When two teenagers show up in the gateroom and make an astonishing
claim, John must risk everything to get them home, even if it means changing everything that he knows. Set in S5.
Categories: Fanfiction Characters:
Action & Adventure, Baby!fic, Future FicWarnings:
September 28, 2009 Updated:
July 20, 2015
1. Prologue by Erin87
2. Chapter 1: Shock and Awe by Erin87
3. Chapter 2: An Impossible Future by Erin87
4. Chapter 3: Aftershock by Erin87
Please review! It's much appreciated. :)
“Hey Sheppard, wait up.” John stopped walking and turned to see Ronon Dex jogging to catch up with him. When the Satedan drew level with his friend he nodded and they continued on down the hallway together. “You going for lunch?”
“Yeah,” replied John. “I think it’s some kind of macaroni thing today.”
“Is it anything like the pasta salad they had last week?”
“God, I hope not,” said Rodney fervently, exiting one of the labs just before the two of them passed by and jumping into the conversation. “Now I’m normally not that picky about what I eat, but that stuff was…” He shuddered and shook his head before fixing his attention on the data tablet in his hands, as he walked rapidly tapping away at some nearly incomprehensible readings on the minutia of Atlantis’s power consumption.
“Yeah, it was pretty bad,” agreed John.
“More like inedible,” commented Rodney, not looking up from his work.
“Hey,” said Ronon, “it still wasn’t as bad as that time with the roast…”
John groaned. “Can we please not talk about that? I’m about to eat here!”
Rodney finally looked up, a smile spreading across his face. “Oh yeah, I remember that! So many people got sick that Elizabeth had to make the kitchen staff swear never to make it again.”
John felt his face freeze at the mention of Elizabeth Weir, the only outward sign of the sharp stab of loss that ran through him each time he heard her name – each time he was forced into a reminder that she was no longer there. But he quickly schooled his face into a more normal expression, and the episode passed unnoticed by his teammates.
Rodney and Ronon continued to reminisce about disastrous menus of lunchtimes past, but John found he had a little difficulty investing in the conversation again. He remembered that incident with the kitchen staff too. As far as the science of cooking went, it had been a failed experiment of the worst kind; John had supposed that was what they got for assembling a team of the best and brightest minds in two galaxies – people who liked to serve prototypes for dinner instead of an actual meal. It had taken Elizabeth at least an hour and a half of constant negotiating to get the chefs to agree never to create the dish again, but by the end of that time she’d had them practically eating out of the palm of her hand. John smiled faintly at the memory: the head cook, who had put up a great deal of fuss in defense of his creation in the beginning, promising to burn the recipe and make her a dozen different desserts while he was at it as a penance, and Elizabeth, simply smiling with discreet satisfaction in her green eyes and thanking the man politely. She’d had that way with people.
The three men reached the cafeteria. The room was busy and bright. Midday sun poured through the large floor to ceiling stain-glass windows, and people were sitting at the tables talking with each other or chatting as they stood in line to get their food.
Rodney gave a small wave as he spotted Jennifer Keller across the room and smiled as he went to join her, leaving his friends without a word. “Yeah, bye to you too, Rodney,” John called after him. No answer. He and Ronon exchanged a look and moved over to the line.
John picked up a tray from the stack and reached for a bottle of water, but froze as the liquid started shaking inside the plastic. The tremor only lasted for a few seconds and then everything was still again. He wasn’t the only one who noticed. People had just begun to whisper fearfully about earthquakes when John’s radio crackled into life, Richard Woolsey’s voice issuing from the headset. “Colonel Sheppard, please report to the gate room immediately!”
He glanced at Ronon, who was watching him with a frown, and laid his tray back on top of the pile as he reached up to tap his earpiece. “On my way.” He turned and sprinted out of the cafeteria, Ronon on his heels.
When they reached the gate room it still wasn’t immediately clear what was going on. All John could see as he sprang up the steps onto the main floor were the backs of heavily armed Marines aiming guns at something. From beyond the line an unfamiliar male voice was speaking out. “…some kind of mistake!”
John stepped forward, Ronon following close behind him, and looked through the gap between two Marines to get his first glimpse of what was causing all the commotion. What he saw definitely wasn’t what he had been expecting. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, stood in the center of the ring of soldiers, their hands held in the air in surrender. They were both good looking kids, alike enough to be brother and sister, and there appeared to be a couple of years difference in their ages. But their attire was what struck him as most odd. They were both wearing uniforms similar in design to the expedition’s, but the colored panels were in the wrong places, almost like the person who had made them had heard a basic description of the uniforms but hadn’t bothered to get all the details right. And yet even stranger than their clothing was the fact that there was something inexplicably familiar about them that tugged at the back of John’s mind… something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Mr. Woolsey was standing inside the circle, facing their mysterious visitors with a stern look of command on his face. “A mistake, really? I would have thought that the mistake was yours, for intruding on…”
“We’re not intruders!” interrupted the boy angrily.
“Listen,” pleaded the girl, a dark curl of hair escaping her ponytail and falling around her face, “this is just a misunderstanding. Let us talk to our mom, please…”
Woolsey glared at them. “And just who is your mother? For that matter, who are you?”
In that moment John realized why she looked so familiar and a strange knotted feeling developed in the pit of his stomach. He knew what her answer to the first question would be before she even opened her mouth to speak. How…?
The girl gave a frustrated sigh, her green eyes scanning the crowd. “Look, this is ridiculous! You know us! You know our mom!” John tapped the Marine on the shoulder so he could get by him and question her himself. He had to know how this was possible. “Her name is Elizabeth…” The girl’s eyes landed on John as he stepped into the ring of guards and her face lit up with a relieved expression “Finally! Something weird is going on here. Dad, tell them who we are!”
Every head in the room snapped towards John in shock; Woolsey looked as if he were about to have a stroke. John’s head reeled and the knotted feeling in his stomach grew ten times worse. This had to be some kind of joke. Dad?
Chapter 1: Shock and Awe by Erin87
Sorry for the long long wait! Hope you enjoy and please please review! It's much appreciated. :)
- Shock and Awe
This wasn’t possible. John stared at the girl standing in front of him. “I’m sorry… What did you just call me?”
“Dad, come on, this isn’t funny,” said the boy seriously.
Another jolt to John’s nervous system. They both thought he was their father? So they didn’t just look like brother and sister, they actually were. “Look,” he said slowly, holding out a hand placatingly, “I don’t know who you are, but…”
Confusion entered the girl’s eyes. Before she had looked exasperated, but now… “Dad, stop it. You’re scaring me,” she said, and there was real fear in her voice. She may not have been his daughter, but John couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. Hell, she couldn’t be more than seventeen. “What’s going on?”
“That is precisely what I’d like to know!” demanded Woolsey, recovering finally from his shock at the girl’s claim of descent.
“Colonel Sheppard, what is the meaning of this?”
“What, you think I have something to do with it?” asked John in disbelief.
“These individuals are claiming to be your children, what else am I…”
“Hey,” interrupted Ronon, passing through the line of armed Marines to stand at John’s side. “Unless you want the whole city to know about this in the next five minutes, you might want to move this somewhere else.” He nodded behind him. There was already an audience gathering at the fringes of the gate room - who knew how much they had heard?
Out of the corner of his eye John saw the boy place a hand on his sister’s shoulder; he was watching him intently. “Emily…” he called softly. A name, finally! The girl looked up at her brother. “…look at him.” He nodded his head towards John and, after shooting the boy a questioning glance, she turned to look. For the first time John noticed the dirt that streaked their uniforms and faces and the way they both looked like they had just run a mile. After a moment her eyes widened in understanding, her lips parting slightly in surprise.
He didn’t know what was so astonishing about his appearance, but once again he was struck by the resemblance between the girl and the woman she had started to name as her mother. Elizabeth. The initial shock of the situation was beginning to fade, and it was only now that John realized exactly what the girl – Emily, he reminded himself – was implying about her parentage. He swallowed deeply, the fast becoming familiar knot in his stomach giving another sharp twist. According to her, he and Elizabeth… Oh, he didn’t like to think about what Woolsey was going to say once he noticed that little detail.
Woolsey nodded at Ronon in agreement. “You’re right. Sergeant, escort these two to a holding cell. We’ll continue this discussion downstairs.”
The two teenagers allowed themselves to be led away without resistance. As they were marched past John, Emily’s eyes finally left his face and she turned to her brother. John was just able to catch the awed whisper. “His hair... there’s no gray.”
On the way down to the holding cell, the group ran into a concerned looking Rodney McKay, who was hurrying towards the gate room.
“Hey, what’s going on?!” he demanded, falling into step next to John. “What happened with that tremor a minute ago? What was it? An earthquake?”
“Not exactly,” answered John flatly.
“Well what…” He finally looked around at the small party marching down the hallway and broke off mid-sentence. “Who are they?” He pointed at the pair of teenagers partially concealed in the midst of the Marine escort.
Woolsey looked at the scientist. “That, Dr. McKay, is exactly what I hope to find out. The tremor was caused by the gate, not an earthquake. There was an unscheduled off-world activation not fifteen minutes ago from somewhere in Pegasus; those children were what came through. And they’ve made some rather fantastic claims that I intend to get to the bottom of.”
Rodney frowned. “Oh? Like what?”
“They um…” John bit his lip and sighed. He was never going to hear the end of this, not with as many times as Rodney had called him a Kirk in the past. “They’re saying that I’m their father.”
“What? You’re kidding!” John gave him a look. Rodney cleared his throat and looked away. “Okaaay, not kidding then. Well, are we really surprised…?”
“McKay!” John growled.
Rodney ignored the warning in his friend’s voice and tried to peer over the shoulders of the Marines in front of them to get a better glimpse of the prisoners. “…it’s only to be expec… wait, they’re teenagers. And you said that they came from Pegasus. Then that’s…”
“Impossible. Yeah, I know.” John looked ahead at the swinging ponytail of dark curls just visible over Sergeant Matthew’s shoulder. ‘And you have no idea by just how much.’
The holding room was lit momentarily by a flash of blue light as the force field snapped into place around the wide horizontal bars of the cell, effectively sealing the ‘visitors’ inside. As John and the others fanned out along the side of the cell, the girl crossed her arms and glanced around her, sighing tiredly. “This isn’t necessary,” she said. “You don’t have to lock us up, we’re not a threat.” “You’ll allow me to be the judge of that,” said Woolsey.
The boy – John still didn’t know his name – stopped pacing back and forth and came to stand beside his sister, his hands in his pockets. John noticed how they had both been careful to stay away from the walls of the cell once it had activated, unlike most of the prisoners that had been kept there, all of whom had gotten a shock or two before learning not to touch. There was a familiarity in their attitude towards the technology surrounding them that John found almost unnerving. There had been no surprise, no awe or exclamations of wonder as they had been led through the city. Although he was reluctant to do it, John had to admit that they acted as if… well, as if they had lived in Atlantis all their lives. For a split second he found himself wondering whether they had the ATA gene or not, whether they had inherited it… He quickly stopped himself from following that train of thought any further. ‘What is the matter with you, John?! These cannot be your kids!’
“I remember you now,” said the boy slowly, drawing out the first two words as he looked at Woolsey appraisingly. “Richard Woolsey… you’re that guy from the IOA that used to give Mom so much trouble.” He raised an eyebrow at the man in front of him and John was suddenly aware that Emily wasn’t the only one to bear resemblance to Elizabeth. “What are you doing here?”
Woolsey stiffened at the incredulity in the boy’s tone. “From now on I will be the one asking questions here. Now, you have some explaining to do and I suggest you get started.”
The boy sighed, his eyes sliding to the floor before he exchanged a look with his sister. Then he took a deep breath and fixed his eyes, not on Woolsey, but on John. “My name is Connor Evan James Sheppard. I’m nineteen years old. This is my little sister Emily. We were both born here, on Atlantis. Our father is Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force, and our mother is Dr. Elizabeth Sheppard.”
“I’m not familiar with...” began Woolsey.
Still not taking his eyes off John, Connor - he finally had a name- smoothly interrupted him. “She was Elizabeth Weir before she married our dad.”
John heard Rodney beside him give a startled ‘What!?!’ and start choking and sputtering at that last sentence, but he didn’t take his eyes off of the young man in the cell, who was staring at him with serious green eyes. He bit at his lip and exhaled deeply through his nose at hearing what he had guessed all along finally laid out in front of him. He and Elizabeth. Married. That was... that was so…
Connor finally looked away from John and turned his gaze to Woolsey, his voice taking on a heavily sarcastic edge. “I also hate broccoli, got my tonsils out when I was twelve, and had a pet rabbit named Fluffy. Anything else you wanna know?”
Surprised, John quickly bit the side of his mouth to keep from smirking. He couldn’t help it. He was starting to like this kid. Connor saw the suppressed grin and the corner of the boy’s mouth lifted in a faint smile as he caught John’s eyes for a brief second. The sarcasm blew right by Woolsey. He was still stuck on the previous bit of information.
“What?” said Woolsey in bewilderment. “Did you say your mother was Dr. Elizabeth Weir? The former leader of this expedition?”
“Our mom is Elizabeth Weir,” spoke up Emily, an edge to her voice as she stressed the present tense. “And she’s not the former leader. She and Dad run the city together just like they have since they first came here from Earth. Or at least…” She shared a glance with her brother, brow becoming furrowed in confusion as she looked to him for confirmation. “… they will...”
John heard the unspoken ‘I think’ that came after her uncertain last statement. Then for the second time in less than an hour he found himself being struck by something this mysterious girl was suggesting. ‘Whoa’… that explained a lot.
“Now wait a minute, wait a minute,” began Rodney, stepping closer to the bars, arms crossed over his chest and that familiar look of scientific interest dawning on his face, “you’re seriously suggesting you’re from the future?”
“I… we don’t…” Emily faltered and looked at Connor beseechingly.
He sighed and ran a hand through short wavy brown hair, studying the dull gray of the floor before looking back up at the gathered adults, one hand hooked around the back of his neck. “It kinda looks that way.”
Two Days Ago… Nineteen Years Later
Emily Sheppard closed her eyes, a smile spreading across her face as the sharp wind blew, whipping her hair up over her head. It was cold, but then it often was at this height, especially at night. She didn’t mind; she’d long ago learned to bring a coat when she was up here.
The wind faded and died and Emily opened her eyes to deep blue velvet scattered with diamonds. The night air was perfectly clear, and each point of gently pulsing light was razor sharp in its clarity. The sky was swirled with every shade of blue from deepest indigo - almost violet - to dark teal. And faded even farther into the background, its stars little more than a glittering blur as it arched overhead, was the sweeping expanse of the arm of the galaxy. Emily tucked her legs in against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees as she stared up. She had seen the night sky on Earth several times before during her family’s occasional visits, but it had been nothing… nothing compared to this.
She had just settled herself farther into her perch among the beams when a familiar voice sounded from indoors. “Hey Emily, are you in here?”
“No,” she called back, “Out here!”
Footsteps crossed the room and then Rachel McKay appeared on the balcony below, her dark blonde hair shining with the light pouring out of the open door behind her. Rachel’s eyes flashed back and forth in a cursory glance of the balcony, but she almost immediately focused her attention higher, easily finding Emily among the shadows as she sat nestled in her hiding place between two support beams. “Hey.”
Rachel casually placed her hands on her hips as she looked up at her friend. “You know, your dad would have a fit if he saw you up there.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Emily brightly. “He did last time anyway.”
“Yeah, that’s because he knows just how far the fall is. Is the view really that different from up there?”
Emily gazed out and up at the star strewn splendor. “Oh, it’s worth it. Trust me.” She looked down at Rachel, who had been her best friend for her entire life (even if she might not always admit it). “I know, I know” she said quickly with a smile, stopping Rachel from opening her mouth any further, “you’ll take my word for it.”
“So… what’s going on?”
“One of the teams just checked in; they found something. I figured you’d want…”
“Well, why didn’t you say that to begin with!?” cried Emily. She unfolded herself from her hiding spot, swinging her legs over the edge of the beam she was sitting on and reaching over to grasp the raised panel on the wall near her. Quick as a flash, and with the ease of long practice, she scaled down the wall to the balcony floor ten feet below, using the grooved decorative paneling as a ladder. Jumping the last foot to the ground, she turned to Rachel and dusted her hands off on the legs of her jeans. “What do you think my chances are?” she asked nervously.
“I’d say they’re pretty good. At least 70:40.”
Emily nodded as the two of them began walking briskly towards the door. “Okay, I’ll take that.”
One transporter ride and a three minute walk later, Emily hopped up the steps into the gate room, the vaulted ceiling stretching far above her head and the colors in the shining stained glass dull with the darkness outside. The main floor was empty – it was always pretty quiet in this part of the tower at night – so Emily, with Rachel close behind, turned and sprinted up the main staircase, their heels lit up by the perpetually glowing characters of the Ancient welcome set into the steps. They were almost to the top when they met Chuck Campbell coming down.
“Hey girls,” he greeted cheerfully.
“Hey,” said Emily, pausing with one foot on the step in front of her. Good. Just the person – or at least one of them anyway - she needed to see. “Balcony or office?”
Chuck smiled. “Office. Although I might wait a bit before going in.” He jerked his head towards the glass walled room that stood off to one side of the control room and then winked. “It needs some smoothing out, but I think you’ve got a decent shot this time, Em.”
Emily returned the smile. “So I’ve been told.” Chuck had often been roped into babysitting duty when she and her older brother were little, and had been one of their strongest allies and co-conspirators when it came to the procuring of chocolate cookies after bedtime. Since then he had retained the position of a kind of fun uncle.
She glanced up in the direction Chuck had indicated. As expected, she saw both of her parents sitting inside her mother’s office. Her father, the wildness of his hair clearly visible even from all the way over on the stairs, was sitting on the edge of the desk next to his wife’s chair. The two of them seemed to be deep in some sort of discussion. Emily bit her lip. That didn’t look good. What were the chances that that discussion wasn’t about her?
“Good luck,” said Chuck.
Emily looked back at the sandy haired technician and gave a quick smile, a little nervous now. “Thanks.” He nodded and then continued on his way down the stairs. When she didn’t move at that exact second, Rachel, two steps below, let out an irritated sigh and made shooing motions with her hands.
“Well, go on!”
Well accustomed to Miss McKay’s often impatient nature, Emily just rolled her eyes and resumed walking. Crossing the control room, she waved at the brown eyed woman sitting behind the console. Amelia Dex, also known as Aunt Amelia, smiled warmly and waved back, crossing her fingers at her and mouthing the words ‘good luck’ as she passed by.
Emily returned the smile but mentally grimaced. Was it really that obvious what she was here for? Or maybe they just knew her too well... Halfway across the walkway that linked the office to the control room, Emily slowed and stopped, quietly motioning with her hand for Rachel to do the same, as she strained her ears to catch the voices drifting out of the room in front of them. Emily felt her heart sink into the familiar wash of disappointment at the heated tone of an argument. Obviously the others had been a little overoptimistic about her chances.
“… not old enough.”
“John,” reasoned her mother, “it’s not like she’s never been off world before. She’s tagged along with both of us and Ronon and Rodney and Teyla dozens of times.”
“Exactly. She’s gone with me or one of us. I won’t be there this time. What if something goes wrong?” John demanded.
“Then a whole team will be there to look out for her. She’s not going alone! And this is an uninhabited planet with no signs of anything unusually dangerous.” Elizabeth’s tone grew softer and Emily, praying she wouldn’t be noticed, had to take a couple of steps forward to hear what she was saying, hope rising cautiously within her. If her mom was on her side then it couldn’t be a completely lost cause. “I understand where you’re coming from. Believe me I don’t want to let her go as much as you do. But Connor went on his first mission when he was seventeen too.”
“He was closer to eighteen,” corrected John. “And that was more of an accident.”
Elizabeth let out half a laugh. “Still,” she sighed, serious again. “We didn’t really give ourselves any room to say no to Emily once she reached that age.”
John sighed. “And now she has.”
Just visible over her father’s shoulder, Emily saw her mother nod her head, the soft light from the Ancient fixtures reflecting off the brown curls. “Now she has.”
Silence fell in the office and judging by the angle of her dad’s head, Emily guessed that her parents were sharing one of their long looks. She glanced at Rachel and began to take silent steps forward, deciding that now was a decent time to join the conversation, but still ready to stop if they started saying anything more of interest.
A second later John sighed again and she froze. “I don’t suppose we could just keep her locked up in the Tower until she’s thirty?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Do you really think it would hold her for very long?”
John chuckled. “No, I guess not.”
Suddenly, Emily lost all interest in hearing herself talked about, especially since Rachel was there to bear witness to whatever potentially embarrassing things her parents might say next. The two of them walked normally up to the door of the office, Emily tapping on the outside of the glass wall to announce their presence.
Elizabeth Sheppard turned her head away from her husband, eyebrows raised questioningly as she looked to see who was at the door. A smile spread across her face when she saw her daughter. “Hey girls, there you are.” Emily didn’t miss how her mother’s green eyes darted towards her dad for a split second as she spoke. “Perfect timing.”
John, still seated on the edge of the desk, twisted at the waist to look at them and smiled. “Yeah, Em, we were just talking about you.”
Emily lowered her hand from where she had held it hovering next to the glass and slipped inside the office. “Should I be worried?”
“That all depends,” smirked her father. “Done anything worth worrying over lately?”
“Who me?” She folded herself into one of the cream chairs that sat in front of the desk, letting a pondering expression come across her face as she pretended to think about the question. She flashed an innocent grin. “Nope. Nothing comes to mind.”
The corner of Elizabeth’s mouth quirked and she stared at her daughter appraisingly, thinly veiled suspicion lurking behind her eyes.
“What?” Emily tried not to fidget under the scrutiny, but it was difficult. Why did she have to have a renowned intergalactic diplomat for a mother? She had long ago developed the belief that if she were a Wraith or some other bad guy and she was confronted with either her mother’s stare or her father’s P-90, it would be the former that would have her running for the stargate.
Elizabeth’s gaze lit on the top of her head and one eyebrow shot
upwards. Emily swallowed. Uh-oh. Here it comes. She didn’t know what about her head had given her away, but…
“Nothing,” said Elizabeth lightly, leaning back in her chair. Now it was Emily’s turn to give a suspicious look, but she kept her mouth shut.
Her mother sighed and looked up at her father, who had moved from his perch on the edge of the desk to stand beside his wife’s chair. “I guess there’s not much point in asking if you know what’s come up?” Elizabeth shot Rachel a pointed look and Emily slowly shook her head.
“It’s an uninhabited planet, but there are Ancient ruins there and Dr. Melkov thinks that they’re worth a second look.”
“So you’re sending a science team,” Emily finished eagerly.
“Yes,” said Elizabeth, eyes narrowing slightly in an amused smile. “The day after tomorrow.”
“Along with a group of Marines,” added John, arms folded across his chest.
“For a scientific research trip?”
“On an uninhabited planet?” Emily raised an eyebrow.
Now John narrowed his eyes at her. “Let’s just say we’re erring on the side of caution.”
“So, does that mean…?” she trailed off, waiting for her parents to take the opening. They just looked at each other, a confused look on John’s face.
“Mean what?” he said.
That was it; she couldn’t take it anymore. “Oh, come on, Dad! Please! I’ve been asking for this for months! Either just go ahead and tell me no again, or…” The arguments died away when she noticed the smirk that had spread across her father’s face. “Dad! Not funny!” she scolded, her face going red in embarrassment. She would have hit him if he’d been close enough.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” he laughed. “Couldn’t resist.”
She just glared at him, a difficult thing to achieve since now she was trying very hard to keep from laughing herself. “Still.”
“Hey,” said John, walking around the desk. “If you’re going to go off to some planet without us, the least you can do is let me make a joke out of it.” He bent down and kissed the top of her head.
“So I can go?”
Once again, she didn’t miss the silent exchange that passed between her parents. “Yes,” said John, a note of resignation in his voice, “you can go.”
Emily beamed and sprang out of her chair, throwing her arms around his neck. “Thank you!” John just laughed and caught one of her jet curls, pulling on it and then releasing it so it bounced back into shape. “You’re welcome. Just don’t make me regret it!” With that, he smiled at her again and left the office.
The excitement nearly pouring off of her, Emily bounded towards the office door and Rachel, intending to catch her friend by the arm and hurry away to go flaunt the news to her brother and Max, but before she had gone two steps…
She turned around. “Yeah?”
“Brush your hair.” Emily’s hand crept unconsciously upwards and felt the mass of dark curls. She winced at the unusual amount of volume; this was even messier than usual, which for her was saying quite a bit. She met her mother’s gaze.
Elizabeth looked at her, the green eyes that she had inherited sending a silent message and Emily suddenly realized that her mother knew that she had been climbing the tower. She had known the entire time, but she had chosen not to say anything. Emily felt a rush of gratitude; her mom knew as well as she did that if John Sheppard had found out about his daughter’s little feat of acrobatics then he would never have let her set foot through that gate.
As it was, she just nodded and smiled, her look conveying an unspoken thank-you, and ran across the walkway with Rachel into the dimly glowing control room.
Connor paced back and forth in front of the gate, occasionally favoring his watch with an impatient glance. They should be leaving by now! Bright morning sunlight was streaming in from every direction through the towering stained glass windows that lined the front half of the gate room, and the faint scent of coffee wafted through the air. Above him the stargate loomed - symbols darkened, the light reflecting off of the turquoise crystal chevrons - exuding an air of ancient and everlasting patience that contrasted sharply with Connor’s current state of mind.
The rest of the team was gathered by the small flight of steps that led down into the city, looking thankfully unbothered by the delay. The scientists were double checking their equipment one last time, and the Marines were laughing and swapping stories about the weird things they’d seen on night duty. One of them was speaking particularly loudly and Connor moved closer to listen. Listening to Lieutenant McFadden’s amusing tale about a mysterious ticking noise, Connor almost forgot why he had been so eager to leave before.
Suddenly the conversation among the other soldiers died away. McFadden was the only one still talking; the man standing next to him quickly punched him in the shoulder to get him to shut up. Connor turned around to see the new arrivals that had caused the sudden military hush – the chatter of the scientists continued uninterrupted in the background – and grinned. Now he remembered.
His father and sister were coming down the grand staircase, his mom following a couple of close steps behind. John Sheppard placed a supportive arm around his daughter’s shoulders as they reached the bottom of the stairs and walked towards the waiting team. Emily was fully kitted out in tac vest and uniform, hair pulled up into a struggling bun and a stunner pistol strapped to her thigh, pride at her apparel evident in every move she made.
They came to a stop in front of the away team, Major Thompson stepping forward to greet them. “Sir,” she nodded.
“Major,” returned the colonel. John gestured towards Emily with a small smile. “I’ve brought you an addition for your team.”
Major Thompson looked at Emily and smiled. She was a tall woman, maybe in her late thirties, with deeply tanned skin and curly sandy colored hair twisted into a neat military bun. “Happy to have her, sir.”
“Good, good.” He paused; Connor wondered how he managed to look both nervous and threatening at the same time. “I know I don’t need to…”
Thompson smiled again, looking slightly amused. “She’s in good hands, sir. We’ll take care of her.”
Connor decided to take that as his cue and stepped out from behind one of the Marines. “Yeah, we all will.”
The look on Emily’s face when she saw him nearly made him burst out laughing; as it was, he couldn’t help but grin. That was what he had been waiting for.
Emily looked up at their father, a pained expression on her face. “You didn’t tell me Connor was coming along to babysit,” she muttered through gritted teeth.
John just grinned at her. “Well, I think we’ve held up Major Thompson and her team long enough, don’t you?”
She just shot him a look and gave a resigned and heavy sigh. Elizabeth came up beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders, nodding to Major Thompson.
“Alright team, let’s move out,” Thompson ordered, tactfully giving her boss space to say goodbye to her daughter. Connor began to turn away too, catching a glimpse as he did so of Elizabeth whispering something in Emily’s ear, presumably ‘good luck’ or something to a similar effect.
He walked up to his dad and smirked. “What, no ceremony for me?”
John reached around him and ruffled his already messy hair, a gesture of affection that Connor had undergone as long as he could remember. It was embarrassing now, but Connor didn’t really have the heart to tell him to quit for good. “Hey,” he laughed, lightly shoving his arms away, “nineteen year-old here, remember?”
“How can I forget?” his dad said, sticking his hands in his pockets, a slight twinge of wistfulness concealed in his voice. He glanced at the stargate, his watch, and then up to the control room.
“Okay, Chuck, dial her up!” he called.
Only a few seconds lapsed before the chevrons came to glowing life, the shining points of light that represented star constellations spinning dizzyingly around the gate’s inner track. The event horizon spilled into the sunlit gate room with its familiar splash before snapping into place inside the ring’s borders, a shimmering pool of aquamarine light. Major Thompson and the rest of the team moved towards it.
Emily and Elizabeth came over to where John and Connor were standing, Elizabeth moving to her husband’s side. John looped an arm around her waist as they faced their children.
“You’d better get moving,” said Elizabeth. She fixed her gaze on each of them in turn. “You two take care of each other,” she said seriously.
“We will,” they said simultaneously, causing them to glance at each other in mild annoyance.
“You’d better,” added their dad sternly. “Forty-eight hours; I expect you both back here in one piece.”
They nodded. “Yes sir,” said Connor. His dad didn’t take that tone very often, and when he did it was best to do what he said.
“John,” said Elizabeth, getting his attention. He turned to look at her; she dipped her head towards where Major Thompson was waiting.
He paused for a moment and looked at each of them, then jerked his thumb in the direction of the active gate. “Alright, go on, get out of here.”
With a last farewell, they turned and started walking towards the gate; the team had already begun to slip through the puddle.
“Come on, admit it,” smirked Connor as they walked. “You know you’re glad to have me coming along.”
Emily just gave him an exasperated look, but her mouth quirked upwards into an almost smile. She fixed her gaze forwards on the pulsing event horizon. “You never heard the words leave my mouth.”
Connor laughed as he stepped forwards, the sound echoing back at him as his world was filled with endless ripples of blue.
Emily inhaled deeply the second she cleared the puddle, filling her nostrils with the scent of alien air. She smiled wryly; it really wasn’t that different from any of the other planets she’d visited before – the smell of pine needles and wildflowers, although there was another layer to it that seemed to suggest a large body of freshwater nearby.
“Come on, sis, open your eyes! You don’t want to miss anything, do you?”
Her eyes snapped open at the sound and she glanced at her brother. He smiled at her and they started following the train of personnel snaking its way through the boulder-strewn field towards the forest that ringed it. Strange insects buzzed around their ankles and through the air. Up ahead Emily saw one of the scientists – an Ancient tech expert named Dr. Freyson – cry out and nearly fall over as he tried to avoid getting dive bombed by one of the bugs. Light laughter rippled through the group, some of Freyson’s fellow scientists starting to tease him about the incident. Emily laughed too, watching them; she could already feel herself beginning to be enveloped in the spirit of comradeship that she had always seen among off-world teams. Now she was finally getting to be a part of it.
“Really though,” Connor continued more seriously, claiming her attention from the scene before her. “Don’t get caught lazing around. I’ve served under Major Thompson before; she’s nice, but she’s tough as nails and doesn’t exactly take well to unproductiveness.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” replied Emily.
They had passed into the forest now, although the name didn’t really apply; the strand of trees spanned less than a fourth of a mile, then ended abruptly. Emily couldn’t stop the gasp as she emerged into open air. She had been right about the body of water; an enormous lake stretched out before them, but that in itself wasn’t the reason for the gasp. In the center of the lake were two concentric islands, one situated within the other like a bullseye on a target, and on the center island was a remarkable structure of undoubtedly Ancient origins.
“You know,” began Emily breathlessly, “when Mom said there were Ancient ruins, I was expecting…”
“Things to be actually ruined?” finished Connor, identical traces of
awe in his voice as he took in the landscape. “Yeah, me too. Nice
surprise, isn’t it?”
Connecting the islands to the mainland was a wide avenue at least half a mile long that looked to be made out of the same material as Atlantis’s piers; it swept above the surface of the lake in a slight arc, like a bridge. Major Thompson had halted the team at the base of it, waiting for everyone to clear the woods. Now she looked back and nodded when she saw Connor and Emily.
“Alright,” she called, her voice carrying clearly across the open. “We’ll take the causeway in rows of three across: scientists in the middle, McFadden and Harcolm in the rear, Ling up front with me.”
Everyone scurried to get into place, Emily and Connor moving to join the scientists until Major Thompson’s voice cut across the chatter of people moving. “Connor, Miss Sheppard – with me.”
“Miss Sheppard?” muttered Emily, screwing up her mouth in distaste as they marched to the head of the forming line.
“Don’t worry,” murmured Connor. “She likes the formalities. Just give her some time to get to know you.”
“Oh? And how long were you ‘Mr. Sheppard’?”
Connor winced. “Um… for about… halfway through the first mission.”
Emily tilted her head to the side. “Okay,” she mused, “so take the Major’s strict but fair sensibilities, factor in your annoying ability to make authority figures like you -”
“Add in your penchant for always finding trouble,” interrupted Connor.
She inclined her head in his direction at the suggestion. “Duly noted. Divide that by twelve…let’s see, that means I should get called by my first name in about… what, two months?”
Connor shrugged. “Maybe… if you’re lucky.”
They had reached the major by now, so Emily just smirked and lightly flicked him on the arm. Major Thompson glanced at each of them and nodded to Ling. “Let’s move,” she said, adjusting her P-90 more comfortably in the crook of her arm.
Emily felt a gentle humming rush through her veins the instant she stepped onto the bridge’s metal surface. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling by any means; in a way it was similar to the sensation she received from Atlantis itself, although this lacked the welcoming quality that her home emanated.
“Do you have the Ancient gene, Major?” she asked.
Thompson looked over her shoulder and gave her a small smile. “No, I don’t. The gene therapy didn’t take unfortunately. However, the preliminary report on this place has promised us good things, so I’ve come well prepared.”
Emily returned a half smile and the major faced forwards again.
The caravan progressed along the causeway at a reasonable pace. A good street’s width separated one railing from the other, leaving plenty of room to spread out, which the equipment-laden scientists took full advantage of. Spaced at regular intervals along the edges of the walk were boxy light fixtures in the Ancient style, dim now with the daylight. On either side of them the lake rippled calmly away, reflecting the aqua colored sky.
In a relatively short amount of time the island’s outer ring loomed before them, a sheer wall of dull metal covering it, deep grooves carved along its surface in interconnecting patterns with tower-like nodes protruding from the top every twenty yards. There were no visible windows, only a large door placed at the end of the bridge to allow through-traffic. Thompson nodded to the man walking next to her.
Captain Ling, who Emily now recognized as one of her father’s jumper pilots, stepped forward and placed his right hand on a crystal panel in the center of the door. The crystal glowed blue and with a mighty hiss the door split in two, the pieces retracting into the floor and ceiling to reveal a second set of doors already opening to the sides behind them. Another extension of walkway appeared before them, crossing over the inner watercourse before reaching the center island. Emily felt her mouth fall open slightly as the expedition passed through the outer wall. The section of lake enclosed by the wall was deep and wide - the long shadow cast by the wall making it darker than the water that glittered outside – lapping gently against the shore of a barely existent strip of beach, dampening the base of the building that dominated the island. It was smooth metal from the ground until it reached the level of the causeway, where it began to form tiers of shining glass and silver. These tiers stacked upwards, forming a base for the circle of rounded, dome-topped structures at the building’s top, all linked together by a thick silver band.
“And we had never heard of this place before… how, exactly?” wondered Emily, tilting her head upwards to see as much of her surroundings as possible.
“The database is huge,” replied Connor distractedly. “There are thousands of entries; it’s not a surprise that this place hasn’t been discovered before now.”
“But we didn’t find out about it because of the database; Dr. Melkov and his team stumbled on it by mistake.”
“We would have found it eventually.”
The team started walking down the second causeway. “Unless somebody was trying to hide it,” said Emily. “We don’t know what was going on here, or why it was built. I mean, something this big and there are no red flags that pop up? No mention in the Ancient ‘List of Very Important Projects’? What the scientists do know they had to dig for, and even that’s not much.”
“Well, hopefully by the end of the day we’ll have answers for some of those questions,” put in Major Thompson. “And until then, kindly keep a sharp look-out. This is supposedly an uninhabited planet, but I prefer not to take any chances.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Connor.
They marched in silence until they reached the second doorway.
“Captain Ling, if you would do the honors again,” ordered Thompson. Ling stepped forward and touched the crystal in the doorway, triggering the same process that had taken place on the outer gate. The doors slid into their hiding places, revealing only darkness beyond.
Thompson and Ling flicked on the lights mounted to their weapons; a hallway was revealed, swathed in shadows, stretching far past the extent of the beams’ illumination. The pair stepped into the building, signaling the rest of the posse to follow. Immediately, light fixtures running in bars along the walls flared into life, sensing the presence of Captain Ling’s gene.
“Still not much light,” commented Thompson in disapproval. “Were these Ancients conducting darkness research maybe?”
The gentle humming that Emily had sensed on the bridge now grew three fold in intensity as she and Connor stepped over the threshold. Instantly dozens more lights blinked on along the ceiling and walls, chasing away every shadow until the hallway rivaled her Aunt Jennifer’s operating room for level of brightness. Thompson and Ling stopped walking, the major slowly turning around to look at the siblings.
“Or maybe,” began Thompson, actually sounding a little impressed, “we’re just not quite Ancient enough to satisfy the place.” She smiled at Connor and Emily and resumed her forward march down the hall. They shared a smiling look and followed close behind.
“Not really,” replied Dr. Freyson, laying down his data pad for a moment and turning to Major Thompson. “I’ve started to get some hints at the research that was going on here, but nothing concrete as of yet.”
The batch of scientists had eagerly set up their base of operations in a large circular room at the base of one of the domed towers. The soft whirring of laptops filled the air and streams and streams of glowing data ran across the Ancient hanging screens as diagnostic after diagnostic was run through the facility’s computer. Clusters of scientists had formed around the room, positioning themselves at various computer terminals and debating softly as they pointed out things on their data pads to each other.
Emily had settled herself in a corner to watch and be handy whenever one of the blue-clad people called her over to activate something, which had already happened quite a bit. She leaned forward on the bench, drumming her fingers against the speckled copper-colored sides. Except for the change of setting and the unusual level of enthusiasm, the scene before her was nearly identical to a typical day in her Uncle Rodney’s lab. Nice enough - certainly familiar enough - but Emily itched to be exploring the rest of the complex. That was what she was here to do after all.
She caught Major Thompson’s eye and the older woman beckoned her over. “Miss Sheppard.”
“I think you and your brother have managed to turn on every single piece of equipment in this room.”
Emily gave a small smile. “It’s not that hard of a job.”
Thompson returned the gesture, eying her with a considering look.
“Still. I think the two of you have outlived your usefulness here.” She jerked her thumb across the room. “Go rescue Connor and meet me in the hallway. There is far too much ground to cover and too little time to do it in.”
Emily smiled for real this time, nodded, and went to collect her big brother from the young female scientist who was trying desperately to convince him that the glowing terminal she was standing in front of wasn’t completely activated yet. Emily caught his arm and steered him away from the pretty woman with a few brief excuses.
“You weren’t falling for that, were you?” she whispered. “Besides,
she’s too old for you anyway.”
“Falling for what?” asked Connor.
Emily looked at him, saw that he was serious, and smacked him on the back of the head with a giant roll of her eyes. “You are so oblivious sometimes. Now hurry up, the major’s waiting.”
Glowing bars of lights preceded the small party down the hallway, the darkness ahead never looming within five feet of any of them. Numerous interesting looking corridors branched off on all sides of the central hall, signs written in Ancient discreetly placed to give some indication of what went where. The place appeared absolutely deserted, that status confirmed by the life signs detector Connor was carrying. All was silent too, except for the low hiss of the air circulation system and the scuff of their footsteps against the smooth floor. Emily looked around her, a feeling of anxious excitement taking up permanent residence in her chest; this was somewhere new… No one knew what could be around the next corner, and she was getting to be one of the first to find out!
Major Thompson, walking at the head of the group, paused at an intersection of two corridors and began reading off the signs.
“Alright, power distrib –”
“Major!” squawked her radio suddenly, interrupting her.
Thompson tapped the small device at her ear. “Go ahead, Ling.”
“We have a small domestic disturbance here that needs…”
Thompson frowned. “You can’t handle it?”
“I would, ma’am,” crackled the soldier’s voice, “but Dr. Freyson is also asking to see you. He says it’s important.”
“Kill two birds with one stone, huh?” Ling replied in the affirmative. The major sighed. “Alright, I’ll be right there.”
She turned to the rest of the scouting party. “Lieutenant, you come back with me. You two,” she looked at Connor and Emily. “When this is settled I don’t want to waste any time wandering around trying to find where we left off, so you’re going to mark our progress. Stay here and stay out of trouble.” She fixed her eyes on both of them, an expression that brooked no disobedience.
“Will do,” replied Connor. Emily nodded.
“Good. Alright, McFadden, let’s go.”
The two of them set off down the hall, back the way they had come. Emily watched them until they disappeared behind a corner, then sighed. Just when things were getting interesting… She turned and began swinging her arms as she glanced around the space. Tile-work in muted colors, strips of blue and white lighting… standard décor, except for the prevalence of silver tones over the familiar brown. She walked ploddingly over to small directional sign that the major had begun to read before being called away.
“Don’t tell me you’re bored already,” said Connor in disbelief, standing behind her in the center of the hallways’ junction. “They’ve only been gone about forty seconds.”
“Power distribution,” said Emily.
“Power distribution.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “I’m reading the sign. What’s that one over there say?”
Connor squinted at the far wall. “Vis Solarias. Huh, that’s…”
A sudden flash of movement appeared at the corner of Emily’s vision. She spun around, green eyes snapping from one side of the darkened hallway to the other. Nothing.
“What is it?” Connor cut off his translation.
“I thought I saw something move.” She continued to stare into the shadows behind him.
“I didn’t see anything.” He turned around and she moved to his side.
Cautiously, Emily stepped forward – her hand drifting unconsciously towards the stunner at her thigh as she did so - causing the lights to activate in the nearest section of unexplored corridor. Again, nothing.
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and shook her head. “I guess I imagined it.”
“Trick of the light?”
“Yeah… probably.” She turned around, away from the Vis Solarias,/i> hallway, and began to move back towards the center of the ‘T’ formed by the two corridors, until a loud whining sound began to build up behind her. She froze for a moment and then slowly wheeled round.
The corridor that only a moment ago had been filled with ordinary light and shadow was now radiating a bright blue-green glow. The light came from thick translucent panels bisecting the walls on either side of the hall, and where before only a small section had been illuminated, now the entire length of corridor was visible, stretching away deep into the center portion of the facility. The whining sound had leveled off, and was now a steady hum. Something had obviously been turned on.
“Woah…” Emily breathed. “Did I do that?”
“You’re the one that stepped in the hallway,” replied Connor absently, taking a few steps closer to the source of the glow. He stretched out a hand towards a panel, watching the way his skin became tinted by the teal light.
Emily stepped fully into the hall, extending her arms out from her sides to be fully bathed by the glow. “Maybe Dr. Freyson did it from that lab; Ling said he’d found something.”
“Maybe,” Connor shrugged. He tapped the radio at his ear. “Major Thompson, come in.”
A crackling reply came through, the words indistinct and garbled only a few feet away. ‘Whatever this glow is must be interfering with the signal,’ thought Emily with mild interest.
“… Freyson activate something in the central part of the complex?” Connor was asking over the radio.
Not wanting to eavesdrop on a one-sided conversation, she turned her attention elsewhere. Lowering her arms, Emily gazed down the hallway. “I wonder what’s down there…”
Connor heard her. He broke off mid-reply to the major and clamped his palm over the mouthpiece of his headset. “No way,” he glared at her, “don’t you even think about it!”
Emily rolled her eyes at him and he returned to his conversation. She walked over to the wall and mimicked Connor’s earlier gesture, holding her hand up to the glowing panel. She had expected there to be no sensation from the luminance, but she was surprised to find that, closer to its source, the blue-green light actually felt cool as it washed over her skin. One corner of her mouth lifted in a pleased smile.
Several seconds ticked by as she stood examining the light, then on an impulse she lifted her head to glance down the hallway. At the same instant a shadow streaked across her field of vision, there one moment and gone the next. Determination filled her. That was no trick of the light; someone or something was there.
Before she even knew what she was doing, she was already running down the hall.
“What the… Em, hey!” shouted Connor. She could hear him coming after her, muttering curses, his standard issue boots pounding against the hard floor. “Wait!”
She didn’t pay any attention to him. The hall stretched on. A pair of corridors appeared before her, branching off from the main stem of hallway to go off in opposite directions. She skidded to a halt for barely a moment, then made a choice and ran down the right hand branch. There was no blue glow here, but all the lights were already on… The hall bent to the left, the path circling back towards the center of the complex. Emily ran on, chasing after nothing; the shadow hadn’t appeared again, but still she didn’t stop, even though she’d briefly considered it. No, whatever it was she was going to find
“Emily, for crying out loud, would you wait!” yelled Connor, coming steadily up behind her.
She finally stopped, but it wasn’t because of her brother’s commands. The corridor had come to an end, running into a large set of geometrically carved doors with panels of blue glass set into them. She rested her hands on her hips and looked up at the doors, heart beating in a faster than normal rhythm as she caught her breath.
“What the heck was that all about?” Connor demanded as he drew up beside her, bracing a hand against the wall for support. He sucked in several deep breaths and carelessly ran his fingers through his hair, making the brown waves stick out in several new directions.
“I saw something move again.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. But I do know I saw something this time.”
“Wasn’t gonna question it,” said Connor, holding up a placating hand. Things grew quiet for a minute. Emily saw him turn his gaze upwards towards the doors. “Where are we?”
She watched him until he looked back down and then met his eyes. “Let’s find out.” Without giving him time to protest, she reached out and placed her palm against the turquoise-crystal panel built into the wall. The doors separated and retracted with their normal motion, revealing the room inside.
The ceiling soared far above their heads as the pair stepped through the door, the room at least seven stories tall, like one of the towers had been simply hollowed out instead of being divided into floors. A gigantic circular hole was cut into the dome of the roof, covered with glass and thickly ringed with silver to match the one on the outside of the city; the aqua colored sky was visible through it, the pale blue streaked with violet and gold to signal the coming sunset. However, what immediately attracted their attention was the large structure in the center of the room.
“Woah,” gaped Connor.
Encased in a spacious round enclosure of thick glass was a swirling pulsating sphere of blue-green light. Well over twice as large as Emily, it was like a small sun in appearance, only it was bearable to look at. Set into the structure at even intervals were wide panels of the same type as had lined the central corridor. They turned downwards until they reached the floor, then branched outwards, the panels inlaid into the surface like typical decoration. Except they were glowing. Teal light radiated from them in a mirror of the ones in the hall, the glow being drawn from the miniature star floating at the center.
Emily slowly walked up to one of the consoles that ringed the device, transfixed by the billowing azure blaze.
“This is what this whole place is about,” Connor said softly.
“Yeah…” Emily agreed, almost in a trance-like state. Suddenly a thought occurred to her and she smiled. “Rachel would kill to be seeing this right now.”
Connor smirked slightly. “Yeah, she probably would. And Uncle Rodney would be right on her heels.”
“Fighting her for first place,” Emily finished with a laugh. The spell of the sphere was broken and she to look around at the rest of the room. “There’s no one else here,” she frowned, more annoyed by the disappearance of her mysterious vision than worried by its motives.
As she moved away from the console a large hank of black hair swung against the side of her face. The bun that she had so painfully piled together before leaving Atlantis - that had been struggling to maintain itself anyway - had been all but demolished by the sprint through the hallways. There was nothing else for it. Sighing, she reached up to the back of her head and began removing the pins one by one.
“Good grief, how many pins did you put in your hair this morning?” Connor asked suddenly.
She snapped out of her thoughtful, purposefully focused daze, eyes taking in the pile of small pieces of black metal growing on top of the computer console beside her. She paused in her hunt for pins and thought for a moment. “Let’s put it this way; if there was a giant magnet overhead waiting to snap us up, I’d be the first one to go.”
Her brother smirked and shook his head in amusement, turning back to the console he was standing in front of. Emily, finally satisfied that she had found every last blasted hairpin, dumped the pile in her pocket and secured her mass of hair in an infinitely more practical ponytail. She sighed in satisfaction and looked over just in time to see Connor press one of the line of lit buttons arranged on the dashboard before him. A holographic display screen appeared, Ancient characters in electric blue scrolling down it.
Suddenly nervous, she started towards him. “Are you sure that’s -”
The rest of the sentence was cut off by the sudden rise in pitch of the device in the center of the room. Emily spun around. The glowing sphere was shooting out pulsing rays of teal light at a rapid pace in all directions. The panels on the floor were beaming brighter, and all around the room new lights displayed the computers that had flared into full activation.
“What did you do?” demanded Emily.
Connor was looking around, just as stunned as she was. “Nothing!” He gestured at the console in front of him. “This is just a data terminal, it shouldn’t have activated anything!”
“Well something did it!”
The whine of the machine continued to increase in volume. The sphere was growing continually more active as well, crackling streaks of what looked like electric blue lightning emerging from the center to strike the transparent walls that contained it.
“Can we turn it off?”
“We don’t even know how it was turned on!” Connor looked up from the data screen at the center column. The noise reached a fever pitch, and with an almighty crack a dozen bolts of the blue lighting struck the sides of the tube. They fixed to the sides in a nearly blinding display as blue-green light was channeled from the surging ball of energy to rush up the glass in roaring waves to the ceiling.
“Connor…” called Emily nervously, unasked for fear beginning to build up inside her as she watched the device, unable to tear her eyes away. She wanted to run.
He didn’t answer her. Frantically he pressed the radio at his ear. “Major Thompson! Can you… There’s nothing but static.” His eyes, a mirror of her own fear, flashed from her to the machine. “Run, let’s go.”
He didn’t have to tell her twice. They both darted towards a door, larger than the one they had come through. It opened automatically and they found themselves in the large corridor they had started in. It was different now. As she ran Emily saw that the glow had doubled in intensity, streaks of the same electric blue light running through the teal all along the hallway. It was a conduit, she suddenly realized. That light must run through the whole complex. But that brief thought was all she spared for it; she put all of her energy into running.
They pounded into the intersection where the major had first left them and turned towards the direction of the makeshift base camp. Connor tried repeatedly to hail someone on the radio but to no effect. Doors and other hallways flashed by as they ran. Emily prayed that they were going the right way.
Tension was building in her with each minute that ticked by, even though it should have been decreasing as they put more distance between themselves and the device. As a result she nearly screamed when a figure dashed out in front of them.
“We didn’t know what- ” “Did you-” began Connor and Emily simultaneously.
“No time for that,” barked Thompson. “We’re getting out of here. Everyone else is already heading towards the gate.” The older woman put a hand on Connor’s shoulder and pushed him slightly down the hall. “Let’s move!”
The three ran through the complex, bypassing the lab completely as they raced towards the exit. The humming noise could be heard everywhere now. Whatever was going to happen when that device went off completely was going to happen soon. “You know,” gasped Connor as they ran, “it was really stupid of the Ancients to only make one exit for this place.” Emily privately agreed, but she was too busy running to answer.
When Emily finally saw the doorway she put on an extra burst of speed, passing Major Thompson in the lead to get there first. She slammed her palm against the door crystal so hard it stung. The doors finishing their opening sequence just as the other two reached them, and they all sprinted down the causeway. Connor opened the next set of doors in the outer wall. There, just visible on the far shore of the lake, the last of the train of Atlantis personnel were disappearing into the woods. Thompson urged them onwards down the long bridge. The water on either side was shockingly calm; Emily had half expected it to be rough and surging like a storm.
Halfway down the causeway she looked back over her shoulder. The blue-green light had spread to the tops of each of the domed sections, threads of it beginning to twine around the thick silver band that connected all the towers. There was so much power coursing through that structure. How had they never heard of it before?
They reached the end of the causeway and went crashing through the woods, branches splintering underfoot and grabbing for their clothes as they barreled through them. By now Emily was one giant gasping-for-air ache. Her heart was pounding in her chest and a sharp pain lanced through her side with every step, but she didn’t slow down. They exited the woods and Emily felt relief swell in her as the stargate came in sight. Major Thompson sprinted ahead and began dialing the gate with Atlantis’s address. As they were crossing the field to join her, Connor suddenly caught his foot in a dip in the ground and pitched forwards onto the dirt with a gasp. Emily wheeled around, stumbling, her momentum making her scramble to get upright.
“Come on, big brother,” she panted, pulling on his arm to help him up. “Almost there.” She heard the sound of the gate activating off to her left.
“Sheppards!” called Thompson.
Emily twisted her neck to see the major standing silhouetted in front of the event horizon. “We’re coming, go ahead!” she yelled. She finished helping Connor lever himself to his feet. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he nodded. “Let’s go.”
As they hurried towards the gate, some instinct made Emily looked back over the treetops in the direction of the lake. She felt her mouth fall open. Shooting upwards into the sky was a beam of powerful blue-green energy as wide as at least a dozen of Earth’s sequoia trees put together. The beam went on and on, disappearing far into the upper atmosphere. “Hurry up, go!” she commanded. They turned and dashed through the puddle as fast as they could force their tired limbs to move.
Connor breathed a deep sigh of relief and exhaustion as he emerged from the event horizon, bending double with his hands braced against his knees as he tried to gather his breath. The gate snapped closed behind him. Home in one piece, as his dad had commanded… Aunt Jennifer would insist on giving him a checkup first, but then he could take a nice hot show–
A familiar metallic clicking sound stopped that happy thought process. Connor slowly lifted his head and saw his sister standing slightly in front and to the side of him, hands held in the air. He straightened up with equal slowness and copied her stance. An arch of half a dozen hard-faced Marines stood in front of them, automatic weapons aimed at their chests. Not exactly the welcome he’d been expecting.
“Well,” he said quietly. “This isn’t good.”
Chapter 2: An Impossible Future by Erin87
I realized I'd never posted this chapter. I don't know if anyone still hangs around here, but sorry!
- An Impossible Future
It was Ronon who voiced what they were all thinking. “Do you think they’re telling the truth?”
It was the obvious question. John leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his messy hair, fragments of what he had just heard swirling through his mind. He still didn’t quite know what to make of it all. And from the looks on the faces of everyone else in the conference room, neither did they.
The two teenagers had finished telling their story roughly ten minutes ago. Woolsey had immediately called a meeting of all the senior staff members, marching those who had been in the holding cell back up the tower to the conference room. On the way, in the midst of non-stop speculation about the possible scientific implications of the event, Rodney had kept shooting John strange looks, as if he were waiting for some kind of explosive reaction. John had ignored him.
“I can’t fathom what they could hope to accomplish by telling such a lie,” said Woolsey. “An attempt to gain our sympathies and our trust? There are easier ways.”
“I agree,” said Rodney. “I mean, why would you go to the trouble of creating a lie that far-fetched-” Another glance at John; he wished he would knock it off. “- with a background that scientifically complex if you just wanted to cause trouble?”
“Indeed,” said Teyla, eyebrows raised slightly as she shook her head. “We have dealt with time travel before – with Dr. Weir, and with Colonel Sheppard just last year-” she gestured towards him- “and seen our doubles in clones and alternate realities, but I have never read of an incident in any of Stargate Command’s files where someone’s children have appeared from the future. Besides, why would they tell a lie that could be so easily found out?”
John, who had been silent for most of the meeting and only half paying attention, finally spoke up. “They seemed genuinely scared when we were in the gate room. Either they’re damn good actors, or they at least believe what they were saying was true.”
“So maybe it is,” said Rodney.
John glared at him. “Yeah, McKay, except that we all seem to keep forgetting the fact that I never married Elizabeth and I don’t have any kids. What, do you think I’ve been secretly hiding a baby in my dresser?”
“Okay, so maybe they’re not your kids, but they definitely belong to some John Sheppard. I mean, did you see that boy’s hair?” There was a simultaneous eye-roll from everyone in the room. He looked around for confirmation. “Oh, come on!” said Rodney. “You saw it! It was all…” He stuck his hands behind his head and waved his fingers around wildly.
“Can we please get back to the matter at hand now?” demanded Woolsey with a glare. Ronon leaned over and smacked McKay in the back of the head. There was a muttered ‘ow!’ and a death glare and the scientist lowered his hands to the table once more.
Rubbing the back of his head and scowling, Rodney looked up at the group assembled. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted… after hearing their story, it’s pretty obvious what’s happened here. This device that they ran across must have somehow sent them to an alternate reality, one that’s running behind them by about a couple decades or so.”
“And how exactly did it do this?” questioned Woolsey.
“Well, I’ve come up with a couple of theories, but I’d-”
“Rodney,” interrupted Teyla with a sigh, “before we speculate too much about how these children have come here, should we not first be attempting to verify their identities as much as possible?”
“Exactly the point I was going to raise next,” said John.
“They’re with Dr. Keller now,” said Woolsey. “We’ll determine at least part of the truth soon enough.”
“This might hurt a little,” warned Dr. Keller kindly as she prepped a needle and syringe.
“It usually does,” Emily muttered under her breath.
“Sorry?” said Jennifer absently, looking up.
“Huh? Oh, nothing.” Emily gave the young doctor an innocent smile. Keller smiled good-naturedly in return as she took hold of her arm and proceeded to draw a sample of her blood. Emily flinched as the needle went in, but didn’t react further; as many times as this woman had had to give her shots… it was nothing new. She purposefully looked away from the filling syringe - she wasn’t one of those people who got squeamish at the sight of blood, but knowing it was hers still unnerved her a bit. Instead, she looked around the room, a strange feeling growing inside her as she marked each difference in the arrangement of things. Those shelves should be against the opposite wall… the medicines were stored the wrong way… that cabinet had broken three years ago - she had cut her finger on the glass when it happened – but there it stood…
“All done,” said Keller, placing the now full syringe on the silver tray next to the infirmary bed. “Now hold your arm-” The doctor turned and reached out to take Emily’s wrist, but found her already applying pressure and holding said arm bent at the elbow. Jennifer gave a half smile. “Yeah, like that.”
She stepped across the room and handed the blood sample to a nurse for analysis, then came back to Emily and checked her arm. Emily watched her as Keller dabbed antibiotic cream on the tiny hole and stuck on a band-aid. “Why are you being so nice to me?” Emily asked suddenly. At Keller’s surprised look, she added quickly, “I mean, you don’t know for sure that we’re telling the truth yet. Shouldn’t you be a little more…I don’t know… less friendly?”
Jennifer stepped back, tossing away the bandage wrapper and folding her arms across her chest. “Do I have a reason to be?”
“Well, no… but… but I could be an alien or have… I don’t know – freaky mind powers or something…”
Keller smirked, but quickly schooled her face into a more professional expression. “Well, that’s exactly what I’m trying to determine here. And until we discover any threats or… freaky mind powers, you’re my patient and I’m going to do my job. If it makes you feel any better, I doubt your escorts are going anywhere anytime soon.” Her eyes flicked towards the pair of guards standing a few yards away by the wall.
Emily couldn’t think of anything to say to that. At her silence, Jennifer uncrossed her arms, fetched more antiseptic and bandages, and began to clean the shallow cut on Emily’s forehead. She figured that she must have gotten it when she and Connor were running through the trees on that planet, but she had no memory of it happening. She let Keller minister to her injuries in silence for a little while before asking, “How’s Connor?”
“Is that the boy who was with you?”
Her lack of knowledge was jarring. ‘She should know that…!’ Emily gave a tight nod. “My brother.”
“He’s fine. He’s being taken care of in another room.”
“What, do you think we’re going to conspire to take over the city or something?” Emily asked scornfully.
Keller raised a skeptical eyebrow at her. “Weren’t you just the one telling me that I ought to be more cautious?”
Emily opened her mouth to speak and closed it, caught. This was so confusing. She sighed and rubbed at her still dirt-streaked face, becoming aware for the first time of just how tired she was. Right now all she wanted was a hot shower and to crawl into her own bed and sleep for a day. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. She thought for a moment, struggling to find the words to explain herself. Finally: “I’m not saying that that’s not the right thing to do, Aun -” - she caught herself, stopping the automatic form of address that sprang to her lips, and forced out the correct one – “- Dr. Keller… I’m just saying that it’s not necessary.”
Keller studied her for a moment, as if she were trying to get a read on whether or not Emily was telling the truth. Emily looked right back and the same thought that had been running through her head ever since she had been brought to the infirmary came back. She looked so young! This was strange beyond all belief. This was her Aunt Jennifer… her best friend’s mom… the woman who had always been there to patch up her varied and numerous scrapes and bruises with a gentle hand and a sympathetic ear. But now here she was, treating her with nothing more than the usual kindness a doctor showed toward a patient - with no recognition whatsoever…
Keller gave a slight nod. “We’ll see,” was her reply. She moved away again and stripped off the pair of surgical gloves she had been wearing. “Now come on, let’s get you under a scanner.”
John walked into the conference room and slumped down in the same seat he’d occupied earlier that day. Most everyone else that needed to be was already there, except for one. John’s fingers began to drum nervously against the table top as they waited for Doctor Keller to arrive and deliver her report. Several hours had passed since that first dazed meeting after hearing the kids’ story. John had left the conference room immediately afterwards, brushing off his teammates attempts to talk to him. He had wandered towards the cafeteria, vaguely considering having the lunch that he’d never gotten to eat, but when he arrived, he had discovered that he wasn’t really very hungry anymore. He was too nervous, the thought of the answers that were coming filling his head. Who were they? Where were they from? Were they telling the truth? It wasn’t possible…he knew that… but he could see Elizabeth in both of them – heck, if he were being honest he could even see a little of himself. And that thought scared the hell out of him.
Many times over the past few hours thoughts about what Elizabeth would say if she were here had crossed his mind. He could imagine that look of stunned disbelief that would have been on her face after hearing the teenagers’ claims, and see her listening to their story: arms folded across her chest, eyebrows knitted together in a look of intense concentration. Between him and Elizabeth, doubtless one of them would make a weak attempt to diffuse the strangeness of the situation by joking about how the Atlantis rumor mill and accompanying betting pool would be going crazy. Yes, John could picture that scene very well – it brought a small smile to his face – but beyond that… he had nothing. For some reason, when it came to this situation, he had no idea what she would say, and that just bothered him even more.
John was snapped out of his reverie by Doctor Keller entering the room. He straightened up in his chair and rolled it closer to the huge wooden table Woolsey had imported, resting one arm on its surface. “Well, doc, what’s the verdict?” He found himself hoping that it would turn out to have been a lie.
Jennifer set a folder down on the table and turned to face them. “Well, they seem to have been telling the truth at least partly.” She looked directly at John. “According to every test I’ve run, those kids are your children, Colonel.”
John leaned slowly back in his chair, exhaling deeply. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Keller took out a small remote and pointed it at the flat-screen. Three different strands of DNA twisted across the screen. She hit the button again and similar sections on each of the strands became highlighted in blue. “I ran every test I can think of, and then checked and double checked to make sure. You’re a parental match, Colonel. They have Sheppard DNA.”
John was quiet for a minute. No one else said anything either. He swallowed to try and moisten a throat that had suddenly gone dry. “And what about…”
Keller took a deep breath and nodded. “I ran that test too. We still have some of Dr. Weir’s old records on file.” She pressed the button on the remote once again and another DNA strand, this one marked ‘Elizabeth Weir,’ appeared next to the other three. Another click and new sections became highlighted between hers and the two that belonged to the kids, these in green. “She’s a match too.”
Propping one elbow on the arm of his chair, John rested his forehead in the palm of his hand, his lips drawing together in a thin line. His peripheral vision caught Teyla letting out a deep breath, an unsettled look on her face as she also sank back into her seat.
“Well...” said Woolsey helpfully, then trailed off into silence. They were all digesting this bit of news. Having someone claim to be the child of your dead boss was one thing; having the proof of it staring you in the face was something else all together.
Suddenly an idea blazed through John’s mind and he grabbed hold of it, desperately reaching for something that would make more sense than what they had been told. “What if they were grown in some lab somewhere?” he blurted out. “I mean, someone could have lifted some DNA samples off me and Elizabeth when we went off world and decided to make a couple of kids.”
Keller nodded, seeming to consider the idea. “I suppose it’s possible. I can run some more tests, compare them to some of Dr. Beckett’s cells and see if I can find any similarities.”
“That still doesn’t explain how they know so much,” said Ronon, as usual cutting right to the heart of a problem with as few words as possible.
“No it doesn’t, but I think it’s best we explore all our options here,” said Keller, crossing her arms. “At this point almost the only things I’m 100 percent certain about is that they’re healthy and completely human.”
Woolsey sighed. “Very well. Is there anything else worth reporting, Doctor?”
Keller turned back to the flat screen and pointed the remote once again. “Well, it seems that Miss Sheppard and -”
John winced. “Can we not call her that?” he interrupted.
Keller glanced at him, clearing her throat uncomfortably. “Right. Sorry.” She grimaced slightly in apology and quickly looked away. “Um, anyway... it seems that Emily and her brother Connor both have a very strong showing of the Ancient gene - actually a little bit stronger than yours, Colonel.”
“Great,” said Rodney sarcastically, piping up for the first time since Ronon had smacked him into silence earlier, “if things start going haywire around the city we know who to blame then.”
“I would have thought you’d’ve been happy to have some super new guinea pigs to work with, Rodney,” needled John out of habit, although his heart wasn’t really in it at the moment. He was remembering his speculation of earlier, when the kids had first been locked up and he had caught himself wondering if they had inherited the ATA gene...
“Well I would of course, but -”
“But those children are not going anywhere except the brig or the infirmary until I deem it safe to let them move elsewhere,” said Woolsey. “I’ve ordered them to be kept separate for the time being until I’ve had a chance to question them further. I don’t want them collaborating; hopefully there will be some discrepancies in their story that we can use to find out what is really going on here. Dr. McKay, if you would look into the gate address that they dialed from? Perhaps we can find out more information from there.”
Woolsey issued a few more orders and then dismissed everyone. John saw Teyla eying him and quickly repeated his earlier exit, slipping out of the conference room before she could catch him and ask him how he was doing. He really didn’t want to have this discussion just yet, even though he knew it was inevitable.
The sun was beginning to set, and buckets of golden-orange light were pouring through the stained glass windows in the gate room. John was halfway there before he realized that his feet had automatically directed themselves towards the door of the balcony. He froze for a moment and then redirected his steps towards the stairs. He very rarely went on the balcony anymore without a specific purpose, and to go out there now, with everything that was going on... He caught Chuck watching him from behind his console. The technician hastily looked down, but John had seen that knowing expression. He frowned as he jogged down the steps; that man was too perceptive for his own good.
Still seeking fresh air, John took a transporter to the southeast pier and found a smaller, more secluded balcony on one of the towers. The doors hissed open and he stepped out into the amber sunlight, blessing the cool sharp breeze that whipped through his hair and helped to shake him out of his stupor. At least most of it. He walked up to the railing and leaned against it, looking out over the glittering sea that stretched far beyond the horizon. Ronon was right of course. Although artificial growth was within the realm of possibility, it still didn’t account for how much those kids knew... about Atlantis, about Elizabeth... about him. He had noticed it before, how at home they seemed in the city. And - he now realized in annoyance - how some part of his mind had automatically run under the assumption that they were telling the truth about who they were: the part that had wondered about the ATA gene, the part that had smirked at the boy’s sarcastic handling of Woolsey in the holding cell...
John gave a low growl of frustration and raked his fingers through his hair, again resting his forehead against his palm, so that he was now staring down at the pier below. His head was like a broken record, stuck on repeating ‘But it can’t be true! It isn’t possible!’ over and over again, battling with that tiny part that wondered why he was denying the situation so fiercely. Round and round went his thoughts, swirling so fast that he thought his brain might explode. Why couldn’t he just accept the information he’d been given and deal with it like he did with all the other strange things that they encountered every day? The breeze blew across his face again and he sighed, straightening up to gaze at the gilded sky. This had been one hell of a day.
He stood there and watched the sunset for a few more minutes, until the wind grew cool enough to warrant a jacket that he didn’t have with him. Reluctantly, he turned to go inside, and as his eyes caught one last glimpse of the sparkling towers around him, a new question whispered through his thoughts. Why did she keep coming back?
Connor was pacing. Arms alternating between swinging at his sides or being folded across his chest, he crossed the rectangular space that was his cell. The soles of his military issue boots scuffed across the gray floor, making the only other noise besides the faint hum of the invisible force-shield that surrounded the bars. He didn’t know how long he had been doing this, or how many times he had made the circuit - side, side, diagonal, side, side, diagonal... somewhere after a hundred and fifty he had stopped counting. Normally, pacing wasn’t his style; that was Emily’s job. He was the calm one (mostly). She would be practically climbing the walls, out of her mind with impatience, and he would sit out of her way and let her fume, because he had learned long ago that suggestions of ‘would you please just sit down!’ and ‘wearing yourself out won’t make it happen any faster’ never quite connected well with his sister. But Emily wasn’t here.
He didn’t know where they had put her. If he had to hazard a guess, he would have said that he was in the northern cell block, a prison area situated just beyond the base of the central tower. Another guess would have placed Emily as being held in one of the rooms next to this one, but he didn’t know for sure. He didn’t know anything for sure at the moment. Everything felt like a bad dream, or that Wonderland book he had read when he was little. Had they really traveled back in time? He hadn’t been able to read much of the information on that data console back on the planet, but that was the only explanation that made sense. No one knew who they were. His dad was still a Lt. Colonel and didn’t have any gray hair; Uncle Ronon’s beard was shorter and his dreads were longer; the infirmary was arranged all the wrong way, and his mom... well, she must have been off somewhere doing something - a diplomatic mission maybe. Her absence at all the proceedings so far was strange, and even more so had been Woolsey’s implication that she wasn’t the leader of Atlantis at the moment. Connor had asked the nurse who had examined him earlier if he could see her, and since being put in the cell he had made several attempts to question the guard standing by the door, but to no avail. No one seemed to want to talk to him about Elizabeth Weir.
‘Or anything else,’ muttered his thoughts. He knew these people - they wouldn’t hurt Emily - and he could see the reasoning behind keeping the two of them separate, but the knowledge didn’t make him any less antsy. He was supposed to look out for her; he needed to reassure himself that she was alright. ‘Dad’s gonna kill me if she isn’t alright.’ But his dad was right upstairs... wasn’t he? But yet he wasn’t... ‘Urrggh!!’ In frustration Connor swiped his left arm at the barrier, receiving an extremely painful shock for his trouble. His hand now numb, he cradled it against his chest while murmuring curses under his breath. He’d known that was coming, but it still hurt like h-
The outer door to the room opened, and Connor spun around, half hoping that it was his mom come to see him at last, but it was only another guard. There was a German flag on his arm, and he was carrying a dinner tray. The two guards exchanged a few words with each other; Connor’s German was a little patchy, but he knew enough to gather that they were apparently having lemon meringue pie in the mess hall that evening - a rare treat indeed. He smirked half-heartedly to himself.‘Uncle Rodney’s gonna have fun with that one.‘ The posted guard opened the cell door and the German stepped inside, deposited the tray on the floor, and then left. Connor stepped over to the tray and nudged one of the plastic containers on it with his foot. Oh look, he got pie too. What joy. He tried to imagine meeting his sister’s eyes and sharing as laugh over the ridiculousness of their adopted uncle’s behavior as they normally would, but his heart wasn’t in it. Connor sighed and picked up the tray, carrying it over to the corner where he sat down and mechanically began to eat. The teasing and jokes of earlier that day seemed miles and miles away.
“Please state your full name.”
“Emily Lora Sheppard.”
“Connor Evan James Sheppard.”
“How old are you?”
“Don’t you know it’s rude to ask a girl that?”
“Please answer the question.” Annoyance.
Sigh. “I’m fifteen.”
“In what year were you born?”
“2013. What year is it now?”
Ignore. “State the full names of your parents.”
“You’ve already asked us that!”
“Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force, Commander of...”
“... Elizabeth Weir Sheppard, PhD in...”
“Is she here?”
“Could we please talk to our mother?”
“I would have thought -”
“Why hasn’t she come to see us yet?”
Silence. Hesitation. Obviously uncomfortable, which turns into cool stare. “As you seem to keep forgetting, I am the one conducting this interrogation. You will please refrain from asking further questions.” Looks down at paper.
“Place of birth?”
“In what part of the city were you born?”
“What kind of a question is- ?”
Sigh. “As far as I know...”
“Have you always lived on Atlantis, or did you ever reside on Earth?”
“... wiped out when I was a kid...”
“...were surrounded by the smartest people in two galaxies...”
“...had tutors mostly...”
More eye-rolling. “No, I never had a rabbit...”
“Describe in detail the events...”
“...my sister’s first mission...”
“...our mom, Elizabeth...”
“You flinch every time I mention her...”
“...planet with Ancient ruins...”
“...weren’t really ruins at all...”
--An hour and a half later--
“Thank you. That should be all.” Woolsey scribbled some final notes on his pad and clicked off the recorder that had been running for the entire interview. He pushed back his chair and made to leave. Connor suddenly stood up, ignoring the two machine guns that were now pointed at his chest and back. “Mr. Woolsey!”
The man in question paused and turned around, gesturing for the guards to lower their weapons. His face was impassive. “Yes?”
Connor caught the older man’s eyes and stared him down; he wasn’t going to let it go this time. “Why won’t you answer any of my questions about my mother?”
“I haven’t answered your sister’s either, if it makes you feel any better.”
Woolsey’s mouth twisted, and his voice was sharp when he spoke. “Mr. Sheppard - assuming that is in fact your real name - you and your sister just walked through my stargate from nowhere not twenty-four hours ago. Do you expect me to suddenly trust you and welcome you with open arms?”
Connor shook his head. “There’s more to it than that,” he said fiercely. “Look, I know you’ve probably checked our DNA by now. You’ve seen that at least part of what we’ve told you is the truth. It’s a simple question! We’re not asking for the IDC codes, we just want to know why we haven’t seen our mom! She wouldn’t just ignore something like this happening!”
Woolsey fixed Connor with an unreadable stare for several long seconds. Then he gave an almost imperceptible nod, and he seemed to suddenly deflate somewhat. “Very well.” He stepped back towards the interrogation table and set down his things. “Sergeant, please bring in the other prisoner.”
As Connor sank slowly back into his seat, he caught a glimpse of something in Woolsey’s eyes: pity. A cold fear suddenly gripped his heart, setting his stomach churning. ‘Please...’ he thought desperately. ‘Please no...’
Several minutes passed before the guard returned with Emily. When she was brought into the room, he started to jump up, but the nod and small smile she gave kept him in his place. When his disturbed look didn’t abate at this reassurance, however, Emily’s brow furrowed in concern and she glanced at Woolsey apprehensively. She slowly moved to the chair that had been placed on Connor’s other side and sat down.
“What’s going on?” she asked him nervously.
“He’s going to tell us why we haven’t seen Mom,” he replied evenly, all the while praying ‘it can’t be that, it can’t be that, it can’t be that...’ Her eyes snapped towards Woolsey and stayed there, eager for information.
Woolsey cleared his throat uncomfortably. He rested his hand on the back of his chair as if to pull it out and sit down, but seemed to decide against it. Instead, he let his arms rest at his sides and stood up as straight as he could possibly manage, so that he was looking down at the two of them sitting there.
“I don’t know exactly what is going on here - whether or not you’re from the future as you claim, or whether you come from some alternate reality as Dr. McKay believes - but in light of the recent medical evidence that has been presented to this case, I believe you have a right to know.” He paused to take a breath, frowning slightly as he looked at each of them in turn. “The Dr. Elizabeth Weir who once ran this expedition was taken captive by the Replicators nearly two years ago and is now believed to be dead. Dr. Weir gave her life to ensure this city’s safety. It was a terrible loss, one that is still felt deeply to this day.” He paused again, and the pity Connor had seen became apparent in his voice.
“I’m sorry, but that’s why she won’t be coming to see you.”
‘He has to be lying. He just told us that because he still doesn’t trust us. Mom’s just off-world - maybe she’s on Earth for something... That has to be it. There’s no way it could be true!’
Emily repeated this thought process to herself like a mantra as she was escorted down a hallway, trying to avoid thinking about that sick numb feeling that was swirling around inside of her. A few minutes after breaking the news, Woolsey had quietly ordered the guards to take her and Connor back to their cells. She hadn’t protested, hadn’t demanded that she be allowed to be with her brother as she had fully planned to. She hadn’t said a single word.
Everything around her was blurry - trapped in a fog. At the moment there was room for only one wonderful truth that she clung to with all her might. ‘My mother didn’t die. This is the past. This is the past and she never died so she can’t be gone. She can’t be...’
The way no one had answered her questions, how even Aunt Jen- Dr. Keller - had avoided her gaze when she’d mentioned Elizabeth after her scan. Woolsey’s shocked voice while they were in the holding cell - “...Elizabeth Weir? The former leader of this expedition?” The things she hadn’t even noticed at first, like how she hadn’t heard anyone suggest contacting Dr. Weir and informing her of the situation. Or the haunted look hidden deep behind her father’s eyes...
Emily’s breath caught. Her heart started beating faster and her head felt fuzzy as tears began to burn behind her eyes. ‘Can’t be... no!‘ The denial started screaming ever faster and she looked around frantically, trying to figure out where she was. There. She recognized the view out that window; they were in the lower northeastern section of the tower. She did some mental calculations; if she could get to a transporter, then it was only two floors up... ‘can’t be, can’t be...’ All she had to do was give the guard the slip. Easy.
She waited a few more seconds and then suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and gasped, gripping her stomach; she didn’t have to fake the distressed look on her face. The guard moved towards her to steady her, but before he could grab her she sank down on one knee as if overcome, moaning as if she were in pain. Panicked, the guard did exactly what Emily had been betting on. He straightened and looked around, calling for help. The few seconds that his eyes were turned away from her were all she needed. The instant that he looked away she was off, shooting down the hallways like a bullet. She heard a yell behind her and the sound of thudding boots. Adrenaline coursing through her veins, she went even faster, skidding on the smooth floors as she turned the corner and sprinted toward the transporter that she knew would be waiting. Still several feet away, she waved her hand in the direction of the control panel and the doors slid open just as she reached them. She launched herself inside, colliding painfully with the back wall, and slammed her fist against the icon she needed on the city map. ‘Come on, come on!’ The doors were almost closed when her thwarted guard came into view through the narrowing slit. Fury contorting his face, he pointed towards her and marched forwards, but he was too late.
Emily barely had time to lean her head back against the wall and take a deep breath before the doors opened again, revealing a completely different location than the one she had just vacated. There were no windows here, merely strip lights and the standard decorative copper panels. Best of all, no angry guard. No one at all in fact. Even so, Emily didn’t waste any time. She darted out of the transporter, took a moment to orient herself, and ran down the right hand corridor, still high on adrenaline. She could run into someone at any moment, but she didn’t care - didn’t slow down - confident in her knowledge that she probably knew more about how the layout of this city than the entire military contingent put together. And she had to get there... she had to know for sure... Without thinking, she barreled around another corner and up a flight of stairs, right smack into three soldiers. Everyone froze for a moment. One of the soldiers had his hand to the radio at his ear, obviously having just received the news of an escaped prisoner. They stared at her in surprise, only coming to life when she bolted towards the exit beside them.
More yells followed as she pounded up a second set of stairs. They were right behind her - she could hear them cursing at her under their breaths. Emily poured as much energy as she could into making herself go faster. At the top of the stairs another corridor stretched out before her, this one relatively short and lined with doorways on either side. She only had a few seconds, but she had one large advantage over her pursuers: they didn’t know where she was going. Without breaking pace, Emily stretched out her hand and waved it over a door panel as she ran past. Further along, halfway down the hall, there was a gap in the wall that held yet another staircase. She did a ninety-degree left turn so fast that she nearly fell over - her palms slammed against the hard surface of the bottom stair and she scrambled desperately up the steps to the landing, trying to make as little noise as possible and praying that they hadn’t seen her. Shouts echoed through the hallway two seconds later as the soldiers entered it. She strained her ears, trying to hear over the sound of her pulse thrumming and her breaths that came in heavy draws. As close as they were behind her, they should have reached the corridor just as the door she had opened was closing...
“That way!” came a cry. Emily imagined someone pointing. A scuffle of boot-steps - Emily held her breath as she listened - and they were gone. She sagged back against the wall, eyes closed, her legs splayed out in front of her as she tried to catch her breath. The door the men had just gone through concealed another hallway, one that lead in the direction of the ZPM room - a likely destination for an enemy spy or whatever they thought she was. Believing that someone was about to blow up the city should keep them occupied for a little while.
Still, she couldn’t stop just yet. She pulled herself to her feet using the nearest bit of stair railing and continued upwards. It wasn’t far now... A few more corridors and a short set of stairs later - which she managed without meeting anyone - Emily finally found herself at her destination. She came to a halt in front of the set of double doors, paneled in beautifully patterned stained glass. Uncertainty and no small amount of fear suddenly flooded through her. The need to get to this place had been driving her through that entire chase, but now that she was actually here... She heard Woolsey’s voice in her head. ‘former leader of this expedition?...now believed to be dead...’ She opened the door.
The memorial hall was just as beautiful as she remembered. The ceiling soared upwards, and the entire upper half of the walls were made of stained glass windows that let light pour into the circular room in sheets of transparent gold. Even with all the light there were candles everywhere, and small clusters of flowers were gathered underneath each of the framed photographs that lined the walls. Wooden plaques placed beneath the photos commemorated the final deeds of the person above them, and in most cases the space was littered with notes, personal photographs, and prayers written on bits of paper and left by friends of the deceased.
It was a calm place, and quiet; one that managed to maintain a spirit of warmth and peace despite its tragic purpose. Emily stepped further into the room and the doors closed behind her. Afraid of what she might see, she tried to avoid looking at the pictures on the wall and noticed instead that there was something missing. The low stone monument that usually occupied the space in the center of the room - a large circular plinth carved with the words ‘Heroes of Atlantis’ in Ancient along its rim - wasn’t there. Its absence made sense, Emily supposed. Her mother had commissioned the memorial when she was two;as she had been told later, apparently Elizabeth had decided that a more permanent tribute to Atlantis’s fallen was long overdue...
The memory reinforced the reason for her presence there with a painful nudge. Emily closed her eyes and inhaled, breathing in the air that smelled of flowers and faint incense. Ignoring the fear that was clawing at her mind, she forced herself to look up. Slowly, she walked along the wall, silently praying that she wouldn’t see what something told her she was going to find. But find it she did. There, beneath the largest stained glass window, was a photograph adorned with more flowers than any other. Emily walked towards it, shaky and afraid, and stopped.
“Mom...” she breathed, the tears that her escape had suppressed rushing to the surface. It felt like a knife was twisting in her gut. Slowly, she reached out a hand and touched the beautiful Athosian-made frame that held the image of a beaming Elizabeth Weir, standing proudly on the gate room staircase. ‘No...’ whimpered Emily’s thoughts. Her eyes swam and she looked down, trying to keep from crying. Something else Woolsey had said sprang into her mind - Uncle Rodney believed that they were from an alternate reality, which would mean... But right now that didn’t matter. Even though this might be a different reality, and this wasn’t her home and this wasn’t her mother, Emily couldn’t banish the pain she was feeling and she couldn’t stop the tears from finally falling.
Her hand still against the base of the frame, she stood there, shuddering with small sobs. There was a faint noise behind her that she barely registered and then moments later a pair of strong arms wrapped themselves around her. “Hey,” said her big brother’s voice, and it was strained, like he was fighting back tears too. She turned towards him and buried her face in his shoulder. Connor held her as she sobbed. “I know,” he whispered thickly, and Emily felt a few wet drops land on her hair. “I know.”
John stood silently at the door to the memorial hall, watching as the two children held each other, the golden light from the windows pooling around them, shining dust motes floating through the air. After a few moments he couldn’t stand it anymore and looked away, his throat thick.
When the alert had gone out after the girl’s escape, he had been meeting with Woolsey, waiting for the other senior staff members to arrive so they could discuss the findings from Woolsey’s interrogations. John had immediately begun coordinating with Major Lorne to recapture her - she had last been seen heading in the direction of the ZPM room - when the call came in from Connor’s guard. The boy demanded that he be allowed to help find her, claiming that he knew where she was going. Against John’s advice, Woolsey had allowed it, after a moment of serious consideration in which his brow furrowed even more than usual. Escorted by four guards, Connor had come running straight here and convinced them to let him approach his sister alone. John had arrived just as the boy had gone in, surprised at first over where they were. It only took a moment though to figure out why, and he mentally cursed. Woolsey hadn’t informed him that he had told the kids about Elizabeth.
John breathed in deeply through his nose and steeled himself to glance through the open doors once more. Elizabeth had been gone for so long now, and to see such fresh pain brought back memories he would rather have forgotten. He turned away and stepped back . He was an intruder on their grief: a grief that was very real- as impossible as it was and as much as he would like to rationalize otherwise. He swiped his hand over the door control panel, closing it, and turned towards the guards. “Give ‘em some time. There’s no other exits; they’re not going anywhere.”
His order confirmed with four sets on nods, John turned and walked away as fast as he could.
Chapter 3: Aftershock by Erin87
I started this chapter in 2011 and finally finished it. Crazy.
Chapter 3: Aftershock
Emily rested the side of her head against one of the cell's support columns, drawing her knees closer to her chest. She closed her eyes as the coolness of the metal alloy sank into her skin, the vibration of the active force-shield that surrounded the cell a slight buzz in the background. With one hand she clutched at the necklace she wore and tried to keep her mind carefully blank –let the sound wash over her –but she failed. The memory of what she had discovered in the past hours forced itself unbidden into her thoughts and she clenched both her fists against the sick cold feeling that came swooping with it. The image of that picture surrounded by flowers floated through her mind and would not go away.
Part of her wanted to cry some more, to lose herself in the physicality of tears, but none would come. There was only that swooping emptiness, battling with the sheer overwhelmingness of it it all – this place, these people, everything that appeared so right but felt so horribly wrong. She wanted to get out: out of this cell with its close quarters and sharp shadows, out of this nightmare where her mother was dead and no one knew who she was to comfort her.
Suddenly unable to stand it anymore, she scrambled to her feet, buzzing with restlessness, hating these cell walls that offered the appearance of easy freedom but not the reality, hating Woolsey for putting her in them. Running, running, she wanted to run – break down that door, find Connor and just keep going and going until she forgot everything that had happened in the past twenty four hours... until they were home. She started pacing back and forth, her throat sore with the screams she was suppressing, muscles aching with the need to get out of this tiny room. The bars seemed to close in on her with every second she spent inside them. Why did she have to be alone? That was only making things worse. Why hadn't they let Connor stay with her? She cried out and froze in the middle of the cell, burying her face in her hands. What kind of past was this?
The door to the hallway hissed open. Emily turned, dropping her hands. Her Aunt Teyla stepped out of the shadows and up to the bars. The Athosian woman stared a her a moment, looking shocked. Then she seemed to recover herself. "I apologize." She shaped her gaping mouth into a gentle smile, real sympathy present in her brown eyes. "Hello, Emily. My name is Teyla. I've come to see how you are feeling."
Stretched as her mind felt, Emily couldn't help but laugh a bit at that. "I know who you are," she said, voice still somewhat thick from the extreme emotions of a minute before.
Teyla nodded. "Ah, of course. For some reason the thought had not entered my mind." She paused, seeming hesitant. "May I ask how it is that you know me?"
"You mean in the future?"
"You're our godmother, Connor's and mine." Emily's earlier visit to Dr. Keller sprang into mind. It was so surreal, having to tell Teyla something that she had known long before Emily herself.
"Indeed? Well... I am sure I felt it a great honor for Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Weir to entrust me with such a position."
Emily could tell she was trying to be comforting, but there was a hesitance in her voice that spoke of more. She caught Teyla's eye and raised an eyebrow at her.
However, instead of prompting her to explain, the gesture seemed to throw Teyla off even more. "I... I am sorry. It is just that for a moment you looked..." She shook her head. "It does not matter." She looked up and met Emily's eyes again. "Please try to understand that these... circumstances are very disconcerting for all of us."
Emily gave a humorless laugh, eyes sliding down to stare at the cell bars. "No kidding."
"I am sure what Mr. Woolsey told you came as a great shock." The kindness in her tone made Emily look up again. "You have my sympathies."
"Thank you," murmured Emily, giving a short nod. Her face must have betrayed the pain caused by the awful reality of the condolence, because Teyla stepped closer to the bars and lowered her voice.
"My own mother died when I was very young," she began. Emily stared at her; she had never heard Aunt Teyla really talk about that before. "Those were... dark days, both for me and for my people. Many days it seemed as if the entire world had been reversed and I could not tell one way from another. Yet even then, at least I knew the whole history of my mother's fate. I can only begin to imagine what this discovery must be like for the two of you."
"What, then you believe us?"
"As of yet, I have seen no evidence that you and your brother are lying."
"That doesn't mean you think we're telling the truth."
"It means that I must judge the situation based on the facts before my eyes."
"And what do they tell you?"
Teyla eyed her for a long moment. "They tell me without question that you share a strong connection with Elizabeth and Colonel Sheppard. I do not know how such a connection is possible... but it exists. And therefore I am willing to, as they say, give you the benefit of the doubt."
Emily felt a rush of gratitude towards the older woman. Aunt Teyla had always been reasonable. She gave her a small smile. "Well, it's nice that someone does."
Teyla returned a polite smile and nod and turned to leave.
Teyla stopped and turned back around, a questioning look on her face.
"Please, I don't know how much pull you have around here right now, but is there any way I can see Connor? I..." She hesitated. 'Come on Emily, just admit it! This is no time to be proud!' She took a deep breath. "I don't think I can stand being in here alone for much longer."
"I will see what I can do." Teyla nodded once more and then left. The distraction being gone, Emily was left with nothing to do but sink back onto the floor and try to swat away the gnawing fingers of that inner emptiness that slowly tried to creep their way back in.
"And I have your solemn promise that you won't attempt to escape and that you will do this city no harm in any way?"
"Mr. Woolsey, this is our home," sighed Connor, sick of having to keep explaining this to people. "Until we figure out what the heck is going on here, we don't have anywhere else to go."
"Yes! You have my word!" Connor shut his eyes for a moment. Shouting at this guy wouldn't do him or Emily any good.
"Very well. At the recommendation of Teyla Emmagen, I am transferring your confinement to house arrest in one of the guest quarters. You and your sister will remain under guard at all times and are to stay put unless given permission to move elsewhere. And speaking of your sister... Mr. Sheppard, I would advise you to keep her in line. While there were slightly... mitigating circumstances, I don't want a repeat of what happened yesterday."
"You won't have to worry about her." Ordinarily, Connor would have considered that a bold-faced lie, but he sincerely hoped that for once, with no one else for them to rely on, she would actually listen to him.
"Good." Woolsey waved forward the guard that was standing in the doorway. "Sergeant, please escort Mr. Sheppard down to collect his sister and then take them to one of the empty living quarters."
'Finally!' thought Connor. It was just wrong, this man sitting in his mother's office, comfortable and confident, as if he owned the place... If Connor had to sit there any longer and look at him, he might just start yelling after all.
The sergeant led Connor down the now familiar path to the prison block. The occasional scientist or other military personnel that they passed gave him curious looks, clearly wondering who he was. Apparently, Mr. Woolsey had chosen not to reveal the situation to the city's population at large, although Connor doubted that it would be a mystery for long – big secrets generally stopped being secret in a matter of hours in Atlantis. He'd often heard his parents joking about the city having the most efficient rumor mill in two galaxies; a look always passed between them when they mentioned it, as if it was some private joke on their part. Still, the lack of recognition was definitely a stark change from how things usually went, where Connor knew almost everyone at least in passing and where everyone certainly knew who he was. After about the fifth inquisitive stare, he decided he might as well make the most of something so annoying. Thankfully, the next face he saw was someone he did know, and as soon as she turned an inquiring eye his way, he spoke to her.
"Hi, Dr. Kusanagi, how are you?" The look on the scientist's face was priceless. Not only was Connor a complete stranger, but also obviously a prisoner. Kusanagi had frozen in place, glancing nervously from him to the guard and back again.
"You, no talking," ordered the guard. "Move along, Doctor."
Adjusting her glasses, Miko scurried away as quickly as possible, clutching her data tablet to her chest. Connor smirked to himself as he walked in front of his hulking Marine escort, following him down two levels and into the prison complex. Maybe that was a little evil of him, but hey... there had to be some kind of perks in this situation. Another guard let them into Emily's cell and Connor's smirk faded. There certainly weren't very many.
He rushed forward, getting as close to the bars as he dared. She was sitting on the floor, her face buried in her arms, gripping her legs as if she were trying to keep herself from falling apart. Anger stirred within him. Locking up his little sister... She didn't even look up until he called her name.
A look of extreme relief crossed over her grief-stricken face and she rapidly pulled herself to her feet, stepping towards the bars.
"Stand back," ordered her guard. She obeyed and he keyed open the cell door. Connor didn't wait for it to open all the way before stepping inside, instantly reeling backwards as Emily dashed forwards and threw her arms around his neck.
"Ow! Watch it!" he protested feebly, tightening his arms around her all the same. "Brother, not punching bag."
She released him and stepped back, sniffing slightly. "There's a difference?"
"Ha ha." He placed a hand on her shoulder and started guiding her to the door. "Come on, let's get out of here."
"Wait, they're letting us go?" Emily questioned in amazement. "Have they figured out what's going on?"
Connor could hear the hope rising in her voice and cursed himself for not being more careful in his wording. "No. No they aren't and no they haven't. But Mr. Woolsey has condescended to allow us to stay in the guest quarters."
"Oh... How... how thoughtful of him."
"Isn't it just?" Connor said dryly.
"No talking while we're walking." The guard went silent then chuckled, apparently amused with his own cleverness at rhyming.
Connor glanced over and saw Emily cringe, looking too exhausted to roll her eyes as she normally would have. He placed his arm around her shoulders and tried to reign in the resentment that was seething through him at their situation – at everyone and everything around them that wasn't the way it should be. If it had been Woolsey walking behind them instead of the guard, Connor doubted that he could have restrained himself from doing something he'd regret.
The small group marched through the city, taking the least used corridors to avoid as many curious eyes as possible. Finally, they arrived at a block of rooms three quarters of the way up the central tower. Aunt Teyla was waiting for them. She gave an acknowledging smile to their escort.
"Thank you, Sergeant. I will escort them from here."
The guard looked hesitant and Connor braced himself for the spiel about orders and 'But Mr Woolsey said...' but it never came. Teyla fixed the guard with a look – a look that was very familiar to Connor and every kid he'd ever known. It was a subtle yet scary 'do you really wish to question me?' look, one that had stopped many a rampaging child in his or her tracks. There were stories. Everybody knew Teyla Emmagen could back up any kind of threat she made.
"Yes, ma'am," said the unfortunate sergeant, and he took up a position at the end of the hallway.
"Follow me," Teyla said, and Connor and Emily fell in behind her. Connor suddenly felt three years old again, being passed from the guardianship of one adult to another.
Teyla didn't speak to them. Connor could hardly blame her; if their positions were reversed he'd have no idea what to say. They proceeded down the hallway in silence until Teyla stopped in front of a nondescript door. She swiped it open and stepped aside to let them enter. Emily obediently went into the room but Connor paused, giving Teyla an inquiring look.
"I thought we were being put in one of the guest quarters," he said in confusion.
"These are the guest quarters," replied Teyla, one eyebrow lifting ever so slightly.
"But..." Connor sighed and rubbed at his forehead as he followed his sister inside. "Never mind."
Emily gave a humorless laugh from the middle of the room. "We're twenty years in the past. We should really stop being surprised at this kind of thing."
"Easier said than done," muttered Connor, looking around their new abode. The apartment was smaller than the guest quarters he was used to, but other than that it was completely standard. Little had been done to alter the original Ancient decor except the addition of a potted plant on the side table. On opposite sides of the room were doors that Connor guessed led to bedrooms.
"I hope you will be more comfortable here," said Teyla. "Someone will bring you food shortly and there is fresh clothing if you wish to change." The older woman paused, looking back and forth between Connor and Emily as if she wanted to say something else, but no words came out of her open mouth. She nodded at them, eyes dark with something that might have been sympathy, and turned to go.
"Wait." Emily swept by Connor and stopped in front of Teyla, gesturing at the room behind her. "I know we're here because of you. Thank you." Emily gave Teyla a hug, clearly startling their young adoptive aunt, then quickly retreated to the window at the other end of the room.
Teyla stood there for a moment, an expression on her face that Connor couldn't quite read. She briefly met his eyes, nodded once more and left. The door closed behind her with a soft hiss and Connor and Emily were alone. His eyes roamed blankly around the room, finally fixing on his sister. Emily still stood staring out the window, her arms crossed over her chest and her back to him– a silent silhouette in stark contrast with the sparkling vivacity that usually characterized her every move. She said nothing and for once Connor didn't have any words to offer her.
Thoroughly exhausted, he took a few steps and sank onto the small sofa, suddenly painfully aware that he hadn't slept since the morning of the mission, now pushing forty-eight hours, give or take about twenty years. But as soon as he shut his eyes images he had temporarily managed to suppress rushed through his head – images of the memorial, accompanied by Woolsey's voice, giving Connor the news that his mother was dead. The stress and impossibility of the past hours ran zinging through his nerves in accompaniment – the rushes of adrenaline and fear and confusion and anger – and Connor's eyes snapped open. The air rushed against the dampness around his eyes but he ignored the feeling as he leaned back against the cushions and raked his fingers through his hair. Until absolute exhaustion forced his body to obey, he wouldn't be sleeping for a long time.
Teyla signaled to the guards that they could assume their posts outside of the teenagers' door and walked quietly down the corridors towards the control room. Mr. Woolsey had asked her to give a report on her perceptions of the mysterious young people. Increasingly, Teyla found that it was a report that she would rather not give. Such pain as she had witnessed in Connor and Emily's eyes should not be treated so lightly, to be tattled on like children at play. These feelings of sympathy went against Teyla's better judgement, the logic that told her of the threat the boy and girl could pose to Atlantis, but her heart judged the situation quite differently. She sighed. This was all so strange.
"Hey," a deep voice called out to her. Teyla looked up and found Ronon walking towards her.
"Hello," she replied, too wrapped up in her thoughts to muster a smile of her usual warmth.
Ronon fell into step beside her. "You okay?"
"Yes, I am fine," she said with a small reassuring smile, forcing herself out of the haze of sad thoughts. "I have just come from escorting our visitors to their new accommodation."
"And... I do not know," Teyla admitted. "We have been given no reason to doubt their claims so far. Dr. Keller has given her evidence and when I look at them I see nothing more sinister than fear and confusion."
"They could be acting."
Teyla stopped walking and shook her head. "You have seen them yourself, Ronon – heard their story from their own lips. You know as well as I that there is more to this situation than that. The way they speak, their mannerisms and appearance..." Teyla trailed off. "They are connected to Elizabeth and to Colonel Sheppard, of that I have no doubt."
There was a pause in the conversation, Ronon's silence saying as much as any words.
"I admit I was skeptical myself," Teyla continued, "until I saw the girl for the first time today." She looked up and met her friend's eyes. "Ronon, when I first walked into that cell, for half a moment I believed it was Elizabeth who stood there before me." She glanced down at the floor. "It is no wonder Colonel Sheppard has seemed so agitated." She sighed and the two of them resumed walking, Teyla staring at her intertwined fingers without really seeing them. "This situation is strange enough for the rest of us – I can scarcely imagine what the three of them must be going through."
"Gotta be weird, showing up in the past where nobody knows who you are and you're not even supposed to exist."
"Finding out that you have two children with someone who has been thought dead for almost two years," finished Teyla, meeting Ronon's eyes once more.
"Like I said, its gotta be weird."
Another lull fell into the conversation, Teyla occupied with her own thoughts. If a teenaged Torren had stepped through the stargate three years ago, before she and Kanaan had even begun a relationship, what would she have done? Would they have locked him away as well? Would he have that same look of disorientation and fear? Yet Kanaan would have been alive. Torren's presence could be seen as merely a presage of the future. With Elizabeth, however...
A thought struck her, one that Teyla hardly dared to acknowledge, for fear of allowing herself to hope. It must be said, however. "Ronon," she said cautiously. "If these children are indeed from the future, could it be possible that their existence might mean that-"
"That Weir's still alive somewhere?"
Teyla tilted her head to the side in a slow nod, fixing Ronon with a slightly anxious glance. It seemed he had reached a similar theory. He returned the look with a sympathetic one of his own, gently shaking his head.
"You heard how they reacted yesterday. Weir getting captured by Replicators isn't part of the history they knew."
Teyla sighed once more and nodded. It had been a foolish hope, even though short lived.
"That is all the more reason..." she said firmly. "Mr. Woolsey should not have told them about what happened to Elizabeth. Those children are truly grieving, Ronon."
"They asked and he told them. It's not Woolsey's fault."
"It was unnecessary given the circumstances. What if the two of them are from an alternate reality, as Rodney said? The information would have no significance to them in that case and telling them will have only caused unnecessary suffering."
Ronon paused a moment and lifted his thick eyebrows at her. "Sounds like you've decided to me."
"Sounds like you believe them."
"I..." Teyla sighed and shook her head. Giving up, she glanced up at Ronon and gave him a wry smile. "Perhaps it is my maternal instinct that is guiding me."
He only smirked at her, the expression drawing a genuine smile from her lips. The two of them reached a fork in the corridor. "Where are you headed?" asked Teyla.
"Mess hall with Amelia. You wanna join us?"
It was now Teyla's turn to smirk at him and she gently shook her head. "I thank you, but no. Kanaan and Torren are waiting in our quarters. We are practicing walking again."
Ronon grinned. "Have fun."
She smiled, waving a hand at him in dismissal, and walked down the opposite corridor towards her family.
"So what's our game plan here?" asked John the next morning, eyes flicking across the desk from Woolsey to Rodney and back again. "Keller's clone tests came back negative. Teyla's given them the okay. Their stories match up and they seem..."
"Emotionally invested?" offered Rodney.
"Yeah," said John, tapping his fingers against the arm of the chair. He raised his eyebrows at Woolsey and jerked his chin forward. "I vote for the usual."
"The usual, Colonel?"
"I take a team, we scout out the planet, Rodney fixes the machine and everybody goes home happy. Emphasis here on the 'everybody goes home' part."
The kids – unnerving and surreal as they were – didn't belong here, but they did belong somewhere. John had seen and heard enough to convince him of that much at least.
Rodney frowned wistfully. "Have we ever been anywhere where it was that easy?" Neither of the other men answered; John gave him a look.
"No, I was being serious," said Rodney. "Have we?"
Another beat of silence.
"Er, right." Rodney cleared his throat. "Anyway, gross over-simplification aside, that is the logical next step, isn't it? This complex the kids described sounds well worth the trouble of checking out. You know, assuming they were telling the truth."
"Always assuming that, Doctor McKay," said Woolsey. "Frankly, I've grown rather tired of debating the question. Colonel Sheppard is right. We've sat on our hands long enough regarding this issue and there's little more we can do here. Colonel, have your team ready in two hours. I want this planet fully investigated before I let those children set foot through the stargate."
John stood around the corner for a full ten minutes, working up the courage to do what he'd come to do and feeling like an idiot that it was necessary. He'd almost sent Teyla, but figured that, as much as he'd like to avoid it, he had to face them eventually. It wasn't like he was scared of them. They were just teenagers. Strange creepily familiar teenagers that had his nose and wild hair and smile. And Elizabeth's eyes. 'Get a grip, John. Do your job.'
He took another deep breath, bounced on his heels one last time, and stepped into the hallway. The guard on duty watched him as he approached – "Sir." – and moved away at his nod.
John knocked on the door. "It's-uh... It's Colonel Sheppard. I'm coming in."
After a slow count of five, John swiped open the door and walked right into the boy's stare. Connor was perched on the edge of the couch, frozen halfway through the process of standing up. He had showered and changed clothes, his hair sweeping across his head in clean yet untidy brown waves. Only the red scratches on his arm hinted at the upheaval of the past few days.
"Da-" The word faded away into a puff of breath. "Colonel."
John stopped a few feet beyond the threshold. The kid was looking at him like he didn't know whether to be wary or hopeful.
The boy stood up. "Well, you remember my name." A half-hearted twitch of a smile crossed his lips. "I guess that's a start."
John gave a non-committal 'hmm' of agreement and looked away. "Is-?"
Emily burst in from one of the adjoining rooms, likewise scrubbed of the accumulated grime that came with off-world missions and days in a holding cell, her dark curls a kinetic cloud around her head. John thought she was going to run towards him, but halfway there she slowed, with a visible effort, checking her momentum by gripping the back of the sofa. Her eyes didn't leave his face.
"Well?" she asked, voice quiet but eager. Undoubtedly hopeful. As if he solved all their problems by simply walking in the room.
How the heck was he supposed to respond to that? John looked at the wall art instead. Right. Doing his job. He propped his hands on his hips.
"We're about to send a team to check out the planet you guys came from..."
'Finally,' he saw the boy mouth. John eyed him. 'Shades of smart-ass. Check.' He cleared his throat and frowned, more at himself for getting distracted than at Connor.
"Can we come with you?" Emily blurted out.
"No. You guys are going to stay put until we do the final checks on your story. Before we go, I wanted to ask if there was anything else you want to tell us about what we'll find there. Any forgotten intel. Helpful hints. Nasty surprises..."
"You mean traps." The girl's voice was laced with disappointment now, and it was almost a relief. He carefully avoided looking at her face.
"There aren't," Connor said.
John risked a glance, but the boy just looked tired. No, John corrected himself: exhausted.
"At least," Connor continued, "if there are, we didn't put them there."
"You really think we'd do something like that?" Emily sounded appalled as well as hurt.
"I don't know," said John, forcing himself to meet her eyes. "Would you?"
"No!" The kids answered at the same time, Emily shouting, Connor emphatic yet calm.
"Cause you seem like nice enough kids and all, but I'm not about to risk the safety of my team on niceness."
"Wouldn't be the first time." Connor stuck his hands in his pockets. "Doesn't that come with the job? Exploring planets, meeting new people, establishing trade... Part of that has to run on some measure of trust, doesn't it? On taking people at face value? And you've got a lot more than that to go on with us. We wouldn't be sitting all comfy in this room if you didn't."
John stared at the boy for a moment, then shook his head, smirking in spite of himself. "You're good."
"I learned from the best."
The boy's face and voice didn't change, but the tightening of his throat muscles betrayed him. Right. Of course he had. Stupidly, on reflex, John glanced at Emily. The sadness in her eyes made him look away again just as quickly, his professional resolve bowing under the returning flood of awkwardness. Crap. Elizabeth's presence hovered in the space between John and the teenagers.
He should say something. Anything. From the way Connor was looking at him, they clearly expected it. Why wouldn't they? It had been idiotic to think he could get through this without her coming up.
"I, uh–" John's mouth had suddenly gone dry. He wished they'd stop looking at him like that. They reminded him of Rodney, trying to measure his reaction with furtive glances. Worse, waiting for him to offer some kind of comfort along with it. Worst of all, the way they were including him in their sorrow, eyes offering him pity he didn't need.
"I'll take that as a 'no' on the new intel?"
John mentally winced as the confusion that appeared on both of their faces turned slowly into hurt, but kept his mouth shut as they stared at him for several excruciatingly silent minutes. He refused to feel cruel.
Finally..."We've told you everything we know." Connor's expression was blank.
"Woolsey took plenty of notes when he was interrogating us," said Emily, gripping the hem of her too-big t-shirt in one fist and twisting it. "I suggest you talk to him."
The girl turned and disappeared with the squeak of insole against tile floor. John found himself tensing up, waiting for a bang that would never come to echo down the short hallway. Doors in Atlantis weren't capable of being slammed. He imagined that must have been frustrating for a teenager.
"Fine." John examined his feet, nodded and turned to go. He was almost at the door when Connor spoke up.
"We haven't given you any reason to think we mean you harm."
John stilled his steps, not quite looking over his shoulder. "So far."
The room was silent behind him as he walked out. A grimace twisted his lips. He couldn't help it; now he felt cruel.
Behind him, Connor heard the scuff of insole on tile floor that was Emily rushing out of the room. With a quiet hiss, the door closed on their father, and it seemed as if he'd taken the last of Connor's energy with him. Connor's eyes slid shut and he laced his fingers through his hair. He knew he should go after his sister, try and talk it out with her and offer what comfort he could, but his body wouldn't respond.
This was the final straw in the reality of it all. Aunt Teyla, Aunt Jennifer, Woolsey, Mom... all different, all weirdly the same, but this, their first meeting with their dad (he didn't count their arrival; nothing in those mad first hours had seemed remotely real)... it was the final confirmation that everything was different.
'Please,' he found himself praying. 'Please let them figure this out so we can go home.' If there was even still a home to go to. Thinking about it too hard made his brain hurt. But there had to be a way home. There had to be. He didn't feel seventeen anymore, independent and self-reliant; he was a child, a lost child who desperately wanted his parents
He turned and dragged his feet across the tile floor. 'It can't be for much longer,' he told himself, pausing as he entered his bedroom. Neat, sparsely furnished in cool white and warm bronze, it looked like a cross between a hospital and a hotel. Grunting, he fell onto the bed, mussing the crisp blanket, and stared at the ceiling. Child or not, his big brother duties tugged at him; he should really check on Emily, say something to dispel the chill of their father's visit that still emanated through the apartment. Colonel Sheppard's final words still twisted in Connor's gut and he was grateful that she hadn't heard them. Part of him wanted to be angry, but weariness forced fairness onto him. Really, it had all gone about as well as could reasonably be expected. Light played across the textured ceiling, lazy shadows dancing like sun through water. Connor's eyes grew heavy. 'Please,' he prayed again, just before sleep finally claimed him. 'Please let them find something.'
John flipped down his sunglasses as he drew away from the gate, darkening the aqua colored sky to teal. So far so typical. An overgrown meadow, large boulders peeking above the grass and wildflowers, stretched out four-hundred yards in every direction until it met a forest, dense and shaded. Though, John remembered, running over the details in his head, according to the kids' story, it wasn't as large as it looked. He took a deep breath of the pine-scented air, glad to be out of the city and out in the field where he belonged. Finally, he could stop sitting around being weirded out and do something, actually physically verify things for himself without relying on Keller's tests or McKay's half-baked theories. Speaking of which...
"Alright, McKay, what have you got?" said John, resting his arms on his P-90.
"Well, there's definitely a structure not far from here." Rodney tapped at his data pad, squinting in the glare. "A big structure." He pointed at the trees. "That way."
Falling in, Rodney in the lead with Ronon by his side, they set off towards the welcome shade of the woods.
"I must admit," said Teyla, looking around her. "So far this planet seems to be exactly as Connor and Emily described it."
"Yeah, as far as wild goose chases go, they picked a lovely setting for it."
Teyla didn't respond immediately and he had the uncomfortable feeling that she wasn't buying the grumpy cynicism. "There are easier ways to lure us into a trap, John," she said softly, weaving around a boulder. "We have certainly had enough experience with them to know."
John let his silence acknowledge the truth of her words and bit back a comment about complacency and underestimating people. He couldn't lecture her on trusting the kids when he almost half believed them himself. "Woolsey told me you'd given them your recommendation," he said instead.
They entered the shadow of the trees. John removed his sunglasses and ahead of them, McKay let out an audible sigh of relief.
"You know, it's a shame my cool-guy persona prevents me from wearing hats," he commented, atrociously serious.
Ronon just looked at him. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"Oh yeah? Well I don't see anything on top of your head, big guy. What, you couldn't find a hat to fit over those dreads?"
John smirked at the banter and turned to share an amused glance with Teyla, but her expression was still serious. This didn't bode well.
"What do you think, John, truly?"
There it was. The conversation he'd successfully avoided for the past several days barreling towards him with no room to dive clear. But he tried anyway.
"I think that what I think doesn't matter. The whole reason we're here is to get proof."
"And when that proof is found?
"Then the kids will go home and this will be just one more crazy story to add to the archives."
"That is all?" The disbelief was palpable in her voice. "Just another mission report?"
He forced casualness into his tone, wishing he'd left his sunglasses on despite the poor visibility. "What else would it be?"
Mercifully, Teyla seemed to concede defeat, for the next words she spoke were about the terrain. Yet John had the dread feeling that this was only a temporary cease-fire; as sure as Rodney hated lemons, this would come up again.
John started mentally measuring their progress and, sure enough, just as the kids had said, the woods started thinning out after a quarter of a mile. Light glinted through the trees up ahead, flashing painfully bright silver in the gloom, and then, in the space of one step, they were out of the woods, standing on the narrow shore of a massive lake with water licking at their boots. Settling his glasses back over his nose, John let out a low whistle.
"Correction," said Rodney, staring over the water in awe. "Remember when I said big? I meant humungous."
Out in the center of the lake, a building rose from the waves, an enormous Ancient wedding cake of glass and dull silver, ringed by a bronze colored wall that even from this distance John could only describe as towering.
"Point three for the Sheppard kids," said Ronon.
"What did I say about calling them that?" said John in annoyance. Ronon ignored him.
"How are we to get across?" asked Teyla.
John tore his eyes away from the structure and scanned the half-a-mile stretch of lake below. 'Ah.' The report of a bridge was indeed accurate, but the description of its condition was not. The entire middle section of the causeway was gone, probably washed away in some storm. John walked down the beach, following Ronon out onto the short splinter of bridge that still remained on their side. A discouragingly large area of water flowed between them and the jagged edge of the bridge's other end, with only the barest traces of pilings rising above the waves to hint at what had formerly been.
John frowned. "I am not swimming that far. I'll have to go back to Atlantis and get a jumper. Rodney, you and Teyla stay here and try to get whatever readings you can on that place. Ronon, keep watch. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Half an hour later, John set the jumper down in the meadow and radioed the team to meet him for pick-up. As he waited, he took advantage of the ship's scanners to perform a planetary scan. The familiar knot in John's shoulders loosened slightly when he detected no signs of any Wraith, on the surface or in orbit. Other than the building in the lake, there didn't seem to be any form of habitation at all. Convenient, but the isolation didn't exactly reassure him about whatever the Ancients had hidden away inside. John pursed his lips as he pulled up a more detailed view of the site than Rodney's handheld would allow. What had looked like a single complex from shore was actually composed of two separate structures: an inner island formed by the tiered building and an independent outer ring of land that supported the wall. A causeway connected the two. Luckily, despite the damage to the bridge, the overall structure of the complex seemed sound, but John decided to reserve full judgement until he could see for himself; he didn't like the looks of that dark spot on one of the upper tiers.
A halloo echoed across the clearing and he looked up to see his team emerging from the woods. John lowered the hatch and drummed his fingers against the dashboard until they trooped inside, McKay sinking into a chair in relief.
"Long time, no see," said John. "Anything interesting happen since I went away?"
"All was pleasantly uneventful," said Teyla. "However, Rodney was able to detect energy readings from within the facility."
"Nothing too crazy as of yet," chimed in Rodney. "I won't know anything for sure until we get inside."
"Alright then. Let's get this show on the road."
John thought at the controls and within moments, the jumper was speeding over the trees and out over sparkling water. He slowed as they approached their destination and circled the building, peering out the view-screen. "Looks like something did a number on more than the bridge," he said. Close up, broken panes of glass and sheared steel beams became visible, the dark spot John had seen on the scan actually a hole in the roof. "It doesn't look like an attack," he said, peering closely at the damaged areas. No heat-twisted metal or scorched black walls were present to mark a scene of violence.
"Must have been a storm after all," said Ronon.
"Well, I'm glad I wasn't here for it," said John. The jumper banked into a slow turn as he completed a final pass. "I'm gonna try and set her down inside the wall."
The jumper settled onto the wide inner causeway with a low whine and John popped the hatch, taking point as the team trailed outside. The wall soared behind them, throwing the walkway and the water lapping below into shadow, while above them, the stacked tiers shone in the sun, the glass domes that ringed the top layer almost painfully bright. Protected by the heights of the wall, this lower area of the complex was almost pristine, except for the lights set along the walk that struggled to shine as they passed.
John eyed the pitiful flickering with a frown. "Looks like something's wrong with the power. McKay?"
"The energy readings started fluctuating as soon as we left the jumper. It's like Atlantis when we first arrived, sensing our presence and trying to wake up. I bet it's only going to get worse once we get inside and more critical systems start to activate."
"Great," said John, his eyes once again drawn upwards as they drew closer to the door, twice his height and carved in sparse geometric designs with a crystal-inlaid panel in the lower center. He placed his hand on the panel and was relieved when the upper and lower halves of the door split apart; at least there was that much power. An inner set of doors slid open at the same time, revealing a shadowed corridor within. John exchanged glances with each member of his team, exhaled and stepped inside.
A low buzz hummed through John's skin and lights, set in long panels along the walls and ceiling, flickered into life. He remembered the kids' account, how this place had responded so strongly to their entrance and he frowned as he caught himself on the verge of smiling. The lights continued to flicker and John watched them with bated breath, hand drifting towards the light on his P-90. But the glitching stabilized and the lights settled into a respectable glow. He narrowed his eyes at them in warning and turned his attention to the hallway that stretched before him. Activating lights heralded the team's progress, dispelling shadows to illuminate numerous doors and branching corridors that led deeper into the complex. Everything was neat, almost pristine; this area showed no evidence of the storm that had caused so much damage outside.
"Hey, look at that." said Rodney, walking over to one of the corridors and pointing at a small block of Ancient script on the corner. "Labels!" He grinned. "So simple, so practical, yet so under-appreciated by the Ancient community."
"I'm liking this group already," said John. "Now show me an instruction manual and I'll be really impressed."
They passed through an intersection of corridors and the lights on the ceiling flared and then died, leaving only the horizontal bands of blue and white strip lighting along the walls for illumination. "Alright, McKay, see if you can find the fuse box on this place," said John, flipping the switch on his flashlight even though there was still enough light to see by.
Rodney tapped at his data pad. "Looks like the power distribution center is this way." He led them through the complex, up several floors until the corridor they were in fed into a larger, more important looking one. With his free hand, Rodney switched on his light and pointed his P-90 at the label on the wall. "Yep. Power distribution." He jerked his head towards the right-hand hallway and they followed him into a large circular room stuffed with consoles and equipment.
The lights made a valiant attempt to achieve full brightness but failed, leaving the room's domed ceiling a bowl for shadows. In the center of the room, a stout columnar structure dominated; panels of alternating orange and blue glass ringed it, glowing and beautiful in the dimness, hinting at the power contained behind their rippled surfaces. McKay immediately set to work, settling in at the largest console with his data pad propped up against a screen. John waited until streams of Ancient data and schematics flooded the screen before asking for a diagnosis.
"I think I can fix it," replied Rodney. "The problem's coming from damaged power conduits on the upper levels; as more systems activate, the feedback grows and messes with the entire building. I can try to reroute some of the power, see if that'll even things out."
"You do that," said John. He let his eyes roam about the room, trying to put together a mental picture of what they had seen so far: the abuse of the storm, the seemingly endless warren of blue, white and dull metallic hallways, steeped in silent abandonment except for the barely perceptible rush of the air vents. He gaze fell on the door. Promises of mystery and the undiscovered seeped through from the darkened corridors beyond, promises of answers...
"I will stay and help Rodney, if you two wish to begin exploring," said Teyla. Startled, John turned and saw recognition of his impatience in her brown eyes.
He gave her a grateful look. "Fine," he said. "Check for a database while you're at it and radio if you find anything important."
She nodded in affirmation and John and Ronon exited the room, following the corridor back the way they'd come. They paused at the intersection.
"Which way should we go first?" asked Ronon.
John ran the beam of his flashlight down each option. The route they had taken to get here was identical to every other hallway they had seen in this place. The hallway in which they currently stood was wider, taller and more decorative, with translucent turquoise panels running along the walls on either side. A sensation of familiarity itched at the back of John's mind. A story of panels that glowed...
"Definitely this way."
As they passed into the new branch of corridor, John stopped and cast his light over the label. His Ancient wasn't the best, but it mentioned the sun and what was either strength, difficulty or road... he wasn't sure which. 'So much for clarity,' he thought. 'Just when I was starting to think you people were different.'
The two men strode swiftly but cautiously down the hall. John's eyes were constantly on the move, his hand hovering near his weapon; he didn't have to look at Ronon to know he was doing the same. They passed another corridor – standard in size, the ends of either branch fading into blackness – but kept going. Whatever was at the end of this hall was important, and John wasn't going to waste time meandering until he found what he was looking for.
The walls stretched on in unbroken smoothness until, finally, John and Ronon found themselves standing before a set of massive double doors that practically screamed 'important!' Intricately carved geometric designs covered their surface, framing panels of blue glass that highlighted the coppery streaks shimmering within the doors' dull silver. Here it was. John could feel it; inside this room was the way out of the surrealist painting he'd been trapped in since Connor and Emily had waltzed into the gate room, fogging his brain with their tales of an impossible future. In there, he would finally be able to figure out what the h– was going on. Nerves buzzing, John took a deep breath, exchanged nods with Ronon and opened the door. He stood there for several long seconds as he brain caught up with what he was seeing.
The room was a wreck.
Cold disappointment smothered any traces of hopeful relief as John entered. Sunlight streamed in from the gaping hole in the distant roof, the torn metal and shattered glass of what had once been a dome cutting a jagged edge around the pool of light below. Debris littered the water-stained floor: chunks of masonry from the ceiling, broken view-screens, shattered glass and lengths of metal large and small. Consoles within range of the debris had been crushed by its nearly seven-story fall.
"Crap." That was all John could say. If this room still held any answers for him, they were not going to be easy to find.
Ronon edged around the perimeter of the circular room, slowly working his way around the various consoles and wreckage to the installation at the center. "Sheppard, this is it. This is the device the kids were talking about." John hurried to his side as quickly as the mess would allow, studying the structure with renewed interest. "Glass cylinder, panels on the floor..." Ronon pointed, following the line of inlaid panels that stretched from the base of the device, partially obscured by debris.
"You're right," John said, biting back the urge to swear violently. He glared at the hole in the roof; the memory of the scan he'd done seemed to taunt him. "Of course it had to be this room."
"This thing is right underneath." Ronon glanced upwards, then reached out and knocked on the cylinder. "It's not glass," he said. "That's why it's not broken."
"Good," said John, frustration sharpening his tone. "One less thing we'll have to fix." He grabbed at his radio. "McKay! Whatever you're doing, forget it and get in here. We've got a lot of work to do."
Emily looked up at the rap on her door. "Come in," she said, sitting up on the bed and wrapping her arms around her knees. Connor entered, lingering by the door.
"Hey." One corner of her mouth twitched into a smile. "You look like you finally got some sleep." His hair was ruffled more than usual and, though he still looked tense, the weight of exhaustion had lifted from his eyes.
"I did," he said. "What about you?"
She nodded. "A little." She looked away and started examining the weave of the blanket draped over her knees. The room was silent for an awkwardly long minute. Emily picked at the cotton strands. The mattress dipped under Connor's weight as he sat down on the edge of her bed. She glanced up. He was watching her, brows angled and jaw set in a mirror of their mother's 'concerned' face. A hank of wavy brown hair drooped down the middle of his forehead; Emily gave a little smile as she flicked it away.
"Come your hair, Hedgehog."
He smirked slightly and answered with the traditional response. "Do the same, Bird's Nest."
"Thanks for not yanking on my hair this time," said Emily teasingly.
Connor shook his head. "Five year old me is going to be paying for that for the rest of my life, aren't I?"
"Well, you did do it a lot, so..."
They both laughed softly and a comfortable silence fell. Soon, though, Emily sensed Connor working himself up to speak and the sense of ease evaporated.
"Look, about how Colonel Sheppard acted..." he began.
"Don't worry about it," she said quickly, shaking her head. She had heard the reluctance in his voice and echoed the sentiment. "It doesn't matter."
"We're not going to be here much longer anyway, right?" She met his eyes and forced optimism into her tone. "What difference does it make?"
He studied her for the space of several heartbeats. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Have you heard anything about the away team yet?"
Another shake of his head. "No, but I think–" A faint knock on the outer door cut him off. "Speak of the devil," he muttered. Connor bolted for the other room. Emily threw off her blanket, kicked it out of the way and hurried after him.
Connor opened the main door. "News from the away team?" he asked before Mr. Woolsey was even fully past the threshold.
"Yes," said the older man, folding his arms behind his back. "Colonel Sheppard just radioed in with a report."
"Good news?" asked Emily, throat aching with restrained hope.
"Yes and no, I'm afraid," said Woolsey, sighing. Behind his glasses, his eyes darted between them. "The good news is that they found the complex and the laboratory, just as you described. The bad news–"
'Bad news?' thought Emily, grinning with relief. How could there be bad news? They'd found it! They'd believe them now! They could go home!
"The bad news is that things were not exactly as you had described."
"What? How so?" demanded Connor. Emily's grin froze in confusion.
"The facility has suffered damage as the result of a storm, likely some time ago. The laboratory housing the device you spoke of has come out much the worse for wear. Significantly worse."
Her smile shattered, the pieces of her hope vanishing into the blackness that seemed to swallow the floor around her. "And that means?" she forced out.
"Don't tell us," said Connor, holding up a hand. His shoulders slumped and Emily watched as her brother seemed to age before her eyes, becoming bone weary and decades older than his seventeen years. He glanced over and met Emily's eyes.
His gaze reflected her own horror and her voice shook with it as she spoke. "We're stuck here."
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