The horizon is crowned in a thick halo of dense golden light as the sun starts it’s descent beneath the far distant curve of the seeable edge of the planet’s surface. Were it any other location, it would be a divine sunset the likes of which honeymoon postcards or Tahitian or Bahamian resort ads were made of. Were it any other day, dozens of people would be lining the railings or the balconies or the couple of piers that face this direction, watching the sunset on Atlantis and the world’s ocean she rested on. In the dwindling daylight, the center of the city starts to glow like a beacon.
* * *
The conference room had no windows. There was no one looking at the view of the gorgeous sunset or any of its fleeting bold rays of light shining in to illuminate the room outside the fan doors. The conference room is lit by the light sources already in the ceiling and the floor-almost to ceiling sconces that lined the corners of the walls. Even in one of the few fully lit rooms left in the city, the air is thick and gloomy and lending an air of darkness to its atmosphere.
Woolsey governs the mahogany conference table he first brought to Atlantis with him from Earth like he usual does, at its head with his back to the fan doors of the room, and the others sit in their regular seats. The noted exceptions being Rodney, Ronon, and Keller. Doctor Radek Zelenka, the Czech scientist that was Rodney’s second in charge, and Major Evan Lorne, Lieutenant Kenmore’s old and dear friend and her best friend here in Atlantis as well as the only other person left in the city that had dealt both in and out of the field with the Goa’uld, filling their peers’ subsequent seats; although Jennifer was absent tending those peers in the shell that was now the medical wing. Woolsey calls the meeting to order.
“Does anyone have a plan,” he asks bluntly.
Sheppard, Teyla, Lorne, and Zelenka glance at each other as Kenmore keeps her head down. Sheppard looks over at Woolsey.
“Usually the evacuation is the plan,” he begins then reluctantly glances at Zelenka, he wasn’t sure he should say this but…, “And usually Rodney has the plan.”
To his credit, Radek doesn’t take it as a slight. He nods to the expedition’s military commander his ‘It’s okay, I’m fine with it, I’m fine with you’. And John felt secure enough with this line of questioning to help continue its conversation.
“Well, we’re left without Doctor McKay’s assistance,” Woolsey frowns at him. Time was of the essence. Now was not for pointing out the obvious.
Kenmore, still keeping her head down, “Do you think that’s why he went for Doctor McKay in the first place?”
Kenmore lifts up her head finally and looks at Woolsey’s perspicacious face. It was clear now why she’d been keeping her head down since they’d entered the briefing room, not all of her conclusions she felt comfortable telling everybody, “He wanted a way to get off the ship and McKay was the only one who could give him that.”
“We all could have gotten Anubis off that ship,” Sheppard objects.
Kenmore shakes her head.
“He was probably watching us from the moment I parked the jumper on that platform. He would have sensed Selmak. He was probably stalking us the moment we got on board to figure out who was the one with all the power, who was the best tool.”
“We’re all tools,” he snaps.
Then suddenly realizes the joke he made at his own expense.
“Yeah, well, ya’ll are, but the moment we got on that ship what were we saying. Think about it. Selmak and I knew how to get the doors open and so did McKay. In fact he was the one going around plugging in his computer tablet and opening them. Then I tell Miss Emmagan about Ra as we walk down the halls, that automatically knocked her out of the running. You didn’t know what the Goa’uld use a sarcophagus for, so you’re out. And I don’t know what knocked out Specialist Dex.”
“I think I took care of that,” Sheppard says as his eyes turn downward to the shiny surface of the table.
Kenmore quirks her expression at him. “What do you mean,” she asks.
Sheppard shifts uncomfortably in his chair, the fingers of his clasped together hands rocking back and forth gingerly on the table top, he wasn’t sure he wanted to say this, “Before we left the tank room, I told him not to shoot you,” he finally admits.
She rolls her eyes.
“Brilliant suggestion… Well, that established the Specialist as the main physical threat. That explains why he was eliminated first. From the beginning we established who knew about the Goa’uld and who didn’t. And we established who we relied on as the resident genius. McKay opens the doors, McKay handles the detector, McKay tackles the computer. As long as McKay had a gun, which he did, McKay was the top choice.”
“Wait, wait,” Sheppard stops her with waves of his hand almost in dismissal, “didn’t you tell Teyla that the Goa’uld like to take young hosts so that they don’t know about the Goa’uld?”
Kenmore shakes her head, “Oh no, they know the Goa’uld. It’s just that they know only the Goa’uld.”
Teyla nods. Understanding. Although the look Sheppard was giving Kenmore and the expression he was pairing with it meant that he clearly didn’t. But Kenmore nodded back at Teyla, taking what she could get at this point. Teyla politely turns to John seated beside her.
“I believe it is something akin to Wraith worshippers. We here have lived so long in fear of the Wraith, knowing, for some, on a daily basis their power. It would be easy for some to, as you say, believe in a ‘higher power’ and become beholden to them. All they have known is the strength of the Wraith and they come to believe that if they worship them, they will be granted rewards that they believe their fellow people of this galaxy cannot give them.”
“So that’s why they think we’re so weird for fighting the Wraith, all they’ve ever known is the Wraith as their masters.”
Teyla nods at him with a close of her eyes, knowing he has caught on. She has made Lieutenant Kenmore’s point to him.
“Why didn’t Anubis pick the General or you,” Lorne asks, a hint of concern in the undertones of his voice. It was a question he had clearly been wanting to ask his longtime dear friend since the word came down of who and what they were facing… and the inevitable additional information going with it that Ursula had indeed been the one to come to the conclusion about the threat.
She faces him head on.
“Carter already had a symbiote inside him. It would be a war on too many fronts. Anubis would have to fight Jacob’s strong mind and Selmak’s. And I already established that I couldn’t handle the computer. I was never any that good at reading Goa’uld. You were a little, but not me.”
“But you’re half Ancient,” Lorne presses.
And all of a sudden it went from a group discussion to a one-on-one between old friends, one concerned about the other. A private discussion… being held out in the open.
“That may be why Anubis rejected her,” Woolsey interjects cautiously, not sure he should get in the middle of such a brewing personal conversation.
“What,” Lorne turns to him.
“She might be too Ancient,” Zelenka supplies the answer, “Anubis may think he may not have been able to maintain the control he wanted over her. It would be as she stated with General Carter a fight on all sides. Let us not forget Oma Desala.”
“But Urs is not Oma Desala?”
“She may not have to be. If Anubis has defeated Oma Desala, it was at great personal cost to his energy. He still may not be strong enough to attempt to forcibly take control of the Lieutenant’s mind and body or he just may not want to get into another battle like that, no matter how small it would be, just yet. His battle in the Astral Diner might still be on his mind.”
Everyone takes in the information.
“So what are we left with,” Lorne asks, bringing the discussion back to include the greater group.
Everyone looks everywhere, but at each other. Zelenka looks down. Kenmore returns to looking down at her hands now clasped before her on the tabletop. Lorne looks at the walls. Woolsey follows the path his finger is tracing down his notes, although the low speed of his finger left no doubts that he wasn’t paying attention to a single word of them. Sheppard looks at the walls too, just higher up them than Lorne was. And Teyla stares at the stretch of table in front of her, deep in thought. Everyone thinking the same thing and timid about having to admit to it. Just as Lorne musters up the courage and opens his mouth, Teyla speaks before he can…
“Why would Colonel Sheppard and I have been ‘knocked out of the running’,” she asks her question pointedly of Kenmore.
The Lieutenant looks up at her. That wasn’t the thing they’d all been frightened to admit.
“The Goa’uld like their victims to know about them first. It lends an air of fear that weakens the host’s mind and allows the Goa’uld to take firmer control.”
“So we must not be afraid,” the Athosian says. She sits up straighter in her chair, her back like a taut board. Her chin lifts, her shoulders set. Her demeanor takes on the familiar air of Teyla as a leader of people. It wasn’t nice to mess with Mother Nature. Especially a Mother-Earth Super Mom who had no problem kicking ass and taking names.
“That’s easier said than done,” Woolsey tells her and the Athosian turns her confident espresso rich eyes to Atlantis’ commander, “What disturbs me most about this situation are the symbiote tanks.”
Sheppard stares at him, “That’s what disturbs you most?”
Woolsey shoots Sheppard a quick side-glance of disapproval before continuing his line of thought to the rest of the table, also looking back at him, “There was a mission Colonel Carter went on with her father in which they infiltrated one of Anubis’ bases. They were originally supposed to investigate how many Super Soldiers Anubis had managed to create, but inside they stumbled across a room that had inside of it a series of symbiote tanks.” Kenmore and Lorne nod their heads, remembering as well. Woolsey continues, “Granted they were far bigger than the ones we’ve recovered from the Goa’uld mothership, but inside of one, the only one containing anything, was just one symbiote,” he held up a single finger.
“One,” Sheppard asks, not getting it, “Why would he need a tank larger than the ones we found just for one symbiote?”
“This symbiote was a Queen,” Woolsey tells him, “And she was pregnant,” he adds.
“That’s putting it nicely,” Kenmore scoffs derisively.
Woolsey ignores Kenmore.
“Usually a Queen can only give birth to a few hundred or so symbiotes at a time, but this Queen had altered herself and forced her body to carry thousands. When Colonel Carter found her, her body was grossly distorted.”
“Jabba the Hutt,” Kenmore cut in, again derisively.
And again, Woolsey moves on, “Something later the Tok’ra would inform us was extremely dangerous to her and so very rare because it’s not normally in the Goa’uld nature, especially a Queen’s, to endanger or harm herself just for the sake of giving birth. She should have been in considerable pain, but the Queen had willingly dampened down her brain activity so much that she was practically in a coma. This affected the minds of the larval symbiotes she was carrying. Rendering their minds as blank slates for whatever purpose Anubis wanted them to have.”
“I still don’t get it,” Sheppard speaks up, “Why?”
“Anubis used the larval symbiotes in genetically engineered hosts he created. Those manufactured hosts became the Super Soldiers.”
Sheppard’s mind suddenly flashes onto images he had watched from SG-1 mission video records of an alien soldier covered in black shiny armor walking, without slowing, through the fire from a direct massive blast from a trio of C-4 charges after firing on SGC members and friendly Jaffa who had stationed themselves in its way. An indestructible, unstoppable fighting force of one. Known for being so formidable on it’s own that it freaked out everyone at the SGC, hardened field soldiers like SG-1’s Teal’c included. Sheppard’s mind also flashes to the outright fear that had been in Major Leonard’s wide panicked, suspicious eyes. The way they had measured Sheppard up and down then darted off to Leonard’s left then right. His insane hallucinating ramblings about seeing four of those things closing in on him on a planet here in the Pegasus Galaxy when it was just John, alone, standing in front of him, trying to talk him back into sanity. Then the man took a grenade out of one of his vest’s pockets, his eyes suddenly grim with determination, pulled the pin, and held the live weapon to his chest.
Sheppard figured maybe Leonard thought Sheppard was one… and Leonard’s attacks on Sheppard’s team, shooting Teyla in the leg and taking any shots he could at the rest of them. He blew up the DHD in their faces for God’s sake. What he did to his own team. He’d mowed them all down, hallucinating. Shot two of them in the back as they were trying to run away from him. Anything that could drive Major Leonard to do something like that, a man Sheppard thought, had believed reminded him of himself so much… Good God, what Hell was a Super Soldier that it could inspire someone like Sheppard to do something like that to his own people, his friends. To himself. Lorne sits up.
“Is that what you think the symbiotes were for,” the Major asks Woolsey.
The former attorney shakes his semi-bald head, “No. The DNA tests we ran on the symbiotes matched up to the symbiote database we have on the Tok’ra. We knew every single one. In fact Lieutenant Kenmore and I knew quite a few personally from our time at the SGC and you would too.”
Kenmore nods her head at Lorne confirming what Woolsey was telling him to the Major’s satisfaction.
“Is that why they sought shelter behind you,” Teyla asks her.
Kenmore nods at her.
“Why one of them kissed you,” Sheppard prodded cheekily in the inappropriate moment. But he just couldn’t resist at least a little something to make him smile in all of this.
Kenmore starts nodding at him, closing her eyes with a bit of a smile and allowing him the indulgence for a moment before opening them again to quash his prod, “I think it was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It’s also why I think some of them went for Teyla when she walked up to the tank. They recognized me, recognized our uniforms, knew you were some sort of teammates of me and Jacob. Thought of you as safe too.”
“From our reports, and what General Carter and Selmak could tell us, all of the symbiotes were missing. Some had been missing for years, others were thought to have died in Goa’uld attacks or at the hands of the Trust. It is now quite clear that they were all hostages,” Woolsey says.
“Prisoners of war,” Sheppard utters.
“I don’t like that,” Kenmore objects, “Hostages implies ransoms. Nothing was ever asked for in exchange for their return. And prisoners makes it sound like they’d have a chance to come home. To escape at some time. I don’t think that was ever going to happen for them. Maybe they could escape the tanks and die somewhere else on the ship, but they’d never escape to get any actual freedom.”
“Then what would you call them,” Sheppard asks, sounding almost as snarky as Rodney would have were he here to ask the same thing.
Kenmore takes a moment to consider what her mouth had run her into before her brain could catch up with it… Then she looks up at him, meeting his eyes fixedly, “Bait.”
Lorne eyes at her.
“What do you mean,” Zelenka asks.
“I think Anubis was specifically aiming for the city,” Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore finally admits.
The rest of the room doesn’t believe her.
“So he took hundreds of thousands of Tok’ra that we as well as their own people thought were long gone as hostages,” Sheppard asks sarcastically.
Kenmore glares at him, “Not hostages.”
“I don’t think he was coming for the city,” Richard Woolsey interrupts.
“Then why come out here to the Pegasus Galaxy at all,” Kenmore retorts at him.
Zelenka catches on to something—“How old is Anubis,” the Czech scientist suddenly asks.
“We don’t know exactly but Doctor Jackson hypothesizes that is somewhere long before Ra gained control over the Goa’uld,” Woolsey tells him.
“But it is safe to assume that being Ascended, he knew how the war with the Wraith progressed?”
Woolsey starts nodding, he supposed there might be some truth in that. Plausibility at the very least… “Yes,” Woolsey slowly says, “but we also know that the Others did keep some information from him. Like the location of the Lost City itself.”
“But it is possible that he still knew of Atlantis at least?”
Woolsey nods again.
“And by Colonel Sheppard’s team using the jumper to get to his ship, he would definitely know that the city still exists. Let alone confirmation that we are in control of her.”
The others light on to Zelenka’s train of thought.
“He knows we’ve reawakened the city,” Teyla says with a certain amount of dread.
Radek points at her. ”You said there were not any bodies on board his ship…,” Radek leads.
He turns and his finger starts pointing at Kenmore, “And you said that he told you the crew had jettisoned themselves.”
Kenmore nods too.
“He also said that he’d been waiting for us,” she adds.
Zelenka jabs his finger in her direction a few times, reminiscent of McKay’s tendency to finger snap when inspiration struck his genius brain.
“I think you’re right,” he says, “He was coming for the city.”
“What stopped him,” Lorne asks.
“He ran out of crew,” Sheppard answers with a sober nod. His eyes focused on the Lieutenant. Radek thinks she’s right…
“But how,” Evan goes on.
“When Anubis attacked the SGC, he didn’t need a host all the time. He needed a host only for certain things. He’d use them until he couldn’t use them anymore and remember Doctor McKay,” they all look at Woolsey at his mentioning of their friend, “Anubis has a tendency to make his hosts extremely ill.”
“So chances are that the hosts either couldn’t help him anymore or got too sick to help him,” the Major chances the conclusion.
“Either way,” John rejoins the conversation, “they outlived their usefulness.” His mind strays to Rodney unconscious in Atlantis’ infirmary.
“It would have only been a matter of time before either we found the ship or heard reports about it,” Radek throws in, “Either way,” he sighs, “he was waiting for someone from Atlantis to find him whether or not the Wraith got there first or that someone was the Wraith.”
Teyla shifts uncomfortably in her seat. Sheppard looks over at her.
“What is it?”
“The Wraith,” she answers him, “There were no ‘death gliders’, I believe Lieutenant Kenmore called them, in the ship’s hangar.”
Kenmore nods, but there was something different about the gesture. Like it wasn’t a form of agreement so much as meant to provide comfort and soothe things over.
“Knowing what we know now, it was probably an abandon ship scenario. There wasn’t any debris for miles around Anubis’s ship. And we based the designs of the 302’s from death gliders we captured, there would have been debris if there’d been a firefight with the Wraith. Lots of it. Let alone the fact that when we were testing the gliders on Earth we discovered that the Goa’uld have tendencies to booby-trap those particular ships in case one of their minions decides to rebel and get away by taking one,” she tells Teyla. Teal’c, she thought.
Teyla nods, but her body doesn’t ease any. The knowledge was little comfort. It was going to take more than Lieutenant Kenmore’s word to soften Teyla’s concerns.
“So what do we do now,” Evan asks. With Ursula’s guess, for him her guess had been enough but the others had needed at least Radek on board with the thought as well, semi-confirmed, they needed a plan of action.
“We let him come,” Kenmore answers.
Sheppard lets out a heavy sigh and leans back in his chair like he was bracing for impact, an impact he himself would deliver, but he needed to reign himself in first. He’s glaring at Kenmore. Teyla’s eyes widen and her mouth hangs open slightly, aghast at the Lieutenant’s suggestion. Zelenka just stares at Kenmore; his glasses fall down to the point where their barely hanging onto the tip of his nose. He makes no move to retrieve them. Woolsey is the only one maintaining some semblance of calm; he has his poker-face up, but it was a good thing to remember that his poker-face actually sucked. It wasn’t like he was playing chicken with a group of hostile Replicator’s trying to sink the city, this was Anubis. Lorne has no trouble letting his jaw drop and the shock break all over his face. He sits up, gaping at his friend…
“What,” he exclaims. He can’t believe she’d suggest this. She, of all people, should know better.
“Let him come to Atlantis. Then we can see what he wants here.” She answers as though her suggestion was simple.
“No,” John finally manages, “No. No. No. We are not letting him come to the city.”
“Why…,” he almost laughs at her—actually he wanted to throw something at her, a lamp or something… the table—he would if the situation wasn’t so dire; he can’t believe he has to actually explain this to someone, “Why not? That thing just wiped out an entire ship full of people through mass suicide and you want to bring him here,” Sheppard slams his finger down on the table.
Kenmore nods. She wasn’t seeing a problem, and she was having trouble wondering why he should… And the theatrics, seriously? What the hell?
“How are we supposed to do that,” Woolsey asks calmly, as though he were spreading his hands and allowing the prey to fall into the unbaited trap that they couldn’t see at their own leisure.
She turns her chair to address Zelenka, “That ship’s just drifting, right?”
“And Jacob took the ship close enough to that planet to give us a base chevron to dial out with… And to dial in.”
“You want us to dial in,” the Czech scientist asks.
The Lieutenant nods sitting back in her chair, “He wants to come to this place so badly I say we swing open the door for him.”
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, his jaw so set he thought it might break, was about to bite into her, but Woolsey speaks up first, “Do it.”
John stares at him. Everyone stares at Richard Woolsey.
“What did you say,” John’s voice was snippier, more accusatorially obnoxious than he had meant. That tone of voice he’d built up had originally been meant for Kenmore and her dumbass suggestion and her ever stupider nonchalant attitude about it. But Woolsey…
Woolsey matches Sheppard eye for eye head-on, “I said do it. Dial Anubis’s ship.”
“But,” Teyla sputters.
“I would rather we have Anubis than the Wraith,” Woolsey cuts her off.
Richard stands up, tugging at the bottom hem of his uniform jacket. Pulling it straight and neat and crisp looking again, “See that it’s done.”
He walks out.
* * *
Night has descended on the planet. Atlantis does not glimmer like she normally does. Too many of her outer limits’ lights are gone and too many of her inner ones are dimmer than they normally are. Too many things are downcast tonight.
In the Gateroom Command Center, Woolsey stands behind technician James Robbins sitting at the DHD system, Chuck Campbell had been evacuated to the Alpha site, while Sheppard and Teyla stand to one side of him and Kenmore stands on the other. Sheppard and Teyla look thoroughly unhappy but without ways of figuring out how to voice their opinions anymore than they already have, while the others simply look determined. At another computer console already set up with a laptop attached to it, just in case, Doctor Radek Zelenka sits tapping away at it while Evan Lorne leans over his shoulder watching his progress.
“And what about the people left on this base,” Sheppard asks, steely.
“He doesn’t want us. He wants the city,” Kenmore says without looking at him. Both her and Woolsey’s eyes fixed on Atlantis’ inactive Stargate down below.
“He will take a host,” Teyla contemns.
“I’d rather not think of a Fallen Ascended Goa’uld Wraith,” Woolsey says, also without looking at her.
Teyla takes the information. She looks down at the floor, almost with a sense of shame. That had been among her own thoughts on board the Goa’uld mothership. Although she had not put ‘Fallen Ascended’ in the name of her thought. But there is also another shade to the shame she feels. She may only feel part of it for herself, and none of it for John, but she felt it mostly for the others around her. Perhaps she had again put too much faith in them. These people who were her friends, there were times when the word ‘friend’ seemed to flee their minds and their actions spoke volumes then.
Richard looks over at Radek.
“Doctor Zelenka, are we ready?”
“Almost, I am just finishing the last modifications to the transmission…,” a few final taps on the console and the Czech scientist returns Woolsey’s look, “Yes, we are.”
Woolsey looks down at the expectant tech in front of him.
“Dial him in,” Richard Woolsey orders. Never believing in a million years—no, infinity that he would ever issue that command in relation to Anubis, of all people. Of all enemies.
Robbins dials the mothership’s gate address and the wormhole comes to life with its familiar flush. Then calms into its usual undulating, glowing pool.
“I am sending the transmission now,” Radek announces in the silence of the room and starts typing in the commands on his laptop. He hoped the computer program he wrote into the radio burst to the still operating Goa’uld computers would be accepted. He was not all that familiar with Goa’uld technology other than what the F-301s and F-302s had to offer him—and that was minimal at best—, “It’s done.”
“Shutting down the wormhole,” Robbins announces, extends his hand and pushes a single button. Suddenly the undulating surface of the wormhole appears to shatter, breaking at its center and fleeing in sporadic dying waves to the perimeter of the Stargate’s inner ring it had been suspended in.
After a couple of heartbeats, every light on the Stargate comes on and the outer sequence of lights start rotating from symbol to symbol. Immediately Robbins goes to work on his console.
“Unscheduled incoming wormhole. No IDC,” he announces, “Looks like your program was accepted Doctor Zelenka.”
Woolsey reaches out a hand to clasp the top of the back of Robbins’ chair, “Don’t put up the iris,” he reminds the technician.
The man halts his hand above the iris’ activation button, it was reflex. He nods and was thankful Woolsey had called him out on it.
They all wait again. Nothing happens. Well more than a couple of heartbeats pass. Still nothing happens. Sheppard leans over to Woolsey…
“Would an Ascended Being be dumb enough to fall for this?
A black cloud of energy suddenly bursts out of the heart of the wormhole and hangs in front of it, rippling, in the air. Everyone stares at it in shock and awe except for Lorne, Kenmore, and Woolsey, who stare at it with their own old determined fire they had had for it back at the SGC.
“Perhaps you should have said would an Ascended Being be desperate enough to fall for this,” Kenmore corrects him.