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Author's Chapter Notes: Sorry for the long long wait! Hope you enjoy and please please review! It's much appreciated. :)


Chapter 1
- Shock and Awe

This wasn’t possible. John stared at the girl standing in front of him. “I’m sorry… What did you just call me?”

“Dad, come on, this isn’t funny,” said the boy seriously.

Another jolt to John’s nervous system. They both thought he was their father? So they didn’t just look like brother and sister, they actually were. “Look,” he said slowly, holding out a hand placatingly, “I don’t know who you are, but…”

Confusion entered the girl’s eyes. Before she had looked exasperated, but now… “Dad, stop it. You’re scaring me,” she said, and there was real fear in her voice. She may not have been his daughter, but John couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. Hell, she couldn’t be more than seventeen. “What’s going on?”

“That is precisely what I’d like to know!” demanded Woolsey, recovering finally from his shock at the girl’s claim of descent.
“Colonel Sheppard, what is the meaning of this?”

“What, you think I have something to do with it?” asked John in disbelief.

“These individuals are claiming to be your children, what else am I…”

“Hey,” interrupted Ronon, passing through the line of armed Marines to stand at John’s side. “Unless you want the whole city to know about this in the next five minutes, you might want to move this somewhere else.” He nodded behind him. There was already an audience gathering at the fringes of the gate room - who knew how much they had heard?

Out of the corner of his eye John saw the boy place a hand on his sister’s shoulder; he was watching him intently. “Emily…” he called softly. A name, finally! The girl looked up at her brother. “…look at him.” He nodded his head towards John and, after shooting the boy a questioning glance, she turned to look. For the first time John noticed the dirt that streaked their uniforms and faces and the way they both looked like they had just run a mile. After a moment her eyes widened in understanding, her lips parting slightly in surprise.

He didn’t know what was so astonishing about his appearance, but once again he was struck by the resemblance between the girl and the woman she had started to name as her mother. Elizabeth. The initial shock of the situation was beginning to fade, and it was only now that John realized exactly what the girl – Emily, he reminded himself – was implying about her parentage. He swallowed deeply, the fast becoming familiar knot in his stomach giving another sharp twist. According to her, he and Elizabeth… Oh, he didn’t like to think about what Woolsey was going to say once he noticed that little detail.

Woolsey nodded at Ronon in agreement. “You’re right. Sergeant, escort these two to a holding cell. We’ll continue this discussion downstairs.”

The two teenagers allowed themselves to be led away without resistance. As they were marched past John, Emily’s eyes finally left his face and she turned to her brother. John was just able to catch the awed whisper. “His hair... there’s no gray.”

-o-

On the way down to the holding cell, the group ran into a concerned looking Rodney McKay, who was hurrying towards the gate room.
“Hey, what’s going on?!” he demanded, falling into step next to John. “What happened with that tremor a minute ago? What was it? An earthquake?”

“Not exactly,” answered John flatly.

“Well what…” He finally looked around at the small party marching down the hallway and broke off mid-sentence. “Who are they?” He pointed at the pair of teenagers partially concealed in the midst of the Marine escort.

Woolsey looked at the scientist. “That, Dr. McKay, is exactly what I hope to find out. The tremor was caused by the gate, not an earthquake. There was an unscheduled off-world activation not fifteen minutes ago from somewhere in Pegasus; those children were what came through. And they’ve made some rather fantastic claims that I intend to get to the bottom of.”

Rodney frowned. “Oh? Like what?”

“They um…” John bit his lip and sighed. He was never going to hear the end of this, not with as many times as Rodney had called him a Kirk in the past. “They’re saying that I’m their father.”

“What? You’re kidding!” John gave him a look. Rodney cleared his throat and looked away. “Okaaay, not kidding then. Well, are we really surprised…?”

“McKay!” John growled.

Rodney ignored the warning in his friend’s voice and tried to peer over the shoulders of the Marines in front of them to get a better glimpse of the prisoners. “…it’s only to be expec… wait, they’re teenagers. And you said that they came from Pegasus. Then that’s…”

“Impossible. Yeah, I know.” John looked ahead at the swinging ponytail of dark curls just visible over Sergeant Matthew’s shoulder. ‘And you have no idea by just how much.’

-o-

The holding room was lit momentarily by a flash of blue light as the force field snapped into place around the wide horizontal bars of the cell, effectively sealing the ‘visitors’ inside. As John and the others fanned out along the side of the cell, the girl crossed her arms and glanced around her, sighing tiredly. “This isn’t necessary,” she said. “You don’t have to lock us up, we’re not a threat.” “You’ll allow me to be the judge of that,” said Woolsey.

The boy – John still didn’t know his name – stopped pacing back and forth and came to stand beside his sister, his hands in his pockets. John noticed how they had both been careful to stay away from the walls of the cell once it had activated, unlike most of the prisoners that had been kept there, all of whom had gotten a shock or two before learning not to touch. There was a familiarity in their attitude towards the technology surrounding them that John found almost unnerving. There had been no surprise, no awe or exclamations of wonder as they had been led through the city. Although he was reluctant to do it, John had to admit that they acted as if… well, as if they had lived in Atlantis all their lives. For a split second he found himself wondering whether they had the ATA gene or not, whether they had inherited it… He quickly stopped himself from following that train of thought any further. ‘What is the matter with you, John?! These cannot be your kids!’

“I remember you now,” said the boy slowly, drawing out the first two words as he looked at Woolsey appraisingly. “Richard Woolsey… you’re that guy from the IOA that used to give Mom so much trouble.” He raised an eyebrow at the man in front of him and John was suddenly aware that Emily wasn’t the only one to bear resemblance to Elizabeth. “What are you doing here?”

Woolsey stiffened at the incredulity in the boy’s tone. “From now on I will be the one asking questions here. Now, you have some explaining to do and I suggest you get started.”

The boy sighed, his eyes sliding to the floor before he exchanged a look with his sister. Then he took a deep breath and fixed his eyes, not on Woolsey, but on John. “My name is Connor Evan James Sheppard. I’m nineteen years old. This is my little sister Emily. We were both born here, on Atlantis. Our father is Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force, and our mother is Dr. Elizabeth Sheppard.”

“I’m not familiar with...” began Woolsey.

Still not taking his eyes off John, Connor - he finally had a name- smoothly interrupted him. “She was Elizabeth Weir before she married our dad.”

John heard Rodney beside him give a startled ‘What!?!’ and start choking and sputtering at that last sentence, but he didn’t take his eyes off of the young man in the cell, who was staring at him with serious green eyes. He bit at his lip and exhaled deeply through his nose at hearing what he had guessed all along finally laid out in front of him. He and Elizabeth. Married. That was... that was so…

Connor finally looked away from John and turned his gaze to Woolsey, his voice taking on a heavily sarcastic edge. “I also hate broccoli, got my tonsils out when I was twelve, and had a pet rabbit named Fluffy. Anything else you wanna know?”

Surprised, John quickly bit the side of his mouth to keep from smirking. He couldn’t help it. He was starting to like this kid. Connor saw the suppressed grin and the corner of the boy’s mouth lifted in a faint smile as he caught John’s eyes for a brief second. The sarcasm blew right by Woolsey. He was still stuck on the previous bit of information.

“What?” said Woolsey in bewilderment. “Did you say your mother was Dr. Elizabeth Weir? The former leader of this expedition?”

“Our mom is Elizabeth Weir,” spoke up Emily, an edge to her voice as she stressed the present tense. “And she’s not the former leader. She and Dad run the city together just like they have since they first came here from Earth. Or at least…” She shared a glance with her brother, brow becoming furrowed in confusion as she looked to him for confirmation. “… they will...”

John heard the unspoken ‘I think’ that came after her uncertain last statement. Then for the second time in less than an hour he found himself being struck by something this mysterious girl was suggesting. ‘Whoa’… that explained a lot.

“Now wait a minute, wait a minute,” began Rodney, stepping closer to the bars, arms crossed over his chest and that familiar look of scientific interest dawning on his face, “you’re seriously suggesting you’re from the future?”

“I… we don’t…” Emily faltered and looked at Connor beseechingly.

He sighed and ran a hand through short wavy brown hair, studying the dull gray of the floor before looking back up at the gathered adults, one hand hooked around the back of his neck. “It kinda looks that way.”

-o-

Two Days Ago… Nineteen Years Later

Emily Sheppard closed her eyes, a smile spreading across her face as the sharp wind blew, whipping her hair up over her head. It was cold, but then it often was at this height, especially at night. She didn’t mind; she’d long ago learned to bring a coat when she was up here.

The wind faded and died and Emily opened her eyes to deep blue velvet scattered with diamonds. The night air was perfectly clear, and each point of gently pulsing light was razor sharp in its clarity. The sky was swirled with every shade of blue from deepest indigo - almost violet - to dark teal. And faded even farther into the background, its stars little more than a glittering blur as it arched overhead, was the sweeping expanse of the arm of the galaxy. Emily tucked her legs in against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees as she stared up. She had seen the night sky on Earth several times before during her family’s occasional visits, but it had been nothing… nothing compared to this.

She had just settled herself farther into her perch among the beams when a familiar voice sounded from indoors. “Hey Emily, are you in here?”

“No,” she called back, “Out here!”

Footsteps crossed the room and then Rachel McKay appeared on the balcony below, her dark blonde hair shining with the light pouring out of the open door behind her. Rachel’s eyes flashed back and forth in a cursory glance of the balcony, but she almost immediately focused her attention higher, easily finding Emily among the shadows as she sat nestled in her hiding place between two support beams. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

Rachel casually placed her hands on her hips as she looked up at her friend. “You know, your dad would have a fit if he saw you up there.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Emily brightly. “He did last time anyway.”

“Yeah, that’s because he knows just how far the fall is. Is the view really that different from up there?”

Emily gazed out and up at the star strewn splendor. “Oh, it’s worth it. Trust me.” She looked down at Rachel, who had been her best friend for her entire life (even if she might not always admit it). “I know, I know” she said quickly with a smile, stopping Rachel from opening her mouth any further, “you’ll take my word for it.”

“Exactly.”

“So… what’s going on?”

“One of the teams just checked in; they found something. I figured you’d want…”

“Well, why didn’t you say that to begin with!?” cried Emily. She unfolded herself from her hiding spot, swinging her legs over the edge of the beam she was sitting on and reaching over to grasp the raised panel on the wall near her. Quick as a flash, and with the ease of long practice, she scaled down the wall to the balcony floor ten feet below, using the grooved decorative paneling as a ladder. Jumping the last foot to the ground, she turned to Rachel and dusted her hands off on the legs of her jeans. “What do you think my chances are?” she asked nervously.

“I’d say they’re pretty good. At least 70:40.”

Emily nodded as the two of them began walking briskly towards the door. “Okay, I’ll take that.”

One transporter ride and a three minute walk later, Emily hopped up the steps into the gate room, the vaulted ceiling stretching far above her head and the colors in the shining stained glass dull with the darkness outside. The main floor was empty – it was always pretty quiet in this part of the tower at night – so Emily, with Rachel close behind, turned and sprinted up the main staircase, their heels lit up by the perpetually glowing characters of the Ancient welcome set into the steps. They were almost to the top when they met Chuck Campbell coming down.

“Hey girls,” he greeted cheerfully.

“Hey,” said Emily, pausing with one foot on the step in front of her. Good. Just the person – or at least one of them anyway - she needed to see. “Balcony or office?”

Chuck smiled. “Office. Although I might wait a bit before going in.” He jerked his head towards the glass walled room that stood off to one side of the control room and then winked. “It needs some smoothing out, but I think you’ve got a decent shot this time, Em.”
Emily returned the smile. “So I’ve been told.” Chuck had often been roped into babysitting duty when she and her older brother were little, and had been one of their strongest allies and co-conspirators when it came to the procuring of chocolate cookies after bedtime. Since then he had retained the position of a kind of fun uncle.

She glanced up in the direction Chuck had indicated. As expected, she saw both of her parents sitting inside her mother’s office. Her father, the wildness of his hair clearly visible even from all the way over on the stairs, was sitting on the edge of the desk next to his wife’s chair. The two of them seemed to be deep in some sort of discussion. Emily bit her lip. That didn’t look good. What were the chances that that discussion wasn’t about her?

“Good luck,” said Chuck.

Emily looked back at the sandy haired technician and gave a quick smile, a little nervous now. “Thanks.” He nodded and then continued on his way down the stairs. When she didn’t move at that exact second, Rachel, two steps below, let out an irritated sigh and made shooing motions with her hands.

“Well, go on!”

Well accustomed to Miss McKay’s often impatient nature, Emily just rolled her eyes and resumed walking. Crossing the control room, she waved at the brown eyed woman sitting behind the console. Amelia Dex, also known as Aunt Amelia, smiled warmly and waved back, crossing her fingers at her and mouthing the words ‘good luck’ as she passed by.

Emily returned the smile but mentally grimaced. Was it really that obvious what she was here for? Or maybe they just knew her too well...  Halfway across the walkway that linked the office to the control room, Emily slowed and stopped, quietly motioning with her hand for Rachel to do the same, as she strained her ears to catch the voices drifting out of the room in front of them. Emily felt her heart sink into the familiar wash of disappointment at the heated tone of an argument. Obviously the others had been a little overoptimistic about her chances. 

“… not old enough.”

“John,” reasoned her mother, “it’s not like she’s never been off world before. She’s tagged along with both of us and Ronon and Rodney and Teyla dozens of times.”

“Exactly. She’s gone with me or one of us. I won’t be there this time. What if something goes wrong?” John demanded.

“Then a whole team will be there to look out for her. She’s not going alone! And this is an uninhabited planet with no signs of anything unusually dangerous.” Elizabeth’s tone grew softer and Emily, praying she wouldn’t be noticed, had to take a couple of steps forward to hear what she was saying, hope rising cautiously within her. If her mom was on her side then it couldn’t be a completely lost cause. “I understand where you’re coming from. Believe me I don’t want to let her go as much as you do. But Connor went on his first mission when he was seventeen too.”

“He was closer to eighteen,” corrected John. “And that was more of an accident.”

Elizabeth let out half a laugh. “Still,” she sighed, serious again. “We didn’t really give ourselves any room to say no to Emily once she reached that age.”

John sighed. “And now she has.”

Just visible over her father’s shoulder, Emily saw her mother nod her head, the soft light from the Ancient fixtures reflecting off the brown curls. “Now she has.” 

Silence fell in the office and judging by the angle of her dad’s head, Emily guessed that her parents were sharing one of their long looks. She glanced at Rachel and began to take silent steps forward, deciding that now was a decent time to join the conversation, but still ready to stop if they started saying anything more of interest.

A second later John sighed again and she froze. “I don’t suppose we could just keep her locked up in the Tower until she’s thirty?”

Elizabeth laughed. “Do you really think it would hold her for very long?”

John chuckled. “No, I guess not.”

Suddenly, Emily lost all interest in hearing herself talked about, especially since Rachel was there to bear witness to whatever potentially embarrassing things her parents might say next. The two of them walked normally up to the door of the office, Emily tapping on the outside of the glass wall to announce their presence.

Elizabeth Sheppard turned her head away from her husband, eyebrows raised questioningly as she looked to see who was at the door. A smile spread across her face when she saw her daughter. “Hey girls, there you are.” Emily didn’t miss how her mother’s green eyes darted towards her dad for a split second as she spoke. “Perfect timing.”

 John, still seated on the edge of the desk, twisted at the waist to look at them and smiled. “Yeah, Em, we were just talking about you.”

Emily lowered her hand from where she had held it hovering next to the glass and slipped inside the office. “Should I be worried?”  

“That all depends,” smirked her father. “Done anything worth worrying over lately?”

“Who me?” She folded herself into one of the cream chairs that sat in front of the desk, letting a pondering expression come across her face as she pretended to think about the question. She flashed an innocent grin. “Nope. Nothing comes to mind.”

The corner of Elizabeth’s mouth quirked and she stared at her daughter appraisingly, thinly veiled suspicion lurking behind her eyes.

“What?” Emily tried not to fidget under the scrutiny, but it was difficult. Why did she have to have a renowned intergalactic diplomat for a mother? She had long ago developed the belief that if she were a Wraith or some other bad guy and she was confronted with either her mother’s stare or her father’s P-90, it would be the former that would have her running for the stargate.

Elizabeth’s gaze lit on the top of her head and one eyebrow shot
upwards. Emily swallowed. Uh-oh. Here it comes. She didn’t know what about her head had given her away, but…

“Nothing,” said Elizabeth lightly, leaning back in her chair. Now it was Emily’s turn to give a suspicious look, but she kept her mouth shut.

Her mother sighed and looked up at her father, who had moved from his perch on the edge of the desk to stand beside his wife’s chair. “I guess there’s not much point in asking if you know what’s come up?” Elizabeth shot Rachel a pointed look and Emily slowly shook her head.

“It’s an uninhabited planet, but there are Ancient ruins there and Dr. Melkov thinks that they’re worth a second look.”

“So you’re sending a science team,” Emily finished eagerly.

“Yes,” said Elizabeth, eyes narrowing slightly in an amused smile. “The day after tomorrow.”

“Along with a group of Marines,” added John, arms folded across his chest.

“For a scientific research trip?”

“Yeah.”

“On an uninhabited planet?” Emily raised an eyebrow.

Now John narrowed his eyes at her. “Let’s just say we’re erring on the side of caution.”

“So, does that mean…?” she trailed off, waiting for her parents to take the opening. They just looked at each other, a confused look on John’s face.

“Mean what?” he said.

That was it; she couldn’t take it anymore. “Oh, come on, Dad! Please! I’ve been asking for this for months! Either just go ahead and tell me no again, or…” The arguments died away when she noticed the smirk that had spread across her father’s face. “Dad! Not funny!” she scolded, her face going red in embarrassment. She would have hit him if he’d been close enough.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” he laughed. “Couldn’t resist.”

She just glared at him, a difficult thing to achieve since now she was trying very hard to keep from laughing herself. “Still.”

“Hey,” said John, walking around the desk. “If you’re going to go off to some planet without us, the least you can do is let me make a joke out of it.” He bent down and kissed the top of her head.

“So I can go?”

Once again, she didn’t miss the silent exchange that passed between her parents. “Yes,” said John, a note of resignation in his voice, “you can go.”

Emily beamed and sprang out of her chair, throwing her arms around his neck. “Thank you!” John just laughed and caught one of her jet curls, pulling on it and then releasing it so it bounced back into shape. “You’re welcome. Just don’t make me regret it!” With that, he smiled at her again and left the office.

The excitement nearly pouring off of her, Emily bounded towards the office door and Rachel, intending to catch her friend by the arm and hurry away to go flaunt the news to her brother and Max, but before she had gone two steps…

“Hey, Emily?”

She turned around. “Yeah?”

“Brush your hair.” Emily’s hand crept unconsciously upwards and felt the mass of dark curls. She winced at the unusual amount of volume; this was even messier than usual, which for her was saying quite a bit. She met her mother’s gaze.

Elizabeth looked at her, the green eyes that she had inherited sending a silent message and Emily suddenly realized that her mother knew that she had been climbing the tower. She had known the entire time, but she had chosen not to say anything. Emily felt a rush of gratitude; her mom knew as well as she did that if John Sheppard had found out about his daughter’s little feat of acrobatics then he would never have let her set foot through that gate.

As it was, she just nodded and smiled, her look conveying an unspoken thank-you, and ran across the walkway with Rachel into the dimly glowing control room.

-o-

Connor paced back and forth in front of the gate, occasionally favoring his watch with an impatient glance. They should be leaving by now! Bright morning sunlight was streaming in from every direction through the towering stained glass windows that lined the front half of the gate room, and the faint scent of coffee wafted through the air. Above him the stargate loomed - symbols darkened, the light reflecting off of the turquoise crystal chevrons - exuding an air of ancient and everlasting patience that contrasted sharply with Connor’s current state of mind.

The rest of the team was gathered by the small flight of steps that led down into the city, looking thankfully unbothered by the delay. The scientists were double checking their equipment one last time, and the Marines were laughing and swapping stories about the weird things they’d seen on night duty. One of them was speaking particularly loudly and Connor moved closer to listen. Listening to Lieutenant McFadden’s amusing tale about a mysterious ticking noise, Connor almost forgot why he had been so eager to leave before.

Suddenly the conversation among the other soldiers died away. McFadden was the only one still talking; the man standing next to him quickly punched him in the shoulder to get him to shut up. Connor turned around to see the new arrivals that had caused the sudden military hush – the chatter of the scientists continued uninterrupted in the background – and grinned. Now he remembered.

His father and sister were coming down the grand staircase, his mom following a couple of close steps behind. John Sheppard placed a supportive arm around his daughter’s shoulders as they reached the bottom of the stairs and walked towards the waiting team. Emily was fully kitted out in tac vest and uniform, hair pulled up into a struggling bun and a stunner pistol strapped to her thigh, pride at her apparel evident in every move she made.

They came to a stop in front of the away team, Major Thompson stepping forward to greet them. “Sir,” she nodded.

“Major,” returned the colonel. John gestured towards Emily with a small smile. “I’ve brought you an addition for your team.”

Major Thompson looked at Emily and smiled. She was a tall woman, maybe in her late thirties, with deeply tanned skin and curly sandy colored hair twisted into a neat military bun. “Happy to have her, sir.”

“Good, good.” He paused; Connor wondered how he managed to look both nervous and threatening at the same time. “I know I don’t need to…”

Thompson smiled again, looking slightly amused. “She’s in good hands, sir. We’ll take care of her.”

Connor decided to take that as his cue and stepped out from behind one of the Marines. “Yeah, we all will.”

The look on Emily’s face when she saw him nearly made him burst out laughing; as it was, he couldn’t help but grin. That was what he had been waiting for.

Emily looked up at their father, a pained expression on her face. “You didn’t tell me Connor was coming along to babysit,” she muttered through gritted teeth.

John just grinned at her. “Well, I think we’ve held up Major Thompson and her team long enough, don’t you?”

She just shot him a look and gave a resigned and heavy sigh. Elizabeth came up beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders, nodding to Major Thompson.

“Alright team, let’s move out,” Thompson ordered, tactfully giving her boss space to say goodbye to her daughter. Connor began to turn away too, catching a glimpse as he did so of Elizabeth whispering something in Emily’s ear, presumably ‘good luck’ or something to a similar effect.

He walked up to his dad and smirked. “What, no ceremony for me?”

John reached around him and ruffled his already messy hair, a gesture of affection that Connor had undergone as long as he could remember. It was embarrassing now, but Connor didn’t really have the heart to tell him to quit for good. “Hey,” he laughed, lightly shoving his arms away, “nineteen year-old here, remember?”

“How can I forget?” his dad said, sticking his hands in his pockets, a slight twinge of wistfulness concealed in his voice. He glanced at the stargate, his watch, and then up to the control room.

“Okay, Chuck, dial her up!” he called.

Only a few seconds lapsed before the chevrons came to glowing life, the shining points of light that represented star constellations spinning dizzyingly around the gate’s inner track. The event horizon spilled into the sunlit gate room with its familiar splash before snapping into place inside the ring’s borders, a shimmering pool of aquamarine light. Major Thompson and the rest of the team moved towards it.

Emily and Elizabeth came over to where John and Connor were standing, Elizabeth moving to her husband’s side. John looped an arm around her waist as they faced their children.

“You’d better get moving,” said Elizabeth. She fixed her gaze on each of them in turn. “You two take care of each other,” she said seriously.

“We will,” they said simultaneously, causing them to glance at each other in mild annoyance.

“You’d better,” added their dad sternly. “Forty-eight hours; I expect you both back here in one piece.”

They nodded. “Yes sir,” said Connor. His dad didn’t take that tone very often, and when he did it was best to do what he said.

“John,” said Elizabeth, getting his attention. He turned to look at her; she dipped her head towards where Major Thompson was waiting.

He paused for a moment and looked at each of them, then jerked his thumb in the direction of the active gate. “Alright, go on, get out of here.”

With a last farewell, they turned and started walking towards the gate; the team had already begun to slip through the puddle.

“Come on, admit it,” smirked Connor as they walked. “You know you’re glad to have me coming along.”

Emily just gave him an exasperated look, but her mouth quirked upwards into an almost smile. She fixed her gaze forwards on the pulsing event horizon. “You never heard the words leave my mouth.”

Connor laughed as he stepped forwards, the sound echoing back at him as his world was filled with endless ripples of blue.

-o-

Emily inhaled deeply the second she cleared the puddle, filling her nostrils with the scent of alien air. She smiled wryly; it really wasn’t that different from any of the other planets she’d visited before – the smell of pine needles and wildflowers, although there was another layer to it that seemed to suggest a large body of freshwater nearby.

“Come on, sis, open your eyes! You don’t want to miss anything, do you?”

Her eyes snapped open at the sound and she glanced at her brother. He smiled at her and they started following the train of personnel snaking its way through the boulder-strewn field towards the forest that ringed it. Strange insects buzzed around their ankles and through the air. Up ahead Emily saw one of the scientists – an Ancient tech expert named Dr. Freyson – cry out and nearly fall over as he tried to avoid getting dive bombed by one of the bugs. Light laughter rippled through the group, some of Freyson’s fellow scientists starting to tease him about the incident. Emily laughed too, watching them; she could already feel herself beginning to be enveloped in the spirit of comradeship that she had always seen among off-world teams. Now she was finally getting to be a part of it.

“Really though,” Connor continued more seriously, claiming her attention from the scene before her. “Don’t get caught lazing around. I’ve served under Major Thompson before; she’s nice, but she’s tough as nails and doesn’t exactly take well to unproductiveness.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” replied Emily.

They had passed into the forest now, although the name didn’t really apply; the strand of trees spanned less than a fourth of a mile, then ended abruptly. Emily couldn’t stop the gasp as she emerged into open air. She had been right about the body of water; an enormous lake stretched out before them, but that in itself wasn’t the reason for the gasp. In the center of the lake were two concentric islands, one situated within the other like a bullseye on a target, and on the center island was a remarkable structure of undoubtedly Ancient origins.

“You know,” began Emily breathlessly, “when Mom said there were Ancient ruins, I was expecting…”

“Things to be actually ruined?” finished Connor, identical traces of
awe in his voice as he took in the landscape. “Yeah, me too. Nice
surprise, isn’t it?”

Connecting the islands to the mainland was a wide avenue at least half a mile long that looked to be made out of the same material as Atlantis’s piers; it swept above the surface of the lake in a slight arc, like a bridge. Major Thompson had halted the team at the base of it, waiting for everyone to clear the woods. Now she looked back and nodded when she saw Connor and Emily.

“Alright,” she called, her voice carrying clearly across the open. “We’ll take the causeway in rows of three across: scientists in the middle, McFadden and Harcolm in the rear, Ling up front with me.”

Everyone scurried to get into place, Emily and Connor moving to join the scientists until Major Thompson’s voice cut across the chatter of people moving. “Connor, Miss Sheppard – with me.”

“Miss Sheppard?” muttered Emily, screwing up her mouth in distaste as they marched to the head of the forming line.

“Don’t worry,” murmured Connor. “She likes the formalities. Just give her some time to get to know you.”

“Oh? And how long were you ‘Mr. Sheppard’?”

Connor winced. “Um… for about… halfway through the first mission.”

Emily tilted her head to the side. “Okay,” she mused, “so take the Major’s strict but fair sensibilities, factor in your annoying ability to make authority figures like you -”

“Add in your penchant for always finding trouble,” interrupted Connor.

She inclined her head in his direction at the suggestion. “Duly noted. Divide that by twelve…let’s see, that means I should get called by my first name in about… what, two months?”

Connor shrugged. “Maybe… if you’re lucky.”

They had reached the major by now, so Emily just smirked and lightly flicked him on the arm. Major Thompson glanced at each of them and nodded to Ling. “Let’s move,” she said, adjusting her P-90 more comfortably in the crook of her arm.

Emily felt a gentle humming rush through her veins the instant she stepped onto the bridge’s metal surface. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling by any means; in a way it was similar to the sensation she received from Atlantis itself, although this lacked the welcoming quality that her home emanated.

“Do you have the Ancient gene, Major?” she asked.

Thompson looked over her shoulder and gave her a small smile. “No, I don’t. The gene therapy didn’t take unfortunately. However, the preliminary report on this place has promised us good things, so I’ve come well prepared.”

Emily returned a half smile and the major faced forwards again.

The caravan progressed along the causeway at a reasonable pace. A good street’s width separated one railing from the other, leaving plenty of room to spread out, which the equipment-laden scientists took full advantage of. Spaced at regular intervals along the edges of the walk were boxy light fixtures in the Ancient style, dim now with the daylight. On either side of them the lake rippled calmly away, reflecting the aqua colored sky.

In a relatively short amount of time the island’s outer ring loomed before them, a sheer wall of dull metal covering it, deep grooves carved along its surface in interconnecting patterns with tower-like nodes protruding from the top every twenty yards. There were no visible windows, only a large door placed at the end of the bridge to allow through-traffic. Thompson nodded to the man walking next to her.

“Go ahead.”

Captain Ling, who Emily now recognized as one of her father’s jumper pilots, stepped forward and placed his right hand on a crystal panel in the center of the door. The crystal glowed blue and with a mighty hiss the door split in two, the pieces retracting into the floor and ceiling to reveal a second set of doors already opening to the sides behind them. Another extension of walkway appeared before them, crossing over the inner watercourse before reaching the center island. Emily felt her mouth fall open slightly as the expedition passed through the outer wall. The section of lake enclosed by the wall was deep and wide - the long shadow cast by the wall making it darker than the water that glittered outside – lapping gently against the shore of a barely existent strip of beach, dampening the base of the building that dominated the island. It was smooth metal from the ground until it reached the level of the causeway, where it began to form tiers of shining glass and silver. These tiers stacked upwards, forming a base for the circle of rounded, dome-topped structures at the building’s top, all linked together by a thick silver band.

“And we had never heard of this place before… how, exactly?” wondered Emily, tilting her head upwards to see as much of her surroundings as possible.

“The database is huge,” replied Connor distractedly. “There are thousands of entries; it’s not a surprise that this place hasn’t been discovered before now.”

“But we didn’t find out about it because of the database; Dr. Melkov and his team stumbled on it by mistake.”

“We would have found it eventually.”

The team started walking down the second causeway. “Unless somebody was trying to hide it,” said Emily. “We don’t know what was going on here, or why it was built. I mean, something this big and there are no red flags that pop up? No mention in the Ancient ‘List of Very Important Projects’? What the scientists do know they had to dig for, and even that’s not much.”

“Well, hopefully by the end of the day we’ll have answers for some of those questions,” put in Major Thompson. “And until then, kindly keep a sharp look-out. This is supposedly an uninhabited planet, but I prefer not to take any chances.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Connor.

They marched in silence until they reached the second doorway.
“Captain Ling, if you would do the honors again,” ordered Thompson. Ling stepped forward and touched the crystal in the doorway, triggering the same process that had taken place on the outer gate. The doors slid into their hiding places, revealing only darkness beyond.

Thompson and Ling flicked on the lights mounted to their weapons; a hallway was revealed, swathed in shadows, stretching far past the extent of the beams’ illumination. The pair stepped into the building, signaling the rest of the posse to follow. Immediately, light fixtures running in bars along the walls flared into life, sensing the presence of Captain Ling’s gene.

“Still not much light,” commented Thompson in disapproval. “Were these Ancients conducting darkness research maybe?”

The gentle humming that Emily had sensed on the bridge now grew three fold in intensity as she and Connor stepped over the threshold. Instantly dozens more lights blinked on along the ceiling and walls, chasing away every shadow until the hallway rivaled her Aunt Jennifer’s operating room for level of brightness. Thompson and Ling stopped walking, the major slowly turning around to look at the siblings.

“Or maybe,” began Thompson, actually sounding a little impressed, “we’re just not quite Ancient enough to satisfy the place.” She smiled at Connor and Emily and resumed her forward march down the hall. They shared a smiling look and followed close behind.

-o-

“Anything yet?”

“Not really,” replied Dr. Freyson, laying down his data pad for a moment and turning to Major Thompson. “I’ve started to get some hints at the research that was going on here, but nothing concrete as of yet.”

The batch of scientists had eagerly set up their base of operations in a large circular room at the base of one of the domed towers. The soft whirring of laptops filled the air and streams and streams of glowing data ran across the Ancient hanging screens as diagnostic after diagnostic was run through the facility’s computer. Clusters of scientists had formed around the room, positioning themselves at various computer terminals and debating softly as they pointed out things on their data pads to each other.

Emily had settled herself in a corner to watch and be handy whenever one of the blue-clad people called her over to activate something, which had already happened quite a bit. She leaned forward on the bench, drumming her fingers against the speckled copper-colored sides. Except for the change of setting and the unusual level of enthusiasm, the scene before her was nearly identical to a typical day in her Uncle Rodney’s lab. Nice enough - certainly familiar enough - but Emily itched to be exploring the rest of the complex. That was what she was here to do after all.

She caught Major Thompson’s eye and the older woman beckoned her over. “Miss Sheppard.”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“I think you and your brother have managed to turn on every single piece of equipment in this room.”

Emily gave a small smile. “It’s not that hard of a job.”

Thompson returned the gesture, eying her with a considering look.
“Still. I think the two of you have outlived your usefulness here.” She jerked her thumb across the room. “Go rescue Connor and meet me in the hallway. There is far too much ground to cover and too little time to do it in.”

Emily smiled for real this time, nodded, and went to collect her big brother from the young female scientist who was trying desperately to convince him that the glowing terminal she was standing in front of wasn’t completely activated yet. Emily caught his arm and steered him away from the pretty woman with a few brief excuses.

“You weren’t falling for that, were you?” she whispered. “Besides,
she’s too old for you anyway.”

“Falling for what?” asked Connor.

Emily looked at him, saw that he was serious, and smacked him on the back of the head with a giant roll of her eyes. “You are so oblivious sometimes. Now hurry up, the major’s waiting.”

-o-

Glowing bars of lights preceded the small party down the hallway, the darkness ahead never looming within five feet of any of them. Numerous interesting looking corridors branched off on all sides of the central hall, signs written in Ancient discreetly placed to give some indication of what went where. The place appeared absolutely deserted, that status confirmed by the life signs detector Connor was carrying. All was silent too, except for the low hiss of the air circulation system and the scuff of their footsteps against the smooth floor. Emily looked around her, a feeling of anxious excitement taking up permanent residence in her chest; this was somewhere new… No one knew what could be around the next corner, and she was getting to be one of the first to find out!

Major Thompson, walking at the head of the group, paused at an intersection of two corridors and began reading off the signs.
“Alright, power distrib –”

“Major!” squawked her radio suddenly, interrupting her.

Thompson tapped the small device at her ear. “Go ahead, Ling.”

“We have a small domestic disturbance here that needs…”

Thompson frowned. “You can’t handle it?”

“I would, ma’am,” crackled the soldier’s voice, “but Dr. Freyson is also asking to see you. He says it’s important.”

“Kill two birds with one stone, huh?” Ling replied in the affirmative. The major sighed. “Alright, I’ll be right there.”

She turned to the rest of the scouting party. “Lieutenant, you come back with me. You two,” she looked at Connor and Emily. “When this is settled I don’t want to waste any time wandering around trying to find where we left off, so you’re going to mark our progress. Stay here and stay out of trouble.” She fixed her eyes on both of them, an expression that brooked no disobedience.

“Will do,” replied Connor. Emily nodded.

“Good. Alright, McFadden, let’s go.”

The two of them set off down the hall, back the way they had come. Emily watched them until they disappeared behind a corner, then sighed. Just when things were getting interesting… She turned and began swinging her arms as she glanced around the space. Tile-work in muted colors, strips of blue and white lighting… standard décor, except for the prevalence of silver tones over the familiar brown. She walked ploddingly over to small directional sign that the major had begun to read before being called away.

“Don’t tell me you’re bored already,” said Connor in disbelief, standing behind her in the center of the hallways’ junction. “They’ve only been gone about forty seconds.”

“Power distribution,” said Emily.

“What?”

“Power distribution.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “I’m reading the sign. What’s that one over there say?”

Connor squinted at the far wall. “Vis Solarias. Huh, that’s…”

A sudden flash of movement appeared at the corner of Emily’s vision. She spun around, green eyes snapping from one side of the darkened hallway to the other. Nothing.

“What is it?” Connor cut off his translation.

“I thought I saw something move.” She continued to stare into the shadows behind him.

“I didn’t see anything.” He turned around and she moved to his side.

Cautiously, Emily stepped forward – her hand drifting unconsciously towards the stunner at her thigh as she did so - causing the lights to activate in the nearest section of unexplored corridor. Again, nothing.
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and shook her head. “I guess I imagined it.”

“Trick of the light?”

“Yeah… probably.” She turned around, away from the Vis Solarias,/i> hallway, and began to move back towards the center of the ‘T’ formed by the two corridors, until a loud whining sound began to build up behind her. She froze for a moment and then slowly wheeled round.

The corridor that only a moment ago had been filled with ordinary light and shadow was now radiating a bright blue-green glow. The light came from thick translucent panels bisecting the walls on either side of the hall, and where before only a small section had been illuminated, now the entire length of corridor was visible, stretching away deep into the center portion of the facility. The whining sound had leveled off, and was now a steady hum. Something had obviously been turned on.

“Woah…” Emily breathed. “Did I do that?”

“You’re the one that stepped in the hallway,” replied Connor absently, taking a few steps closer to the source of the glow. He stretched out a hand towards a panel, watching the way his skin became tinted by the teal light.

Emily stepped fully into the hall, extending her arms out from her sides to be fully bathed by the glow. “Maybe Dr. Freyson did it from that lab; Ling said he’d found something.”

“Maybe,” Connor shrugged. He tapped the radio at his ear. “Major Thompson, come in.”

A crackling reply came through, the words indistinct and garbled only a few feet away. ‘Whatever this glow is must be interfering with the signal,’ thought Emily with mild interest.

“… Freyson activate something in the central part of the complex?” Connor was asking over the radio.

Not wanting to eavesdrop on a one-sided conversation, she turned her attention elsewhere. Lowering her arms, Emily gazed down the hallway. “I wonder what’s down there…”

Connor heard her. He broke off mid-reply to the major and clamped his palm over the mouthpiece of his headset. “No way,” he glared at her, “don’t you even think about it!”

Emily rolled her eyes at him and he returned to his conversation. She walked over to the wall and mimicked Connor’s earlier gesture, holding her hand up to the glowing panel. She had expected there to be no sensation from the luminance, but she was surprised to find that, closer to its source, the blue-green light actually felt cool as it washed over her skin. One corner of her mouth lifted in a pleased smile.

Several seconds ticked by as she stood examining the light, then on an impulse she lifted her head to glance down the hallway. At the same instant a shadow streaked across her field of vision, there one moment and gone the next. Determination filled her. That was no trick of the light; someone or something was there.

Before she even knew what she was doing, she was already running down the hall.

“What the… Em, hey!” shouted Connor. She could hear him coming after her, muttering curses, his standard issue boots pounding against the hard floor. “Wait!”

She didn’t pay any attention to him. The hall stretched on. A pair of corridors appeared before her, branching off from the main stem of hallway to go off in opposite directions. She skidded to a halt for barely a moment, then made a choice and ran down the right hand branch. There was no blue glow here, but all the lights were already on… The hall bent to the left, the path circling back towards the center of the complex. Emily ran on, chasing after nothing; the shadow hadn’t appeared again, but still she didn’t stop, even though she’d briefly considered it. No, whatever it was she was going to find
it.

“Emily, for crying out loud, would you wait!” yelled Connor, coming steadily up behind her.

She finally stopped, but it wasn’t because of her brother’s commands. The corridor had come to an end, running into a large set of geometrically carved doors with panels of blue glass set into them. She rested her hands on her hips and looked up at the doors, heart beating in a faster than normal rhythm as she caught her breath.

“What the heck was that all about?” Connor demanded as he drew up beside her, bracing a hand against the wall for support. He sucked in several deep breaths and carelessly ran his fingers through his hair, making the brown waves stick out in several new directions.

“I saw something move again.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t know. But I do know I saw something this time.”

“Wasn’t gonna question it,” said Connor, holding up a placating hand. Things grew quiet for a minute. Emily saw him turn his gaze upwards towards the doors. “Where are we?”

She watched him until he looked back down and then met his eyes. “Let’s find out.” Without giving him time to protest, she reached out and placed her palm against the turquoise-crystal panel built into the wall. The doors separated and retracted with their normal motion, revealing the room inside.

The ceiling soared far above their heads as the pair stepped through the door, the room at least seven stories tall, like one of the towers had been simply hollowed out instead of being divided into floors. A gigantic circular hole was cut into the dome of the roof, covered with glass and thickly ringed with silver to match the one on the outside of the city; the aqua colored sky was visible through it, the pale blue streaked with violet and gold to signal the coming sunset. However, what immediately attracted their attention was the large structure in the center of the room.

“Woah,” gaped Connor.

Encased in a spacious round enclosure of thick glass was a swirling pulsating sphere of blue-green light. Well over twice as large as Emily, it was like a small sun in appearance, only it was bearable to look at. Set into the structure at even intervals were wide panels of the same type as had lined the central corridor. They turned downwards until they reached the floor, then branched outwards, the panels inlaid into the surface like typical decoration. Except they were glowing. Teal light radiated from them in a mirror of the ones in the hall, the glow being drawn from the miniature star floating at the center.

Emily slowly walked up to one of the consoles that ringed the device, transfixed by the billowing azure blaze.

“This is what this whole place is about,” Connor said softly.

“Yeah…” Emily agreed, almost in a trance-like state. Suddenly a thought occurred to her and she smiled. “Rachel would kill to be seeing this right now.”

Connor smirked slightly. “Yeah, she probably would. And Uncle Rodney would be right on her heels.”

“Fighting her for first place,” Emily finished with a laugh. The spell of the sphere was broken and she to look around at the rest of the room. “There’s no one else here,” she frowned, more annoyed by the disappearance of her mysterious vision than worried by its motives.

As she moved away from the console a large hank of black hair swung against the side of her face. The bun that she had so painfully piled together before leaving Atlantis - that had been struggling to maintain itself anyway - had been all but demolished by the sprint through the hallways. There was nothing else for it. Sighing, she reached up to the back of her head and began removing the pins one by one.

“Good grief, how many pins did you put in your hair this morning?” Connor asked suddenly.

She snapped out of her thoughtful, purposefully focused daze, eyes taking in the pile of small pieces of black metal growing on top of the computer console beside her. She paused in her hunt for pins and thought for a moment. “Let’s put it this way; if there was a giant magnet overhead waiting to snap us up, I’d be the first one to go.”

Her brother smirked and shook his head in amusement, turning back to the console he was standing in front of. Emily, finally satisfied that she had found every last blasted hairpin, dumped the pile in her pocket and secured her mass of hair in an infinitely more practical ponytail. She sighed in satisfaction and looked over just in time to see Connor press one of the line of lit buttons arranged on the dashboard before him. A holographic display screen appeared, Ancient characters in electric blue scrolling down it.

Suddenly nervous, she started towards him. “Are you sure that’s -”

The rest of the sentence was cut off by the sudden rise in pitch of the device in the center of the room. Emily spun around. The glowing sphere was shooting out pulsing rays of teal light at a rapid pace in all directions. The panels on the floor were beaming brighter, and all around the room new lights displayed the computers that had flared into full activation.

“What did you do?” demanded Emily.

Connor was looking around, just as stunned as she was. “Nothing!” He gestured at the console in front of him. “This is just a data terminal, it shouldn’t have activated anything!”

“Well something did it!”

The whine of the machine continued to increase in volume. The sphere was growing continually more active as well, crackling streaks of what looked like electric blue lightning emerging from the center to strike the transparent walls that contained it.

“Can we turn it off?”

“We don’t even know how it was turned on!” Connor looked up from the data screen at the center column. The noise reached a fever pitch, and with an almighty crack a dozen bolts of the blue lighting struck the sides of the tube. They fixed to the sides in a nearly blinding display as blue-green light was channeled from the surging ball of energy to rush up the glass in roaring waves to the ceiling.

“Connor…” called Emily nervously, unasked for fear beginning to build up inside her as she watched the device, unable to tear her eyes away. She wanted to run.

He didn’t answer her. Frantically he pressed the radio at his ear. “Major Thompson! Can you… There’s nothing but static.” His eyes, a mirror of her own fear, flashed from her to the machine. “Run, let’s go.”

He didn’t have to tell her twice. They both darted towards a door, larger than the one they had come through. It opened automatically and they found themselves in the large corridor they had started in. It was different now. As she ran Emily saw that the glow had doubled in intensity, streaks of the same electric blue light running through the teal all along the hallway. It was a conduit, she suddenly realized. That light must run through the whole complex. But that brief thought was all she spared for it; she put all of her energy into running.

They pounded into the intersection where the major had first left them and turned towards the direction of the makeshift base camp. Connor tried repeatedly to hail someone on the radio but to no effect. Doors and other hallways flashed by as they ran. Emily prayed that they were going the right way.

Tension was building in her with each minute that ticked by, even though it should have been decreasing as they put more distance between themselves and the device. As a result she nearly screamed when a figure dashed out in front of them.

“Major!”

“We didn’t know what- ” “Did you-” began Connor and Emily simultaneously.

“No time for that,” barked Thompson. “We’re getting out of here. Everyone else is already heading towards the gate.” The older woman put a hand on Connor’s shoulder and pushed him slightly down the hall. “Let’s move!”

The three ran through the complex, bypassing the lab completely as they raced towards the exit. The humming noise could be heard everywhere now. Whatever was going to happen when that device went off completely was going to happen soon. “You know,” gasped Connor as they ran, “it was really stupid of the Ancients to only make one exit for this place.” Emily privately agreed, but she was too busy running to answer.

When Emily finally saw the doorway she put on an extra burst of speed, passing Major Thompson in the lead to get there first. She slammed her palm against the door crystal so hard it stung. The doors finishing their opening sequence just as the other two reached them, and they all sprinted down the causeway. Connor opened the next set of doors in the outer wall. There, just visible on the far shore of the lake, the last of the train of Atlantis personnel were disappearing into the woods. Thompson urged them onwards down the long bridge. The water on either side was shockingly calm; Emily had half expected it to be rough and surging like a storm.

Halfway down the causeway she looked back over her shoulder. The blue-green light had spread to the tops of each of the domed sections, threads of it beginning to twine around the thick silver band that connected all the towers. There was so much power coursing through that structure. How had they never heard of it before?

They reached the end of the causeway and went crashing through the woods, branches splintering underfoot and grabbing for their clothes as they barreled through them. By now Emily was one giant gasping-for-air ache. Her heart was pounding in her chest and a sharp pain lanced through her side with every step, but she didn’t slow down. They exited the woods and Emily felt relief swell in her as the stargate came in sight. Major Thompson sprinted ahead and began dialing the gate with Atlantis’s address. As they were crossing the field to join her, Connor suddenly caught his foot in a dip in the ground and pitched forwards onto the dirt with a gasp. Emily wheeled around, stumbling, her momentum making her scramble to get upright.

“Come on, big brother,” she panted, pulling on his arm to help him up. “Almost there.” She heard the sound of the gate activating off to her left.

“Sheppards!” called Thompson.

Emily twisted her neck to see the major standing silhouetted in front of the event horizon. “We’re coming, go ahead!” she yelled. She finished helping Connor lever himself to his feet. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he nodded. “Let’s go.”

As they hurried towards the gate, some instinct made Emily looked back over the treetops in the direction of the lake. She felt her mouth fall open. Shooting upwards into the sky was a beam of powerful blue-green energy as wide as at least a dozen of Earth’s sequoia trees put together. The beam went on and on, disappearing far into the upper atmosphere. “Hurry up, go!” she commanded. They turned and dashed through the puddle as fast as they could force their tired limbs to move.

-o-

Connor breathed a deep sigh of relief and exhaustion as he emerged from the event horizon, bending double with his hands braced against his knees as he tried to gather his breath. The gate snapped closed behind him. Home in one piece, as his dad had commanded… Aunt Jennifer would insist on giving him a checkup first, but then he could take a nice hot show–

A familiar metallic clicking sound stopped that happy thought process. Connor slowly lifted his head and saw his sister standing slightly in front and to the side of him, hands held in the air. He straightened up with equal slowness and copied her stance. An arch of half a dozen hard-faced Marines stood in front of them, automatic weapons aimed at their chests. Not exactly the welcome he’d been expecting.

“Well,” he said quietly. “This isn’t good.”


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