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Prologue

“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.

-o-

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?


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