Chapter Fifteen: Disinterment, Part I
No need to head to the LJ for this one; it’s gen. A very special thanks to idrilis for her expertise with Old Norse. Also a big thanks to Ponder and RevDorothyL for some much-needed beta help.Chapter Fifteen: Disinterment, Part I
Riley Finn hurried into the mess hall, running his fingers through his damp hair. He’d over-slept this morning and was afraid he might be too late to catch Dawn. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her sitting at a table near the windows, eating a solitary breakfast.
He got a tray and stood in line, casting the occasional glance over his shoulder at Dawn. She was looking pretty rough this morning, so Riley figured she’d had yet another bad night. He was worried about her, and had been since the Wraith attack nearly three weeks ago. Dawn had handled the situation well at the time but she’d been slowly falling apart ever since.
“Stop it, man,” the mess cook, Sgt Genner, said quietly. “Your girlfriend’s not gonna leave without you.”
Riley turned to the man and glared. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Genner.”
Genner leaned over the counter and met Riley’s hard gaze with a serious one of his own. “I know the Colonel will have your ass if you mess around with his sister. You’ve been real lucky so far, Alraven, but it won’t last. Not when the Colonel’s in this mood.”
Riley’s hands clenched on his tray. “Leave it alone. It’s none of your business.”
“It’s my business when my friend lets his dick do his thinking for him. Seriously, man, ever since Shep came around you ignore everyone else. You never hang out with your friends anymore! The pussy can’t be that great.”
Riley slammed his tray on the counter and lunged, both hands grabbing Genner by his shirt-front and dragging him up to eye level.
“I will not
tolerate you speaking like that about any
woman. Do you understand me, Sergeant?”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya,” Genner said rapidly, raising his hands in surrender. “Sorry, sorry. You know I didn’t mean nuthin’ by it.”
Slowly easing his grip, Riley let go of Genner. “I don’t want to hear it. You just remember what I said.”
“Shit, Alraven, you pulled me right into the goddamn eggs,” Genner started whining, brushing at his spattered clothing. “Now I’m gonna have to make another –”
Ignoring him, Riley picked up his bare tray and walked to the open cooler at the end of the line, bypassing several curious onlookers. He grabbed a bagel, yogurt, and bottle of orange juice, balancing each item precisely on the tray. Keeping his head down and ignoring the stares, he went to sit at Dawn’s table.
“What was that about?” Dawn asked, frowning at him in concern. “You’re not usually this grumpy.”
Riley ripped open his yogurt carton and stirred more vigorously than whipped peaches generally merited.
“It’s nothing,” he said shortly. His conversation with Genner wasn’t something he was going to discuss with Dawn. “How’re you doing? Did you get any sleep last night?”
Dawn shoved soggy pancakes around on her plate. “No. Dr Heightmeyer’s suggestions aren’t working. I’ve heard that whale song CD so many times that I’m going to start talking like Dory.”
Riley puzzled over the odd reference, but he’d learned not to ask. Dawn’s explanations were usually too confusing to follow.
“You always get the same dream every night, don’t you?” he asked instead.
Dawn nodded glumly. “It just won’t stop
“Then set an alarm clock. Wake yourself up in the middle of the night before the dream gets scary. Then you can go back to sleep after that.”
Riley spooned up a couple bites of yogurt, then stopped self-consciously when he realized Dawn was staring at him with her mouth open.
“What?” he asked. “Just forget it, if it’s a dumb –”
“You are absolutely brilliant,” Dawn blurted. “I can’t believe I never thought of that!”
Riley blushed and ducked his head, but he couldn’t help smiling a little bit. It wasn’t every day that he got to do something nice for Dawn. Something that she’d appreciate, anyway.
“It’s no big,” he said, shrugging. “It’s not like that’ll stop the dreams, but maybe it’ll help.”
Dawn leaned forward and covered Riley’s hand with her own, squeezing tightly. “It is big. Thanks, Rave.”
“You’re welcome,” he mumbled. They shared a smile, then Dawn realized she was holding his hand and pulled away.
He could still feel the warmth from her skin.
Riley cleared his throat. “So. What are you up to today?”
“Still translating the database,” Dawn said, wrinkling her nose. “Dr Evans is working on the city’s history, and he found a big section detailing the installation of the power relay stations from when the Ancients expanded the city. Rodney wants to go over it with me so he can try to equalize the energy-output distribution between the South Pier and West Pier stations. John said we’re scheduled to get more personnel in a few weeks, and Rodney wants to fine-tune the relay stations and avoid any possible brown outs. He’s expecting a big increase in consumption….”
Dawn kept speaking, but Riley sort of tuned her out. She could go on and on about her work, and Riley hated to admit that half the time he had no idea what she was talking about. But he liked listening to her, and she didn’t seem to mind when his own conversational input was reduced to pre-verbal grunts and vague noises of agreement.
She certainly was pretty enough that Riley figured he couldn’t be blamed for staring. Her eyes were an unusual shade of blue, and her hair was always long and straight and shiny. Dawn also had a few freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose, and Riley thought he’d probably counted each one of them by now.
The black BDUs looked really good on her, too. He’d overheard a lot of the female staff complaining that the uniforms bagged or cinched in all the wrong places, but Dawn didn’t have that problem. She was strong and lean, but also curvy, and tall enough that Riley wouldn’t have to break his neck kissing her.
Not that he’d ever kissed her.
But he thought about it sometimes.
When he was pretty sure the Colonel wasn’t anywhere nearby.
Riley tamped down his frustration. Even if John Sheppard wasn’t so daunting, it wasn’t like he’d ever make a move on Dawn. They were team. You didn’t overstep that boundary, no matter how much you wanted to. Staff Sergeant Alraven would never dare approach Lieutenant Sheppard like that, and Major Riley Finn, covert black-ops, simply couldn’t.
He’d learned that lesson years ago, in a little town that was now just a big crater. There had to be some sort of symbolism in that, but Riley tried not to think about that time too much. After all, Sunnydale was the place where his life went to hell.
Dawn looked at him funny when he snorted his orange juice, but he waved for her to go on speaking. Shrugging, she started talking about reactive current consumption, and Riley was lost all over again.
If Riley had a type, it was for strong women. Buffy and Sam, the only two women he’d ever loved, had been radically different in appearances. Dawn was tall and dark like Sam had been, but she was softer and sweeter than Sam. There weren’t any physical similarities between Dawn and Buffy, but they did have the same sense of determination and stubbornness, as well as similar Valley Girl tendencies. Yet Buffy never would have geeked out the way that Dawn sometimes did.
He’d made his peace with Buffy years ago, but there had always been that niggling sense of ‘what if’ riding in the back of his mind. There was no such uncertainty with Sam. They’d ridden out their marriage to the bitter end, and they’d both signed the divorce papers with a sense of relief. They’d loved each other, but in that end that hadn’t been enough. Sam had gone on to a position in the Pentagon, leaving Riley behind to sort through the debris of their combined lives.
He’d been a desk jockey ever since that young crop of Slayers had been Called, and Riley had been going out of his mind with boredom. His team had been disbanded and scattered when their services were rendered useless. It hurt that a group of teenage girls could do his job better than he could, but he wasn’t going to try to stand in their way.
It had left him at loose ends; no team, no mission, and nothing to do but review old case files and organize the cabinets that held them. No other branch needed the specialized skills of a demon hunter. He’d applied for transfers, over and over again, but his personnel file had been so heavily blacked out that no one else would take him.
He’d been dissatisfied and unsettled, and that had affected his marriage. Sam had derided him for what she termed his way-too-fucking-early mid-life crisis. Riley’d been left sitting in a bare, divorcee’s apartment, trying to put his life back together after yet another failure, while Sam had gone onto brighter and better things at the Pentagon.
But she hadn’t forgotten him completely.
Major Paul Davis had contacted Riley, per Sam’s suggestion, and offered him a position with the SGC. He would return to undercover work – something he knew well – and take on the role of Staff Sergeant Alraven. Major Davis wanted someone in place who would be able to recognize when the strange goings-on at the SGC were due to paranormal, not extra-terrestrial, threats.
Then had come the expedition to Atlantis, and the revelation that energy-sucking vampires lived in outer space. It had seemed like the perfect fit, to Riley, for him to bring the slayage to another galaxy. Especially since there wasn’t an army of barely pubescent girls in Pegasus to steal his job.
His transfer to Atlantis had taken forever, but Riley had finally gotten to go. He would be the ‘In Case of Emergency’ guy – if anything paranormal turned up in the Pegasus galaxy, then Riley was to reveal himself to Dr Weir and Colonel Sheppard, and provide his expertise.
He had special authorization codes and everything. Plus it gave him a little thrill to think of himself as ICE Man. That made him only one movie away from being the Dark Knight, too.
The down side to being undercover, however, was that the Colonel would most likely tear Riley apart when he found out. No CO wanted someone like Riley in their unit; not when ‘covert agent’ usually meant ‘spy’.
Dawn would light into him, too, if she ever found out that he’d been lying to her from day one.
Jeez. He must’ve done something really horrible in a former life to have Karma this bad.
He rubbed his forehead to soothe the tension headache he was bringing on himself. There was no guarantee that he’d have to out himself, after all. He’d been on Atlantis for nearly two years and had yet to find any supernatural activity. And, God willing, he never would.
“What’s the story, morning glory?” Dawn asked. “You’re all frowny-faced today.”
Dawn waved her sticky fork at Riley. “You. You’re supposed to be disgustingly cheerful in the morning, not moping over your brekkie. That’s my thing, mister.”
“Sorry,” Riley offered with a weak smile. “Just a lot on my mind, I guess.”
“Okay,” Dawn said doubtfully.
Riley felt badly for worrying her with his dark mood, on top of everything else she had to deal with. Things like memories of the Wraith attack, incessant nightmares, and a whole lot of guilt for being the reason her team was grounded.
“I’m okay,” Riley said, straightening and putting some real effort into his smile. His mama always told him he was charming when he tried, so Riley tried for Dawn’s sake. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s go for a picnic during lunch.”
Dawn’s eyebrows nearly hit her hairline. “A picnic.”
“Sure! I mean, why not? It’s a beautiful day and we’ve been cooped up in the city for weeks. I’ll pack us a lunch and you can fly us over to the mainland for an hour. It’ll be great!”
“You want me to fly a puddlejumper to the mainland? Rave, I’ve only had two lessons! And John barely let me take the controls for ten minutes total. He was all bitchy and muttery about how my mom diluted the Sheppard gene-pool. I told
him I went into the Marines for a reason, but I swear he never listens to me.”
Riley ignored that last part. “Then we’ll go sit on the North Pier and watch the waves,” he said, cajoling. “Or we can go to the greenhouse and watch the botanists work while we slack off.”
“You’re serious,” Dawn said bemusedly. Her head was tilted to the side, her hair falling over one shoulder, and her lips were twitching with a suppressed smile.
“Come on, you know you want to.”
Dawn blushed, and he watched as her lashes fluttered downwards. Riley felt his heart give a lurch within his chest.
“You’re right, I do,” she said, peeking up at Riley through those dark lashes.
God, he was so sunk.
“Great, it’s a – I mean, I’ll pick you – Um. Oh, darn it.”
Dawn laughed. At him. But that was okay. Whatever made her smile at him like that was just fine.
The Colonel was going to mount his head on a pole eventually, but it would absolutely be worth it.
“Let’s go to the North Pier,” Dawn said impulsively, her blue eyes sparkling brighter than the sun-slicked ocean waves. “Meet me in the labs at noon? Rodney starts counting down the seconds as soon as I hit the doors to leave.”
“Noon, sure. And I’ll bring everything we need. Not like I have much to do right now anyway.”
Dawn winced, and Riley very nearly smacked himself on the forehead for that dumb remark.
“Dawn, I’m sorry –”
“No, no, it’s fine,” she said, cutting him off. “I get it. I’m just sorry that you guys are suffering because I can’t get my act together.”
From laughing to upset in two seconds. That had to be a new record for him.
“It’s not like that,” Riley said insistently. “We’re all just worried about you. That’s all.”
“Dr Heightmeyer is too,” Dawn said glumly. “She’s having a meeting with Dr Weir this morning to discuss my status. I’m afraid that they’ll send me back to Earth if I don’t get these nightmares under control.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Riley said firmly. “It can’t have gotten to that point yet. And it’s not like the Colonel would let you go without one heck of a fight. We’d all
fight Dr Weir on it.”
“Thanks, Rave. That’s nice to hear.”
Riley shrugged. “It’s true. You belong here. On Atlantis.”
The with us
went unspoken, but he was pretty sure Dawn heard it anyway.
“Okay, then. Lunch on the North Pier at noon,” Dawn said, reverting back to her happier mood. “As long as nothing crazy happens between now and then. This is Atlantis, after all.”
“Dawn!” Riley jerked a bit in reflexive fear. “You’d better knock on wood!”
She blinked at him like he was nuts. “What?”
“You jinxed us,” Riley said. “Jeez.”
“Oh, come on –” Dawn started to protest. She was cut off by a female gate-tech’s voice coming over the speaker system.
“Dr McKay, report to the gate room immediately. Dr McKay, you are needed in the gate room immediately. Attention all personnel, this is a Level Three Code. I repeat, this is a Level Three Code.”
“I knew it,” Riley said grimly. He shoved himself to his feet, not bothering to right his chair when he knocked it over. “I’ve gotta get to the gateroom. I’m on security back-up this week.”
With that type of timing, Riley was betting on finally seeing some hostile action here in Pegasus.
Dawn lurched forward and grabbed his sleeve. “Rodney’s down at the South Pier relay station again! He doesn’t have his radio on!”
“I’ll get him,” Riley said. “Dawn, stay out of the gateroom. Go back to your quarters or down to the labs.”
“Hell, no,” Dawn said crossly. “I don’t know who you think you are –”
“Dawn!” His voice was a rough bark of anger, and he could see the shock spreading across her features. “Promise me you won’t go to the gateroom. Please. I’m serious.”
She nodded in stunned agreement and sank back into her seat. “Okay. I promise, Rave. But you so owe me later.”
Riley ran out of the mess hall without looking back.
“Good morning, Kate,” Elizabeth said with a smile. She closed her computer window and gestured for Kate to sit. “How are you today?”
“Wonderful, thank you,” Kate said, seating herself in one of the gray office chairs. “It’s hard to imagine that it’s nearly winter-time back at the Mountain when we have such beautiful summer days here.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “I know. This is around the time when I start receiving transfer requests from the SGC personnel. General Landry once said he has the highest turn-over rate amongst his staff during the winter months.”
“I’m not surprised. I’m certain the environment under the Mountain only exacerbates the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don’t know why the medical staff hasn’t insisted on installing full-spectrum lighting fixtures. It would help so much.”
Elizabeth held onto her smile through sheer force of will. “I’m sure they’re working on it. So, Kate, you mentioned that you had a concern about a member of the military staff that you weren’t comfortable discussing with Colonel Sheppard.”
“Yes,” Kate said, crossing her legs and leaning back comfortably. “It’s regarding Lt Dawn Sheppard.”
“What seems to be the issue with Lt Sheppard? I’m aware that her team is on stand-down because of her sleeping difficulties, but I had thought she was receiving therapy for that.”
Kate nodded her perfectly coifed head. “Lt Sheppard is complying with the regimen I’ve created for her, but I’m afraid we aren’t seeing any improvement in her case. She is still having difficulty with both her primary insomnia and her nightmare disorder.”
“Perhaps it’s time to get Dr Beckett involved,” Elizabeth suggested. “It sounds as though there may be a biological component to Lt Sheppard’s problems.”
“Not necessarily,” Kate said. “And that isn’t precisely why I’m here. I’m more concerned about something else that Lt Sheppard revealed to me during our sessions.”
Elizabeth had the feeling this was going to be something she didn’t want to hear. “You aren’t concerned about the Lieutenant’s nightmares?”
“Of course I am, but she is dealing with her abandonment and vulnerability issues in therapy, and I believe that that will ultimately stop the nightmares. No, I’m more concerned with Lt Sheppard’s continuing insistence that a Wraith fed on her, despite all physical evidence to the contrary.”
No, Elizabeth didn’t want to hear this at all.
She was immediately aware of all the possible ramifications of Kate’s statement. Kate was calling Dawn’s mental health and stability into question – her fitness for duty, her placement on Atlantis, and, ultimately, her ability to serve in the Marine Corps.
If true, Elizabeth would be forced to transfer Dawn back to Earth for evaluation and a possible medical discharge from the service. And Elizabeth would be forced to do so under direct opposition from Colonel John Sheppard.
“Lt Sheppard has said several times that the Wraith fed on her at least twice, and possibly more times than that while she was unconscious,” Kate said. “I checked with Dr Beckett, and he confirmed that there were no anomalous readings on Lt Sheppard’s post-mission scan. Dr Beckett has also scanned Lt Sheppard once a week since the incident, and all results are normal. I’m very sorry to do this, Elizabeth, but I felt that I had to bring this situation to your attention.”
“No, you’re right,” Elizabeth said dully. She rested her hands on her desk and took several deep breaths.
Why did this have to happen to another one of her people? Elizabeth knew that PTSD was a serious issue with the military personnel, and Atlantis had sent home far more than her fair share of traumatized soldiers. The Wraith, the Asurans, the indigenous peoples, all of them worked in conjunction to traumatize her people.
The fact that Dawn Sheppard was the soldier at issue only further served to make a difficult situation yet more unbearable.
John was going to fight her on this. He was barely willing to let Dawn out of his sight as it was, and only then if she was with Rodney or Sgt Alraven. John wouldn’t let Dawn go back to Earth, and if Elizabeth pushed him on the issue, as she would have to, then there was an excellent chance that he would resign on the spot and take a dishonorable discharge for the chance to stay with Dawn.
She didn’t like to believe that Atlantis could only survive if certain key people were in place, but it was true all the same. Elizabeth herself was replaceable - she knew that and accepted it - but John and Rodney were not. And if John left, then Rodney might very well follow.
“Give me a moment please, Kate,” Elizabeth said. She leaned over and opened her bottom desk drawer. Pulling out the large bottle of Tums, she popped the cap one-handed with the ease of practice and shook out a few tablets into her other hand. She chewed and swallowed quickly, washing the chalky taste out of her mouth with a swig from her water bottle.
Tapping on her ear-mic, Elizabeth called on the one person who might be able to salvage this situation.
“What?” came the gruff voice.
“Hello, Ronon, this is Elizabeth,” she said, smiling to herself.
There was a slight pause. “Hi. You need me to come up?”
“Yes, please. It’s regarding that matter you brought to my attention the other week. I need your help.”
Another, longer, pause was her answer.
“Ronon? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Ronon.”
Elizabeth could feel the dubious silence radiating from Kate’s side of the desk.
“I know this will sound strange,” Elizabeth began, “but Ronon brought this same issue to me several days after the Wraith attack on Lt Sheppard. However, at the time Ronon was the only one who believed that the Wraith had indeed fed on Lt Sheppard. He claimed that he could ‘sense’ that she had been fed upon.”
“But there is no physical indication that that is true,” Kate said with a puzzled frown. “How can you be certain that Specialist Dex is correct?”
“I’m not,” Elizabeth said with a shrug. “But he was very insistent about the matter. He first brought it up with Colonel Sheppard, and then later with me when he felt the Colonel was… hmm, unwilling to listen to the opposing view, as it were.”
“How odd,” Kate said, looking intrigued. “I hadn’t realized that Lt Sheppard’s cognitive dissonance had reached such a level that she was seeking to influence others to join in her delusions.”
Elizabeth frowned at Kate.
“That’s hardly my perception of the matter,” she said sharply. “I believe it may be possible, given Ronon’s perceptions and Lt Sheppard’s statements, that the Wraith did indeed feed on her.”
“But the lack of physical evidence –”
“Isn’t the only issue at hand,” Elizabeth interrupted. “Kate, try to look at this from another angle. What if the Wraith did
feed upon Lt Sheppard? They’ve been surprising us all along; this just seems like yet another manner of doing so.”
“Elizabeth, I’m sorry,” Kate said, “but it’s difficult for me to believe that.”
“I’d like to at least look into the possibility,” Elizabeth said. “Let’s not assume that Lt Sheppard has gone off the deep end until we’ve exhausted the other possibilities. We owe her that much.”
“I suppose so.”
Elizabeth resisted the urge to sigh again; Kate wasn’t going to make this easy on her.
“Did Lt Sheppard tell anyone other than you that the Wraith fed on her?” Elizabeth asked.
“Just me. And apparently Ronon.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, Ronon came to that conclusion on his own. He told me that Sgt Alraven claimed to have killed the Wraith before it could feed on Lt Sheppard, and the Colonel accepted that at the time. Lt Sheppard never contradicted the sergeant, but Ronon believes she was in shock at the time and unable to deal with situation.”
“Ronon said that?”
“Not exactly,” Elizabeth allowed with a small smile. “But that was the gist of the matter.”
“This is all quite confusing,” Kate said, shifting in her chair.
There was a shadow of movement at the corner of her eye, and Elizabeth turned to see Ronon lounging in her open office doorway.
“Ronon, you’re here,” she said, rather unnecessarily. “Please, come in.”
He stayed where he was and frowned at Kate. “I don’t need her help.”
Kate looked indignant, but Elizabeth spoke before she could say anything to send Ronon away.
“We’re all here to discuss what happened to Lt Sheppard when the Wraith attacked her.”
“Nothing to discuss,” Ronon said. “The Wraith fed on her. She lived and doesn’t have a mark on her. The end.”
“That’s hardly the end of the matter,” Kate said with a dismissive sniff. “Lt Sheppard is also suffering from the adverse effects of her dyssomnia and parasomnia episodes.”
“You mean she can’t sleep?” Ronon said dryly. He kicked out one leg, folded his arms, and leaned one exposed shoulder against the door frame, filling it with his bulk.
Elizabeth stifled a laugh at Kate’s annoyed expression.
“I mean that Lt Sheppard told me that the Wraith fed on her, which contradicts the physical evidence and calls her mental health into question.”
Ronon gave Kate a hard stare. “She admitted it? Then what’s the problem?”
“It isn’t true!” Kate practically yelled. “Lt Sheppard is not behaving in a rational manner.”
Elizabeth felt herself staring at Kate as well, surprised by the woman’s behavior.
“Kate, please calm down,” Elizabeth said gently. “I’m sure that together we can come to a logical conclusion.”
“The Wraith fed on her,” Ronon said again. “I could sense it, but I can’t explain it.”
“Well, I certainly wish someone
could explain it to me,” Elizabeth said ruefully.
“It's about time!” came an excited voice from the control area, just outside of Elizabeth's office.
She tried to peer over Ronon’s shoulder and into the gateroom. “Freyka? Is something the matter?”
“What is she going on about?” Kate said irritably, but Elizabeth paid no attention to her, instead focusing on Ronon.
His shoulders hunched inward, as though taking a blow on his back, then he shook himself and straightened fully. His eyes were wild, and Elizabeth’s hand fluttered to her throat when he looked at her.
“We’ve got trouble,” he said, then turned and bolted out of her office.
“What on earth was that about?” Kate demanded, clutching the arms of her chair and staring at the empty space Ronon left behind.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” Elizabeth said, rising from her desk. She didn’t get but two steps toward the door when she heard Freyka start yelling again.
“Let go of me! Geym þína mundu, mannligr
“What is going on?” Elizabeth demanded, stepping out to the control balcony. “Oh, my God!”
She froze in shock, but it wasn’t because Ronon had Freyka pinned to the floor. No, Elizabeth was staring at the stargate, which was a swirling vortex of black energy, laced with lightning strikes of electric-green. The event horizon was flickering erratically, as though it didn’t have enough energy to connect fully.
Elizabeth didn’t want it to connect. She felt, with a sense of rising dread, that whatever came through the stargate would be something she didn’t want to see.
The few people on shift were hunched over their computers, babbling nervously back and forth to each other. The security forces down in the gate area itself were backed against the walls, weapons trained on the stargate as they waited with cold-eyed determination for something
to come through.
“Turn it off,” Ronon said, pulling one of Freyka’s arms higher up her back. The woman let out a pained scream.
“She didn’t do anything!” Chuck said frantically, clutching the edge of his desk. “Freyka was way over there when the gate started up. I was the only one near the terminal.”
“Chuck, shut down that gate or get the shield up,” Elizabeth ordered. “Ronon, let Freyka up. Kate, get out of here; it isn’t safe.”
Chuck tapped rapidly at his console, and Kate practically ran out of the gateroom, but Ronon didn’t move a muscle.
“Are you sure about that?” he asked. “Are you willing to trust her?”
“For now,” Elizabeth said crisply. “Let her up.”
Ronon released Freyka, then jerked the small woman to her feet. “I’m watching you,” he growled.
Freyka glared up at him and rubbed her shoulder. “Go right ahead, heljar-karl þu
. I’m only here to help.”
“You can help by getting Dr McKay and Colonel Sheppard on the radio,” Elizabeth said, jerking her head towards the empty terminal next to Chuck. Freyka scowled at Ronon one last time but hastened to take a seat next to Chuck.
“The gate won’t disconnect,” Chuck said. “And I’m not getting any incoming data, either.”
“What about the shield?”
“It won’t come up.” Chuck turned in his seat to look at her anxiously. “I can’t do anything!”
“Dr McKay isn’t answering his radio,” Freyka added. “Trying Colonel Sheppard now.”
Elizabeth moved to the balcony’s edge and clutched the railing. She stared at the stargate and found herself mesmerized by the pulsing maelstrom within. It seemed as though the energy vortex was fighting to establish itself fully.
“Colonel Sheppard is on his way,” Freyka said. “I’m paging Dr McKay over the tannoy now.”
“Send through a city-wide Level Three Code as well,” Elizabeth said. She reasoned that the security forces below would be thankful for the back-up personnel.
“What do you want me to do?” Ronon asked, stepping up next to Elizabeth.
“Just stay close,” Elizabeth said, meeting his solemn gaze. “I think we’ll need you.”
Ronon nodded. “I’m here.”
“Thank you.” She was grateful for his presence. All the heat seemed to have left the room, almost as though it was being pulled through the stargate. Ronon was a warm and solid bulk at her side, reassuring in his sheer vitality.
Elizabeth shivered and felt goose-flesh raise on her arms.
“I have Dr Zelenka on the radio,” Freyka said. “He wants to know if you want him to come up.”
“Not just yet,” Elizabeth said. “Tell him to go to the ZPM room and see if there’s anything unusual going on down there.”
“Shields up!” Chuck said, punching his fist in the air. “I got it!”
Elizabeth turned to the stargate in time to see the blue glow of the shield flicker and die as the dark energy within seemed to absorb it.
“Don’t worry, Chuck. Just keep trying for me.”
“Yes, Dr Weir.”
John ran into the gateroom below, still buckling his P-90 onto his tac-vest as he ran in from the ready room. Elizabeth watched as he visibly startled at the appearance of the stargate, but he regained his composure almost immediately. John went over to the nearest security member, spoke with the man briefly, then trotted across the gateroom floor and climbed the stairs to the balcony.
“What’s the situation?” he demanded as soon as he was level with them.
Elizabeth nodded toward the stargate. “That… aberration started up for no apparent reason about seven minutes ago. Chuck can’t get the gate to shut down or the shields to come up. Security is on alert.”
“Where’s McKay?” John asked, his eyes scanning the room for the missing scientist.
“I don’t know,” she said. “He isn’t answering his radio. I had Freyka page him over the tannoy.”
“Good,” John nodded. “He’ll be here soon.”
“Dr Zelenka is on his way to the ZPM room to see if there’s a malfunction on our end.”
John’s eyes darted toward the gate, then back to her. “I don’t think it’s us, Liz.”
Elizabeth felt her lips twitch despite the seriousness of the situation. “No, Colonel, neither do I.”
John offered a half-smile of his own, ducking his head. “Sorry. Hey, Ronon, go get your big gun. We might need it.”
“No.” Ronon didn’t look away from the stargate. “I’m not leaving till it gets here.”
Elizabeth felt another involuntary shiver.
“Till what gets here?” John asked cautiously.
“I don’t know,” Ronon said. “That’s why I’m staying.”
“Ohh-kay. Whatever you say, buddy.”
“I’m getting a sweater from my office,” Elizabeth said, rubbing her chilled arms. “Yell if there’s any change.”
“Got it,” John said. He planted himself at the top of the stairs, next to Ronon, and Elizabeth watched as he instantly and effortlessly focused completely on the threat against Atlantis.
She walked into her office and shut the door, leaving the gateroom in John’s capable hands. As cold as she was, Elizabeth needed a moment alone more than she needed a sweater. She sank into her chair and stared around her office, wondering how badly this new development was going to affect the city. Wondering who was going to die this time.
Elizabeth only allowed herself two minutes to rest her face in her hands. There wasn’t any yelling or gunfire in the interim, so she tried not to feel too badly about hiding in her office. She knew that John would prefer if she stayed away completely, locked away safely in her office, but she wasn’t able to do that.
Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Elizabeth prepared herself to go back out there and face whatever might come.
“Oh, my God, can you slow down?” Rodney demanded. He tried to pull away from the pushy sergeant who was dragging him through the corridors, but Alraven wouldn’t let go. The man had a grip like a steel trap around Rodney’s wrist, towing him along like a kid with a balloon. A really big, really heavy balloon. That complained loudly.
Okay, so not very balloon-like after all.
“You can rest when you’re dead,” Alraven said, a strange smile lighting his features. “Something’s going down in the gateroom and we need to be there.”
“But I hate running towards danger!” Rodney objected. “That’s your job, not mine.”
Alraven slowed abruptly, nearly sending Rodney down to his knees at the unexpected halt in momentum. The sergeant smacked his hand on the transporter keypad and shoved Rodney through as soon as the doors whooshed open.
“Get to the gate room. I’m going to the armory first, then I’ll be up.”
“Why should I care what you do?” Rodney yelled as the transporter door slid shut. Grumbling to himself he stabbed at the control panel, exiting into the control tower almost instantly. He started jogging toward the control area, his earlier protests to Alraven completely forgotten.
Rodney didn’t like running into danger, but he liked being in the dark even less. And right now he didn’t know what sort of horrible and inevitably life-threatening situation awaited him in the gateroom. He’d stashed his radio in his toolbox while working on the power relay station this morning, and Alraven hadn’t given him any time to fish it out. The man had just grabbed Rodney, told him there was trouble, the started running back into the city.
He rounded a corner and put on a burst of speed when he saw all the frenetic activity in the control area at the end of the open corridor. Rodney careened into the busy space, panting and flushed with exertion.
“What’s going on?” he yelled.
Ronon stuck out a beefy hand and grabbed a hold of Rodney before he could run into the side of the computer banks.
“Something’s trying to come through the gate,” Ronon said. He pulled Rodney up to the balcony edge, moving aside to give him a better view at the tableau below.
Rodney’s mouth fell open in shock as he took in the green-streaked blackness surging within the gate. It shouldn’t be possible, yet he was still looking at it. Just like he’d seen the gate turn green and unstable when Dawn had come through several months ago.
“Damnit, I knew I shouldn’t have trusted Sam when she said the problem was on her end!” Rodney banged his fist on the balcony railing, then yelped in pain when tender flesh met unyielding metal.
He pushed away from the railing and turned to the primary control terminal. Chuck got up and plastered himself against the back wall without Rodney having to say a word. Nodding to himself at the sight of a minion well-trained, he leaned over the panel and started pushing buttons.
“The shield won’t come up for more than a few seconds,” said the ice-blonde woman sitting at the next computer. “The gate is also ignoring the shut-down codes.”
“I see that. Who the hell are you?”
She gave him a toothy grin. “Freyka. I’m the night tech. Glad to see you finally made it, Dr McKay.”
“Lovely to meet you, Freyka. Now shut up and let me work.”
“Of course, Dr McKay,” she said snottily.
Rodney liked her instantly.
“How long has this been going on?” he asked, fingers flying over the keypad.
Rodney froze for a long, breathless second, and his hands fisted over the controls.
it when it does that. The stargate is supposed
to automatically shut down after thirty-eight minutes. Why can't people obey the mechanical laws of the universe for once?”
Freyka tapped her computer screen with a fingernail. “I don’t know anything about mechanics, but I can read the little clock here on the computer. The gate’s been on for just over forty minutes now.”
“Where’s Zelenka?” he asked as he slid himself expertly under the console. Next time the city wasn’t in imminent peril he was going to have to install a sliding backboard, he was under here so often.
“Dr Zelenka’s in the ZPM room, checking on the crystal interface. He already radioed in to say that it isn’t a problem with the new ZPM, but he can have the naquadah generators online in three minutes if you want him to pull it anyway.”
“No, no, tell him to stand down,” Rodney said, tearing at wires and rearranging crystals as he tried to disconnect the stargate manually. “He knows removing the ZPM won’t do anything; the energy is all coming from the dialing side, not us. We need to either strengthen the connection and deal with whomever it is when they come through, or override the incoming signal and force it to abort.”
“Good luck with that one,” Freyka muttered under her breath, but Rodney had the ability to hear sarcasm from a mile away.
Rodney cursed when he accidentally ripped a wire from it’s interface-plug, but it only took a few seconds to twine the thin metal wires back into position; it would hold for now. He stared up at the glowing crystals for a few seconds, mentally tracing the energy pathways, then switched a green one with a red one because he felt like it.
“What does the gate look like now?” he asked, pausing with his hands hovering over the crystals.
“Black, green, and swirly,” Freyka said. “Try something else.”
Rodney grunted and switched the green with a long blue one. “Now?”
“Same, but more sparkly.”
He put the green back in it’s original position, switched the blue with a purple, and demanded another update.
“Solid black with green lightning, but it’s still pulsing a bit.”
“Colonel!” Rodney yelled. “Can you hear me?”
“I’m right here, McKay,” Sheppard said, sticking his head under the desk and looking at Rodney from a mere ten inches away. “What’s up?”
“Tell your marines to get ready. I’m going to strengthen the connection and let through whomever’s trying to get in so badly.”
“Are you serious?” Sheppard asked. “I don’t want
anyone coming through that thing.”
“I can’t shut it down,” Rodney said flatly. “The stargate has been on for well over thirty-eight minutes, completely negating physics as I know it, and I’m out of other options. Short of telling Ronon to take a sledge-hammer to the gate and destroying it, which will also destroy the entire planet and us with it when the event horizon blows up, of course.”
“Fine. Let me alert my men first.”
“You’ve got forty-five seconds.”
John’s head disappeared from view, and Rodney could hear him bellowing orders to the soldiers in the gateroom.
Rodney could only hope that there was enough fire-power on hand to kill whatever was about to come through.
“Freyka, how’s it look?”
“Same as before, Dr McKay.”
Mentally counting down the last few seconds, Rodney felt the hairs on his neck rise at the unnatural silence in the large room. He could picture the scene, with the unstable event horizon, the grim staff on the balcony, and all the soldiers below focusing on their tasks.
“Here goes nothing,” Rodney said to himself. He pulled the red crystal out completely, slotted the green one into its place, and scrambled out of the small space as fast as he could. He stood quickly, for once ignoring the protest in his back, and stared at the stargate along with everyone else.
It didn’t take long for a change to occur.
The black and green mixed together in an urgent froth, then a white glow formed in the center, spreading outwards rapidly. The whiteness pushed back the black and green, then, in a final surge of power, the whiteness filled the event horizon completely, touching the stone rim of the stargate.
There was a brilliant flash of light, and Rodney felt his ears ringing, even though there hadn’t been a sound. Blinking to clear his dazzled eyes, Rodney was able to focus just in time to see a body hurtle through the stargate as if thrown, then slide to a stop nearly a dozen feet away. It didn’t move after that, and the stargate shut down immediately.
The marines were better trained than Rodney had ever realized, for none of them shot at the man as he came through the gate. There was a reverberating clicking throughout the room, however, as the safety’s were flicked off of nearly thirty weapons at roughly the same time.
Another long pause, then Sheppard moved slowly, P-90 held at the ready as he cautiously walked down the stairs and approached the man lying on the floor.
“Don’t move,” Sheppard ordered, edging nearer.
The man didn’t move, but Rodney was beginning to think that maybe he couldn’t, that he hadn’t survived the trip through the stargate.
“Who are you?”
There was no answer.
Sheppard must have come to the same conclusion Rodney had, for he stepped next to the body and used one foot to nudge it onto its back.
Rodney winced at the bloody sight that was revealed. The man was wearing a brown jacket, charcoal shirt, and black slacks, but everything was liberally coated with red gore. Slashes and gaping holes in the shirt revealed that the blood had probably come from the man, since he was very nearly eviscerated.
More than a few people gagged, and stunned murmurs went up from dozens of throats.
Sheppard knelt down and placed two fingers on the man’s neck. Rodney wanted to yell at him for the stupid gesture, but he held himself in check.
Looking up, Sheppard’s gaze scanned the balcony for Elizabeth’s face. “He’s dead. And he’s wearing Earth-style clothes.”
That was a complication Rodney hadn’t expected.
“Thank you, Colonel. Please tell your men to stand down, and detail a team to remove the corpse.”
“Yes, Dr Weir,” John said, but he remained kneeling next to the body, frowning darkly. He gently gripped the man's jaw and tipped his face to the side, staring at the slack features. “What happened to you, pal?”
The corpse groaned and opened his eyes.
“How the bloody devil should I know?”
Freyka’s Old Norse-to-English translation:
“Geym þína mundu, mannligr
!” – “Mind your hands, human!”
” – “you bloody warrior man”