Sheppard’s team and Kenmore take up their usual positions taking into account that Daniel takes up John’s usual seat therefore forcing everyone on that side of the rectangular mahogany conference table to move down one spot. Woolsey heads the table he had ordered brought to Atlantis with him when he first took command of this Expedition. He adjusts the paperwork he’d brought in with him in front of himself, again as usual with every briefing and debriefing he conducted.
“Good morning everyone. I know you were expecting to have at least one more week off from active duty, but Doctor Jackson has brought something to light that has required some urgency and I personally believe that it requires this team specifically.”
That gets everyone’s attentions. Woolsey looks over at Daniel and Daniel takes that as his cue to begin.
“Ah, yes, well, um, over a hundred years ago on Earth a stone was uncovered that had ancient, as in old, runes engraved on it—“
“Kensington,” Kenmore suddenly pipes up.
The others stare at her.
“What,” McKay asks.
“The Kensington Runestone. You are talking about the Kensington Runestone, aren’t you,” she reconfirms with Daniel.
He nods, “Yes.”
“What is this Kensington Runestone,” Teyla asks.
“It’s a large hunk of sandstone found in 1898 in a town near Kensington, Minnesota inscribed with a bunch of symbols from various Earth cultures.” Sheppard answers.
Everyone stares at him. Temporarily dumbstruck. How the hell did he know that?
“What,” Sheppard asks with a turn of his black, imported courtesy of IKEA, chair to take in all the faces currently riveted by him.
“Yes, well,” Jackson moves on, “most of the runes were identified. Some though remain unknown to this day.”
“So? What does that have to do with us,” Ronon asks.
Daniel picks up the large rolled up piece of white paper that bears a striking resemblance to a rolled up poster that he’d brought in with him and placed on the tabletop when he came into the room. He unrolls it out across the table towards Rodney, Ronon, and Kenmore. Ursula helps the paper from rolling back by weighing it down with an empty glass meant for water that was among the seven that had been set in the middle of the table along with a pitcher half-filled with water, unusual considering that there was a sort of rolling beverage bar off to one side of the room but still, it had been setup there when they’d all come in. The long, poster-wide paper shows giant pictures of the stone’s engraved surface from several different angles including close-ups of the runes specifically.
“The unidentified runes have been found individually in other cultures. But most notably found together in something called the Larsson Papers, a codex of runes including a pigpen cipher commonly used by a secretive Earth brotherhood called the Freemasons,” Daniel goes on.
Rodney scoffs immediately, “Oh please. You mean you called me off of important projects necessary for the safety and continuing operation of this city for hypothetical, at best, ghost stories involving a secret society that may or may not exist in anything other than some crazy person’s head.”
“Who are the Freemasons?” Teyla asks.
“Boogeymen,” Rodney answers.
Daniel, ignoring Rodney with a frown over the brim of his glasses, again the professor dealing with an unruly student, another outburst like that from you, Mister, and you can go see the Dean of Students for a course change, faces her and answers, “A very old secret society dedicated to protecting some of Earth’s most ancient knowledge. And they are not imaginary.”
“I didn’t say they were imaginary, I said that they only exist in the minds of crazy people. That’s technically a hallucination.”
Rodney aside, Teyla nods and Daniel continues, “The Freemasons have their own rune language.”
“So,” Ronon interrupts.
Daniel sighs. It’s like he’s never left Earth what with all these interruptions. It was like briefing Vala and Mitchell. Who can try and fluster Daniel the most. Who can drag out what should have been a simple and relatively quick briefing into the longest most excruciatingly irritating God-knows-how-many-hours-long meeting ever.
“The key rune on the Kensington Runestone is a rune that we’ve only ever found in Freemason writings,” Rodney scoffs again, Daniel fights the urge to point at the fan-work of doors and say ‘Go to the Principal’s office’ but doesn’t actual let the words escape his mouth considering that the ‘Principal’ is heading up this very table at the moment, “until recently,” he growls then goes on, “The rune, along with a few others, I did recognize from one particular culture however. It’s just not one found necessarily on Earth.”
Woolsey hands Daniel a remote and Daniel points it at a large monitor at the other end of the room, again the screen had been pre-setup in the room when they’d entered. Its screen comes on with an image of another group of runes. These ones seemed to be etched in metal and overhead lit by beautiful stark light giving it a frosted glass appearance. Ethereal and beautiful and very, very familiar.
“So you found Asgard runes on the Kensington Runestone,” Kenmore says.
Sheppard can’t help but volunteer this information for the sake of reminding Doctor Jackson about something he’s apparently forgotten although Sheppard doesn’t understand how the man could possibly have done that, “You do remember that the Asgard aren’t exactly friendly out here, don’t you Doc?”
“Yes, yes I do. And Mister Woolsey sent me a copy of your last encounter with them so I know even more than I used to.”
“Then you understand that finding something with their markings on it leading you here to the Pegasus Galaxy isn’t exactly a good safe thing,” McKay piles on.
“I would point out,” Jackson gestures at the poster on the table, “that these are Asgard markings that originated in the Milky Way Galaxy.”
“So? We already know that the Asgard that were in the Milky Way knew about the ones here and we also know that they knew that the ones here were conducting experiments without the ones there’s approval. Experiments that were incredibly dangerous for humans. This could be their way of telling people going from there to here that if you see guys who look like us, don’t trust them, they will kill you.”
Jackson is undeterred by Rodney’s statement, “They were paired with some Ancient writing.”
“You found Ancient on the Runestone,” Kenmore asks in the same blunt tone of voice that she had when talking about the discovery of the Asgard runes. As if the discovery had to be voiced.
“Yes,” he answers.
“Even more my point,” Rodney sits up, “Bad Ancients working with bad Asgard equals, oh what’s the math, that’s right, really bad.”
“I don’t remember anything Ancient on the Runestone,” Ursula says, herself sitting up to the conversation.
“You can’t see it right away. They’re actually hidden in the umlauts of the Swedish runes.”
Kenmore frowns, clearly disbelieving him just as much as McKay is but having the good grace to refrain from being quite as vocal about it. Daniels points it out on the poster and Kenmore leans forward to study. Daniel goes on.
“The Asgard markings turned out to be constellations.”
The rest sit up too. Also analyzing the poster pictures.
“A gate address,” Sheppard asks. He’s trying to but he’s not close enough to the poster images to see the Ancient writing buried in the small ragged gashes that passed for umlauts on the stone.
“Another world to which the Asgard and Ancients took my people,” Teyla adds hopefully. There is still a part of her that hoped that not all of the Athosians taken during the Ancient Project Veritas had perished, that some had been allowed to live on gateless worlds in, yes, it was disgusting to think about but, private ‘farms’ for the Ancients and Asgards personal use. Hidden away from the Wraith and allowed to continue to live, forgotten because of the war perhaps by the Ancients and then forgotten again by the Asgard due to the Ancients abandoning them to the Wraith as well in this galaxy. Friends and family that could return to their people, not as slaves but free. Although she still is not sure whether or not freedom from the Ancients and the Asgard in exchange for living in fear of Wraith cullings was any sort of a trade at all. She has traded on behalf of her people almost all of her life, she is not sure that that is a trade she would consider taking. But she wants to give those that have lived previously without a choice the choice.
However Daniel Jackson starts shaking his head and her shoulders and demeanor’s crests fall, “No, nothing so unfamiliar.”
Unfamiliar? Suddenly everyone’s confused, except Woolsey. Why such strange word choice?
“Someplace we’ve been to before,” Rodney asks. It’s unlikely but not impossible.
“Not any place you’ve been to,” Daniel answers.
“Someplace you’ve been to here,” Kenmore tries. Her tone of voice again twinning McKay’s. Unlikely but not impossible.
“In a way.” Daniel keeps the game up.
Games don’t necessarily work with Satedans though. Ronon’s had enough with the cryptic answers. “Spit it out,” he demands. Are all Earth scientists like McKay and this guy?
How just like home… and Teal’c… and in a bizarre way Vala.
“Well to begin with there wasn’t just one seven-symbol gate address, there were three.”
The shock goes across the room. Teyla’s head lowers but her raised amber eyebrows and deep espresso eyes stay on him. Rodney’s eyes bug and he gapes at the poster pictures. Ronon looks at the poster too, trying to see were in all that jumble of carvings that anyone got anything near the sort of information they say they were. Sheppard’s reaction by comparison was low key, his eyes got a little bigger, his eyebrows raised a little too, and he paled. Muscles in his face tugging his ears ever so slightly. Kenmore stared at Daniel, her brown eyes measuring whatever she’s seeing in his eyes. But…
“Seven,” Rodney repeats, his eyes return to the SG-1 team member, “Only seven symbols? Wouldn’t those planets be in your galaxy then, the Milky Way, not the Pegasus?”
“Normally yes, but it’s the seven symbols of the addresses that we’re already familiar with in our galaxy. All of the addresses are actually eight symbols long, the eighth symbol is the Pegasus point of origin symbol. Meaning that somehow there’s an equivalent address in this galaxy. Exact copies.”
“That’s not possible,” McKay interrupts, “The constellations here are not the same as those in the Milky Way. Not even close… Are they?”
Daniel steps forward, “We still don’t know how it’s possible. It’s one of the things we’re still working on in regards to this situation.”
“So what’re the familiar addresses,” Sheppard asks, “and the situation?” He puts his forearms on the table. Interested.
“Castiana, Sahal, and Vagonbrei.”
“Where,” McKay gapes.
“The planet names Morgan Le Fay gave you when you came here the first time with SG-1,” Kenmore says. It’s a statement of fact. Not a question.
“And what does that have to do with anything?” Ronon asks. He hates it when briefings go like this. Why couldn’t a briefing go like ‘Here’s the problem, this is the planet, go fix the problem’? Why does that never happen here?
Again Daniel points the remote at the screen and it changes to a different set of runes with a translation already underneath them: GRAL.
Silence. ‘Unlikely’ quickly falls by the wayside as ‘impossible’ takes its place. Up front. Bold. Capitals. Impossible to ignore. John wasn’t sure he’s seeing this right, but considering that when he closed his eyes then opened them again and the image hadn’t changed any, he guessed he’s seeing right. And he didn’t like that. Teyla and Ronon weren’t getting it at all and the both of them had their eyebrows pinched in confusion at the image. Rodney rolls his eyes and sighs, Not again, then covers his closed eyes with a hand. Kenmore changes the narrow focus of her gaze and aims it at the screen, her demeanor is calm but Daniel can see that the ease of her facial musculature is more akin to the phrase ‘the calm before the storm’ than anything even remotely near the synonyms ‘passive’, ‘serene’, or ‘tranquil’.
Kenmore breaks the silence, “You really think Merlin made a second Holy Grail that Morgan Le Fay also took only this time she hid it in the Pegasus?”
“Well…,” Daniel trails off at the all too familiar cynicism at his scientific assertions.
John knows what a scientist trailing off means, “What,” he demands.
“It’s less the Holy Grail I was thinking of and more the Ark of the Covenant.”
This time Ursula scoffs. “Aw come on, Daniel. Don’t tell me you fell for that? Mum taught you better, I know she did I was there.”
“What,” Teyla has to ask again. For some strange reason she keeps missing the key elements of this mission briefing, that’s unusual for her. She’s not sure she likes being off kilter like this, “What is this Ark?”
“The Ark of the Covenant was a very specifically created chest said to contain the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. It is also known as the Ark of the Testimony.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ursula has to interject, “I thought the Ark of the Covenant was the same as the Ark of Truth. We’ve already found that. It’s what stopped the Priors from continuing the Ori’s policy of galactic genocide. Wasn’t that the end of it?”
“We thought that at first too, but upon further research there are some finer details about the Ark of the Covenant that indicate that the Ark of Truth is not actually its equivalent.”
“Well, Doctor McKay, there are the accounts of the health of the bearers of the Ark. They reportedly experienced hair loss, loss of their fingernails, boils, and in some cases death.”
“That sounds like radiation poisoning,” McKay points out.
“That’s because I believe that it is radiation poisoning, Rodney. Historical records have always stated that the Ark contained an incredible power source.”
“It’s also been said that it housed the Manna Machine,” Kenmore adds. Her tone now just as cynical as McKay’s had been when talking about the Freemasons. Daniel’s losing her.
“What’s that,” Ronon asks. At least the tone of his voice was giving Jackson the idea that he might actually be gaining the intimidating warrior’s support. Ronon sways his chair from side to side, waiting for someone to answer him. Sometimes not all of these boring-scientists-yapping briefings were so boring… well, yes they were, but if this Ark thing is some sort of weapon, that could be useful.
“Supposedly it’s a machine created by God to give food to the Jews to keep them from starving in the desert on their way to the Promise Land. The food was called manna.”
Again everyone stares at John Sheppard.
“What,” he shrugs, “I pay attention.”
“To what exactly,” McKay asks, “And when?”
John smiles at him. Wouldn’t you like to know, McKay? But he remains silent. Rodney’s lips tighten and John smirks even more.
“Can this machine be turned into a weapon?” Ronon wonders. That possibility could be useful too.
“No,” Daniel answers the Satedan Weapons Specialist.
“Then what good is it?”
Abrupt, although gruffer than he’s used to yet, So much like Teal’c.
“You’re thinking about the rumors that the Holy Grail was put inside the Ark, aren’t you?”
Daniel turns towards Ursula with a smile.
Teyla’s brows remain furrowed. She starts to speak then stops herself then tries again, “And what would that do exactly?” She is getting more and more unnerved all the time about being so uninformed on their mission topic.
“Enhance its range,” McKay answers, staring dead straight at Daniel.
“What,” Ronon asks.
Ironically enough, it’s Rodney that takes the Grail/Ark combination and runs with it.
“The Grail was a weapon that draws energy in a way not unlike a ZPM and releases it in a series of waves into the same dimension Ascended Beings reside in a galaxy. Now the waves act as a form of interference, canceling out the powers of the Ascended Beings thus killing them. Now if you hook something like that up to another power source, one that’s say as powerful as the Ark of the Covenant is rumored to be, it might be able to expand the range of the weapon to well beyond just a single galaxy. A lot farther beyond.”
“Why would the Ancients keep around something like that?” He had thought it before when he’d heard about the SG-1 team visiting Atlantis while he and Teyla had been away on one of her trading exploits on behalf of her people; then Ronon hadn’t understood why the Ancients would let this Sang Gral thing survive when it posed such a huge potential threat to them, he understands it even less now especially if there’s two of these things that might possibly be out there.
“Excuse me, but does not the word ‘covenant’ mean agreement?” Teyla poses the question.
“The Ark of the Covenant is also known as the Ark of the Testimony and is said to house the ten rules by which all mankind is to live,” Daniel has to give in to that one. After all it had been his first thought too when he was still holding on to the notion that the Ark of Truth was also the Ark of the Covenant. The names given to both items seemed to back the notion then… until Daniel researched further.
Rodney opts to answer Ronon’s question, “The Ancients would have no problem leaving the Ark around considering that Morgan Le Fay ended up destroying the Grail. So without the one, the other, no matter how powerful an energy source it is, is pretty much useless.”
Ronon nods. So the Ancients weren’t as dumb about this as he’d originally thought. You don’t have to worry about the gun if there’s no ammo for it anymore and there wasn’t going to be ammo for it ever again.
Suddenly Kenmore pipes in as if something just struck her like a lightning bolt, “Arthur’s Mantle.” I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that before.
Daniel turns his face to her again and he is absolutely beaming at her. He knew she’d get it. He knew it. Everyone’s eyes turn to her.
“What,” Sheppard asks. Where did that come from?
“Oh my god,” Rodney suddenly stammers. And now he’s gotten it too. Daniel knew he would too, after all, Sam did.
“What,” Sheppard repeats more urgently. What is he not getting that the other two are?
“You can’t possibly…,” Rodney, himself, trails off, staring at Daniel.
“There’s a strong possibility,” Daniel counters.
“What,” Sheppard snaps.
Rodney answers, “Arthur’s Mantle was the name given to an interdimensional device Merlin created to hide his research on the Grail from everyone including Ascended Beings.”
“And that means…?” Sheppard spreads his hands to convey the need for an answer even further.
“When activated, the device releases radiation that engulfs anyone within close proximity to it,” Rodney turns away from John to face Daniel again, “But lepton radiation is not lethal and it certainly doesn’t cause any health problems, not to mention that it sends people out of phase with this dimension. Rendering them invisible. Not dead or diseased yet completely visible to the naked eye.”
“You’re right, lepton radiation isn’t lethal and it does render people invisible in this dimension, but my main point is that the Mantle was also basically just a computer. A database. The Ark is supposed to be much more.”
“You mean you hope it’s more.”
“Yes,” Daniel admits. He actually hated having to give up something like that to Rodney McKay.
“And that’s why you need to go to these gate addresses.”
“Well…,” Daniel trails off at Sheppard, the Colonel had it almost pegged. Almost.
“What?” Sheppard growls, feeling like he’s scolding a child for getting caught stealing a handful of cookies from the jar before dinner. That and the muscles in his shoulders and at the back of his neck are starting to tighten in aggravation.
“We’ve already put the addresses together the same way we did with the three addresses from before.”
The others, sans Woolsey again, aren’t catching on. Well, except for…
“You got a fourth address when you triangulated the other three and picked out corresponding symbols from all three,” Ursula stares at him. The tone of her voice sounding more than a little shocked. But also accusatory too. John senses that that’s an unhealthy combination.
“Yes,” Daniel says, lowering his head to look at her over the top brim of his glasses. It’s clear he’d been expecting the condemning voice from her and the facial expression that went along with it.
“One that’s in this galaxy,” Sheppard clarifies, pointing a finger tip down on the table top.
“Yes,” Daniel nods.
Finally Richard Woolsey speaks up for the first time since entering the briefing room, “And it’s viable.”
All eyes turn to him. He goes on. Taking up control and command of this mission briefing.
“Earlier this morning we dialed the address. We established a stable connection and sent a MALP through. The Stargate is not orbital and everything looks fine.”
Ah so that’s it, Sheppard turns his head slightly to scratch an itch that’d been tingling at the back of his head; it hadn’t actually been bothering him, but since this little dog and pony show had finally come to its end apparently, he figures he has the time and lax attention to attend to it and as he does so, “When are we supposed to leave?”
“As soon as your team and Doctor Jackson can get ready.”
“So now then. Great,” Rodney comments.
Woolsey nods and everyone gets up from the table. Ronon and Teyla leave first, their pace casual but their airs aren’t, followed by Rodney complaining that he’s going to have to explain everything he’s been doing to Zelenka and of course hear the Czech scientist gripe right back at Rodney about how Radek always gets stuck with the work Rodney never gets around to, or claims he doesn’t get a chance to get around to. And Radek would be right about that. Either way McKay’s pace is quick with nothing casual about either it or his demeanor. Edgy would be the right word to describe him, perpetually edgy.
Daniel exits the room along with Woolsey. Neither man talking to each other, neither looking at the other either, they just focus on the paperwork they’d brought in with them and had gathered up when Woolsey’s simple nod had disbanded the whole group. Kenmore lingers behind though. And Sheppard lingers behind with her. Watching her. Silently the Lieutenant stands up and walks over to the ‘GRAL’ screen that Daniel had left on. She stops directly in front of the screen, analyzing the image. After a few moments Sheppard walks up beside her. The analytical silence continues on for a bit more as they both look over the flatscreen then…
“You aren’t comfortable with this, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” she answers.
He appreciates her honesty.
“So what part of this is bothering you exactly? Is it the whole Ark of Truth thing?” It’s hard for him not to say ‘Ark of Truth’ without sarcasm, the name just sounds so ridiculous, so melodramatic, so… something out of a movie that didn’t even bother taking itself seriously. And appropriately so.
“No… well, it’s one or two, three, four, five, maybe, percent of the problem. The other ninety-five percent is that, well,” she sighs, “The Holy Grail has always been thought of as a tinker toy, you know, a treasure hunter’s tale,” he nods, she goes on, “But the Ark of the Covenant, now that’s always been known as the please-don’t-mess-with-this-particular-Historical-item-‘cause-it-will-really-really-jack-you-up tale,” he nods again, “We know now that the Grail is a pretty friggin’ powerful weapon, one capable of destroying Ascended Beings in an entire galaxy…,” she takes a breath, “So how powerful a weapon does that mean the Ark of the Covenant might be?”
Sheppard starts nodding again, he can see her point, “So what are you thinking?”
“That whatever’s put you on your guard the most in this galaxy in the past, you’re gonna have to blow the lid off of that for how on your guard you’re gonna need to be for this one.”
There’s a pause.
“And what was your most on your guard moment,” John asks her. He isn’t sure he should ask that. Even after the words were leaving his mouth, he still isn’t sure…
Kenmore’s shoulders shift ever so slightly. Gauging how comfortable enough she feels with him on this to answer honestly… surprisingly, pretty comfortable. Maybe decking him out on one of the piers a couple of weeks ago had helped in some way.
“Oh I don’t know, my husband’s death seemed to keep me pretty much on my toes… then blew them the Hell out from underneath me.” Her tone is all nonchalance, but her stony expression is a dead give away to how much the words really sting her even after years.
After another moment more of looking at the screen, Kenmore turns, walks around behind Sheppard’s back, and leaves. He hears the fan doors open, the sounds of the single set of bootsteps get distant as they walked away from him, and the fan doors close. He stands there alone, examining the ‘Gral’ screen among other thoughts… Ever since coming back from the Void, it had been nagging at him. Every once in awhile he’d catch himself, but the slipups in his mind were hard to ignore and to avoid. Walking into this room half an hour ago, Jackson had commented that Woolsey, and the I.O.A. had wanted to treat an enemy clone like a pet, that comment had brought back up his own month-old ruminations about Woolsey’s actions regarding the Lieutenant and her young five-year old son. None of it felt comfortable to John. People aren’t pets. Not even ‘created’ ones, John’s stomach roils and churns especially at the mere thought that even in his mind a slip like that happened. Kenmore wasn’t ‘created’ in his opinion despite what both the science and an Ascended Ancient woman say, she was born, her son was born, her husband was born. Not bred like just another piece of beef in the herd. John shudders at himself.
She’s a person. Just like him… just… like… him, his cool gray-green eyes lock onto the sharply angled lines of the capital letter ‘A’ on the screen inches in front of him. John has quite a bit of Ancient DNA in him, granted not half like the Lieutenant, but still… His body freezes over. He can’t bring himself to blink… Had he been created too?
Was he some sort of lingering piece of the part of the Veritas experiment that had been continued on Earth?
Was he… John shakes off his creepy-crawlies, turns, and leaves as well. Yep, joy. Joyful day.