He grabbed her arm the second she walked in, practically dragging her over to the console where he was working. On it was a strange piece of headgear, worked spirals that appeared to attach to the head meeting at a single white crystal set in a knot of interlacing metal wires. It looked like a delicate tiara or circlet, and not a particular comfortable one at that. But, since it was Ancient, it probably was.
'So, this amplifies your thought patterns?' Sam asked, leaning in for a close look for a close look, but keeping her hands to herself. Sometimes Rodney couldn't be relied upon to switch everything off.
'Yes, but it also directs the signal generated to the right co-ordinates.'
'What are the co-ordinates?'
'Um well, I haven't been able to determine that yet. I keep losing something in the translation, it doesn't make any sense.'
'Let me see,' genuinely curious now, Sam stepped past him to pick up the tablet notebook holding all of his research. Behind her Rodney bit his lip, trying not to be bothered by Sam flicking through his files.
'You're right,' she finally said, 'I don't.... Wait!' 'What? What!' 'This equation, it only makes sense if they're using spatial dimensions, but they're not.... That's odd.'
She turned to look at him, her gaze silent and unwavering. He took the hint almost immediately and subsided. 'Okay, would you mind telling me what you think you've found?'
'Gladly,' Sam replied, turning the notebook round so he could read it the right way up. 'This word means time, or rather, past, present and future, all tied up together, rather like a literal translation of the word ‘temporal’. It's like they're treating space as time, not a single continuum, but reversing their place in our understanding of the universe.’
'Why on earth would they do that?'
'I've no idea. I have to go, but I'll be back this evening,’ it was obvious that Sam was itching to get her hands on the problem. When he’d worked at the SGC, McKay had seen the way she pulled all-nighters. The military training coupled with the scientist’s enthusiasm to keep her going for hours, and now she could barely stand to put it down. ‘Keep working.'
'Yeah, yeah...' but he hadn't really heard her, already head down in the computer, reworking the problem under the new light she had shone on it. Sam smiled at the oblivious McKay and made her way quietly from the lab.
He worked for hours, running diagnostics and sending pulses through the headpiece, receiving back information which he broken down and analysed, attempting to detect the co-ordinates that the signal was being sent to. But it seemed to diffuse, almost like it degraded, but far faster than it should have.
Finally, Rodney figured there was only one way he was going to find out. Activating his earpiece, he sent out a call.
It was nearly twenty hundred hours before Carter finally reached McKay’s lab for the second time that day. Inside she found Sheppard, sitting on a stool with the device wrapped around his head.
‘McKay! I told you not to activate the device until I gave you authorisation!’ Her voice snapped with authority and disapproval.
‘I know! I know. That’s why I’ve getting John to do it. He has more fine control of his ATA gene than anyone on Atlantis. He can power it up but not accidentally activate it. I’ve already called Dr Keller, she should be here shortly.’
‘That’s a fine line, Rodney-‘ Sam began.
‘I know,’ he started to cut in.
‘-And one I’ve walked myself a few times,’ she added. ‘Sure you’re okay with this, Colonel?’
‘Hey, I’m good at shooting and sitting. I get to do one out there, and the other in here, usually for hours at a time. Where’s the bad?’
Sam suppressed a smile. She shouldn’t encourage either of them really, at they were a touch more mellow now, handling both of them together, new to Atlantis, must have been hard on Weir. Sometimes she wondered how the woman had put up with it, certainly she had had more patience than Sam.
Unbidden, the face of the diplomat, with dark hair, threatening to curl at the ends, and amusement sparkling in her green eyes, came to mind. Sam stood still for a moment, trying to shake a memory she was sure she’d never had. She’d clashed with Weir often enough at the SGC for her over-riding memory to be one of Atlantis’ former leader sitting in her office...
...her office now...
... with a mug of coffee and a blood-red orange sunrise pouring in the window behind her.
‘McKay!’ she began warningly, and tore her gaze from the Colonel to the physicist. He was standing behind John, his expression frozen. She heard footsteps, light and quick, and seconds later Keller joined them, standing framed in the doorway.
And the image of Elizabeth changed. She was lying, bleeding and broken on a gurney, hands trying desperately to revive her. Come on, Elizabeth, we need you...
She’ll never be the same Elizabeth again...
She was dying...!
I thought you were dead...
You’re going to be alright...
A welter of memories, in three different voices, assaulted her senses and Sam broke the spell over her, throwing up her hands.
A blinding light filled the room, all four of them reacting to protect their eyes until the glow subsided. Standing in the centre of the room, facing John Sheppard, stood the very likeness of Elizabeth Weir, her hair moving as if in its own private breeze, her face the only truly steady part of her projection.
John stared, knuckles turning whit as he clenched the sides of the stool he sat on. Behind him Rodney’s mouth dropped open and a small sound reached them from the startled Jennifer.
‘Dr Weir?’ Sam’s voice carried a tone of incredulity, but she was the first one to speak, breaking the silence.
Green eyes turned her way, the gaze unfocussed. ‘Dr Weir?’ the apparition repeated.
Silence and then the image spoke again. ‘This... image is Dr Weir.’
‘Chosen?’’ it was Sheppard, his voice was calm, almost hostile.
‘By you,’ came the reply and the projection looked his way, before finding Rodney’s face. ‘And you, and the other,’ it added, referring, the others assumed, to Dr Keller.
‘Why?’ His words came out harsher than he intended but the shade before him took no notice of his inflection, only his words.
‘We are... need... a form. This we know.’
‘From when you contacted the Ancients!’ Rodney finished for them, his scrambled brains beginning to put things together again.
‘They chose. You chose. We follow.’
‘Who are you?’ It was Sam again, flicking a glance at Keller, who was sidling round further to see Elizabeth’s face, her expression one of shock and dismay.
‘We are... we exist.’
‘What we mean is, where are you from? What is your language? Your culture? Are you one of the Ascended?’
The image shook its head as if it did not understand, latching on to a single word that Rodney had used. ‘One?’ Weir leaned forward slightly, looking intently at McKay. ‘One,’ it repeated. ‘One!’ Recoiling as if in horror, the apparition closed its eyes as if to rid itself of the thought. When the eyes opened again, calm had been restored.
‘We are many. We are not Ascended. We are not Ancients. We are not you.’
‘But who are you?’
‘Rodney!’ Sam held u a warning hand. ‘I don’t think they understand.’
‘How can they not understand? They knew the Ancients, they’re thousands of years old! They must be at least that advanced by now!’
‘Advanced,’ repeated the figure. ‘Culture. Language. We do not know these... words.’
‘But you’re talking in the same language. The words you’re speaking,’ Sam started to explain, ‘they are part of our language. The way we put them together, the words we use to liken one thing to another, it’s all part of our language.’
‘Words. Yes. Words... from mind, and mouth. You are filled with them. Here is filled with them.’
‘They’re picking out language up the air around us! Verbal communications, and some kind of mental emanation. They’re learning as they go!’ The explanation tumbled from Rodney’s mouth and Sam nodded, already there. Keller glanced at him, seemingly glad hat someone here could grasp what was going on, even if she didn’t understand. Sheppard still stared mutely at the figure, his expression dark, not a word moving past his lips.
‘Where are you from?’
The blank stare turned on Sam again, and she could have sworn the inhabitants of Weir’s mind were looking for the right words to express themselves.
‘You do not... understand. You are confused... like them.’
‘The others who are here.’
‘Others like me?’ Sam tugged at the collar of her uniform to indicate Atlantean personnel.
‘No. The others. They are clothed in white and speak... another language.’
‘You mean the Ancients?’ It was McKay.
This time the creatures behind the apparition of Weir seemed to understand what he meant by Ancients. ‘Yes. They do not understand. You do not understand. This image does not understand.’ The beings inside the image were becoming stronger, the voice that sounded so odd at first becoming choral, the projection clearer.
‘Well,’ it was Sam again, trying to break through one of the many glitches in the language barrier that was obviously separating them, ‘that form is an image, a projection. It can’t understand anything.’
‘No. This image is a-,’ they hesitated, groping for the right words. ‘template? Copy?’ It does not think or speak. The form thinks and speaks. The form does not understand. When we touched the image, we looked for the form. It is here. You are here. It does not understand. You do not understand. They do not understand. Not in this place. They understand in another.’
‘They must be talking about the Ascended Ancients!’ Rodney couldn’t let it go. ‘They, but in another place-‘
‘You said, the form is here. What do you mean. Elizabeth Weir isn’t here. She’s dead. Gone.’ It was Sheppard, cutting across McKay to pick out the riddle in their answer.
‘Elizabeth,’ they chorused. ‘Elizabeth is here. Elizabeth words are clear. Your language is clear in Elizabeth mind.’ It spoke of her in the plural, as if she were many, unable to perceive, or perhaps unwilling, the singular.
‘How is Elizabeth here? We cannot see her. We do not understand.’
It was Teyla, for once without her son in her arms. She had heard the voices, one achingly familiar and had come as if drawn by it. No one had noticed her, standing in the doorway. Until she spoke.
‘You will understand.’ The image raised a hand, pointing directly at Carter.
‘Why her?’ McKay’s voice held a touch of indignation, and Keller shot him a warning look.
‘How?’ Sam asked.
‘The signal calls us. The signal calls you,’ came the reply. Which, Sam guessed, was cryptic for saying the transmission wasn’t unidirectional. She was beginning to wonder if the creatures behind Weir’s image had any concept of spatial dimensions.
‘No. We’re not going to do that. Sheppard. Remove the device.’
She’d met situations like this before.
Again the figure leaned forward, again it scrutinized. ‘We do not have words that are not so. We cannot show things that are not.’
Another cryptic remark.
‘They don’t lie!’
‘Yeah, thanks Rodney, I think we got that,’ Sheppard’s voice was laced with heavy sarcasm.
‘You will understand,’ the choral voice came again. ‘The signal will call us.’
The image began to waver, vanishing like a wisp of smoke, finally breaking its hold over Sheppard and the signal died, the device powering down. Through the place where she had been, his gaze met Teyla’s, and when he looked away, she felt a stab of pain in kind.
His grief was hers, like siblings born a galaxy apart.