All art by Lily
Betaed by Valleya
John was running.
Full on, all out running. His breath was coming in painful gulps, catching and stuttering as he vaulted over the various obstacles in his path… fallen logs covered with dark green moss, their damp black bark rough on his hands as he pushed up and over to land in soft, muddy turf; tree roots that twisted under his feet, tangling in his boots and threatening to take him down; branches hanging low and heavy with sodden leaves, slapping against his vest, stinging his face as he pushed his way through them. He kept running. He couldn’t stop running. He had to find the others. He had to find them before the creature pursuing him did. Because it wasn’t just after John.
It was after them all.
“McKay, do you copy?”
John didn’t look back when he received no answer on his radio. Looking back would only slow him down.
“Goddammit, Rodney, answer me!”
Looking back would get him caught, get him killed.
“Teyla, Ronon, respond!”
The silence only had him pushing himself harder as he saw another downed log in front of him. He heaved up, Vibram tread digging into the mulch of leaves and undergrowth on the forest floor, and launched himself over with a grunt, only to catch his toe and go sprawling to the muddy substrate on the other side. The soft ground sucked at his hands as he tried to push himself up, and John fought to control his panic as he heard his pursuer drawing closer. Finally managing to pull himself free, he started running again with the pungent smell of pine so strong in his nose he could taste it.
It reminded him of Earth, of the woods behind the Sheppard family vacation home near Big Bear. And for a moment he was ten years old again, running through those woods in California, boots and field gear replaced with sneakers and jeans, trying to escape more than a shadow flittering somewhere behind him in the trees. When he’d run as a child, he’d managed to escape his father, escape the stifling oppression of his father’s house, and he’d spent his entire life running away in one way or another after that. Until he found something worth running to, until he found Atlantis, until he found home, until he found family and everything that went with it, including worry.
“Somebody better answer their fucking radio!”
The sound of a branch snapping loudly behind him had him making his fatal mistake. Don’t look back. Never look back. But he’d found something else when he came to Atlantis… hope. And hope that maybe it was one of his team back there had him turning to look.
Hope was one thing, but stupidity was another, and he raised his P90 to search the wall of green and brown behind him and tried to steady his breathing. “Teyla?” he called in a loud whisper. “Ronon?”
Taking a step backward, John forced himself to focus on the spaces between the trees instead of scanning over the mottled blur the forest formed. “Rodney?” His heart beat roughly in his chest, blood throbbed in his ears, making it hard to hear so he slowed his breathing in hopes of calming the pounding.
Another step back had him tripping, and even his attempts at sidestepping weren’t enough to keep him on his feet. When he looked over to see what had taken him down, he was pretty sure his heart was going to stop beating altogether. The withered body was all but unrecognizable, but the Atlantis gear and the Canadian flag on the uniform confirmed what his mind was so desperate to deny. He couldn’t manage to choke out the word, but he shook his head and his brain screamed, No, No, NO!
John scrambled backward, feet pedaling in a futile attempt to gain purchase to let him stand and start running again. This time, not to save himself, but to try to get as far away from Rodney’s corpse as he could. But no matter how hard he tried, his legs wouldn’t maneuver under him to let him rise. His backwards momentum led him to another emaciated body, this one small with long brown hair. Teyla. A few feet from her side, he could see Ronon’s remains in the same state. A Wraith had caught them, fed on them, killed them, and John hadn’t been able to stop it. He’d failed the people who needed him most, who he needed most, and that realization was finally enough to have him trying to stand once more. Before John had torn his eyes from the horror before him, his hunter finally caught up with him.
Tall and lank with pale hair framing an equally pale face, Todd looked almost comical dressed in the Earth flight suit he’d been assigned weeks before. The satisfied snarl on his face, however, was anything but amusing as he leaned in close to where John sat wide-eyed on the ground, and raised his hand in preparation to feed once again.
“I will hunger no more, John Sheppard.”
* * * *
John flinched into wakefulness with a blossom of sweat on his skin and his hand rubbing unconsciously at his thrumming chest. Inhaling deeply in an attempt to regulate his breathing, he set to orienting himself. The room was dark and cold, but he’d know it anywhere. Atlantis. He was in his bed on Atlantis, and Todd was still safely locked up in his holding cell. It wasn’t the first time he’d dreamed of Todd over the past several weeks, but considering their predicament, he wasn’t really surprised the Wraith was showing up. And the others in the dream? Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, John figured that Teyla and Ronon were still sleeping; most people would be at three in the morning. Most people, but probably not one.
Flicking on the flashlight by his bed, Sheppard used the small beam of light to dress in his uniform and warmest field jacket, and then used it to light his way through the darkened city. McKay had ordered all power consumption cut to the bare minimum, and that included things as mundane as lights and city-wide communications. Given how chilly it was in the city now, John figured the scientist had added heat to the list of non-critical items, too. Not that Sheppard blamed Rodney given that they were floating somewhere in the middle of the Milky Way with ZPMs burning closer to extinction every hour they were in this predicament, but it would be nice if he maybe put these things up for a vote or something before just going ahead and doing it.
As John drew closer to the control room in the hub of the city, the portable light stands positioned around the room being powered by a naquadah generator made his flashlight unnecessary. He clicked it off to conserve the batteries. Although, based on Zelenka’s calculations, the chances were slim that the batteries would burn out before the ZPMs.
Rodney’s irate voice reverberated down the hallway to meet him. “Who told you to do that?”
“Dr. Zelenka said—”
McKay cut off the technician who was looking at her supervisor with an expression hovering somewhere between fear and fuck you.
“Do you see Dr. Zelenka anywhere around here? No, I don’t think so. But you do see me, don’t you? Yes, I’m almost positive you do, because I am here. How do I know I’m here? Because I can hear myself yelling at you right here, instead of taking care of other more urgent matters over there.” Rodney’s two index fingers swept distinctly in a windshield wiper fashion from her location over to where he wanted to be. “Here, there. Here, there. Understand? Or are the basics of spatial relations beyond your capacity to comprehend, as well?”
When she nodded with a disgruntled frown on her face but wisely held her tongue, Rodney moved back to the computer he’d been working on across the room. “Good. Now go hook that into the third rack and not blow us all to kingdom come.”
John watched the woman pass, stuffed his hands in his pockets with a glance at the handful of others working in the room, and strolled up behind McKay. “So, how’s it going?”
“Terrible,” Rodney informed him, dropping to lie on his back beneath the console the laptop rested on. “Which, surprisingly, is a step up from the horrific state we were at a few hours ago.”
John bent to look under the counter where Rodney’s feet stuck out. “Is that why we don’t have heat anymore?”
Rodney’s voice took on that tone he used when he was explaining what should be a very simple concept to anyone who had two Ph. Ds, and if you didn’t, it really wasn’t worth his time to explain it anyway. “We don’t have heat anymore because we don’t have a sun anymore, or at least one anywhere near enough to provide enough radiant heat to warm the city above minus five degrees Celsius.” Crawling back up, McKay tapped at the computer keys once more and watched the data scroll by. “So while we are currently running the heating units to keep from freezing to death, I had to scale them back to a less than comfortable setting in order to keep from maxing out them and the ZedPMs in three days time.” Unsatisfied with what he was seeing on the screen, Rodney sighed in frustration. “Dammit.”
Sheppard frowned at the way McKay rubbed at his forehead with a slightly shaky hand. The remnants of a sandwich showed that the scientist had at least eaten in the recent past, which meant only one thing could account for Rodney’s current state. “When was the last time you got some sleep?”
“Sleep? Sleep?” Rodney rolled the word around in his mouth curiously. “I am unfamiliar with this strange concept of which you speak. Sleep? Hmmm. Is it a foreign term? Swahili maybe?” He snapped his fingers in mock realization. “Or Czech perhaps? Seeing as the Czech contingent of this expedition is apparently more than familiar with the term.”
“Carson sent Zelenka to bed five hours ago,” John justified. “Just like he did you.”
“I seem to recall you were in that medical edict, as well,” Rodney deflected. “Why are you here anyway?”
Sheppard had no desire to admit it was a bad dream that had brought him to find McKay; instead he hitched his head toward the exit. “To make sure you followed the doctor’s orders and caught some shut eye. Come on, the last thing any of us needs is for you to make a mistake and vaporize us and half the Milky Way because you slipped tab A into slot C by mistake.”
Rodney shook his head. “No, the last thing any of us needs is to run out of power and lose the shield entirely. I’m not really interested in floating out into space right now.”
John had honestly tried to follow McKay’s debrief on the city’s current state of health. But talk of ZPM depletion rates were one thing, getting into the reasons for the cascading failures of the systems was another thing entirely. It had something to do with the ZPMs they had working in concert and thus providing more power than the sum of their individual units, but that same efficiency had caused their subsequent rapid deterioration when the city was damaged during the attack from the satellite controlled by the new Earth base they had found. Even the mathematical curves and charts Rodney crudely drew on a white board, and Zelenka fastidiously corrected, eventually became more than Sheppard could keep up with.
The bottom line was Atlantis was gasping her last breath and the constant need for the shields was draining her even faster. The few remaining ZPMs from the stash they had found on the underwater base were in various states of depletion so that even when they finished the repairs to the stardrive, they wouldn’t get the city very far. They couldn’t go back to Earth thanks to the satellite, and the nearest habitable planet in the Milky Way was further than they could hope to reach with the sublight engines alone… that was if they wanted to maintain luxuries like heat and breathable atmosphere for the trip.
Then there was the whole issue with the gates in the Milky Way still believing Atlantis was dialing in from another galaxy and thus requiring the additional power they couldn’t spare to travel easily between Earth and Atlantis. That option was being saved for a final emergency evacuation scenario. Fortunately, long range radio communications were still available using the Daedalus as a relay station as the ship traveled relatively slowly between the two bases of operation.
“The Daedalus will be here in two days to evacuate the city if it comes to that,” Sheppard tried to reason with McKay. “Even the calculations for the worst scenarios show we have that much more time than that. And if we have to, we can use the last of the juice to dial the gate to the Milky Way’s Alpha Site.”
“And then what?” Rodney demanded a little desperately. “Abandon the city?”
“For a little while,” John admitted reluctantly. “Just until we can find another power source.”
“Where do you think we’re going to find another ZedPM?” McKay threw his arms wide in frustration. “The Wraith blew the one in Area 51 to oblivion, and the charged ones from the new base can’t be removed without destroying the planet. Hell, we couldn’t even find one in Pegasus for years and you expect to find one in the Milky Way?”
“We’ll find one,” Sheppard insisted stubbornly. “It might take a little time, but we’ll find one.”
Rodney crossed his arms just as defiantly. “How long do you think the IOA is going to let a ship like Atlantis sit abandoned? Especially since we don’t know if there are other guard satellites sitting out here waiting to attack us even as we speak. If we leave, chances are good we’ll never come back unless it’s to destroy the city to keep it out of the hands of potential adversaries or decrease the threat to Earth.”
Lowering his voice to keep the others in the room from hearing, John demanded, “What do you want us to do, Rodney? Because we both know what you’re doing is just buying us a little time. Even if everything were functioning properly, with the ZPMs we have, how long could we stay where we are? Weeks? Maybe a few months? When the Daedalus arrives in two days, we have to leave because she may not be able to make the roundtrip again before we lose power all together. You sure the hell know you need to get off a sinking ship when you have the chance.”
Rodney seemed to collapse in on himself a little bit. “I know, I know, I just…” With a frustrated scrub at his face, he finally admitted, “I don’t know what to do. I really don’t. If we don’t find a ZedPM, we’re dead in the water… or out of the water as the case may be.”
John could only frown in his own frustration with the situation, because Rodney was right about all of it… about their chances of finding a ZPM, the fate of the city if they had to abandon it, all of it. Which would mean John and the others would be right back where they had been when the Ancients had booted them out of Atlantis a couple of years before. They could be separated and scattered like they were before, and that was the very last thing Sheppard wanted. At least Teyla and Ronon would be with them, but John knew Teyla was worried about never seeing the Athosians again. When the Ancients had returned, there had been the chance, the hope they would finally get to return home, but if they were forced to destroy the city, that hope was pretty much shot to hell.
“Colonel Sheppard.” Lorne’s voice had John turning around to see the major entering the room. “You weren’t in your quarters so I thought I might find you here.”
“Is there a problem?” Great, Sheppard thought, just one more thing to worry about.
“It depends on if you consider Todd to be a problem,” Lorne informed him with a small quirk of his head and shadow of a grin.
Rodney rolled his eyes at the comment. “I think the answer to that is a resounding yes.”
“Well, he’s asking to talk to you, Colonel,” the major told them before amending, “Insisting is more like it.”
Sheppard managed to control his curse at the thought of going face to face with the Wraith who had driven him from bed in the first place. But he also knew he had to do it. Why? Who the hell knew? Yet, John could feel it in his gut that it had to be done. Starting toward the stairs, Sheppard pointed a warning finger at McKay. “Get some sleep. That’s an order.”
Rodney was already climbing back under the console. “Yes, yes, that would be very intimidating if you outranked me. Which, of course, you don’t when it comes to the technical side of the city.”
Sheppard started to argue, decided it was futile at this point, and instead fell into step beside Lorne with a scowl, not sure who was more infuriating, Todd or McKay. At this point, it was honestly a tossup.
* * * *
The holding cells on Atlantis were located outside the area where McKay was maintaining power in the city, which meant they had moved Todd to one of the unused and sparsely furnished residential quarters. The Wraith looked up from where he sat when John walked in, his handcuffed hands folded over the empty table before him.
“Ah, John Sheppard. How nice of you to join me.”
“Too bad I can’t say the same,” John drawled, arms crossed across his chest. “So, let’s cut to the chase. What the hell do you want?”
“Cut to the chase.” Todd savored the expression with an amused smirk. “Interesting choice of words, Colonel.” With a rattle of the chains that were securing him to the chair in which he sat, the Wraith amended, “Although not something I am capable of undertaking at the moment.”
For a split second, John felt himself running through the trees again and the gripping fear that Todd was right behind him. Shaking off the disorientation, he demanded, “You want something, say it, or I’m out of here. I have more important things to do than keep you company.”
“Yes, the city is in danger of losing all power. It’s a rather dire situation, wouldn’t you say?”
John frowned that Todd would know what was going on and made a mental note to make it clear to Lorne and his men that they were to provide no information to their prisoner under any circumstances, but he recovered enough to shrug nonchalantly. “Worried we’ll forget and leave you behind if we have to evacuate?”
“I would be lying if I said that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind… or yours.”
John sat in the seat across from Todd, doing his best to deny how accurate the Wraith was. “Don’t worry, if you stay behind, it won’t be because we forgot.”
There was that infuriating humor on Todd’s face again, that arrogance that hadn’t been there when they had first met years before when they were both prisoners but it had returned quickly enough. Of course, back then, neither of them thought they would get out of Kolya’s grasp alive, yet somehow, working together, they had. It had only cost John most of his life to do it − a life that Todd had taken then auspiciously returned.
“That would be most unfortunate, seeing as I have something to offer that may help you… may help us both.”
“Seeing as we confiscated everything you had on you, what could you possibly have that would help both of us?”
“Not here; back in Pegasus.”
“You’ve already admitted to knowing we can’t get back to Pegasus, so I think you know what my answer will be.”
Todd raised his chin in disbelief that Sheppard hadn’t realized the obvious. “You must have at least minimal power left in the ZPMs to keep the shields operating. I’m sure Dr. McKay could use that to get a single Jumper back to Pegasus.”
“Even if he could, why would we want to waste the power doing that?”
The Wraith sat silent for a second and John could tell he was holding his cards close, debating exactly how much he was willing to reveal. “I am starving, Sheppard. You must know that.”
John did know that. It was actually something that had been nagging at him since they became trapped on Earth. Because as much as he really didn’t like Todd, he couldn’t deny the Wraith had come through for them on more than one occasion, and it was doubtful they would have defeated the Wraith invasion of Earth without him.
“Yeah, well, there’s not much I can do about that,” John admitted with a touch of regret.
“You are sentencing me to a slow and painful death.”
Todd’s accusation had John forcing a smile. “See, now you’re just trying to cheer me up.”
“I have tasted your death, John Sheppard.” Raising his hand as best he could with the restraints, Todd studied his feeder almost longingly at the memory. “Is the prospect of mine so sweet on your tongue that you would rather talk about it than carry out your petty threats? Because I would rather you kill me now than face the demise to which you are condemning me. You owe me that much, at least.”
“If you die slow and painful, then maybe you get to see what it’s like for all those you’ve fed on in the past, at least the painful part.” John forced his hand to stay away from the phantom sting in his chest. “And I don’t owe you anything.”
“Not even the life of Dr. McKay and his sister?” Sheppard couldn’t control the way he blinked at the reminder of Rodney’s life and not John’s own, and when the Wraith saw it, he pressed on. “The last time I was in this condition, you were able to arrange a meal for me.”
Narrowing his eyes at what Todd was suggesting, Sheppard stood abruptly. “I didn’t arrange anything,” he insisted, although in his gut, John knew he had done everything except push Wallace into that cell at gunpoint and force the man to offer himself up. “And if I had, it sure the hell wasn’t for your wellbeing.”
“No, of course you didn’t.” Todd nodded with a satisfied smile to see that he’d struck a nerve. “It was fortunate that someone was… available to meet both our needs.”
Sheppard’s stomach flipped at the way Todd was staring at him with a knowing expression. “There’s no one available now,” John stressed again. “And why don’t you just go into hibernation? Your kind can survive for decades like that.”
“I cannot hibernate,” Todd growled, appearing agitated for the first time since Sheppard had walked into the room. Trying to stand then finding himself chained to the chair, he stayed in the seat but seemed even more disdainful of his predicament. “There are too many humans around. My body knows there is fresh food just outside that infernal door. I cannot rest when there are so many meals waiting for me just out of reach. My body knows it, just as well as yours does.”
John did his best to ignore the shiver that ran down his spine, just as he did his best to ignore the truth of what Todd was suggesting. “What do you mean, my body knows it?”
Taking a deep breath as if to calm himself, Todd explained somewhat reluctantly, “There is a bond, a mental connection, that is formed between those humans who are rewarded by the Wraith for their loyalty and those Wraith who bestow the gift of life upon their followers.”
“You’re saying that because you fed on me, we have a link?” John asked, his outrage growing.
“Normally, it is weak, barely noticeable on either end,” Todd went on to explain. “But in times of hunger the bond strengthens, drawing on those humans to provide nourishment… one way or another.”
John wasn’t sure if he found it more disturbing or comforting to think that Todd had influenced him to talk to Wallace that time. And he didn’t want to consider that he may have been cutting line in front of McKay to be Todd’s lunch if he hadn’t. It sure the hell had the alarm bells going off in his head for what it meant for him now, and the funky dreams were the least of his problems.
“That’s how you knew about the problems with the city’s power supply.”
“Among other things, yes,” Todd confessed.
Leaning forward onto the table, Sheppard growled, “Stay the fuck out of my head.”
“Believe me, Sheppard, if I had a choice in the matter, I would.” The Wraith gave a small shrug. “As it is, the only way you can guarantee that will happen is to find a way to feed me.”
“Or wait it out,” John countered. “I seriously doubt you’ll be too successful in getting me to bring you a meal if I’m on Earth and you’re stuck in an empty city without life support.” Straightening, Sheppard turned for the door, intent on getting as far away from the Wraith as possible. “Consider that the next time you decide to go crawling around in my subconscious.”
Evidently Todd thought he still had a card up his sleeve because he called after Sheppard. “Have you not considered what is happening back in Pegasus? What is happening to my alliance of Hives without me or their Queen present to oversee them?”
Sheppard knew the Queen in question was actually Teyla, and Todd was the one really calling the shots with his alliance. Pausing at the door long enough to respond, John told him honestly, “You losing political power is the least of my problems right now.”
“For now, perhaps. But when you do eventually return, it will have grown into a much larger concern. The Wraith, as a species, crave a Queen. If one is not there, the Hives will seek out a new one.”
John tried to shrug off the implications. “Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to deal with a Wraith Queen.”
“It will be the first time you must contend with a Queen who has the knowledge I have gathered on Atlantis.” Todd’s lips curled as he threatened, “One who has my information on integrating a ZPM with Wraith technology.”
“That would be a lot more of a concern if they had a ZPM,” Sheppard admitted, although any Wraith with that information, even Todd, was unnerving. “But seeing as we took the last ones you had, it doesn’t seem that big of a threat.”
“Who said those you took were the last?” Todd actually had the nerve to attempt to look innocent.
“You have another ZPM?” John snorted in disbelief at the prospect.
With a satisfied smile, Todd told him, “The bond works both ways, Sheppard. You know I’m telling the truth.”
And the truth was, the son of bitch was right.
* * * *
The funny thing about Richard Woolsey was that no matter what was happening, what disaster was about to befall the city, or what time of night you woke him, the man always looked good. Sheppard had decided that was pretty damn impressive for a short, balding guy with glasses. Even sitting in his quarters wearing p.j.’s and a bathrobe, the man looked like he was pulled together enough to walk into an audience with the president. Hell, John was starting to wonder if he starched and ironed his pajamas because the man’s poise could give Ward Cleaver a run for his money in the prim and proper department, straight down to his leather house shoes.
“You honestly believe Todd has another ZPM?”
Sheppard couldn’t blame Woolsey for being a little skeptical… hell, a lot skeptical, at the Wraith’s claim. To be honest, if the situation were reversed, he wouldn’t believe it either. Honestly, his own brain was telling him Todd was lying, but his instinct was screaming this was their only shot.
“When have we ever been able to believe anything he’s told us?” Sheppard countered. “But he keeps coming through for us each time we take a chance.”
Sheppard knew he should tell Woolsey about the link, because maybe that would convince the man to trust what Todd said was true. But John also knew that if he did, he’d be grounded from the mission. And there was no way in hell he was letting his team, or anyone else for that matter, go back to Pegasus with Todd without him. That was if he could even convince the expedition leader to let anyone go at all.
“And we keep getting bit in the ass each time, too,” Rodney scoffed.
John frowned at the comment. “I know it’s a long shot, but when have we ever let that stop us?”
“Maybe it’s time we did, Colonel,” Woolsey countered.
“Look,” Sheppard sighed in frustration. “We’re running out of options. Rodney even said it himself; he doesn’t know what to do to keep the city alive for much longer.”
McKay didn’t look the least bit happy to have his failures highlighted. “That doesn’t mean we have to take on every half-assed scheme Todd suggests.”
Sheppard crossed his arms to mirror Rodney. “Then you tell me what we should do, because Todd’s half-assed scheme seems to be the only viable option we have right now.”
“Maybe we should consider the fact that ‘Todd’ and ‘ass’ keep coming up multiple times in the same conversation,” McKay countered.
“Gentlemen, please,” Woolsey interrupted with a raised hand. “Regardless of whether or not Todd’s suggestion that we return to Pegasus has merit, we are still faced with the fact that we are weeks away from the supposed location, even if the Daedalus or one of the other ships were capable of making the trip. As it is, we’re lucky the Daedalus will be able to make the relatively short trip here to evacuate the city in a few days. It could be months before we can attempt a return trip back to Pegasus.”
“Rodney can get us there,” John insisted confidently.
McKay’s eyes widened in something between surprise and outrage. “Thanks so much for the vote of confidence, Sheppard, but I hate to inform you that you’re sadly mistaken this time.”
“You could modify one of the Jumpers to use the wormhole drive and move us just like Zelenka did with the city when they brought her to Earth,” Sheppard suggested.
He’d actually been wondering if that was feasible or not since he’d learned how Atlantis had arrived so quickly, but had never brought it up with Rodney until now because it didn’t seem like anything they’d really need.
“Technically,” McKay corrected, “it was my work that Radek simply completed the necessary calculations for the connections.”
John waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah, your concept, Radek’s execution. We get it.”
“That’s like giving the cable guy credit for conceiving and developing the entire theory of a digital feed simply because he flips a switch,” Rodney argued.
Sheppard was reaching the end of his rope with McKay. “Fine, fine, you’re the bigger genius. We all boggle at your abilities, which is just one more reason why you should be able to convert one of the Jumpers easily enough.”
John grinned smugly at the way he had outsmarted Rodney. Because if there was anything McKay couldn’t resist, it was living up to the potential genius others saw in him. That was obvious in the way the scientist opened his mouth to protest, then closed it as the gears started turning and Rodney realized he could convert the Jumper to do what they needed for the trip to Pegasus.
Woolsey, however, wasn’t as adept at reading Rodney as Sheppard was. “Dr. McKay, is the adaptation of the wormhole drive to a Jumper something you could accomplish relatively quickly?”
“I could have it up and running by tomorrow,” McKay informed him, raising a finger of warning when Sheppard’s grin grew. “But, I’ll have to take one of the ZedPMs offline to use and will probably drain it completely on just the trip there. Not only does that mean we lose power to the city faster, but if Todd’s lying, this could be a one way trip for those who go back to Pegasus.”
John had already factored that possibility into the equation. “We can stay with the Athosians until the Daedalus can pick us up if it comes to that.”
“Great, trees as toilets for months unending,” Rodney griped. “I can’t wait.”
“We’ll recover the ZPM,” Sheppard insisted adamantly. “Besides, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
Rodney rolled his eyes heavenward. “Right. And I suppose you plan to take Radek onto Todd’s Wraith base with you? You’ll have to stock up on adult diapers to keep him from peeing himself in fear, not to mention you’ll have to revive him from his faint every time you need his comparably limited expertise.”
“Dr. Zelenka did manage to get Atlantis to the Milky Way almost instantaneously and in one piece,” Woolsey reminded.
“Yes, using my research and technological advancements,” McKay reiterated.
“Rodney’s right,” Sheppard cut in. “He’s the best man for the job.”
“Obviously,” Rodney snorted. “That is if you have any chance at success.”
Not that his statement was a lie by any means, but John had ulterior motives in stroking McKay’s ego. For one, it automatically ensured Rodney would insist on going with him and that was a de facto inference that McKay had now defaulted to John’s side of the argument, so that they were two against one. Second, Sheppard could trust McKay with his life, with all of their lives, and that was something he needed even more now thanks to Todd’s revelation about their link.
With Rodney on board, it was just a matter of convincing Woolsey and the best way to do that was to push ahead as if the man had already green-lighted the mission. “We’ll take a small group, just my team and Todd. That way, if we don’t find the ZPM, there will only be a few of us stuck until our ride shows up.”
Of course, the best laid plans didn’t always go as planned. With a raised hand and minute shake of his head, Woolsey put a halt to John’s preparations. “Hold on, Colonel. Just because we can, in theory, get to Pegasus, doesn’t mean we should.”
“Theory is really much too conservative a term,” Rodney argued. “It’s like ‘theory of evolution’ theory.”
“Regardless of how sure you are of your abilities, Doctor, taking one of the ZPMs out of service at this point is not something that should or will be taken lightly.” Woolsey straightened his back even more, if that was possible. “I’ll have to run this by Stargate Command and, I’m sure, the IOA.”
“We’ll lose ten, fifteen percent of the remaining power by removing the ZedPM from the mix,” McKay reported. “Tops.”
John jumped in then. “That will leave you more than enough power for us to get back with the ZPM, or worst case, the Daedalus to reach you in two days time.”
“I’ll wait to see Dr. McKay’s report on the impact of losing the ZPM,” Woolsey told them, in effect giving an assignment to Rodney and attempting to curb Sheppard’s persistence. It, of course, didn’t work.
“This could be our only hope of saving Atlantis,” John pleaded.
“I am more than aware of our situation,” Woolsey assured before softening slightly. “And I don’t want to lose this city any more than either of you do. If Dr. McKay’s impact analysis shows that the loss won’t be too detrimental to the city’s ability to function for a few days, I’ll recommend we go with your plan.”
Sheppard exhaled in relief. “Thank you, sir.”
“I just wish your confidence in my abilities to persuade the SGC and IOA were founded in some basis of fact, Colonel. I’ll do the best I can to convince them this is the best course of action.” Woolsey stood and spread his arms. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to make and it would be best if I were dressed a little more… appropriately when I went to the control room.”
Rodney and John let themselves out, and Sheppard was already thinking ahead as they walked briskly down the hall.
“So, how long do you think it will take you to modify the Jumper?”
started ticking items off on his fingers. “Well, first thing we’ll need to do
is reroute some of the city systems to take into account the loss of the ZedPM.
After that, I’ll need to convert the Jumper’s auxiliary−”
John cut Rodney off before he could go any further. “Skip the details. How long?”
McKay seemed to be doing some crude calculations in his head. “Twelve… fourteen hours… maybe. It all depends on how easily I can−”
John shook his head stubbornly. “Seriously, McKay, no details. At all. About anything… the Jumper modification, the city, anything.”
Rodney stopped in his tracks and narrowed his eyes at the request. “What’s up with you?”
John had known that, eventually, he’d have to let McKay, at the very least, in on what Todd had told him. Rodney had a tendency to keep Sheppard up to date on everything he was doing. Part of it had to do with John being a senior member of the Atlantis staff. Part of it had to do with the fact Sheppard hung around him when he was arguing with Zelenka and pointing out what the other scientists were doing wrong. And part of it had to do with Sheppard being McKay’s sounding board and shoulder to bitch on at the end of a long day.
With a grimace, John finally confessed, “Todd told me something.”
“Okay, that’s obtuse enough to be absolutely no use to me whatsoever.”
“Something about me and him.”
Rodney frowned. “Unless it involves him asking you to the senior prom, I’m going to need more information than that.”
Sheppard scratched at the back of his neck in discomfort. “We have a link. A mental connection that evidently formed when he fed on me and restored my life that time, and apparently, it grows stronger the hungrier he gets. It’s a survival thing with the Wraith so that their worshippers will make sure they have something to eat.”
McKay’s worried expression turned to one of disbelief. “That’s absurd! I mean he was near death when we had him imprisoned before and you never did anything….” Realization dawned on Rodney as he remembered how John had saved Jeannie’s life. How he had saved McKay’s life. “Oh.”
“Yeah, oh,” Sheppard mumbled before continuing. “So, the way I figure it, the less I know about any weaknesses we may have, the less Todd knows.”
“Okay.” Rodney nodded his head with a little reluctance. “Are you, you know, sure it’s a good idea that you even go on this mission if we get the go ahead?”
“I can handle this… him,” Sheppard stated definitively. “Besides, the link goes both ways. If he’s lying or planning something, I’ll know it.”
“And he really has another ZedPM?” McKay’s tone was almost childlike in its hope and fear, not to mention exhaustion.
“He really has one,” John promised.
“What if he’s faking?” Rodney suggested. “You know, making you think that he’s telling the truth when he’s really just using you.”
John did his best to sound confident in his denial. “He’s not.”
He just hoped like hell he was right about this.
* * * *
Sheppard intercepted Lorne and his men who were escorting Todd before they reached the Jumper bay. “I’ll take it from here, Major.”
“Are you sure, Sir?” Lorne asked in surprise.
“I have to keep an eye on him once we’re in Pegasus, no reason I shouldn’t start here.” Sheppard hefted the Wraith stunner he held before patting his P90. “Besides, if this doesn’t stop him, this will.”
“Okay, Colonel,” Lorne relented as he handed over the keys to manacles securing the Wraith, “if you say so.”
John took Todd by the arm, the Wraith’s chains rattling as they started down the hall. “So, you have finally seen reason, Sheppard.”
With a snort, John told him, “I don’t think anyone could call this plan reasonable.”
Todd could do little more than shuffle along with the bindings around his ankles, but it did little to squelch his arrogance. “I suppose that is a matter of perspective.”
Sheppard gave his prisoner a yank as they rounded the corner and the door to the Jumper bay came into view. “Look, let’s make sure your perspective is perfectly clear. The only reason I’m doing this is to get you out of my goddamn head. Got it?”
Todd actually grinned. “Our perspectives are not as far apart as you may seem to think.”
With a less than gentle shove, John pushed Todd through the door and toward the waiting Jumper. The sooner he got this over with, the better. The sooner he could be done with this son of a bitch and him rooting around in Sheppard’s subconscious, the sooner it would all end. And John really wanted it to end. He really wanted all of it to end. He just hadn’t realized how much he wanted it until now.
Stopping outside the Jumper’s closed hatch, Sheppard pulled the keys from his pocket and unlocked the metal cuffs on Todd’s wrist before kneeling to unfasten the chains around his ankles. John flinched the slightest bit when a hand landed on his head. Normally, the thought of a Wraith hand anywhere near him would have him backpedaling out of reach, but the touch was gentle, almost fatherly.
“You have my thanks for this, John Sheppard.”
John didn’t look up, didn’t move, didn’t do anything but concentrate on finishing the task at hand, because it was almost over and that was all that mattered. When the binding fell free, John told the Wraith hoarsely, “Don’t you dare thank me. Not for this.”
Because thanks should only come for something you were proud of, for something that you could hold your head up about. Even after he stood again, John couldn’t bring himself to raise his head. Instead, he palmed the Jumper hatch open to reveal the rest of his team waiting inside. Teyla was lying across the DHD, long brown hair draped softly across her face. Rodney was slumped boneless in his seat behind the pilot’s seat, his electronic pad dropped from limp hands to land on the floor a few inches from Ronon’s prone body. Ronon had almost managed to get off a shot with his gun before John hit him with the Wraith stunner− stunned him like he had stunned the others in preparation for Todd’s arrival.
Stepping inside the Jumper, John turned his back on his handiwork and waited for Todd to join him inside the craft.
The Wraith smiled benevolently at the feast laid out before him. “You have done well, Sheppard.”
John didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, could only wait until Todd had stepped past him inside the Jumper before he pushed the button from inside and the hatch closed with an echoing thud.
The sound had Sheppard’s eyes snapping open in alarm. He was still inside the Jumper, only now he was sitting in the pilot seat looking out into the darkened Jumper bay. Teyla wasn’t unconscious on the DHD. In fact, she was nowhere to be seen, none of his team were. Instead of Todd’s smug voice, he heard an apologetic one thick with a Czech accent.
“Forgive me, Colonel, I did not mean to wake you.”
John looked back to see Radek trying to right the mechanism that would house the ZPM as part of the wormhole drive. A task that seemed to be all the more difficult given the large winter coat and gloves Zelenka was wearing.
“For something so heavy,” the small scientist grunted as he lifted, “it is precariously off balance. Although, I must admit, it was never meant to be freestanding.”
Standing and shaking off the dream, Sheppard helped return the drive to its upright position. “Maybe we should bolt it down.”
“Yes, that is to be the plan eventually,” Zelenka agreed. “For now, I am simply attempting to marry up the controls with those of the Jumper.”
“McKay says that shouldn’t be much different than the way it was connected into the city,” John pointed out as he held the drive in place to make sure it didn’t topple over again.
“Yes, well, there it was tied into the stardrive and the gate itself in order to create the wormhole. Here, in the Jumper, we will be using the ship’s DHD to dial the gate. Therefore, we must feed the power from the drive through the DHD to the gate to form the wormhole you will need to take you to the Pegasus galaxy, so the interface is not exactly the same. On top of that, because of the damages we sustained from the satellite, we must actually power the gate through the ZPM here in the Jumper.”
“Right.” John nodded and tried to pretend that he was following what Zelenka was doing, although he had intentionally done his best not to listen to what he was being told. No need giving any information to Todd, no matter how obscure.
Radek, good man that he was, tried to dumb it down for Sheppard. “Think of it like accelerating a car with the ignition switch instead of the gas pedal.”
John raised eyebrows in surprise. “Can you do that?”
“In theory, yes.”
Sheppard tilted his head and parroted Rodney from earlier. “Like ‘theory of evolution’ theory?”
With a sigh, Radek pushed up on his glasses. “Like ‘theory of Rodney McKay’ theory.”
“So, in other words, it will either work like a charm or blow us into tiny particles of cosmic dust,” John noted with a grimace.
“That is the sum of the matter, yes,” Zelenka confirmed. “Although, it did work to bring Atlantis to Milky Way.”
John gave the drive he was supporting a gentle pat. “Well, at least it’s batting a thousand so far.”
Radek shrugged. “My statistics professor always said that you cannot trend a single point of data.”
“Seeing as I’m going to be the one piloting this baby when we turn on the drive, what do you say we keep thinking positive?”
“Of course, Colonel,” Radek agreed, turning back to his work. When he noticed Sheppard was staring at his boots, the scientist offered, “It will be a few more hours still before I am ready for you to test any of the systems. If you would like to return to your quarters and get some more sleep…”
“Are you sure?” Not that John wanted to return to bed, but he really didn’t want to see how the modifications would be accomplished if he could help it.
“I will be fine. Besides, Rodney will be returning to help soon,” Radek lamented remorsefully at the idea. “But all good things must come to an end, I suppose.”
Carson had finally come in and laid down the law with McKay and personally walked the stubborn scientist back to his quarters and posted an armed guard outside for four hours mandatory sleep. It was that or give Rodney amphetamines to keep him awake.
When Sheppard seemed to be hesitating, Radek continued. “Believe me, if I had a choice between being here or in nice warm bed, I would be in bed.”
“All right,” John relented. “I actually would like to check in with Woolsey to see if he’s heard back from the SGC. If you need me, I’ll have my radio.”
John headed out of the Jumper bay and ran almost headlong into Teyla. “Whoa!” he exclaimed, pulling up short.
Teyla seemed almost as surprised as Sheppard was. “John, I was just coming to find you to discuss the mission.”
“I was actually going to come see you here in a little bit about the same thing.” Shifting his weight, John told her, “Look, I know, typically when we go on a mission Torren stays with Kanaan, and since he was offworld on New Athos when we got the call from the SGC for help, he’s not here to do that now.”
Teyla nodded. “That is exactly what I wished to discuss with you.”
“So, if you want to stay here with the kid, I understand completely.”
“I have already made arrangements for Torren’s care in my absence,” Teyla admitted. “And Mr. Woolsey has assured me that if something happens during this mission and I do not return, he will make sure my son is returned to his father and our people.”
“Seriously?” John asked in surprise at the news.
Teyla’s face clouded in worry. “Why? Do you not believe Mr. Woolsey is a man of his word?”
“No, no,” John assured her. “I’m sure he’d find a way to get Torren back to New Athos. And Colonel Carter’s going to be taking command of the General Hammond soon, so I’m sure she’d volunteer if it came to that.”
“Then I am confused by your reaction,” Teyla confessed.
“I’m just surprised you’d be willing to leave Torren is all.”
“I did not come to Earth’s defense simply because you and Rodney are members of my team, John,” Teyla explained. “There are many others in Atlantis that I have come to care for and trust. I know that I am leaving my son in caring and capable hands.”
Teyla’s tone wasn’t exactly chastising, but she definitely made her point, and Sheppard felt a little foolish having been concerned when she wasn’t. “Okay, then what did you want to talk about?”
“In actuality, it does concern Torren,” Teyla admitted. “While I do not regret the decision I made to stay on Atlantis and understand the need for urgency in our departure from the Pegasus Galaxy, I do regret that we did not have time to await Kanaan’s return. Athosian children often grow up without both parents, as I did. It is a way of life when living under the constant threat of the Wraith. However, that is not the reason Kanaan is not with us at the moment. And since we will be within range of a gate that can take us to New Athos…”
“You want to stop and pick up Kanaan to bring him back with us,” Sheppard finished for her.
“I know that is not the primary directive of this mission, but if we could simply find a gate, it would only take a small amount of time…”
Sheppard knew what this must mean to Teyla, he knew she had even asked to return to New Athos as soon as one of the Earth ships capable of intergalactic travel was repaired and able to make the trip. Even though she had resided in Atlantis for as long as John had, even though she had made friends among the expedition and now considered the city home, the Athosians were still very much a part of her. They were family. That family had grown to include many people she had met since the expedition had arrived in Pegasus five years before, but the Athosians were her core, they defined whom she was, and she would never abandon that part of herself if she had a choice.
John cut her off with a raised hand. “Teyla, I know how much you want to reunite your family, and if it were up to me, we would do it in a heartbeat. But I honestly don’t know the limitations of the wormhole drive or what we’re going to be stepping into once we get back to Todd’s base.”
“I understand that there are many unknowns associated with what we are about to undertake, all I ask is that if the opportunity presents itself, and we have a chance to travel to New Athos, we take it.”
As much as John hated the idea of his team being split up again, he didn’t blame Teyla for wanting to return to her people. She had almost lost them to Michael before, and John could only imagine that wound was still raw enough that the ache of being separated from the Athosians, and Kanaan specifically, was enough to have her making the request she was now.
“If we can get to New Athos, we will,” John promised.
Teyla exhaled in relief. “Thank you.”
“And if this doesn’t work, we may be asking the Athosians for a place to bunk for a couple of months,” Sheppard admitted wryly.
Teyla gave him a small smile. “You will all be most welcome.”
Starting down the hall again toward the control room, John called back over his shoulder, “I’ll want a good tent. One that doesn’t leak when it rains.”
“Our dwellings do not leak,” Teyla defended good-naturedly.
“Then make sure it’s across the settlement from McKay,” Sheppard ordered. “Those thin walls won’t block out his snoring.”
“I will do my best.” Although, by the way Teyla rolled her eyes as John rounded the corner, he wasn’t convinced she’d live up to that obligation.
The fact was, it was kind of comforting to know that if they needed help in Pegasus, it would be there, and not just from the Athosians. Sometimes it was hard to remember that in the midst of all the chaos and destruction and enemies they’d made, the Atlantis expedition had also made some allies who would be willing to lend a hand if needed. The new coalition of worlds who were standing up to the Wraith were among those they could count as friends. Sure, they’d gotten off to a shaky start with the whole trial, but Woolsey had come through in the end, and had them concluding that Atlantis was much better as an ally than a foe.
As John climbed the stairs to the control room, he met Woolsey dressed in a warm coat, gloves, and ear muffs. “Ah, Colonel, I was just about to call you. I’m due to check in with the SGC and see what they’ve decided in regards to your plan.”
Once Sheppard was at the top of the stairs, Woolsey called through the long range communication system. “Daedalus, this is Atlantis, we’re ready to contact the SGC.”
“Standby, Atlantis,” Caldwell answered, then a few second later, “Go ahead, Colonel Carter, we’ve established the link.”
“Mr. Woolsey,” Sam Carter’s voice spoke through the speaker. “How are you guys holding up?”
“It’s getting a little chilly,” Woolsey reported. “But otherwise we’re holding our own.”
“Don’t worry; we’ll have the Daedalus nice and warm when we pick you up,” Caldwell assured.
Woolsey grimaced slightly. “No offense, Colonel, but as nice as being warm will be, I’d prefer if it didn’t have to come to that.”
“No offense taken,” Caldwell told him. “In fact, I’d prefer it if we were able to go to Pegasus and check out Todd’s claims for you.”
Sheppard stepped in at that point. “Yeah, well, seeing as you can’t, has the IOA reached a decision?”
“They’ve left the final decision up to me,” Carter informed them. “I’m to decide based on the technical merits of Rodney’s plan to modify the Jumper.”
“And?” John asked impatiently.
“Well, the science seems to check out to get you there, but even Rodney admits this may only be a one way trip if you don’t find a new ZPM,” Sam admitted.
“Then we’ll wait with the Athosians for a ride to show up,” Sheppard said dismissively.
Sam, however, didn’t seem completely satisfied with that answer. “John, I have to ask you, do you really think Todd has another ZPM?”
Sheppard’s unwavering response had Carter hesitating on the other end and John could just picture the colonel exchanging a questioning glance with Walter in the SGC control room.
“Look,” John went on, “I can’t say that I’m one hundred percent sure, but at this point we don’t really have a lot of options. And it’s a risk all of us on the team are willing to take to save the city.”
There was another moment of silence before Colonel Carter finally said, “All right, you have a go.”
Sheppard exhaled in relief. “Thank you, Colonel.”
“Just don’t make me regret my decision,” Sam cautioned. “If things don’t go as planned…”
John was well aware of the risks involved. “Yeah, yeah, I know. But when have we ever let that stop us before?”
“Good point,” Carter agreed. “When will you be ready to leave?”
“Zelenka and McKay are finishing up the modifications now,” John explained. “They think we’ll be ready to go in about four hours.”
“Then we’ll be standing by for your final progress report,” Carter told him before adding, “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Sheppard told her once again.
“Well, Colonel, it appears you have a go for your mission.” Woolsey straightened as he gave his decree, which only went so far in giving him an air of authority considering the fuzzy muffs over his ears.
With a sharp nod of acknowledgement, Sheppard turned to head back out of the control room. “Guess I better pass along the good news to my team.”
“Here’s hoping it ends up truly being good news.”
John knew there was a lot riding on this mission. He also knew it was all riding on his belief in what Todd was telling him. More than that, he knew Todd could be feeding him a line of bullshit, not only about the ZPM but the whole connection they had going both ways. Unfortunately, desperation time had set in, and when had John Sheppard ever turned down the chance at a Hail Mary play, especially when it involved the city?
“Here’s hoping,” John echoed, before continuing out of the room and in search of his team.