Title: Trial or Error
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Summary: It occurred to Carson that what the Wraith that experimented on Teyla's ancestors had been trying to purposefully induce, may have accidentally manifested in Colonel Sheppard. 1400 words.
Spoilers: Stargate Atlantis post-"Common Ground" (3.7)
Notes: Speculative fic, written November 13, 2006. May or may not spawn sequels and/or an AU storyline, depending on the way the rest of the season goes (after I, American that I am, finally get access to it in April).
"You know, I could've sworn I was gonna wake up dead today."
"You are strong. Stronger than any human I have ever fed upon."
~Sheppard & Wraith, "Common Ground" (Atlantis, 3.7)
"Carson," Elizabeth said, looking up from her desk as Atlantis' chief medical officer entered her office. He'd asked for an appointment with her earlier that day, and once she'd heard what he wanted to discuss, she'd made sure to clear space in her schedule for him. "You said you'd discovered something that might help us against the Wraith?" she asked, intently.
Carson nodded, a serious expression on his face. "Aye. It has that potential, anyway," he said, glancing back at the door to her office as it swept shut behind him. He furrowed his brow a little, an expression she had come to associate with his attempts to mentally manipulate Ancient technology, and her interest was further piqued; if he found it necessary to lock the door for this discussion, the subject matter must be sensitive indeed.
"Go on," she said, gesturing him to a chair.
He sat down gingerly, then braced his hands against the arms of the chair and shifted forward a little before settling. "According to Colonel Sheppard," he began hesitantly, "the Wraith who was imprisoned with him said that he was the strongest human he'd ever fed from."
Elizabeth nodded encouragingly, remembering that part of his report, and the discomfort John had exhibited at that revelation.
Carson continued. "My initial assumption was that it had to do with his Ancient gene, given the reaction we've seen from previous Wraith he encountered, but then it occurred to me that there are still traces of the Iratus bug's DNA in his system."
Elizabeth sat back a little at that, startled and somewhat alarmed the implications. "I thought you'd reversed all of the effects of the retrovirus," she said, wondering if she should be worrying about Atlantis' chief military officer relapsing into an aggressive insectoid mindset any time soon.
Carson nodded again, solemnly. "Aye, but if you'll recall, the site of the initial infection resisted the cure," he explained. "A small clump of cells with Wraith DNA remained in the scar tissue, though it has been gradually diminishing as the tainted skin is replaced with fresh human cells. And there may be other, less visible holdouts in his sytem. It occurred to me that what the Wraith that experimented on Teyla's ancestors had been trying to purposefully induce, may have accidentally manifested in Colonel Sheppard."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at him. She remembered when they had first discovered the Wraith DNA in Teyla's system, and uncovered the laboratory where the Wraith had been attempting to modify its prey to make the feeding process more efficient; it had been their first clue that the Ancients may have been partially responsible for the evolution of the Wraith, and of the depth of Teyla's connection to the predatory species. Elizabeth disliked the idea that another of her people might be forced to carry such a burden-- though at least it would be an improvement on Sheppard's previous experience as a near-Wraith.
"That's a very interesting theory, but I don't see how it applies to the topic at hand. Whether or not John has become more attractive to the Wraith as a food source doesn't have much impact on how we fight them," she said, dismissively.
Carson leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "No, but it may provide a means for us to offer them an *alternative* food source," he replied, earnestly.
Clearly, he was referring to more than just the changes in John. "What are you saying, Carson?" she asked attentively.
He took a deep breath, then launched into his explanation. "Based upon what I've observed with Colonel Sheppard and, to a lesser extent, with Teyla, I've been able to start preliminary development of a retrovirus that will hopefully add a touch of wraith DNA to the mammal we commonly refer to as the 'near-deer'. They're plentiful, large, available on most of the Stargate-bearing planets in this galaxy, and most importantly, not sentient."
Near-deer? Elizabeth considered the concept for a moment, picturing cervines with shriveled white hides, then shook her head. "If I thought for an instant that the Wraith would be willing to switch to venison, I'd authorize a full round of tests immediately. However..."
"Aye," Carson said glumly, his eagerness fading. "We'd have to have a Wraith on hand to test it with us, and as the majority of them see us as vastly inferior..." He shrugged. "Before Ellia, and Michael, and this Wraith who struck a deal with John, I'd have given the idea up as a bad cause. But I think it's become clear just how little we know of their culture; given the right set of circumstances, and provided the therapy actually does make the deer taste better than we do, I think that virtually anything is possible."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at him. "You wouldn't have brought this to me if the only likelihood of success lay in some vague hypothetical set of circumstances," she said shrewdly. He'd said he had already begun preliminary work on the retrovirus he'd need to test his theory, so he hadn't been waiting for her authorization to work on the problem; there must be more to it. "You have something specific in mind, don't you?"
The doctor sighed. "That Wraith did more than drain the Colonel's life and restore it to him, Elizabeth. Medically speaking, he's now a perfectly healthy thirty-year-old human male-- with a protein marker in his system not unlike that manifested by Lieutenant Colonel Carter after her encounter with the Tok'ra Jolinar, though of course without the addition of naquada that she carries."
That was a surprise. "Thirty-?" she blurted, then shook her head again. "I guess Rodney was right; it really did make him younger."
"Effectively, yes," Carson agreed. "Which certainly explains the persistence of the cults that worship the Wraith; perpetual youth would be a very attractive reward for their devotion. The protein marker seems to fit with that concept, as well; any Wraith who touch Sheppard from now on will know that he, for lack of a better word, already *belongs* to one of their number. If he were ever to be captured and fed upon again, I think it not unlikely that they would cease immediately and seek to return him to the Wraith in question."
That got Elizabeth's attention. "That's a very risky assumption," she said, folding her hands in front of her on the desk so that she might surreptitiously clasp them together without Carson noticing. "Especially given, as you said earlier, how very little we know about their culture."
"I know," he replied. "And I'll certainly not advise that we try out the theory intentionally. Still, if that set of circumstances ever *did* come to pass, we'd have a window of opportunity to reason with at least an individual Wraith-- an opportunity that was wasted in our encounters with Michael."
What a bomb he'd just tossed in her lap! To pin their hopes of surviving the Wraith onslaught without terrible cost on the eventual torture of one of her officers? She could see, now, why Carson sought her out privately and locked the door before saying anything about it. She could hardly endorse it whole-heartedly-- but he wasn't entirely off base with his suggestion, and he had to know she'd see that. Life in Pegasus didn't conform to the neat moral code subscribed to by the branch of the United States government that nominally ran Atlantis; hard choices sometimes had to be made.
She cleared her throat, and sought words to carefully convey her misgivings on the subject. "I know the earlier problems with the Wraith-to-human retrovirus weigh heavily on you, Carson. I want you to be *sure* that this is a valid and promising line of research, and not just an attempt to redeem the retroviral project in general."
Carson sat up straighter in his chair and tilted his chin up, speaking firmly and formally. "I'm quite sure of it, Dr. Weir."
Elizabeth took a deep breath, running over the situation again in her mind, then spoke. "Very well, then. I'll leave it to you to apprise Colonel Sheppard of your discoveries and your research, so that he'll be aware of the possibilities if it ever becomes-- necessary that he know."
Carson nodded. "Understood."
As he got up to leave the office, Elizabeth sighed and rubbed her temples, hoping desperately that she had not just made a grave error.