2: For practicality purposes, this story begins shortly after the check-up we saw in the opening scenes of “Conversion” when Sheppard- or Sumner, in this case- was brought in after being attacked by Ellia only to show no signs of injury; for practical purposes, everything that happened in “Instinct” was basically the same as it was in the original episode, although Sumner was a BIT less inclined to give Ellia the benefit of the doubt than John was
Feedback: Always appreciated, trust me
As he walked down the corridors of Atlantis towards his room, Sumner couldn’t stop himself from slightly scratching at the mark on his arm where Ellia had apparently fed on him; it was a bit strange that there wasn’t any sign of an actual wound despite the blood that had flowed from his arm when she’d grabbed it, but he wasn’t really in the mood to question that kind of thing right now.
In the end, whatever had happened to him clearly hadn’t been a particularly serious injury; most likely Ellia had just still had some blood on her hand from when she’d thrown Zaddik like that- wait, he hadn’t had that much blood on him-
Sumner pushed those thoughts aside; reflections on the past weren’t helping anything- particularly when they were so irrelevant; he didn’t have an injury on his arm that could have been the source of the blood, so clearly there wasn’t anything to worry about in that regard-, and he was already frustrated enough with Teyla for getting injured like that; if she’d just been a bit less careless, she could have helped him and Ronon take out Ellia a hell of a lot quicker…
Then again, he supposed it wasn’t exactly anyone’s fault; they couldn’t exactly have predicted that the seemingly-‘tame’ Ellia would become that dangerous when she was exposed to the Wraith retrovirus, especially when Beckett hadn’t yet been ready to test it on a live subject. If nothing else, the dissection of Ellia’s corpse- the remains had been brought back to Atlantis with them- should at least give the Scottish doctor more information about what had gone wrong that he could use to correct future versions of the serum, and she hadn’t caused any serious damage when she’d gone rampant. Zaddik’s death hadn’t been a desired outcome to that situation, of course, but it had at least dealt with any ethical issues involving the man wanting the body of his ‘daughter’ for burial, and the elimination of the ‘Daemos’ had earned them another potential trading ally…
Shrugging those thoughts aside as he entered his room- it was Weir’s job to worry about alliances like that; he just had to keep the men in shape for future conflict-, Sumner shrugged his jacket off and changed into a more comfortable shirt before heading for the workout room.
With the alternatives being either talking to McKay about his latest project or a run with Ronon, given his increasingly lowering opinion of the Canadian- he was still rather annoyed at McKay for the mess he’d made of Project Arcturus; if the man hadn’t been so arrogant they might have been able to leave that weapon intact and work out some means of devising a less dangerous version- and his low opinion of the Satedean’s personal qualities- the ‘Specialist’ got the job done when they were in a fight, but the man could not take a direct order he didn’t immediately agree with to save his life, and his stubborn refusal to at least tolerate Ellia could have provoked her to take the retrovirus early and cost them a valuable test subject-, a practise spar with Teyla right now seemed like the most sensible alternate option available to Sumner right now; at least Teyla was skilled enough to give him a challenge while simultaneously capable of avoiding being seriously hurt if he ended up venting his frustrations on her…
An hour or so later, Sumner stood opposite Teyla with a casual smile on his face, his ‘whacksticks’ in his hand and his body in a combat stance as he faced her.
He had to admit, he’d definitely made the right choice in choosing this sparring match over the other options; he was actually having a rather good time right now, as opposed to the usual outcome where these confrontations left him bruised and sore on the floor. Normally sparring matches between him and Teyla tended to be rather uneven- he might have been the more militarily-minded of the two of them, but his greater bulk and muscle strength were actually a disadvantage in a martial art which relied primarily on the user’s speed and agility when facing something as strong as the Wraith-, but he’d actually been putting on a fairly good performance this time around.
As Teyla moved in for another attack, Sumner blocked her first few blows before countering with his own offensive, his last blow briefly brushing against her hair as a swift duck was all that saved her from a blow to the head, the Athosian woman shifting her stance to stand up once again in a movement that was almost snake-like in its straightforward grace.
“You are doing… very well, Colonel Sumner,” Teyla said, nodding slightly in approval at him as she stood up in front of him once more, the slight panting of her breathing giving away more about Sumner’s progress than any words she might have said.
“Thanks,” Sumner said simply- it wasn’t like he needed her confirmation of what he already knew, after all-, before he casually tossed one stick aside, raising the other in a more sword-like manner. “En garde?”
As soon as Teyla’s eyes had widened in acknowledge of what he was suggesting, Sumner had lunged forward once again, the single stick moving so rapidly from one of Teyla’s sticks to deflect the other that it was almost like he hadn’t discarded his second one, moving so fast that it seemed as though he was still using both of his original sticks.
Before Teyla could fully process what was happening- primitive cultures always take time to take in the impossible, he reflected with a self-satisfied smirk before he even realised what he’d been thinking-, Sumner had struck her in one wrist with such force that she dropped the stick she’d been holding in that hand, following the blow up by striking out at Teyla’s throat with such a powerful blow that she dropped the other stick and fell to the floor, clutching her throat and gasping hoarsely as she stared in shock up at Sumner.
She’d always known that Sumner wasn’t a peaceful man by any means, but he’d never demonstrated that kind of… brutality in their sparring matches before; if he’d struck any harder he could have broken bones… and what he was doing now… the coldness in his stare…
For a moment, Teyla was reminded unnervingly of a Wraith as it prepared to feed…
For a time period that would forever seem longer than it had been long after it was over, Sumner just stared down at Teyla, the coldness in his gaze putting Teyla unnervingly in mind of the Wraith they’d captured over a year ago- the last time she’d been in any kind of prolonged contact with a Wraith; any fights she’d had with them since tended to be long-range thanks to the expedition’s weapons-, before it suddenly faded, leaving Sumner looking momentarily confused before he seemed to fully process what he was doing.
“Oh my God…” he said, looking at her in shock, unable to shake the disorientation in his mind; he knew that they’d just been fighting, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what he’d specifically done in the last few minutes of the fight. “Teyla? Are you OK? What… what happened?”
As Teyla stared up at him, pain and shock in her eyes as she gazed at the man crouching down before her, apparently confused at the sight of her in the condition that he had just reduced her to, she could only wonder what had happened to the man she had come to grudgingly respect- his lack of interest in interacting with her or any of their teammates in any manner that wasn’t immediately necessary for them to work on missions together didn’t help her get along with him, but he was an efficient military commander- to prompt him to do something like that…
She didn’t know what had happened to prompt this sudden shift of behaviour, but Teyla had an unnerving feeling that she wasn’t going to like learning what had turned him into the man she had seen before her in those brief moments…
“So… how is she?” Sumner asked an hour later as he stood in the medical bay, looking uncomfortably at Doctor Beckett; he’d been bringing Teyla to the medical wing when he’d received the message from Doctor Beckett asking him to report to the infirmary, prompting him to move at a somewhat faster rate in order to reach the medical bay, but he’d insisted that Teyla get checked up before learning what Beckett had requested his presence for.
“Physically, she’ll be fine,” Beckett said, looking grimly at Atlantis’s military commander as he sat on the edge of a desk opposite Beckett’s own chair, his expression making it clear that he had grim news to deliver. “Give her a few days’ rest- and don’t have her talk too much; her vocal chords took a nasty knock there- and she should be back to normal soon enough; the problem right now is what made you do that to her in the first place.”
“Yes…?” Sumner asked, looking slightly scathingly at Beckett, suggesting that he’d already come to his own conclusions on that topic and wasn’t particularly interested in them being confirmed or denied.
“Well,” Beckett said, taking a deep breath as though trying to prepare himself before he continued speaking, “the good news is, I’ve been able to determine with some certainty that Ellia didn't drain away any of your life-”
“And that’s the best news you had to offer?” Sumner retorted, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Beckett. “What’s the bad news?”
“Well…” Beckett said, swallowing uncomfortably, “it looks like you've been infected with the iratus bug retrovirus; the one we were working on to turn Ellia into a human-”
“The one that didn’t do that, you mean,” Sumner said simply.
“As I said, the treatment was administered prematurely; she was never meant to be exposed to it in its current state-” Beckett began.
“Save the speech, Doctor,” Sumner cut in, continuing to glare at the expedition’s chief of medicine, clearly unconcerned about Beckett’s protests. “The point is, I’ve been infected with that virus and you don’t know what it’s going to do to me, correct?”
“Well… yes, really,” Beckett confirmed, looking apologetically at Sumner. “I mean, Ellia taking a massive dose of the retrovirus like she did was one thing- we knew it would definitely do something to her physiology given her Wraith heritage, seeing as how it was designed to infect her in the first place-, but there’s no way to know what kind of effect it would have on a human; I can’t even begin to guess what’s going to happen to you, but if what we’ve seen of your behaviour recently is any indication-”
“And what’s that meant to mean?” Sumner interjected, standing up straighter as he glared at Beckett. “I feel perfectly fine-”
“You almost broke Teyla’s wrist in a practise session, Colonel; I think that ‘fine’ is far from being an accurate description,” Beckett replied, standing up himself to return Sumner’s glare with his own despite his shorter stature. “You’re already experiencing significant mood swings, and the wound on your arm healed unnaturally fast; until we know for certain what happened to you, you’ll need to check in here every six hours for the next few days until we know for sure you’re cleared, and I’m recommending that all ‘gate activity be suspended until you’re cleared as well.”
For a moment, as Sumner stared at Beckett, the Doctor momentarily allowed himself to wonder if it was completely wise to argue with a man in a mental state such as Sumner when he already has his doubts about the man’s current condition, but then Sumner stepped back and simply nodded at Beckett in acceptance.
“All right,” he said simply. “I’ll… see you then.”
As she sat in her office idly tapping away at her latest round of Solitaire on her tablet computer, Elizabeth wondered how her life had reached this stage.
In the past her work life had generally been the dullest part of her life- negotiating treaties might be challenging, but people tended to forget that diplomats didn’t often have that busy a schedule given that negotiations weren’t something that happened every day- while her social life, while never exactly a wild party, had been the more interesting part of her existence, but ever since coming to Atlantis the opposite had been true; she spent more time working and organising reports on fascinating discoveries and research that she never would have been able to even see working back on Earth- as fascinating as work at the SGC was, it was, if nothing else, far easier to find something new to study in Atlantis-, but aside from a few members of the senior staff such as Beckett and Teyla- McKay, Ronon and Sumner weren’t exactly social people, albeit for different reasons-, she didn’t really have any actual friends, and the closest thing she’d had to a date was-
Something she was not going to think about at this time; the situation with Sumner was more than enough complication in her life for her to be dealing with right now without adding her personal issues (Particularly when she didn’t know what those really were herself) into the equation. Ever since his confrontation with Teyla- apparently Beckett was still debating whether he should have Teyla attend a couple of counselling sessions with Doctor Heightmeyer in case she had any remaining issues from Sumner’s attack to deal with, after a man she trusted attacked her like that-, Sumner’s condition appeared to be significantly deteriorating, with the original wound on his arm having developed Wraith-coloured scales around it and the scales- according to reports she’d heard from the guards stationed at his door- having already spread to his neck. Beckett’s team had managed to develop an inhibitor that kept Sumner’s mind from becoming too affected by the transformation, but that didn’t stop the physical effects of the process, and his temper was apparently still prone to ‘mood swings’.
Caldwell’s offer to take temporary command of the military division until Sumner’s condition was confirmed either way- if necessary a more permanent replacement would be sent to them from Earth, but all were agreed that they’d only do that if Beckett was certain that it was impossible for them to at least halt the mutation- at least saved her having to worry about issues like that- Major Lorne, for all his training, acknowledged that he was in no way ready to assume command of the military on Atlantis at this time-, but Sumner himself was still a problem. So far the only solution that Beckett’s team had managed to develop was the idea of harvesting stem cells from the egg embryos of the Iratus bugs- having discovered a world that was likely to have them using information acquired from the Ancient database- and using them to develop a gene therapy which could repair his damaged cells, but Elizabeth had serious doubts about the likely success of the current mission given what had happened the last time they’d encountered just one Iratus bug, never mind attempting to enter an entire nest…
“Elizabeth?” a voice suddenly said over her radio earpiece, prompting her to start briefly before she recognised the speaker.
“John?” she said, lowering her voice after a brief glance at her door to confirm that it was locked; it wouldn’t exactly look good if someone came in to find her talking to the Phantom. “What is it?”
“Just thought you’d appreciate knowing that I’m keeping an eye on Sumner,” John replied, his own low voice suggesting that he was in a similar position to her in the sense that both of them were trying to avoid being heard. “Haven’t encountered anything quite like this before, of course, but I’ve heard enough to know what’s happening to him; if he tries to get out of that room before you can cure him…”
He paused for a moment, apparently seeking for the best way to say what he was about to say, before he continued. “I’ll try and take him down in a non-lethal manner, of course- I get that he’s not in control of what he’s becoming-, but if it comes down to it…”
“Of course,” Elizabeth said, not even questioning the fact that she was saying those words in the first place before they’d crossed her lips. “I understand.”
The thing that surprised her most was that she did understand. As much as Sumner might still regard the Phantom as a rogue element in Atlantis- a title that Elizabeth was finding increasingly hard to associate with John; everything he’d done s far had always been to their benefit-, Elizabeth had seen enough proof of his dedication to know that John would never do anything that might cause the expedition harm unless he had no other choice, and even then he’d only do it because not doing it would cause more harm in the long term. His way of doing things might be more violent than she was used to- the memories of some of the Genii corpses he’s left behind him during the siege were proof enough of that-, but even then he’d only attacked proven hostiles rather than going in firing blindly…
In the end, as she terminated the radio connection, why she had faith that John wouldn’t do any permanent damage to Sumner if he managed to escape in his current condition wasn’t important to her; what was important was that she was certain that John would keep his word about leaving Sumner alive unless all other options were exhausted.
She couldn’t have justified her belief to anyone if they’d asked her, but she was certain of it; John had proven himself to her enough times by now, even if others might still need convincing.
She just wished that she felt more optimistic about their chances for ensuring that John wouldn’t need to do that; she still hadn’t heard back from the team they’d sent to the Iratus bug eggs, and the longer it took-
The sound of the Stargate dialling once again prompted her to get up and look at the now-activating wormhole with an eager anticipation, but the sight of Sumner’s usual team- now lead by Evan Lorne- walking into the gate room with no sign of Lieutenants Walker and Stevens accompanying them told her and dejected expressions on their faces told her all she needed to know.
The mission had failed.
Two men were almost certainly dead, they hadn’t managed to collect any samples of the Iratus bug eggs, and Sumner was still mutating…
As John crouched in a maintenance tunnel just outside Sumner’s quarters, his hand hovering near his weapon as he stared at the door before him- Doctor Beckett had just entered the room, but he didn’t know what was happening inside it; the doors were fairly secure once they were shut-, he wondered how long he had until Sumner crossed that final line between man and bug.
He couldn’t quite believe this was happening; he’d found a surprising amount of information in the Ancient database about Wraith evolution- even if his limited knowledge of the language meant that most of what he’d found there was put together from guesswork-, but the idea that Colonel Sumner was mutating into what could best be described as the Wraith equivalent of the missing link…
He really wasn’t comfortable with that thought; even if he hadn’t heard anything in Beckett’s research on the rate of the viral mutation to suggest that Sumner would go so far as to develop Wraith feeding organs, insects were ruthless enough to their own kind. If Sumner’s mutation progressed far enough that the inhibitor couldn’t keep him lucid- something that even Sumner seemed to be afraid of, judging by his earlier request to one of the nurses that had gone in to check on his progress to double the guard at his door-, the potential damage that he could do if he escaped into Atlantis…
Sumner probably wouldn’t possess the intellectual capacity to actually do any serious damage to the city if he left his room- if he’d regressed far enough to even try to escape it seemed a safe bet he wouldn’t exactly be in control of himself-, but that wouldn’t stop him from hurting others if he found them. Add in the fact that the trip to the Iratus bug homeworld had- judging by the grim expression on Beckett’s face when he’d entered the room- not gone exactly well, and he wouldn’t be surprised if-
The sight of Sumner walking out of his room, his eyes now yellow-irised with slits for pupils, the skin around the lower part of his face a bluish-grey colour with small ridges spread around his neck and jaw and his hands in a similar condition with long fingernails was all the confirmation John needed; Sumner had snapped.
Even as the colonel lashed out at the marines on either side of the door, knocking them unconscious with a couple of quick blows, John was already crawling down the maintenance tunnel to the nearest exist, already checking his ‘life signs detector’ to confirm that Sumner was heading in the expected direction.
As soon as he’d left the maintenance tunnel- the entrance was a few metres down the corridor in the opposite direction from which Sumner had been heading-, John had turned around and began to hurry down the corridor, the detector already modified to distinguish Sumner’s now-unique physiology from the humans around him (After all the time he’d spent programming the sensors to not register his presence his first few years in Atlantis, modifying them to highlight one specific person was fairly simple). He had to be careful not to go too fast in case Sumner heard him at first, but as he approached a large area that he suspected had previously been the Ancient equivalent of a storage room he quickened his pace; at least there he’d have enough space to start shooting without giving Sumner anywhere to hide…
As soon as he’d rounded the corner and found himself at the top of the stairs leading down to the storage area, Sumner half-way across the room floor and approaching the other exit, John didn’t hesitate; drawing his gun, he set it to stun and fired it at the colonel-
The other man ducked to the side and turned around to glare at him, a resolute expression on his bug-like face that seemed to twist into a slight glare as he took in the cloaked figure standing at the top of the stairs.
“OK… Sumner?” John said, trying to sound calm as he stared at the man before him, his hands raised in a reassuring gesture; he didn’t know how far Sumner’s mind had regressed, but maybe if he just stayed calm Sumner wouldn’t recognise him as a threat until he was close enough to knock him out with a stun blast. “I know that you’re… having trouble… with what’s happening to you, but if you just-”
Before he could say any more, Sumner’s eyes narrowed and he charged towards his opponent, hands outstretched as though aiming for John’s neck. Whether it was just the bug in Sumner reacting to a potential threat or whatever was left of Sumner in the bug’s mind responding to his still-present issues with the Phantom’s presence in the city- John had never fooled himself that Sumner had started liking him more after the Siege; he just tolerated his presence better-, John didn’t know, and right now he couldn’t spare the time to find out; raising his gun, he fired off another stun blast, only for Sumner to duck to the side before he knocked the gun out of John’s hand, his own subsequently closing around John’s neck.
Crap… John muttered, glaring back at Sumner even as the other man began to tighten his grip around John’s throat, his left arm pressed against Sumner’s throat to hold him back as his right hand tried to find his lost gun. This isn’t good…
Even without his previous promise to Elizabeth that he wouldn’t kill Sumner unless he was certain that it was necessary, his options right now were limited, and his promise just made things more tricky. For a moment he was tempted to just forget his word and kill Sumner anyway- he could definitely claim self-defence-, but pushed that though aside at once; even if Elizabeth already saw him as a monster, he would not go so far as to kill someone in Sumner’s condition unless he was genuinely certain all alternatives were exhausted.
Right now, his best chance seemed to be to hope that Sumner’s healing was as advanced as it had seemed earlier, and throw him off with a quick sneak attack…
John didn’t stop to think; as soon as the idea had occurred to him, he ceased his frantic search for his gun and flicked his wrist, activating one of the small knives he kept stored up his sleeve, before ramming the knife into Sumner’s side, sending the hybrid staggering backwards in pain. The blow merely penetrated his chest without actually damaging anything vital, but the pain it caused was enough to send Sumner staggering backwards, letting out a bug-like hiss of pain before John used the momentary distraction to draw his gun and hit Sumner with a quick couple of stun blasts, sending him collapsing to the ground.
Taking a brief glance around to make sure there was no sign or sound of anyone else approaching, John quickly hurried over to pull the knife out of Sumner’s side before he turned around and ran back down the corridor towards the maintenance tunnel he’d crawled through previously.
Hopefully, anyone finding Sumner would be too grateful that he’d been subdued to focus on how it had happened, particularly when his mutation- according to what John had overheard while spying on the medical bay- only had a few hours to go before it had run its course…
As she stood at the door of the commissary, looking at Sumner’s team as they sat around a table, Elizabeth tried to place what about that picture was bothering her. It wasn’t the lack of Sumner among the group, she knew that much- Sumner had barely bothered to spend much time with the team outside of missions even when Lieutenant Ford had been a member, and he’d spent even less time with them now that he was the only official military member of the group no matter how much training Teyla and Ronon possessed-, but there was something missing…
Then she realised what was bothering her.
It was the lack of concern about them.
It wasn’t that the three people sitting before her didn’t care about what happened to Sumner, and they definitely didn’t want him to die; she just got the impression, as she looked at them sitting around the table, that they wouldn’t be that bothered if he didn’t live either.
Unlike when then-Colonel O’Neill had been infected by the Ancient knowledge and faced a complete mental breakdown, prompting the rest of SG-1 to do virtually everything they could to figure out a way to help him- or even just spend time with him before he reached the point where he couldn’t understand what they were doing-, right now Sumner’s team weren’t even discussing what they might be able to do to help him; Elizabeth had a feeling that the only reason they were sitting here was because they weren’t sure what else to do.
That was the problem with Sumner’s method of leadership, really; it wasn’t that he saw the soldiers under his command as expendable, but he didn’t make that much effort to connect with them either…
Finally giving up on her own private reflection, Elizabeth walked over to join the team, smiling briefly at them as she sat down at the table with them.
“You guys are up late,” she said uncertainly.
“No idea what else to do,” Ronon said briefly. “I’m not good at sitting still.”
“Well, what can we do?” McKay sighed. “The bugs aren’t going to let us in, Sumner’s reaching the point where he’d probably only recognise us as food if we did see him, and I just… just…”
He groaned as he leant back in his chair, staring in frustration at the ceiling. “I just can’t help feeling like crap because I can’t feel that bothered…”
“You are not the only one, Rodney,” Teyla said, looking reassuringly over at her friend as she reached over to place a brief, comforting hand on his shoulder. “Colonel Sumner is a good leader, but he… he does not make it easy to care for him beyond that.”
Elizabeth said nothing, but secretly she had to agree with Teyla’s statement. It might not be something she could really legitimately complain about, but Sumner’s distance from the rest of the staff made Atlantis somehow a less relaxed place than the SGC had seemed during her visits there after General O’Neill had assumed command; in many ways, it reminded her of…
Elizabeth sighed slightly, inwardly cursing at her own realisation.
In the end, Sumner’s attitude towards the rest of the expedition wasn’t that different from the way she’d initially been when she’d arrived at the SGC; professionally respectful of everyone, but otherwise emotionally distant.
The only difference was that she’d made an effort to change that stance after witnessing the bond between the various members of SG-1 as they fought to find the Lost City and save Colonel O’Neill’s life.
Sumner, on the other hand, didn’t seem that interested in making any kind of change to his attitude towards the others, and there was really nothing Elizabeth could legitimately do to encourage him to change it; so long as he was doing a good job keeping the city safe, why would the IOA care if he wasn’t much of a people person…?
“Doctor Weir,” Beckett’s voice said over the comms, cutting off further thought in that regard, “I need to speak to you immediately.”
As he crouched in a maintenance tunnel just outside the infirmary a few hours later, John allowed himself a brief smile as he heard Beckett’s report that his attempt to treat Sumner’s mutation had finally proven successful; the man might still have a while to go before he was back in his full human form, but his DNA was reverting to normal at last, which was a definite step up from the state he’d been in before.
The strategy they’d used had been risky, of course- relying on Sumner himself to get the embryos necessary to reverse his current transformation could have backfired in so many ways he knew he’d have felt extremely uncomfortable making that decision in Beckett’s place-, but given that it had paid off, he supposed everything had worked out for the best…
It was definitely something he’d need to work on, though; he’d spent so long with only himself that he still sometimes felt uncomfortable relying on others to do anything, even when he knew- such as with the Atlantis expedition- that they could handle themselves in a situation without his help (Even if his aid had been helpful when he’d offered it; as much as he knew Elizabeth wouldn’t have selected anyone to join the expedition if they weren’t capable of contributing something to the team, the fact remained that he had little doubt that the nanite crisis and the Wraith siege of Atlantis would have resulted in more deaths than had actually taken place if he hadn’t been there).
Right now, though, with Sumner on the road to recovery- no matter how long that particular road was destined to be- and no particular reason for him to be anywhere, it was probably best for him to get back to his old hiding place before the search for him resumed in earnest once again…