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Author's Chapter Notes: AN: Sorry about the delay; it was not easy figuring out some of the fine details here

AN 2: Advance warning; I won't be covering the scenes in the simulation, but an explanation of what happened to Sumner while he's in there WILL be provided, I assure you


After a few moments of waiting, during which he had accessed the ship's databanks just enough to determine that the ship's supply of drone weapons had been depleted at some point, McKay was just beginning to contemplate humming "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" as a means of passing the time- trying to solve complex equations in your head might be more intellectually challenging, but at least with "99 Bottles" you knew that you were doing things the right way; without something to write on you tended to forget what figures you'd started out with-, the pod opened up and Sumner emerged, looking over at McKay in frustration.

"Was there anything about this simulation you forgot to tell me, Doctor?" he asked, glaring at the Canadian as he sat up and turned around to exit the pod.

"Uh... no, not really; why?" McKay asked uncertainly.

"Well, beginning with the fact that the Ancients in there don't even appear to be aware that they're in a simulation in the first place, I think it's safe to say we have more than a few problems," Sumner said, staring grimly at the scientist.

McKay blinked.

"They don't know?" he repeated uncertainly. "I mean, it's possible that the time they spent completely unconscious while the system was shut down could have resulted in them losing some of their short-term memories leading up to them originally going into stasis in the first place, but you'd think that the computer could compensate..."

"Evidently, it didn't; we have more important issues to focus on right now," Sumner said, before he reached up and activated his radio. "Sumner to Caldwell."

"Caldwell here, Colonel; what's your status?" Caldwell's voice replied.

"Well, we've gained access to an Ancient virtual reality system that's keeping the crew of the Aurora alive, but unfortunately the Ancients themselves don't appear to remember anything about what happened to them to force them to enter stasis in the first place," Sumner explained. "I just got out of it myself, but all I accomplished during my time there was getting thrown into a cell; the entire crew are convinced that they're carrying out hyperdrive modifications to get the ship back to Atlantis faster while the war against the Wraith is still taking place, and simply dismissed me as a spy and had me thrown in a cell before I could convince him otherwise."

"I see," Caldwell said in response. "Well, unless we can find any drones over there-"

"There aren't any," McKay cut in apologetically. "I checked the records for the ship's armoury while Colonel Sumner was in the stasis pod; they depleted all their drones in their last major engagement before they went into stasis."

"Right then," Caldwell said resolutely. "In that case, there's no reason for us to be here; contact your team-"

"Actually, there is something we could use," Sumner interjected, cutting Sumner off mid-sentence with a resolute tone (McKay was briefly surprised at Sumner's interruption before reminding himself that Sumner and Caldwell were both colonels and hence could be pretty much regarded as equals without anyone able to exert any specific authority over the other). "I spoke to the captain while I was in there, and- between the parts where I was arrested and thrown into a cell as a spy- he mentioned something about the ship having discovered a weakness of some sort in Wraith technology that they were to deliver back to Atlantis; he appeared confident that it would turn the tide of the war. I admit that it's been several thousand years since they acquired that information, but given that everything we've found in the Ancient database suggests that the Wraith haven't really evolved that much since the original war with the Ancients, it's possible that it still applies to the Wraith in the present."

"...Interesting," Caldwell said, his tone reflecting his awareness that there was a catch to this news. "You think you can convince the captain to give us the information?"

"We have to try, anyway; I didn't come all this way for nothing," Sumner said resolutely (Another reason McKay could never get entirely comfortable with Sumner on a social level; he might not have been particularly keen on going to other worlds and into potential danger when he'd started, but the fascination of seeing those new worlds had generally replaced his initial concerns about what might happen to him out there, while Sumner still seemed to just regard this kind of thing as another 'business outing' without any real sense that he enjoyed what they were doing). "Doctor McKay, hook me back up to the pod; I'm going to try this again."

It was moments like this that left McKay frustrated; he went to all the effort to make sure Sumner could properly interface with this system- compensating for his slightly-below-average Ancient gene alone was difficult; the gene therapy had apparently only given Sumner the basic form of the gene, which meant he had some trouble interfacing with certain systems that even McKay could manage fairly easily-, but Sumner sometimes seemed to regard him as little more than a glorified technician who only found the answers because he was the team scientist rather than because he was at least one of the brightest minds on Earth (Calling himself the brightest mind in Atlantis wasn't as impressive given that there were only around a couple of hundred people in the city; there were less people for him to be smarter than in the city in that circumstance).

Staring in frustration at Sumner as he slid back into the pod, McKay stood up and walked over to another corridor, pulling up a nearby monitor screen to study the information on it without having to worry about keeping an eye on the colonel as well; it might be petty, but if Sumner wasn't going to show proper appreciation for his skills, he couldn't exactly be bothered keeping an eye on the guy twenty-four/seven in an environment that all evidence suggested wasn't going to be hostile anyway...

"Doctor McKay?" Caldwell's voice said after a few moments, breaking the silence that had settled over McKay as he studied the computer systems before him (The view of the virtual environment before him was actually rather fascinating, considering that it was based on nothing more than the impressions being transmitted into the minds of the users, despite the obvious similarities to the Matrix trilogy that was invoked by the idea of his 'translating' the code like this).

"Go ahead," McKay replied briefly.

"Long range sensors have just detected two Wraith cruisers heading this way," Caldwell replied grimly. "No doubt coming to investigate why their scout ship was destroyed earlier."

"What's their ETA?" McKay replied, his attention still engrossed in the information before him; the fact that the ships had just been picked up on long-range at least suggested that he wouldn't have to worry about the Wraith showing up here for a while now.

"Little over an hour, and I plan on being long gone by then," Caldwell applied grimly. "What's the status there?"

"I've been able to decipher some more of the program," McKay replied, grateful for a topic that took him away from thinking about the Sumner situation when he really couldn't be certain how he felt about that whole mess in the first place. "I'm actually reading the neural tracking signatures of the entire crew as they make their way through the-"

"I meant Colonel Sumner's status?" Caldwell cut in.

"Oh, him," McKay said, trying not to sound too put-out at the news that the expedition still seemed to lack a soldier in the upper echelons of the command structure who couldn't think of anything more than his next potential military acquisition as he glanced at his laptop. "He's still in the pod; no sign of activity yet."

"Understood," Caldwell responded. "Just be aware of the time constraints; with the Wraith ships approaching, we can't risk being discovered."

"Sure, right, ticking clock, I get that," McKay said, waving his hand impatiently despite the fact that the other man couldn't see it. "Anything else?"

"If he's not out of there in thirty minutes, disconnect him manually," Caldwell said simply.

"Right..." McKay said, only considering the implications of what he'd just heard when he'd terminated the radio connection.

It was another case where he wasn't sure what disturbed him more, really; the fact that Caldwell was willing to give an order to have someone manually disconnected from a system this complicated- although McKay had to acknowledge that there was a chance the Daedalus commander just didn't realise the implications of what could happen if McKay did what he'd suggested-, or the fact that he wasn't all that bothered about it himself.

It wasn't that he wanted Sumner dead, and he was confident enough in his abilities to get the man out manually if he had to, but he just found it slightly tragic that he was so willing to contemplate the possibility of attempting something potentially dangerous to someone who was meant to be on his team...

He'd never told this to anyone, of course- at the time he'd been too pig-headed to really register his thoughts and feelings on the issue, and later it had never seemed like the right time to bring it up-, but when he'd first met then-Major Carter during that incident with Teal'c being stuck in the Stargate, he'd actually been slightly jealous of her ability to form that kind of close relationship with somebody that she'd clearly shared with Teal'c- judging by the lengths she was willing to go to in order to get him out of the Stargate even after he'd insisted that it was hopeless (Although, looking back, the fact that she'd had practical experience with the gate as opposed to his second-hand- knowledge probably hadn't helped her believe in his 'statistics'); you didn't go to that much effort for someone you just worked with-; a part of him had slightly hoped that he'd form a similar connection with his teammates once he was on his own offworld team...

And here he was, giving genuine thought to attempting something that could leave Sumner with potential brain damage if he made a mistake?

It wasn't like he wanted to do something like that; he just couldn't shake the feeling that, if this had been SG-1 in this situation, Colonel Carter would be putting a lot more effort into trying to figure out a way of doing this without any risk of brain damage to the subject, while all he was doing was hoping that he wouldn't cause any if the situation came to that.

"Doctor McKay?" Teyla's voice said, breaking off his train of thought as she spoke over the radio. "We have a problem."

"Namely...?" McKay began, only be cut off mid-sentence by the brilliant gleam of an Asgard transporter...
Which subsequently faded to leave him standing back on board Daedalus, staring incredulously at Caldwell as the colonel sat in his chair on the Daedalus command deck, Teyla and Ronon standing on either side of him.

"What was all that about?" he asked incredulously. "I was still busy-"

"There is a Wraith on board the ship," Teyla explained.

Rodney's eyes widened in shock.

"What?" he said in horror. "But-but-"

"It's in one of those pods," Ronon explained, looking at McKay with a brief shrug. "Doesn't look like it's aware of us, and it seems to be the only one there, but-"

"Hold on; it's in a pod?" Rodney repeated, looking urgently at Ronon as he frantically tried to process what he'd just learned.

If a Wraith was in a pod, that meant that it was linked up to the virtual environment that Sumner was currently inhabiting.

Since there was no way that a Wraith could have survived on a shipful of Ancients in its natural appearance, that could only mean that it was in disguise somehow (To use a reference from The Matrix, it must have replaced its 'Residual Self-Image' with the image of one of the crew in order to blend in).

And, added in to what Sumner had mentioned about the Ancient crew working on upgrading their ship's hyperdrive...

"Oh no..." he whispered in shock.

"What?" Caldwell asked, looking pointedly at McKay.

"I need to go back there," the Canadian replied, deciding not to mention his theory until he had confirmation; he didn't want to suggest that something that bad was about to happen unless he was certain that it was about to happen.

"Out of the question," Caldwell countered. "With that Wraith in there, it's possible that the approaching ships already know about Colonel Sumner's presence in the network-"

"That is unlikely," Teyla put in. "We have already determined that the range of the Wraith psychic network is limited; the ships you informed us of earlier are presently too far away to make contact with the one on board the Aurora."

"Right..." Caldwell said, nodding briefly in a reflective manner before he turned back to McKay. "What would you actually be doing there?"

"Oh, nothing much; making sure that Colonel Sumner's all right in the environment, checking that the Wraith's access hasn't done anything to the system that I wasn't expecting, that kind of thing..." McKay said, shrugging uncertainly as he looked back at Caldwell. "I mean, I won't know what's there until I actually look at what's there, but it should be simple enough to find out how to deal with it..."

After staring at him in silence for a moment, Caldwell nodded in resolution.

"You've got fifteen minutes to figure it out, doctor," he said briefly.

"Fifteen minutes?" McKay repeated. "What is it with you military people and arbitrary numbers?"

"That's the time you have until I destroy the Aurora to stop the Wraith getting their hands on whatever's in there," Caldwell said in response.

"Ah," McKay said simply.

He had to admit, as much as he didn't like the time limit, he could definitely understand that reasoning for it; if this Wraith had encountered Sumner in there, the odds were good that it knew about Atlantis, which would definitely be a bad thing...
"So?" Ronon said a few minutes later as he and Teyla stood slightly further back from McKay, the scientist studying Sumner's brain patterns after analysis of the Wraith device connected to the pods had left McKay relatively satisfied that he knew what they were dealing with.

"Mmm?" McKay responded, glancing up at the Satedean before he remembered that he hadn't actually told them what he'd discovered in his analysis of the Wraith device. "Oh.... well, from what I saw of the Wraith equipment, they definitely found Aurora a long time ago- definitely long enough to have figured out how to access and reconfigure the system to accommodate their presence-, but barring some subtle traces of interference that looked like they'd just been installed when the Wraith actually accessed the system originally and were most likely the reason for the Ancients not remembering that they were in stasis in the first place, it doesn't look like they've done anything else to the system beyond allowing the Wraith in the network to look like somebody else."

"I... see," Teyla said, nodding slightly in understanding. "And... Colonel Sumner? Is he well?"

"Well, his brainwaves look fine, anyway; as far as I can tell, the only thing keeping him in there is the fact that he's probably still trying to find out what he can about that Wraith 'weakness' he mentioned earlier," McKay replied, shrugging slightly as he studied the readout on his computer screen. "No variation in his EEG frequencies, no sign of delta wave activity... as far as I can tell, there's nothing to stop us taking him out of here manually, although I would recommend a medical team on standby afterwards..."

"And what about that Wraith weakness?" Ronon asked. "Pretty sure that blowing this place up isn't a good way to find out what that's about..."

"Yeah, but I think we can safely say that if Sumner hasn't found it by now he's probably not going to get them to tell him it any time soon," McKay said, before he swallowed slightly as he looked at the other two. "Besides... I think I know what else they're up to."

"How?" Ronon asked.

"Well, I took a check through the ship's databanks while I was here- see what I could dig up, that kind of thing-, and-" McKay began.

"You accessed the ship's databanks?" Teyla interjected, looking uncertainly at McKay. "Would they not have the information we are looking for?"

"Normally, yes, but it looks like the Wraith erased the communiqué containing the information when it first gained access to the system; there's not even a password-protected file, never mind anything we could read," McKay said, shaking his head before he continued. "Anyway, that's not important now; what is important is that, according to Colonel Sumner, the Ancients in the simulation are working to update the Aurora's hyperdrive to allow them to reach Atlantis faster-"

"So?" Ronon asked briefly.

"So," McKay continued as he turned to face the Satedan, "according to the Atlantis database, there are two kinds of hyperdrive; the basic interstellar kind, like the Aurora already has, or the intergalactic kind, like the one that the Asgard gave us for the Daedalus. If my guess is right, with the information that Wraith's gaining from the simulation, he'll be able to learn how to modify the Wraith hyperdrives from interstellar to intergalactic..."

"...which will allow them to reach Earth..." Teyla finished, her eyes widening in horror at the implications of that deduction.

"All about their new feeding ground, huh?" Ronon said, looking grimly at the ship around them.

"Exactly," McKay confirmed, before he turned back to look at the still-immobile form of Colonel Sumner before them. "Which means that, right now, we really don't have the time to wait; we need to destroy this ship before those Wraith cruisers get here and the Wraith in the system can tell them what he's found out."

"Colonel Caldwell is already prepared to-" Teyla began.

"I found the self-destruct sequence while I was checking through the databanks; it'd be cutting it close, but I should be able to set it to go off a couple of minutes after we leave," McKay explained, turning his attention back to the data screen in his hands. "If I can just get Sumner out of the system..."

Before Teyla and Ronon could say anything more, McKay had hit a button on his computer screen and Sumner's pod had opened up, the colonel's eyes opening wide with shock as he stared at his surroundings.

"We're set!" McKay said, entering a few more quick commands into the console before him before he activated his radio. "Daedalus, we're set; get us to the medical bay!"
Looking back on the day's events that night in her room, the day's reports completed and the Daedalus on its way back to Earth, Elizabeth wondered if she'd ever been involved in a more tragic waste of a mission than this one had been.

They might have managed to destroy two Wraith cruisers and maintain the secrecy of Atlantis's continued survival- Daedalus had entered hyperspace just after the Aurora'sself-destruct had been activated, allowing them to confirm the cruisers' destruction without putting themselves at risk-, as well as gaining a brief but unique chance to get a look at an Ancient ship, but the fact remained that they had gained nothing of any kind of practical value from today's events, any chance to learn about the Wraith 'weakness' that the ship's captain had spoken about had been lost, and Colonel Sumner was still resting after being forcibly extracted from the stasis pod like that (He had apparently escaped suffering neurological damage, but according to McKay and Carson's assessment of his condition being forcibly extracted like that had essentially left his brain feeling like it had been sharply kicked and he would require at least a couple of days to recuperate).

It was almost unbelievably tragic, really; so many lives lost, with none of the Ancients even aware of what had killed them- according to McKay's reports they hadn't even known that they were in stasis in the first place thanks to the Wraith manipulation of the virtual interface-, and nothing gained from their sacrifice beyond the survival of people they'd never met...

Pushing her dejection aside, Elizabeth pulled a small bottle out of her cupboard, poured herself a glass of its contents, and raised it up in a one-sided toast.

"To the Aurora," she said simply.

It might have been toasting them for nothing, but she felt a need to at least acknowledge their existence.

They might have essentially 'died' long ago- as Ronon had commented during the debriefing, you couldn't call centuries spent trapped in stasis pods living-, but they had lived their own lives once; somebody had to acknowledge their passing...

It was like John, really; just because nobody else knew the full scale of what he had done for them- and not even she knew where he'd come from originally- didn't mean that he should go unmourned if he should die in the future...

Pushing those thoughts aside, Elizabeth swallowed her drink and then lay on the bed, lost in her thoughts of a now-destroyed Ancient ship and a strange man in a mask with a past that seemed as lost as the ship...


Chapter End Notes: AN 3: Just to clarify, Sumner lacks Sheppard's ingenuity in the field, and hence never escaped his cell after he was locked up there because he never had John's idea of leaving and returning to the virtual environment to draw the guard in, and was thus never stunned during his escape and therefore left McKay with no reason to believe that the Wraith exerted a particularly significant influence over the virtual network

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