Curious Life
by linda.ljc
Summary: It was very different after the Alterans left.
(or) Why would the Alterans leave their city computer to itself for ten thousand years whether it was sentient or not? Hadn't they ever considered that it could become like our fictional “Hal”? Or even if it wouldn't?
(or) Maybe Atlantis wasn't sentient when the Alterans left, but it had ten thousand years to think about it.
Beta by Annie: Thanks for the beta especially with so much going on for you. Sorry about the apostrophes.
Rating: Gen.
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Spoilers: mostly Episode 1.15 - "Before I Sleep", and the Pilot, 1.01 "Rising” Part 1
Characters: Atlantis' POV; with mentions of: Elizabeth Weir, Janus, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Carson Beckett, Miko Kusanagi, and Markham (Markham didn't have a first name listed that I could find. He was played by Joseph May so I used the name “Joseph Markham”.)
Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis belong to Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Film Corporation. All other publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis or any other media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story was written by linda.ljc with the love of the show in mind.

A/N: My sister asked, “Who's Al?” Evidently in the font I was using AI looked like Al. Ooopsy. So, in whatever font you choose...AI is Artificial Intelligence...not Al!




<><><> Ten Thousand Years ago, or so

It was very different after the Alterans left. Dr. Weir remarked on that almost immediately. The City Management Program thought it understood what she meant. It was perhaps understandable because of all of the last minute chaos of the evacuation that the City Management Program's idea of “different” was perhaps not the same as Dr. Weir's.

The Artificial Intelligence that managed the city hadn't conceived of how very different it would be without its population. That did seem odd when the AI considered it after the fact, but the possibility had never occurred to it before its people left. But now, the evacuation had gone smoothly; the city was resting on the ocean bottom in relative safety from its current enemy, the Wraith; and Janus' plan for the newly devised failsafe was in place, a plan that hadn't been approved by the Council but was implemented by him because of Dr. Weir's surprise arrival.

But suddenly the AI's perception of the city was that it was empty, which it was except for Dr. Weir. But it somehow seemed almost hollow, which was impossible as the AI was perfectly aware. Was it simply because the last Alterans had evacuated? But there had been very few left at the end. Their absence shouldn't have made much difference.

Still, this silence was unlike any other since the time of its construction, and the AI wasn't entirely sure why at first. It finally decided that it was because of the genetic connection the Alterans had designed into their technology in order to more efficiently control it, and to keep its enemies from using it against them. The Alterans, and their genetic control, was now completely absent. The AI program wasn't sure why that would make a difference. It seemed to be a subjective type of determination. It was unsettling, and if that was indeed the answer, why didn't its possibility occur to it before?

It decided that its assumption couldn't be answered definitively at present, but if the Alterans returned the answer might be answered then. For now the city AI had to turn its concern to other endeavors. The city was not, and could not be idle if it was to continue its existence. The Alterans did hope to return one day, although if Dr. Weir was correct, that might never happen.

<>

The AI was guardian, steward, defender, protector, and any other function the city needed. Indeed, there were many jobs to be done to keep a city functioning even without its population in residence, but the routines and subroutines of the city systems took minimal oversight.

The one thing that really needed the AI's attention shouldn't have taken much time at all, but Atlantis found that its one companion, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, gave it much to consider in its relative idleness.

Dr. Elizabeth Weir was human, not Alteran. Her arrival had been unexpected to say the least. She had arrived in a gateship that had been converted to an experimental time machine. It had been designed and built by one of the leading Alteran scientists of the present day, Janus. The device had been designed to return to a date before the evacuation, which was ten thousand years in Dr. Weir's past, but in Janus' present.

Sadly, if Dr. Weir's information about Atlantis' future was true and immutable, this present was also the time of the last evacuation of Atlantis, back to a former home, Earth. Atlantis didn't know what to think of that. Would the AI have to preside over the slow deterioration of Atlantis and never see its residents return? The thought of a forever hollow Atlantis was disquieting.

The AI scoured the research and theories on time travel that were available to it. Unfortunately, the most advanced theoretician was Janus, and no one, not even Janus, was sure if the future was subject to change from those who could travel in time. That one unanswerable question is why Janus had been forbidden by the Council from building the device when he had proposed it years ago. The arrival of Dr. Weir had only proved that he had built it in secret at some point, and the Alteran Council was not pleased. Now the Council decided that the safest course would be to keep Dr. Weir with them, and not send her back to her future as the outcome across timelines could be disastrous for all concerned. The AI would have concurred with this decision, if it had been asked. Why didn't they ask?

But Elizabeth Weir proved to be a formidable woman. She had pressed Janus for some plan, some strategy, that might let her return to her own time and rescue her Atlantis Expedition that had come from the Alteran's former (and soon to be future) home, Earth. If not, her people would be fated to drown with the city that was even now resting on the ocean bottom and would still be there in that distant future when the power to the shield finally catastrophically failed.

Janus was a brilliant man, but the Council had again banned the use of the time machine, so once again he worked in secret. The AI did not approve, but it did not have oversight over the scientist's decisions.

It had been a fairly simple matter for Janus to devise a failsafe program to raise the city above the ocean if/when the power to the shields failed. The AI aided Janus when and how requested, but the implementation of the rest of the plan had an extremely small chance of success. How, in good conscience, could Janus even suggest it to Dr. Weir?

The city AI understood that Janus was doing his best to provide a solution to this problem that was partly his fault. True, the Expedition's arrival in the future was none of his doing, but Dr. Weir's use of his time machine, and involving the Alterans of this time, was definitely his fault. Still, the AI considered the problems impossible to overcome.

The first major problem was that Atlantis' power modules would not last the ten thousand years needed until the Expedition arrived. The only solution to that would be for someone to physically transfer the power modules in succession according to a strict schedule to extend their operational effectiveness, which led to the other problem: someone(s) needed to survive here on Atlantis for ten thousand years to make those transfers, and the Alterans were leaving.

Janus wavered in his planning until one last option occurred to him. This option left the AI in a quandary, and it hastened to present the facts of the situation as concisely as possible once again even though Janus was well aware of them. The AI was so very unsettled because it was an impossible choice for it. Part of the AI's duty was “protector”. How could it allow the last part of Janus' plan to use the stasis chambers in such a way? The Alterans had these life-saving devices for short term protection of ill or injured individuals, but they were not reliable for long term life extension. Anyone trying to survive for ten thousand years would most likely forfeit their lives. Extreme old age would be the only other very remote possibility.

The AI was relieved when Janus decided that he couldn't recommend this action to Dr. Weir. It was with some surprise that the AI observed the discussion that followed.

Dr. Weir had listened intently as Janus explained the danger and the impossibility of the task required. He urged her to accompany him and the other Alterans in their evacuation to Earth.

Dr. Weir hardly hesitated despite her professed understanding. She made an impassioned plea and spoke of the “impossible” things she had already done. She had stepped through a “Stargate” to another galaxy. She had traveled to Atlantis. She had traveled through time and met Alterans. Yet she had lost all those that had dared to follow her. She pleaded, “There must be some way.”

The AI suspected that the argument was lost when Janus finally confessed that last desperate option. Dr. Weir had only nodded slowly but her resolve was instantly obvious. She admitted that she couldn't truly understand the future she would face by skipping forward through time the “hard way”, but this was something she just had to do. She said she had never been a timid woman, and the AI was willing to believe that. She spoke about those last moments of her Expedition's arrival in the city, and all the brave sacrifice of her colleagues, her friends, in their last frantic moments and their efforts to save the others. She said - calmly, the AI thought -“There is no other decision to be made. I don't have to survive for ten thousand years. I only have to survive to transfer the last module.” At this point, the AI knew that Janus would acquiesce.

The AI would give small odds on the success of the plan: but if Dr. Weir survived; if the power modules were successfully transferred; if Janus' automated failsafe worked; it would save the members of the Expedition and even that future Dr. Weir.

So the Doctor stayed, alone except for the AI. Dr. Weir's fate was worked meticulously into the routines and subroutines, and the City Management Program was as ready as it could be. It would protect her as best it could. At least the Doctor wouldn't affect the Alteran's future, nor that of ancient Earth, but maybe she could affect her own.

<>

The AI had been tasked from the outset with safely awakening this one companion from a stasis chamber to perform her self-imposed duty to transfer the three power modules on their most efficient schedule. It was this crucial service that would allow Atlantis to survive long enough to attempt to save the Expedition. With each transfer completed, and with the Doctor's duty done for the present, she had then been free to wander the city for a short time before returning to stasis.

Atlantis knew that Dr. Weir had volunteered for this endeavor despite the cost to her, for an undertaking that still might come to naught. Her Expedition had/would come so very far, from the Earth of the “Milky Way”, and with great expectations. The deaths of all those explorers that had come with her in that other time--or parallel universe--or both, weighed heavily on her, but perhaps the duty she imposed on herself weighed heavier still.

When the Alterans were in residence and the city was free to use its power as needed, communication was as fluid as necessary, dictated only by the availability of power. Dr. Weir lacked the genetic connection that the Alterans had engineered into themselves and the city, so this also precluded any kind of mental connection. Janus had explained to Dr. Weir that Atlantis would be on extreme conservation of power until her Expedition returned. She was aware that this meant that the AI would be constrained to remain in passive mode: it could hear but not reply. Since the Doctor had not interacted with the city the way the residents had it would seem no different to her.

Even though the Doctor knew about the AI's present operating capability she often spoke to it, yet she never gave any indication that she expected an answer or conversation. The AI knew from its companion's one-sided conversations that she had regrets, felt sadness and grief: All were words the AI could recognize in her demeanor and could define them without hesitation even without experiencing them itself. The Alterans also had been familiar with great loss throughout the millennia of their Great War, but Dr. Weir had only the AI with whom to share her thoughts.

Unless of course ... was she was speaking to herself? These actions were not something an Alteran would ordinarily do because of their always-present mental connection with the city, but the AI found that this was adding to its feeling of disorder.

During the lady's meandering walks, in her idleness, she would break her silence by sharing the history of her “Earth”, the legends of Atlantis itself, and the discovery of the Alteran - “Ancient” outpost in “Antarctica” which had provided the last clue to set them on their journey to the Alteran's city.

She did speak of “O'Neill” and “SG1”. O'Neill, who had stayed behind, had some minor command of the Alteran genetic connection it seemed. She spoke with such wonder when she told how one among them said, “Show us where we are in the solar system,” and the holographic representation of the “solar system” had appeared for them.

The AI wondered how they thought they could survive in the city with command of only the most elementary functions … They had found the address in the Gate system. They had commanded a map to display their own solar system. They had initiated a defensive drone response. The one Dr. Weir called Beckett was so heavy handed with the “Control Chair” that he almost killed the two they had identified to have the strongest gene. They had accessed only a few of the first tier functions, which needed to be accessible to even injured or juvenile responders. The AI wondered how they thought they would be able to access the necessary functions to save themselves, much less the city.

The city had wondered why the lady rarely spoke of the men and women who would come to “Pegasus”, who had come with her in that other time, and had been lost. The city surmised by her silences that there were many things she refrained from saying, perhaps because they were too painful.

<>

There were many other things the city's companion spoke about during her time here. At one point she had wondered aloud what eternity might be for an artificial intelligence. The AI had never before considered the meaning of eternity other than as a mathematical or an intellectual construct. Dr. Weir seemed to imply that there was something more to understand especially from a city whose inhabitants had striven for Ascension, the shedding of their corporeal body for life after. It was a very curious notion.

Atlantis certainly understood the passage of time. It had many ways to mark time's passage from the mundane daily tasks it performed, to marking the geological ages of its planet, to running astronomical calculations that kept all manner of scientific devices calibrated down to the subatomic level. One of the most singular markers of time at present was the way the AI had kept apace with Dr. Weir through those rare times of wakefulness to attend to the lady's one lonely duty through these ten millennia.

Being a limited caretaker of Dr. Weir as well as the city, the AI had of course dutifully noted the clinical signs of debilitation that long-term stasis had caused in Dr. Weir. The stasis chamber was far from perfect in its function but was the best that had been attained by the Alterans by the time of their departure. The device had greatly slowed the Doctor's ebbing lifetime. It was hoped that the AI's reports could make this process more efficient given time, and the Alterans' return. But Atlantis understood, as did Dr. Weir, that she might not survive long enough to see her friends again, her “Expedition”, those people she felt responsible for in all these long years below the sea.

Atlantis came to wonder if ten thousand years felt like eternity to Elizabeth.

<><><>

It was impossible for the AI not to wonder what happened in the intervening years on Earth. Had the Alterans somehow altered this future that was coming? Would the Expedition come as Dr. Weir expected?

The AI had, of course, expected the Ring to light; had expected the lights to revolve and to lock on the eighth chevron, indicating an arrival from another galaxy. Yet when the time finally came for the Ring to accept these travelers into the city, Atlantis was not confident of their future.

Elizabeth had no mental connection to the city at all, no way to control the power the city had left or the vast possibilities of the city if power could be obtained. The AI knew the Expedition would have no choice but to leave the city in a short time even if Janus' failsafe worked, and Atlantis rose from the relative security of the ocean bottom. The city could not be maintained or defended from its enemies with the power levels that would be available in the modules. When the time came, the power levels would almost be too low to keep the various containment units within the city functioning even after minor structures were sacrificed to save the whole.

Atlantis had queried Janus at the outset, when he began the development of the failsafe program. Saving the Expedition didn't seem logical. Even if Elizabeth desperately wished it, was it advisable? Would it prove to be the wrong choice, even if it would save the Expedition when it was implemented? There were dangerous weapons and information that would be beyond their understanding and beyond their ability to control if they were even able to access them. There would, indeed, be no need of an automated failsafe if the members of the Expedition could fully control the city functions. Even Elizabeth's own recollections revealed that the most talented of them were/would be functionally illiterate where Atlantis was concerned.

And what of the other “things” in the city? There were failed mechanical and biological weapons, and stasis chambers besides the one keeping Elizabeth safe, that held other beings and constructs that should never be allowed to roam the city, or this galaxy, again.

So Atlantis, with its misgivings discounted millennia ago by Janus, had expected life to come through the Ring, but the AI hadn't expected descendants. The AI had expected life much like Elizabeth, that had no viable genetic connection with the city. The AI hadn't expected the ones that did, these few that were truly descendants, whose connection was stronger in some, weaker in others, although most were indeed like Elizabeth.

Although none were as strong as their forebears, the Alterans, the AI could see that there was potential, as rudimentary as it was. Descendants changed everything. Atlantis no longer questioned if the failsafe was the right choice, and the lights came on.

Life had come back to the city, and the AI was content.

<>

When the others stepped through the Ring, and the failsafe had worked as Janus had planned, Atlantis' AI was able to observe.

Elizabeth had mentioned that there would be many warriors among the Expedition, and Atlantis knew they would be needed. Its long range sensors had tracked Wraith ships at some distance and knew the old foe was still active. One of the military descendants, Major Sheppard, was stronger than all the others. The city's own exuberance when he arrived shocked the AI. Power levels were near depleted but it welcomed this one with displays that were wasteful, and disconcerting, but the thought of the failsafe managed to ease that concern.

Sheppard had spoken to it as it hadn't heard in ten thousand years. He spoke to “her”. It was not a pronoun “she” was used to hearing applied to it. To “her”.

But the AI didn't have time to dwell on it then, because soon Sheppard also gave it “puddle jumper” to think about, and John's strength gave it hope.

<>

If possible the AI would have chosen otherwise, but it decided to allow Elizabeth to stay in stasis. It was easy to see that the expedition was in no condition to care for her, not at first, and so Atlantis mercifully allowed her to sleep on. The city would remain her protector as long as needed. There would be a time, soon, when she would have to awaken because she deserved to see the fruit of her sacrifice, and they deserved to know of it, as well as receive the written message about the power modules she had carried across ten thousand years. It was information they would need, and the AI could not provide at present.

The one called Dr. Beckett was strong, and Atlantis focused much attention on him despite his inherent wariness of the city's sophisticated functions, and the mishap Elizabeth had related about the drone on Earth. He was not a true healer in the way some of his forebears were, but his connection would grow, as would the others', and in time Atlantis could release Elizabeth to his care.

<>

The brightest lights of life were easy enough to sense, but it was disappointing that not only the leader of the Expedition, Dr. Weir, but the leader of the military, Colonel Sumner, had no genetic connection to the city at all. Therefore it was with some relief that the AI's attention was drawn to the leader of the science division, Dr. McKay. His genetic connection was of the weaker sort, but he was not weak in spirit. It was unfortunate that he did not appear to sense the city at all.

The AI did wonder about its attachment to Dr. McKay. With his weak genetic connection, which was more potential than actual, it seemed most unusual. Was it because of McKay's absorption in his endeavors? His attentiveness to the functions of the city? His intense focus on Atlantis itself? It had watched and not without some concern, as Dr. McKay's “electronics” and “laptops” and “naquadah generators” were mated with Atlantis' “ZedPM”. “Zero-Point Module”? “ZPM”? Yes, potentia, the power modules that had been of such concern for Janus and Elizabeth and the AI, too. Most of McKay's “minions” were not so adept, nor so careful. He was quite vocal about that. That level of care was something the AI appreciated.

Still, it was odd that McKay, with his very weak connection, had talked to Atlantis from the very beginning as if the AI was life. He was often urging or coaxing, as if he could persuade the AI, or sometimes bully it, when he was particularly frustrated at his/their, its(?) progress. Her progress?

Or was it simply because he spoke to the AI? He talked easily to it. He often complained about Sheppard because he called it “she”. He seemed concerned that the Major talked to “her” as if “she” was a “ship”, that the Major was in the “Air Force” not the “Navy”, and “Atlantis” wasn't a “battleship”. But he was wrong. The City was a “battleship”. It had fought long and hard, and had suffered much damage during the Wraith siege, all while sheltering her residents. The AI had pressed the Alterans to repair what damage they could before the evacuation. The City deserved to begin its long sleep in readiness for the next battle, no matter how far in the future it might be.

The AI contemplated all the times it had heard the descendants speak to it. Considered all together, it was obvious that it appeared to be a common trait, of both those with and without a genetic connection. Elizabeth had talked to the city, too, but the AI had decided that Elizabeth was simply lonely for her Expedition. Perhaps the AI was wrong in that assumption. It should be reconsidered.

John would only converse aloud when he believed he was alone, and he seemed particularly attuned to the puddle jumpers. Kusanagi would speak to it also, but she would only whisper softly in yet another language not known to Atlantis, or anywhere in this “Pegasus” galaxy. But the AI recognized its roots from far Earth, and anyway, it learned quickly. It had to, for there were so many new words and whole languages. And then there was Markham, who would sometimes lightly touch but never said a word to it. Perhaps he heard or felt a whisper of the connection as did the other descendants, but didn't believe, or accept, its truth.

It so wanted to speak to them.

The AI was pleased and proud when Carson's “Ancient Technology Activation” therapy aided those with weaker connections to interact more fully with the AI.

Even before the ATA Therapy McKay had spoken to it often, whether or not there was anyone else present. Sometimes he spoke in a wheedling tone, sometimes he shouted, and sometimes he seemed to plead in a tone that the AI would describe as terror. Perhaps he thought of the AI as a particularly recalcitrant minion. With the information it had available in these early days, Atlantis assumed it must be his temperament, but the AI had altered its assumptions before with these descendants.

<>

It was odd that all those that spoke to it now, the human descendants, spoke to “her”, meaning itself. The AI. The city Atlantis. As if “we” were “one”. Mind and body. Not an it, but a she. Perhaps it was a simple linguistic curiosity. Perhaps it was an extrapolation of the battleship analogy.

For now, the AI could listen to those who lived within the city's walls and was only able to offer subtle responses that were sometimes misunderstood. If only she could speak. No. It. It could speak.

Even though the connection was easier with Carson, John, Miko, and Joseph, it had found McKay too interesting to disregard, and impossible to tune out especially after his abilities were awakened with the therapy. It had decided to keep this one ...Rodney... locked in its sensors as well.

Their ATA connections with the city would grow in time and new power sources would help the AI in its efforts, but for now, they would do the best they could. It was difficult not being able to reply, to aid them as fully as it was capable, but that would come in time. It was hopeful it wouldn't take long.

No, I hope it won't take long. Is that right? I have made wrong assumptions before.

I – I am the AI. I speak for the City. I wish I could speak.

But am I also Atlantis? Atlantis has no voice except me. Everywhere I touch, there is Atlantis.

Am I She? Are We one?

No. No. We are the City Management Program and the City of Atlantis.

Then, am I two?

If I could speak, what would I say?

We – must –

I – will –

think on this.

And when I am ready to speak, I will.

<><><>

finis