiety to breathe.  What sort of mother sends her child off to school like this?  What kind?  And the reply comes back fairly quickly in her mind, Every damn mother who has to put her child on a big ass yellow vehicle being driven by someone who ain’t her.

It’s not a good enough reason, especially to herself…but it is a reason.  With another deep sigh that Ursula feels in her bones, she pushes her fingertips against her son’s shoulder blades.  He takes the cue and steps through the gate.  Alone.  By himself.  Ursula waits there.  Knowing full well she’s holding her breath at the surface of this end of a long artificially created tunnel connecting one planet on this end of the Pegasus Galaxy to another Stargate on another planet on the other end of the Pegasus Galaxy.

And in crossing this threshold, her son was immediately demolecularized and transported atom by atom across that tunnel and his molecules were put back together and he exits through the other gate’s own undulating event horizon’s surface…he exits intact…he exits intact…he exits…he exits…What the hell’s taking so long?  Oh God, something’s happened.  Something’s happened to him, and, and…I sent him through the gate and something’s happened to him on the way.  Oh God, oh God, oh my God!…

“Lieutenant Kenmore,” questions the voice that sounds lightly gravelly but so peacefully calm and soothing like praying ‘ohm’ in meditation to the human nerves.

Ursula jams her fingernails accidentally into the skin just in front of her ears in her frantic urgency to activate her earpiece and answer the radio call from, “Mister Halling?”

He makes a sound and Ursula can clearly see the six-foot four, extremely pale man in her mind’s eye, smiling tenderly as he looks down at the soulful earth of the lush forest surrounded trail to the Stargate on his planet before he answers her, “Please, Lieutenant, call me Halling, just Halling.”

She nods, he can’t see her but she just keeps nodding and waiting for him to tell her.  Finally her brain kicks into gear enough for her to make a tight lipped “Mm-hmm” sound hopefully loud enough for the earwig to catch and transmit to the Athosian man.

She can hear him breathe another tender smile at the actions of a nervous mother, “I have your son, he arrived well.”

Ursula lets go of her held breath, it comes out like a gasp and frightened tears brim in her eyes.  She had been so scared that she had made a terrible mistake…

“Momma,” Michael’s voice comes over the radio link then.

“Yes, Baby,” Ursula breathes, her voice quaking with the tears filling up her eyes.  So very scared.

“I bet no one’s ever taken a Stargate to school before,” he sounds like he thinks he is the coolest kid ever.

Ursula beams at the Stargate’s surface and laughs.

“I will have your son back to you just a few hours before the time of Atlantis’s evening meal,” Halling’s voice comes back.

Ursula again nods even though the man can’t see it; okay, so that means he’ll be back at around five.  A nice school day, a nice even school day including afterschool activities.  Okay.  Okay, she’s good with it.  It’s okay.  Again her brain clicks into gear, this time she actually manages to open her mouth, “Okay, that’s okay.  Thank you Mister, uh, Halling, just Halling.”

This time Halling laughs, a beautifully light and airy, wonderful sound.  Ursula actually finds the sound as comforting as her great grandmother’s wind chimes blowing in a breeze by the kitchen’s back door.  It also reminds her of his blue eyes and the way they smile all the time, overflowing with his good nature, “It is alright, Lieutenant.  I as well as my son and our people will guard your son’s life as one of our own.  It is our way…and we owe you a great much.”

Ursula looks down at her combat booted toes.  Halling, as had all the Athosian people, especially Teyla Emmagan, had taken the truth about the Ancient city on their original home planet and the Ancients who ran it very hard.  It’s, as Ursula has come to understand from Evan, a very bitter thing among them, but the people were dealing with it and looked at Ursula now as a great messenger, an “Unveiler of truths.”  Something and someone highly respected among their people.

And it also helped that Ursula had brought back Teyla’s father Torren’s remains to her to be buried among their people.  He was a very admired and respected and well loved man among them.  A noted leader as had been Emmagan’s mother, Tagan.  For that alone really, people treated her like a friend although some suddenly became frightened of both her and especially her son when they heard their names and Ursula’s rank, something Ursula found pricklingly disturbing.  She’d have to ask Evan or Emmagan about that sometime, maybe even Sheppard.

“You folks don’t owe me anything,” she answers quietly, politely.

This time she thinks she can hear Halling nodding even though she can’t see it.

“We must be going.  Old Calla is teaching the children how to wash clothes today.”

Wash clothes,” Ursula can hear her son bemoan in Halling’s background.

Again Halling laughs.  This time its loud and hearty with great mirth and joy, “Yes, yes, wash clothes.”  He repeats after her son.

Ursula grins again, her tears drying.  She can just imagine the look on her son’s face.  I told you I bet it wasn’t like any school on Earth would be.

“Till the morrow, Lieutenant.”

For a moment Ursula’s chest clamps all the way to her throat, but then she remembers that New Athos has a day-night cycle not unlike the Athosian’s original homeworld Athosia, or Athos depending on who you asked it was called, has.  Very, very short either way.  Only about six hours daylight and six hours night.  What passed for one day around here was actually more like two Athosian days and their nights.  She breathes again, restoring calm, and nodding like a blind idiot again, “Yes, Halling, till the morrow.  Have fun at school Michael, Mommy loves you.”

“I love you too Mommy.”

“Byesy-bye Sweetheart.”

“Byesy-bye Mommy.”

Ursula kisses the air, hears Michael kiss back, and…

The Stargate shuts down.  Ursula continues to stand there for a moment, it would be about midnight Athosian time before her son would be back.  Here, he’d be gone about…it’s eight a.m., he’ll be back at five…nine hours.  Suddenly Ursula’s eyes bulge.  Nine hours!

Doctor Rodney McKay, wearing his standard grey Atlantis personnel uniform accented by strip-like panels of dark blue angled over his collar bone indicating his designation via the blue color as part of the Expedition’s science department, walks up to the Lieutenant, eyeing her carefully.  Her eyes have suddenly gone wide and he’s not entirely sure he should be doing this, but he’s stalked her and her son all the way from their quarters, where he’d spent another half hour beforehand listening and waiting for her to leave her room from the end of the hallway, all the way here.  Quietly he inches closer to her…she doesn’t seem to be going off on him yet, he’s not even really sure she knows he’s there yet.  He inches closer…nothing, then he opens his mouth—

“Oh my God,” Kenmore agonizes, throwing her head back and staring up at the far distant ceiling up above her, “Other kids go to school on a bus or in their parents’ cars and mine gets to go to school through a Stargate…on an alien planet…in a different galaxy,” she finishes with a sigh so exhausted she closes her eyes during it.  And it’s a moment before she straightens her head back up and opens her brown eyes.  She looks over at McKay.  “So what can I do for you, Doc?”

He stares at her for a moment, it’s suddenly dawned on him that it’s the first time he’s seen her with her long, naturally curly, brown hair down, then snaps to, he gestures at the screen of his computer tablet in his hands, “I was just writing up my report of our last mission,” Kenmore sighs but it’s nowhere near the ones she’d expressed for her son going offworld without his mother, “and I was wondering if you could help me clear up some things?”

Kenmore turns and immediately starts walking back into the corridors of the Lost City of the Ancients.  Rodney takes that as his cue that it’s okay to follow her, she didn’t say no after all.

They turn the corner and Kenmore goes to the right side of the hallway with Rodney in her wake, following the line of personnel traffic heading from the heart of the city to its outer points or residential areas, beside the flow of oncoming personnel traffic.  At the first opportune moment, McKay shoves his way up to walking beside the Lieutenant.  She doesn’t look like she’s in a particularly talky mood but she still hasn’t actually said ‘No’ so…

“What part of it stuck out to you,” he asks casually.

“The Ancients sold out the Athosians in order to cover their own asses,” she answers bluntly.

Rodney takes it although that wasn’t exactly what he had in mind…

“I sort of meant, what part of the other planets stuck out to you,” he rephrases.

“Which one?”

They go around the bend in the hallway. Traffic gets a little heavier.  Shift change is approaching.  If Kenmore wanted breakfast, considering she was too freaked out about sending her son to school this morning that she didn’t eat anything, couldn’t even look at it, then she better get over to the mess hall.

“Well, any one of them.”  Rodney racks his brains for a place to start or to get Kenmore to starting talking.

There was first of all the planet of Athos itself.  After Teyla had gotten through the Fire ‘Exam,’ before Sheppard and Ronon ripped Kenmore apart alive or at least poked a lot of holes in her via the bullets or blasts of their weapons fire, and Teyla had been transported back to the consoles in that Temple’s main room, she had unlocked the previous recordings of the other Athosians who had passed the exam back when the city/college campus was still in use and being run by Ancients.  Thankfully, there wasn’t enough power in any of the consoles and their components had become so weather and time worn that all the console could do was playbacks not make any more new recordings, pick a person and you got to see their recording, nothing more.  After five recordings at the Fire console, Teyla had apparently made it a personal mission to pass every test in the Temple and she demanded, well, actually ordered Kenmore to take her to each and every one.  And the moment Sheppard tried to step in between Teyla and Kenmore’s lead, Rodney actually feared for the man’s life.  Teyla Emmagan had glared at John Sheppard with such a deep seated fury and anger and, and everything so not the Teyla they know.  And when Teyla actually growled at him to “Get.  Out.  Of.  My.  Way,” John Sheppard did exactly that, very slowly.  Like the way a zebra backs away from a watering hole when it sees the sleek subtle movements of a crocodile swimming the waters right in front of where the zebra was heading to drink.  After that John never got in Teyla’s way the rest of the time on Athos, he never dared to.

After passing all the ‘exams’ and finally opening up the recordings of the Earth element console, sounds came from the back of the main hall.  When they as well as Stackhouse’s team went to investigate, they discovered another Asgard beaming platform and a control console covered in debris and grime hidden in a wall niche.  The sounds must have been the part of the wall that had been hiding the niche console moving away to reveal it.  Rodney had barely managed to get the decrepit console going again, he had to hook up a generator to it and even then the thing had apparently suffered more damage than the other ‘elemental’ consoles.  Even with another generator hooked up to it, all that energy wasn’t enough to do more than barely bring the platform’s circuitry to a dismal glow that kept constantly dimming in and out of existence.  Its operating console wouldn’t glow at all, even with a generator, forcing him to activate what he could out of the platform by his trusty computer tablet.  And when Rodney activated it, it projected a map of Athos’s solar system.  A holographic celestial sphere.  At first sight, at first encounter, it was awe-inspiring…and informative.

The Athosian star system is set up not unlike Earth’s own Sol system, but with fewer planets, even with Pluto being downgraded.  Athos is smack in the middle, relatively speaking of course, its sun is technically in the middle, of the thing, not like Earth though.  Even though, Athos’ day and night are equally timed, their shortness is because of Athos’ incredible fast rotation.  Twice that of Earth’s.  The tilt of the planet is just a tad more than that of Earth’s causing for a slightly longer average fall than Earth sees.  And, according to Kanaan, a slightly harsher winter too, the man told Rodney, when Woolsey had called for a debrief on Athos in which he’d called specifically for Teyla and Kanaan to be there, that the Athosians often relied on Teyla and the other traders to work very hard and make very good trades on the Athosians behalf during those months for their village’s survival.  Both Kanaan and Teyla did say, though, that their homeworld looked beautiful when the snow fell, no matter how harsh or for how long, the planet always seemed to be absolutely stunning when the snow fell.

Aside from Athos, there are four other habitable planets in the Athosian star system, whose sun Teyla informed them while they were admiring the Athosian celestial sphere is called Veron.  Their environments and planetary atmospheres are similar to several of Earth’s environments as well as some of the Sol system’s other planets.  Kenmore had even gone so far as to crack a joke about the other worlds being M-Class to which Rodney had gaped at her.  When Sheppard, oblivious to what she’d just said really meant, asked the Lieutenant what the ‘M’ meant, Kenmore and Rodney kept their eyes looked on each other and answered in unison ‘Minshara’.  Sheppard had frowned, not understanding, but Rodney knew full well he was staring at the face of a fellow Trekkie.  And not just any sort of Trekkie, but a science fiend Trekkie.  Only a Trekkie like that would know Minshara is what the M in M-class planet is.  Silently, he’d gone back to his work of reading incoming data on the hologram’s energy readings off of his tablet and Kenmore’d gone back to walking around the hologram’s perimeter while subtly checking to make sure the thing wasn’t bobby trapped.  Before much more could happen though, Zelenka radioed them from the Temple’s Library that the giant planetary hologram of Athos in the room had changed to show a different looking planet entirely.  When Rodney had asked what sort of planet, Radek had reported desert, a planet that was entirely desert.

Immediately Rodney’s eyes widened and the competition began.  Rodney nominated that they call the planet Tatooine as in the planet Luke Skywalker grew up on, an entirely desert planet.  An obvious choice.  Sheppard vetoed that and started throwing out his own name ideas, i.e. Sahara, Gobi, and others that even now Rodney rolls his eyes at the stupidity and thorough uncreativity of just as he had then.  They argued…and argued…and argued until Teyla called them to silence and informed them that the planet is named Laema Dar.  Both men’s shoulders stooped and they went back to listening to Zelenka, who had been chattering the entire time John and he had been arguing what to rename the planets of Teyla’s home star system.  Finally actually paying attention to him, Radek told them the desert planet’s climate is generally that of the Chihuahuan desert, from his observations, the White Sands area in particular.  Causing Sheppard to grumble about how he mentioned naming the planet White Sands, prompting Teyla to tell him rather bluntly that it was not his planet to re-name, and that resulted in there being a long awkward silence that left it up to Radek Zelenka, the one not in the room, to break.

Which he did.  Thankfully.  Radek reported that the planet’s holographic rotation was showing them two unique energy signatures on its surface some distance away from each other and that the second one was weaker and was apparently mostly underground.  Then he stumbled onto something else that had him going ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh’ like an excited child.  At that they all went running back to the Library.

Inside the giant computer station columned room, Zelenka immediately began running his mouth, word after word after word came tumbling out one tripping over the other; resulting in an unintelligible mess.  The gist was that the same satellite system that had a control console in Atlantis, that Sheppard and Rodney had thought belonged to an Ancient video game, was present in the planet’s orbit.  And…it was transmitting!  Still!  After over ten thousand years!  Of course Rodney dove for the large holoprojecting device along with Radek and the science team already analyzing it.  Trying to see if he, Rodney McKay, could get access to the satellite system…And he did, boy, did he.

The planet hologram changed to that of a space battle.  And it took up the whole length and breadth and height of the Library room!  It was like they were standing in space with the ships.  And there were lots of ships.  Everyone counted eight Aurora-class Ancient warships accompanied by two Asgard motherships taking on fifteen Wraith hiveships, Wraith hiveships that were exactly as Sheppard had once described them as:  carrier groups.  It wasn’t the hundreds they were used to, it was thousands of Wraith dart fighters taking on the precious few Ancient puddle jumpers that had apparently once accompanied their warships.  Seeing it all was painfully obvious how incredibly outmatched the jumpers were.

They were being picked apart.  Blown away right in front of their eyes.  Right in front of their bodies.  Two darts went kamikaze on a particular skillfully piloted jumper a mere two feet in front of where Teyla had been standing.  The hologram of the explosion was so convincing, so immersive, Teyla screamed and covered her body from it as though she thought she was going to be caught in the not-really-there blast.  Stackhouse, closest to her, had reacted too.  He’d reached out and yanked her to him.  Holding her close and shielding her with his own body from the blast that never had a dream of touching them.  It was a lesson everyone in the room learned well as they watched the chaos of the space battle unfold around them and past them.  Epic.  Kenmore, Rodney, and Stackhouse all commented on how much it was like the Battle over Antarctica against Anubis only all in space.  It was…horrifically beautiful.  Like watching a star go nova.

When the shields of the two Asgard motherships started crackling, showing that they were beginning to buckle from the unyielding concentrated barrage of four hiveships, the Asgard unleashed a unified constant onslaught on the four enemy ships.  Even through the uproar of war, Rodney heard Sheppard breathlessly say the word:  “Slaughter.”  And that’s what it was.  Everyone knew how the Asgard here acted and they knew very well how the Ida Galaxy Asgard had acted in battle any time a Goa’uld system Lord violated the treaty they had with the Asgard.  This, what they were seeing, was complete and utter butchery of the Wraith.  It was almost as if the Wraith had ticked off these Asgard by simply proving that with enough firepower the Asgard technology could fail to theirs.  The Asgard bombardment was the absolute definition of overkill.  In a matter of a few seconds the four Wraith hiveships didn’t explode.  They shattered.

Each pair of awestruck eyes were riveted seeing plumes of fire billow behind then suddenly engulf girders and organic looking sinewy parts of the hiveships as the flames erupted out into cold space.  Rodney was sickened to realize he was close enough to one of the hiveships to see the bodies of Wraith ejected from various decompressing areas of their dying ship.  Then incinerated alive when the vessel finally shattered entirely.  Hundreds of millions of little burning fragments.  When that happened, Sheppard gave the order to figure out what the hell they were seeing.  He’d been just as close to one of the other hiveships and had clearly been just as disgusted by the deaths he’d seen up close.

The scientists stationed at the device snapped to work and in practically no time at all Rodney reported that they’d have to go to the planet in order to find that out.  What they were seeing was all the information, other than information on the planet itself, that they were going to get.  Sheppard’d simply nodded while remaining grimly riveted by the battle.  Rodney used his shoulder radio to tell another scientist back in the main room to go back to the Asgard platform’s hologram mock up of the solar system and check on the other habitable planets in the celestial sphere.  Suddenly the all consuming battle vanished and the room seemed suddenly more than silent, cold actually and hollow, shivering making, as a new holographic image of a rotating planet rotated majestically in place over the Library’s holographic device.  The practically sapphire blue planet seemed to quietly govern the room with its deep, rich, luxurious color.  Tranquility.  Sudden welcoming peace.  Like a patient listener waiting for you to say what you needed to say and waiting for you to finish through every silence and every word.

Rodney checked and reported that this planet is a lot like Atlantis’ original planet except that this world’s single landmass is about a fifth the size.  But other than that, like Lantea, the planet is covered in deep blue ocean.  This time there is no competing to rename the planet, John had turned to Teyla and asked her and she told him that the world is called Amna and glowed a bright wondrous blue in Athosia’s night sky.  Again all Rodney could report was that the planet had an Earth-like atmosphere.  Rodney radioed the main room again and told the scientist or soldier or whoever they were, to pick another planet.

The hologram changed to a bright red planet that Rodney silently wanted to name Mustafar after the lava planet Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi had their infamous duel over the lava lakes of, but Teyla told them the planet is named Arca and when it shone brightly in Athosia’s sky, it was considered an omen of ill portent.  Lovely, Rodney remembered thinking, a bad voodoo planet, just what they needed after the hell planet they’d managed to get away from that Rodney was personally nicknaming Hoth; what could he say he was on a STAR WARS bent that day.

This time Zelenka reported that the planet had a not exactly Earth-like atmosphere, the planet is basically one massive Ring of Fire.  Its tectonic plates are so fractured the world is looking like an egg that had been dropped over and over to the point that no part of its shell isn’t fractured.  Rivers and lakes of lava and a planet full of still active volcanoes numbering in the hundreds of thousands cover the surface.  Somehow the planet managed to find some sort of stability in its pressures and stresses and is now somewhat stabilized, i.e. basically the planet won’t rip itself apart but as for the seismic activity that normally comes with an erupting volcano, oh sure that’s still going on.  Rodney had snarked that how in the hell could that planet possibly be termed habitable and Zelenka had answered that the energy signature they were reading on the planet’s surface was the same signature as Atlantis’s shield, implying that there was a shielded city or at least an outpost down there.  When Sheppard asked how the shield could possibly still be working at the full power Zelenka was reporting it as after ten thousand years of, they could safely guess, perpetual full power, full time use, Radek answered that the extreme volcanic conditions are being harnessed as geothermal energy and powering the shield just like it had on Taranis.  Zelenka also quickly pointed out that where the Taranian’s tapping of the geothermal energy had activated a dormant super volcano the Taranian base was built into, this planet already is basically one big super volcano, so actually the shielding isn’t putting anymore stress on the volcanic system than was already there.  And, Zelenka added, the shielded area had a breathable, all be it hot, Earth-like atmosphere.  Anything more than that, nope, no information; they’d have to go to that planet too and Radek added that it should be no problem to drop by the place considering that it is relatively close to the desert planet which is the one next on Lorne’s list of planets he and his team were investigating at that time.

Out of nowhere, without even requesting it, the volcano planet changes to a world that looked like it was made entirely of solid white.  The team had stared at it.  The ice planet.  Hoth…but Teyla had muttered the word, the planet’s name, breathlessly:  Gian.  Rodney had looked at her then, he couldn’t believe that a world that had been so hideous to them, to her personally—I mean, her father and all—and it had a beautiful name.  So melodious and musical to the ear and yet…it was unbelievable.  And it was clear by Teyla’s expression that she had had absolutely no idea that that hell-world that had taken the life of her father was the world she had known all her life as Gian.  Then she told them, fixated in horror at the sight of the planet rotating serenely yards away from her, that its stark bright white light always shows like a constant in Athosia’s sky, that the Athosians view the world as a beacon of hope and something that illuminates their darkness.  Forever constant.  Zelenka commented that it was like Venus in Earth’s sky…And that was a stomach churning thought.  The planet of love here is represented by frozen hell world.

Then the next question, Sheppard asked it:  Where next?

Well that had been somewhat answered by Lorne and the Daedalus around orbit of the fiery planet Arca, they were done checking the planet out and were heading for the desert planet Laema Dar.  Sheppard asked for a quick lowdown on what they’d seen or run into and Lorne had confirmed that it was a ‘run into’ situation.  That sent their team looking around at each other, if the ice planet was anything to go by…Kenmore immediately asked what had happened and Lorne gave them a preview of his debrief right then and there.  The shielded energy signature was indeed a place, it’s a monastery actually.  One that had housed both Ancients and Asgard monks, two of which had still been there…alone…with no one else but each other…for about ten thousand years.  Yea, Rodney’d thought and Lorne continued, telling them that one of the Asgard monks, both monks had been Asgard coincidentally, had actually charged at them in the belfry area.  He reported it screaming and snarling at them with its tiny little grey boney fingers coming at them like claws; they’d been forced to mow it down with their P-90s.  Well that sounded somewhat familiar, when Sheppard asked if the Asgard had said anything before hand, all Lorne reported was that the crazy thing started screaming at them not to pull the seventh bell, it had gone berserk and charged when Lorne just touched what was apparently the seventh bell’s rope.  Sheppard and Rodney had blatantly looked at each other then, the thought mutual Oh goody as if them being just plain crazy wasn’t bad enough, now there are religious nutbag crazy ones too.  “There’s more,” Lorne had added and went on to tell them that there were also paper notes here that said that one of the monks, an Ancient, had been drawn and quartered in the middle of the monastery’s chapter-house for ringing the seventh bell by the monastery’s controlling Ancient.  Again, an unsettling glance was shifted around the entire room especially between those of Rodney’s own team.  Not good.  Because it meant that the Ancient scientist on the ice planet wasn’t the only seriously screwed up guy involved in this, they had figured that all of the scientists involved in this secret project were mental but there’s mental and then there’s this.  Wow.

Lorne proceeded to tell them then that when they went looking around to see if there were anymore crazy monks left, they’d stumbled into the monastery’s chapter-house and ran into another one who came at them mumbling about hearing bells, although none of them had touched the bells’ ropes after the one Asgard ran at them let alone rang any of them, while clawing at the skin of his own face.  They hadn’t actually had to shoot this one, in its stumbling to get towards them it stumbled into one of the room’s shielded vents that shown the lava lake running beneath the monastery.  Lorne said it was like watching Gollum melt at the end of Return of the King, the Asgard monk had gone quietly, happily actually, which made Lorne tell his men to watch their backs and that this place was definitely creepy as hell.  Later in the more private debrief with Sheppard’s team and Kanaan and Woolsey, a debrief Kenmore had been left out of, Lorne reported that they’d found a small room just off the chapter-house that had Ancient computers lining the twelve by twelve room’s walls along with a podium that was topped with a large crystalline bowl of sorts, although it wasn’t anything like they’ve ever seen in Atlantis, it’s look was definitely Ancient.  And after Lorne’d activated the computers, his team discovered that the computers were continuing the Project Veritas experiment and that the bowled podium in the center of the small room was actually a brazier like how the Goa’uld used and it was used as a baptismal font of sorts.  The Ancient running this place, the lead monk, with a few of the other brothers as lab assistants would actually hold the baby’s limbs in the fire and then pull them out to see if the children had taken on any of the Ancient ability to heal themselves and to what extent the babies had that ability, it was also a test to see if Ancient technology could still be activated by the baby by passing the child over the brazier or having it wave a limb over it to activate the brazier’s fire.  Leading Lorne to guess that that was where the expression ‘baptismal by fire came from’.  At that point in the briefing, everybody went cold inside.  The monastery was where the babies, the offspring of hell world were taken…and the experiment that created them was continued on them.  Even now Rodney shudders.

Lorne also reported in the debrief that they’d figured out, with the help of the backup of two other teams supplied by the Daedalus, that ringing the seventh bell didn’t actually ring a bell, it opened a door in the floor of the head Ancient’s bedroom, where the other team accompanying Lorne’s had been when Lorne’s team pulled the cord.  The floor door led down a set of stairs the sort that they’d find in the outskirts of the city, metal grated, to a sort of Ancient ‘basement’ laboratory.  A circular basement lined all around by the lava lake being held back by an Ancient shield, not unlike the Stargate’s iris, being powered by said lava lake.  It was also Lorne’s believed duty to report that at the foot of the spiral staircase into the laboratory were three graves, two of which acting as a security system and they were the sickest security system he’d ever seen.  However the security system was apparently okay with you if you were led down the stairs by an Ancient or someone with Ancient DNA.  He’d reported the graves being glass topped coffins embedded in the stone floor like prone versions of Atlantis’s Ancient stasis pods, but these ones were definitely not meant to keep anybody alive.  The two security coffins, on either side of the foot of the stairs, contained one body each of unmasked Wraith drones.  Their eyes had been gouged out and inlaid with white control crystal rods and when someone passed the threshold, the crystals glowed as a signal the room had biologically scanned the entrant and okayed them to be there, i.e. knew they were Ancient.  The third coffin is the one you had to walk over because it was only a single step from the foot of the steps and inside of it was a Wraith Hive Queen.  Her eyes had not been gouged out but her desiccated corpse was frozen in a contorted position of someone having been buried alive and fighting to get out.  Fighting to save themselves.  In the metal at the sides of her coffin’s interior, they could clearly see deep claw marks painted with some sort of black substance and one of Lorne’s team had noted that the Queen’s corpse didn’t have flesh on its fingertips anymore.  Lorne had said he’d never thought he’d ever feel sorry for a Wraith, much less a Queen, but after seeing those coffins, he did…and so did Rodney.  But that was in the debrief, in the Athosian Temple’s Library room, Lorne had reported that they’d cleared the place of any hazards like booby traps, there had been none, and were moving on to the desert planet.  Sheppard had told him to tell Caldwell to plot his course within enough range to beam their team to the Daedalus and they’d ride over to the planet with Lorne’s team.

“Well,” Rodney finally speaks up after his long reminiscing silence through the hallways of Atlantis and a quick trip in a transporter over to the West Pier beside Kenmore, “we could start with the desert planet.”

Kenmore considers stopping and staring at the theoretical astrophysicist, Seriously, you pick the planet with a military base that had not just a torture chamber, oh no, it had a torture basement complete with prison cells too.  How quaint of the sick bastards.  But she didn’t.  “Yeah, Doc McKay, sure.  I found the torture chamber and prison cell block rather scenic, didn’t you?”

They take the right turn down a new hallway and this time they’re packed in it like sardines in a very small tin.  Shift change is officially here and in full swing.  And appetizingly close are the wafting enticing smells of the mess hall breakfast being refreshed for those just coming off their shifts.  Sausage, Kenmore’s stomach growls, Sweet Mary, Mother, and Joseph, sausage.  She could practically hear the links sizzling.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” Rodney frowns and he can’t help but notice the sound of her stomach.  Both that and her mention reminds him of the two times he’d thrown up in the basement of that ‘outpost’.

Passing the opened prison cells had been the first time the urge to wretch had come to him in the Ancient-Asgard ‘outpost’/military base on the desert planet.  Then they, Sheppard’s team and Kenmore and Lorne’s team, entered the torture chamber proper. Well, torture chambers.  The lights had come on at their presence just as they had when the Expedition first stepped foot in Atlantis.  Revealing these glowing icy-colored, ten by ten, doorless cells lining the opposite wall as well as the left and right sides’ walls.  Well doorless wasn’t entirely accurate either.  Spanning the front of the cells was a series of consoles that looked and acted more like the guard railing barriers you see just in front of animal cages at the zoo.  The correlative imagery hadn’t boded well.  There was also a ‘guard railing’ console cordoned off rectangular area taking up the very center of the room.  As the group, Lorne’s team bringing up the rear, dispersed, via the two-person comfortably wide aisles created by the console railings and the center rectangle, throughout the room, Kenmore had backed up to let one of Lorne’s team members past her and her presence in proximity alone activated something behind her.

The hurried yelling of “Nuh, nuh, nuh-uh” sounded like a thunderous boom in the deafeningly silent room.  Kenmore actually yelped and jumped away as she turned around, raising her P-90 to aim at the owner of the voice.  Except he wasn’t there, what was there was a cell.  A stainless steel looking, flawlessly glistening, cell the same design they had in Atlantis except that it’s blatantly clear that it wasn’t meant to hold multiple people with well more than enough room to walk around in.  It was meant to hold one very cramped person standing up in the center of it.  A projection the size of a 48-inch TV screen was now coming up from a glassy looking part lining the top of the railing console.  It showed a man dressed like one of the Ancient crewman of the Aurora and looked to be about Kenmore’s age constricted in the confining cell.  Standing stiffly and looking like he was bound by some unseen rope.  Suddenly the forcefields in between the cell’s bars crackled and snapped with whips of glacier white lightning.  The man screamed in agony.  Kenmore dropped her P-90 and covered her ears, wincing.  After a few seconds, the lightning calmed back down into nonexistence and an unseen voice commanded, “Tell me the command codes you overheard.”  The man in the cell swore he didn’t know anything.  The lightning snapped again, he screamed, this time for longer.  Then the lightning went away again and the interrogator told the man that he’d better tell him what he knew because the General was coming and he wasn’t going to be anywhere near as kind to the man as the interrogator was being now.

Kind, he’d thought then, that was kind; Rodney’s stomach had plummeted, realizing that the Ancients were interrogating their own…but he hadn’t ralphed, not then.  It wasn’t until John had stumbled accidentally too close to one of the other chambers’ console and it’s recording systems’ holo-projection appeared showing another Ancient young man in Aurora-class garb, couldn’t be more than nineteen for God’s sake, strung up like the Vitruvian man by energy shackles coming from the ceiling and the floor of the chamber.  Every muscle in the kid’s body was taught with practically every vein on it bulging.  He begged for his life as some sort of glistening stainless steel flawless looking contraption came up from a hidden compartment in the floor directly underneath his spread legs.  The contraption powered up with the sounds of a mean buzz saw and a vibrating blade came out of the top of it…and began to cut the kid from the crotch—that was all Rodney could handle.  He caught sight of the blade still cutting upward and the screams were soul piercing as Rodney ran past Sheppard, past everyone else, and out the door.  He just made it beyond the threshold when he projectile vomited onto the wall beside the door.  When he managed to catch his breath, Rodney stumbled further away.  He accidentally staggered into a prison cell, designed like an Earth prison cell, and saw the gelatinous stain in a corner next to red marks smeared into the wall just above it.  Someone had been left in here to mark the days count with their own rubbed raw fingernails before dying and instead of becoming a desiccated corpse, they became goo.  Goo he was staring at.  Goo that was still gooey.  Rodney wretched right there.  Again.  The second time.

“Look, could we just skip that whole planet,” Rodney McKay told her.  Rethinking brining up that disgusting planet at all.

“Aw, come on Doctor McKay, finding two Ancient tanks wasn’t that bad.”  She looks over at him.

He weighs that, she is right.  They turn into an offshoot corridor that’s practically empty except for them, a short cut to the mess hall that not a whole lot of people took because it didn’t normally come from or go to any of Atlantis’ labs, offices, or training areas.  Getting a couple of tanks was cool.  Well, one broken down basically scrapped tank and another that couldn’t go anywhere except the other place on the desert planet giving off a weak energy signature.  Which so happened to turn out to be the Ancient that ran that God forsaken place’s, the General’s, laboratory.  But they had a couple of teams working on breaking through the tank’s computer programming that kept it only going back and forth from the lab to see if they could get the thing to go other places in the desert and if that didn’t work, well then at least now they had the ability to reverse engineer an Ancient tank, so that’s something positive…he thinks.

The clear and distinct cough for attention comes suddenly from behind them.  McKay and Kenmore stop in the middle of the apparently almost empty hallway and turn to see Sheppard, wearing his typical stand down from missions clothing of the Expedition’s standard grey uniform pants, sans pistol holster, black combat boots, black t-shirt, untucked of course, standing a few yards behind them.

“Kenmore, you, me, training.  Now.”  He stalks off, not even bothering to see if she’s following him.

Kenmore and McKay look over at each other for a moment then Kenmore shrugs and follows after Sheppard.  Rodney watches her go, not envying her at all.  Although considering he has to finish writing his mission report about all the hideous crap they’d discovered via Athos, perhaps a training session with Sheppard wouldn’t be so bad.  He went a lot easier on you than Ronon.  Rodney looks down at his waiting to be finished mission report still on the screen of his computer tablet balanced stably on his forearm.  Then again maybe training with Ronon didn’t sound so bad right now either.  Oh, Rodney’s head shoots up, maybe Lorne isn’t done with his report either.  Maybe Rodney can convince him to write part of this report as he had unsuccessfully just tried to do with Kenmore.  McKay heads back towards the gateroom, maybe Lorne’s in the locker room area right beside there.  It’s worth a try…

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