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Author's Chapter Notes: This begins a few days after Michael's escape from Atlantis, leading into the events of Inferno (Albeit with some swiftly-obvious changes...).

As Elizabeth sat solemnly at her desk, she wasn't sure what was worse; the fact that there was now at least one Wraith hive out there that knew about Atlantis's continued existence, or the fact that an experiment she'd already had doubts about when they'd started their research had gone so drastically wrong.

On a larger scale, the first was definitely the more problematic- even if for some reason Michael's system proved unable to cope with the transformation back to his Wraith self after so long as a human, there weren't that many viable candidates in this galaxy who had the necessary knowledge and resources to do something like that in the first place-, but it was the second factor that really troubled Elizabeth.

If the experiment had been a success, they could have at least justified their actions as helping to 'cure' the Wraith from a 'disease'- it wasn't hard to think of the Wraith as being 'sick', when taking into account that they ate normally when young; with that information you could almost consider them to be suffering from a deficiency that rendered them unable to produce enough of some kind of vital chemical to survive on their own after they reached a certain age-, but Michael's clear rejection of them for what had been done to him had reinforced Elizabeth's own initial misgivings about the whole project.

The retrovirus information might still be stored in their databases in case they found another use for it at some future date, but as far as Elizabeth was concerned their original plan for it would be nothing less than biological warfare releasing a weapon of mass destruction; the fact that the Wraith would still be alive afterwards didn't change the fact that who they were as individuals was gone...

The sound of the Stargate activating cut her bleak train of thought short, even before a glance at her watch confirmed that there were no offworld teams or contacts due to be getting in touch with them at this time; right now, any kind of offworld contact would be a welcome distraction from her current internal debate.

Getting to her feet, Elizabeth hurried over to the control room just as the wormhole connected to them, looking over at Chuck as he studied his screen.

"Anything?" she asked.

"Well..." Chuck said, looking at her with a slightly uncertain smile, "we do appear to be getting a radio signal of some kind; it's just not on any of our usual frequencies..."

"Radio?" Elizabeth repeated, looking at Chuck in surprise before she returned her attention to the wormhole before her. "Put the signal through."

"-ellor Lycus of the Taranian Government for the city of Atlantis," a voice said on the other end of the connection as the signal activated, the voice sounding like a man in his later years. "Is anybody there?"

For a moment, Elizabeth exchanged uncertain glances with the rest of the gateroom staff- evidently none of them had any idea who the 'Taranians' were any more than she did-, but in the end, she knew that there was only one way for her to learn anything else about this strange message.

"This is Doctor Elizabeth Weir," she said, after Chuck had activated their own radio. "I'm the leader of the Atlantis Expedition; who is this?"

"I am Chancellor Lycus of Taranis," the voice at the other end said, sounding slightly satisfied at this new turn of events. "And, as I said, we have a message for those who now inhabit the city of the Ancestors."

"And... who gave you this message?" Elizabeth asked.

"The Phantom of the Ancestors, of course," Chancellor Lycus replied, his tone shifting to something that made Elizabeth think of a combination of amusement and uncertainty; if she had to guess, she'd speculate that Lycus was testing to see if she was genuinely ignorant of who had told the Taranians to contact them or if she was just playing a joke of some sort.

"The Phantom?" Elizabeth repeated, a touch of apprehension in her chest at this latest news.

Even if she knew that the Phantom would never do anything to harm them- as she'd pointed out to Sumner more than once back in their early days in the city, it would be relatively easy for their masked resident to force them out of Atlantis if he'd wanted to make them leave-, she had a feeling that Sumner was going to examine anything that the Taranians had for them with the proverbial fine-toothed comb before he accepted whatever they had to offer.

"What... did he ask you to, exactly?" she asked, hoping that she'd managed to maintain the cool professionalism she'd worked so hard to create over her years as a diplomat (Introducing a personal element like John to negotiations always made her feel slightly less confident than normal, particularly given John's own... unique... nature, in terms of the difficulty in defining both his relationship with her- something she really didn't like to think about- and his relationship with Atlantis as a whole).

"He simply provided us with crucial assistance in a... project... of ours, and asked that we pass it on to the people who would inhabit the city of the Ancestors in the near future," Lycus replied, a slightly uncertain tone to his voice as he spoke; Elizabeth just hoped that their initial lack of recognition hadn't jeopardised their chance to gain a potential ally. "We had heard... rumours... that the city was inhabited once again in the last year or so, but the Phantom's instructions were that we should only contact you when we required assistance, and to offer you the gift that he has assisted us in preparing for your use in exchange for your aid to us."

"Assistance in what?" Elizabeth asked, even as she exchanged curious glances with some of the technicians in the gateroom; the implication that the Phantom had some connection with this society appeared to be a point of concern for some of the staff in the gateroom, but in general they seemed to be willing to listen to whatever Lycus had to tell them rather than automatically jumping to any negative conclusions.

"On a personal level, we require assistance with some... technology... that we possess that is beyond our current technical understanding," the man on the other end of the wormhole explained, sounding briefly embarrassed at the evident implications of that statement before he continued. "On a wider scale, the Phantom's sole condition for providing us with assistance with a more long-term project- a project that I feel it would be best to discuss with you in person- was that we share our knowledge about the project with you when the time came for us to meet, and our people feel that now is as good a time as any for us to exchange information."

"I... see," Elizabeth said, a moment of uncertainty crossing her face as she noted the uncertainty evident on the faces of the rest of her staff- clearly they were as unsure about the limited information as she was-, before she pushed that aside; John's motives might still be essentially a mystery to her, but she'd never been given a reason to doubt that he wanted to help. "We'll... be with you in a couple of hours; just give me time to assemble a team and we'll be there shortly."

"Of course," Lycus replied, his tone a professionally neutral one that Elizabeth had to admire; he sounded slightly disappointed that they weren't coming immediately, but it successfully avoided giving too much away about how he felt about this apparently unexpected response to his message (It was too bad that she wouldn't have the chance to talk with John about this turn of events; if it wasn't for the fact that he hadn't spoken to her since that whole mess with Michael, Elizabeth wouldn't have minded learning what his connection was with this society...).

"Is anyone else freaking out about the fact that this 'Phantom' guy apparently knew that someone would be coming to live in this city apart from him?" McKay asked, looking urgently at the rest of the people in the room as they sat around the conference table.

"Actually, the evidence that he knew anyone would be here is really pretty questionable," Elizabeth pointed out, even as she made a mental note to ask John how he'd known someone would come here herself (She vaguely recalled John once mentioning that he knew people would be coming to Atlantis, but she'd never managed to ask him for more about that bit of information). "All Governor Lycus said was that the Phantom requested that they share their discoveries with the inhabitants of Atlantis when his people needed assistance; it's perfectly possible that the Phantom intended to eventually use the city to provide refuge for other people in this galaxy, but we took control of the city before he could put that plan into action."

"It is... possible, certainly," Teyla admitted, nodding thoughtfully at Elizabeth. "The Phantom has been known to... provide those who have lost their homes with the address of other planets where they could live in the past; it may be that he was intending to establish a residence for those that he felt could be trusted with the secrets of the Ancestors in this city itself..."

"Well, they're not here and we are," Ronon said with a slight shrug as he looked around the table. "Sucks for him if we disrupted any plans he had going on, but as it is, we're here and nobody else is; if they've got something that can help us, I say we just go and get it."

"Not exactly the best way to phrase things, Ronon," Sumner said, looking pointedly at the Satedean before he turned his attention back to Elizabeth. "Still, phrasing aside, he makes a point; if these people are willing to share some of their recent discoveries with us, I don't think we have any particular reason to reject their offer."

As much as Elizabeth couldn't help but find this decision somewhat ethically questionable- they might not exactly be lying, but the evidence available to them did suggest that John might have been planning to give the Taranians' as-yet-unknown research to somebody else-, she couldn't shake the fact that Ronon and Sumner had made valid points; no matter who John had intended to bring to Atlantis, they were the ones who had taken up residence in the city in the end.

The memory of her old argument with Sumner about how the Phantom could have driven them out of the city himself if he hadn't wanted them there briefly came to mind, but they didn't make her feel entirely comfortable. When she'd made that argument, a part of her had assumed that John knew significantly more about Atlantis than they did; her conversations with him over the last few months had suggested that his experience with the city wasn't as extensive as she'd first believed, which created the idea that he'd only accepted them being there because he had to...

Still, no matter what doubts Elizabeth might be feeling now about the situation facing her, that didn't change the facts; if John had thought that something was worth working on, that it was probably something interesting.

"All right," she said, nodding at her team. "Just... remember not to do anything that gives away the fact that we don't actually know the Phantom personally, and we should be all right."

"Please, we're masters of discretion," McKay said with a reassuringly smile. "Trust me; they won't get anything to suggest that our social circle doesn't include the Phantom."

As Sumner looked out from the windows of the former Ancient facility that the Taranians had used as a base for some time, he had to admit that he was at least slightly impressed. The facility might have seemed more like something he'd see on Earth than an Ancient construction, but it still made for an impressive display by the usual standards of architecture seen in Pegasus so far, and the apparent depth of the tunnels inside the mountain was also impressive by any definition.

As for the Taranians themselves, while their knowledge of the technology they were dealing with wasn't precisely as advanced as the Atlantis expedition's own, Sumner had to admit that the expedition had the slight advantage of having developed various examples of computer technology on their own; as with most of the more advanced species in the Pegasus Galaxy, the Taranians had been forced to develop in secret in order to create most of their technology, and even then most of what they had developed more recently was apparently based on what they'd gained from the Phantom.

Still, even with the more 'primitive'- by Ancient standards, anyway- technology in the base compared to the resources the expedition had discovered in Atlantis, the Taranaians seemed to have progressed well. Aside from their ability to maintain any kind of Ancient structure with at least some degree of understanding of its original purpose, Sumner had even noted some examples of what looked like primitive stun weapons on the holsters of some of the members of the facility's security force that they'd encountered earlier, most likely based on information recovered from the databanks, although the weapons were obviously bulkier than most true examples of Ancient technology that they'd encountered.

"So, you've been using this facility's shield to protect yourself from the Wraith?" McKay asked, looking curiously at Noreno Pero, the woman who had been introduced to them as the Taranian's chief scientist (Although Sumner privately had to wonder how much of that was because he believed her tales of her expertise or because she was just attractive; if he'd been a bit less professional, Sumner had to admit that he might have been tempted himself).

"Yes, we discovered it some decades ago after our use of a series of underground caverns lead us into this facility," Norena explained, smiling slightly at McKay as she spoke. "What knowledge we've gathered about it on our own is rudimentary at best, but the Phantom's assistance allowed us to develop a better understanding of what we were dealing with; he was even able to provide us with the facility's instruction manuals, including that it's powered by geothermal energy from the volcano beneath us, although our mutually limited knowledge of their language has meant that we've only been able to progress so far."

"Oh, it's a translation issue?" McKay said, smiling at Norena before a warning glare from Sumner- they had to ensure that they maintained the idea that they were at least casual acquaintances of the Phantom in order to find out what the Taranians had discovered- prompted his smile to dim slightly. "Well, we've picked up a bit more about the language since... the Phantom last saw you; we might be able to find out a bit more about what the problem is."

"You said that this place is run by geothermal energy?" Sumner asked, looking over at Lycus- the man's suit might be old, but it was at least more professional than Norena's slim purple dress- as McKay and Norena turned to begin their analysis of the control console that had been identified as the shield generator, Ronon following the Canadian after a brief nod from the colonel. Teyla was staying with Sumner as the team's unofficial diplomat, but the Satedean's presence might be useful in making sure that McKay stuck to the story; Ronon's tact might be questionable at times, but he was as interested in securing a potential weapon against the Wraith as Sumner was, and that was the main thing right now.

"From what my scientists tell me, at any rate; what I know about the shield's operating systems personally is limited," Lycus said, only a slight trace of discomfort on his face at this admission.

"I'm pretty much the same when it comes to what we use back in Atlantis," Sumner replied with a slight smile of understanding; in a situation like this, it didn't hurt to establish common ground with another leader. "We all know our strengths, and that's the important thing."

"Quite," Lycus said, relaxing slightly as he turned to indicate another door. "In the meantime, while our scientists begin their work, perhaps you would care for a tour of our facility?"

"Lead on," Sumner replied with a nod.

With that consent, Lycus lead Sumner and Teyla into an elevator at the back of the room that bore a slight resemblance to the teleporters they used in Atlantis. The subsequent descent brought them to a deep storage area that put Sumner in mind of some of Atlantis's more distant storage areas.

"My ears just popped," Sumner noted as he, Teyla, and Lycus's group left the elevator, unable to stop himself making the observation despite his attempts to maintain authority; he'd known this place was deep, but he hadn't expected it to be that deep...

"We are deep underground," Lycus clarified. "The Ancestors constructed an extensive system of corridors and tunnels throughout the facility and beyond."

"Like the one that lead you to discover this facility originally?" Teyla asked.

"Precisely," Lycus confirmed, as he and his men continued to walk through the facility. As his ears adjusted to the new pressure, Sumner noted that, while the base looked similar to Atlantis in terms of interior design, the addition of what looked like pressure valves and pipes made Sumner more inclined to think of a submarine rather than a grounded base (He wondered if this facility had once been capable of motion before it was buried here for some reason)-

A sudden brief but violent tremor shook the entire base, nearly sending Sumner staggering into a nearby set of pipes before he regained his balance just as it ceased; he wasn't sure if he should be more perturbed at the slight loss of dignity or the fact that Lycus appeared to be totally unperturbed by the incident.

"What was that?" Teyla asked anxiously.

"Oh, just a tremor; nothing to be concerned with." Lycus said, a dismissive smile on his face as he turned to look at Sumner. "Please, this way."

Sumner was grateful that Teyla looked as uncertain about the chancellor's casual dismissal of the tremor as he was; he wasn't exactly wild about earthquakes on any scale even when he wasn't underground, and the concept that people who spent most of their time in an underground base would be that dismissive about the potential dangers of such an occurrence...

"This is the main hangar," the chancellor explained as he paused in front of a large door.

"Hangar for what?" Sumner asked, thoughts of earthquake-related dangers momentarily pushed aside in favour of this possible new addition to their still-developing picture of the Taranians.

"Our collaborative project with the Phantom," Lycus clarified, a slight smile on his face as he waved his hand against a standard Ancient door panel. "I assure you, mere description is inadequate."

As the door opened, Sumner couldn't stop his jaw dropping at the sight that greeted him.

The size of the room before them alone would have been impressive- he could think of quite a few buildings from Earth that could have been comfortably placed inside this area, and the fact that it was underground made the engineering that must have gone into its construction all the more impressive-, but the most striking detail about the room was what it contained.

There, on the ground below the balcony where they currently stood, significantly larger than even the Daedalus, was a vast ship that Sumner quickly identified as Ancient design, resembling a more intact and slightly larger version of the Aurora that Atlantis had briefly encountered a few months ago.

"I see what you mean..." was all that Sumner could say at the sight.

"The Phantom called it the Orion," Lycus said, looking at them with a slight smile (Sumner noted the anomaly of the name, but preferred to focus on the chancellor's explanation right now; he'd consider further implications later). "We have managed to piece together most of the essential power connections, but some particular pieces of hardware still need some work; we're hampered by such factors as our inability to determine what is actually required for us to complete the work..."

"And... you believe that we will be able to assist you?" Teyla asked.

"The Phantom requested that we provide the Atlantis Expeidition with whatever resources we could to assist you in your struggle against the Wraith," Lycus clarified, indicating the ship before them with a slight smile. "We do not have the resources to completely repair or use the ship effectively ourselves- he mentioned a particular... gene sequence, I believe was the term used... that is necessary for people to successfully operate the technology of the Ancestors-, but if the Phantom believed that you could assist us in completing what we began when repairing it, I feel that we can afford to trust you."

Sumner wasn't sure what shocked him more at this point; the sheer scale of the discovery they'd just made, or the ease with which Chancellor Lycus was willing to share it with them based only on the Phantom's word.

"You... have a great deal of respect for him, don't you?" Sumner said at last.

"He assisted us in learning a great deal about the technology available to us; after everything that he has done for us, and the galaxy as a whole, it would be foolish not to be grateful to him," Lycus replied, shrugging slightly as he looked back at Sumner. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, it's nothing personal; just... had a couple of past alliances that didn't work out as well as we could have liked; I like to get a good first-hand perspective on everyone's motives," Sumner clarified, hoping that Lycus didn't take offence at the near-miss before he indicated the ship below them, hoping that a little improvisation would cover up how close Lycus had come to touching upon the ever-awkward topic of his own thoughts about the Phantom. "In any case, from what we can see, it looks like... reports of your progress were accurate; from what I can see things seem to be in good shape."

"Yes, with the plans provided by the Phantom we have managed to re-connect most of the crucial systems together, although some of the fine details regarding the actual hardware- or, according to our scientists, the programming that controls it- has so far proven beyond our ability to completely repair it," Lycus said, his expression shifting to become slightly curious as he looked at Sumner. "I acknowledge that my people would obviously prefer for the shield to be repaired first, but if he would be willing to take a look..."

"Of course," Sumner said, nodding in resolute confirmation. "I assure you, once Doctor McKay's finished analysing your shield, he will be perfectly willing to provide his assessment of your progress with the... Orion... so far."

Even though he knew that McKay would unquestionably be willing and interested in volunteering his services in repairing the ship before them, Sumner couldn't help but feel slightly uneasy about the current deception- no matter how minor- regarding his connection to the Phantom.

He might stop not entirely trust that the man's independent attitude wouldn't put the city in danger at some point in the future- his continued insistence at doing things his way rather than being answerable to any kind of higher authority was going to cause a problem at some point, Sumner was sure of that-, but he did appreciate that the man's skills and experience had saved Atlantis more than once in the past; not liking someone didn't mean that he had to dislike the man's accomplishments.

He might not be entirely comfortable with Lycus's near-reverential attitude towards the Phantom, but he also couldn't deny that the man had picked up an obvious reputation among the inhabitants of the Pegasus Galaxy, which he definitely hadn't acquired by failing in his apparently self-appointed mission...

In the end, the thing that occupied his mind most right now- he'd leave the issue of whether they could get the ship working or not up to McKay- was the issue of the ship's name.

Orion might be an interesting name that he saw no reason to change, but that didn't alter the fact that it was a name from Earth mythology that had no place being used by someone in this galaxy...

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