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Author's Chapter Notes: I realized I'd never posted this chapter. I don't know if anyone still hangs around here, but sorry!


Chapter 2
- An Impossible Future


It was Ronon who voiced what they were all thinking. “Do you think they’re telling the truth?”

It was the obvious question. John leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his messy hair, fragments of what he had just heard swirling through his mind. He still didn’t quite know what to make of it all. And from the looks on the faces of everyone else in the conference room, neither did they.

The two teenagers had finished telling their story roughly ten minutes ago. Woolsey had immediately called a meeting of all the senior staff members, marching those who had been in the holding cell back up the tower to the conference room. On the way, in the midst of non-stop speculation about the possible scientific implications of the event, Rodney had kept shooting John strange looks, as if he were waiting for some kind of explosive reaction. John had ignored him.

“I can’t fathom what they could hope to accomplish by telling such a lie,” said Woolsey. “An attempt to gain our sympathies and our trust? There are easier ways.”

“I agree,” said Rodney. “I mean, why would you go to the trouble of creating a lie that far-fetched-” Another glance at John; he wished he would knock it off. “- with a background that scientifically complex if you just wanted to cause trouble?”

“Indeed,” said Teyla, eyebrows raised slightly as she shook her head. “We have dealt with time travel before – with Dr. Weir, and with Colonel Sheppard just last year-” she gestured towards him- “and seen our doubles in clones and alternate realities, but I have never read of an incident in any of Stargate Command’s files where someone’s children have appeared from the future. Besides, why would they tell a lie that could be so easily found out?”

John, who had been silent for most of the meeting and only half paying attention, finally spoke up. “They seemed genuinely scared when we were in the gate room. Either they’re damn good actors, or they at least believe what they were saying was true.”

“So maybe it is,” said Rodney.

John glared at him. “Yeah, McKay, except that we all seem to keep forgetting the fact that I never married Elizabeth and I don’t have any kids. What, do you think I’ve been secretly hiding a baby in my dresser?”

“Okay, so maybe they’re not your kids, but they definitely belong to some John Sheppard. I mean, did you see that boy’s hair?” There was a simultaneous eye-roll from everyone in the room. He looked around for confirmation. “Oh, come on!” said Rodney. “You saw it! It was all…” He stuck his hands behind his head and waved his fingers around wildly.

“Can we please get back to the matter at hand now?” demanded Woolsey with a glare. Ronon leaned over and smacked McKay in the back of the head. There was a muttered ‘ow!’ and a death glare and the scientist lowered his hands to the table once more.

Rubbing the back of his head and scowling, Rodney looked up at the group assembled. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted… after hearing their story, it’s pretty obvious what’s happened here. This device that they ran across must have somehow sent them to an alternate reality, one that’s running behind them by about a couple decades or so.”

“And how exactly did it do this?” questioned Woolsey.

“Well, I’ve come up with a couple of theories, but I’d-”

“Rodney,” interrupted Teyla with a sigh, “before we speculate too much about how these children have come here, should we not first be attempting to verify their identities as much as possible?”

“Exactly the point I was going to raise next,” said John.

“They’re with Dr. Keller now,” said Woolsey. “We’ll determine at least part of the truth soon enough.”


--o--


“This might hurt a little,” warned Dr. Keller kindly as she prepped a needle and syringe.

“It usually does,” Emily muttered under her breath.

“Sorry?” said Jennifer absently, looking up.

“Huh? Oh, nothing.” Emily gave the young doctor an innocent smile. Keller smiled good-naturedly in return as she took hold of her arm and proceeded to draw a sample of her blood. Emily flinched as the needle went in, but didn’t react further; as many times as this woman had had to give her shots… it was nothing new. She purposefully looked away from the filling syringe - she wasn’t one of those people who got squeamish at the sight of blood, but knowing it was hers still unnerved her a bit. Instead, she looked around the room, a strange feeling growing inside her as she marked each difference in the arrangement of things. Those shelves should be against the opposite wall… the medicines were stored the wrong way… that cabinet had broken three years ago - she had cut her finger on the glass when it happened – but there it stood…

“All done,” said Keller, placing the now full syringe on the silver tray next to the infirmary bed. “Now hold your arm-” The doctor turned and reached out to take Emily’s wrist, but found her already applying pressure and holding said arm bent at the elbow. Jennifer gave a half smile. “Yeah, like that.”

She stepped across the room and handed the blood sample to a nurse for analysis, then came back to Emily and checked her arm. Emily watched her as Keller dabbed antibiotic cream on the tiny hole and stuck on a band-aid. “Why are you being so nice to me?” Emily asked suddenly. At Keller’s surprised look, she added quickly, “I mean, you don’t know for sure that we’re telling the truth yet. Shouldn’t you be a little more…I don’t know… less friendly?”

Jennifer stepped back, tossing away the bandage wrapper and folding her arms across her chest. “Do I have a reason to be?”

“Well, no… but… but I could be an alien or have… I don’t know – freaky mind powers or something…”

Keller smirked, but quickly schooled her face into a more professional expression. “Well, that’s exactly what I’m trying to determine here. And until we discover any threats or… freaky mind powers, you’re my patient and I’m going to do my job. If it makes you feel any better, I doubt your escorts are going anywhere anytime soon.” Her eyes flicked towards the pair of guards standing a few yards away by the wall.

Emily couldn’t think of anything to say to that. At her silence, Jennifer uncrossed her arms, fetched more antiseptic and bandages, and began to clean the shallow cut on Emily’s forehead. She figured that she must have gotten it when she and Connor were running through the trees on that planet, but she had no memory of it happening. She let Keller minister to her injuries in silence for a little while before asking, “How’s Connor?”

“Is that the boy who was with you?”

Her lack of knowledge was jarring. ‘She should know that…!’ Emily gave a tight nod. “My brother.”

“He’s fine. He’s being taken care of in another room.”

“What, do you think we’re going to conspire to take over the city or something?” Emily asked scornfully.
Keller raised a skeptical eyebrow at her. “Weren’t you just the one telling me that I ought to be more cautious?”

Emily opened her mouth to speak and closed it, caught. This was so confusing. She sighed and rubbed at her still dirt-streaked face, becoming aware for the first time of just how tired she was. Right now all she wanted was a hot shower and to crawl into her own bed and sleep for a day. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. She thought for a moment, struggling to find the words to explain herself. Finally: “I’m not saying that that’s not the right thing to do, Aun -” - she caught herself, stopping the automatic form of address that sprang to her lips, and forced out the correct one – “- Dr. Keller… I’m just saying that it’s not necessary.”

Keller studied her for a moment, as if she were trying to get a read on whether or not Emily was telling the truth. Emily looked right back and the same thought that had been running through her head ever since she had been brought to the infirmary came back. She looked so young! This was strange beyond all belief. This was her Aunt Jennifer… her best friend’s mom… the woman who had always been there to patch up her varied and numerous scrapes and bruises with a gentle hand and a sympathetic ear. But now here she was, treating her with nothing more than the usual kindness a doctor showed toward a patient - with no recognition whatsoever…

Keller gave a slight nod. “We’ll see,” was her reply. She moved away again and stripped off the pair of surgical gloves she had been wearing. “Now come on, let’s get you under a scanner.”

--o--

John walked into the conference room and slumped down in the same seat he’d occupied earlier that day. Most everyone else that needed to be was already there, except for one. John’s fingers began to drum nervously against the table top as they waited for Doctor Keller to arrive and deliver her report. Several hours had passed since that first dazed meeting after hearing the kids’ story. John had left the conference room immediately afterwards, brushing off his teammates attempts to talk to him. He had wandered towards the cafeteria, vaguely considering having the lunch that he’d never gotten to eat, but when he arrived, he had discovered that he wasn’t really very hungry anymore. He was too nervous, the thought of the answers that were coming filling his head. Who were they? Where were they from? Were they telling the truth? It wasn’t possible…he knew that… but he could see Elizabeth in both of them – heck, if he were being honest he could even see a little of himself. And that thought scared the hell out of him.

Many times over the past few hours thoughts about what Elizabeth would say if she were here had crossed his mind. He could imagine that look of stunned disbelief that would have been on her face after hearing the teenagers’ claims, and see her listening to their story: arms folded across her chest, eyebrows knitted together in a look of intense concentration. Between him and Elizabeth, doubtless one of them would make a weak attempt to diffuse the strangeness of the situation by joking about how the Atlantis rumor mill and accompanying betting pool would be going crazy. Yes, John could picture that scene very well – it brought a small smile to his face – but beyond that… he had nothing. For some reason, when it came to this situation, he had no idea what she would say, and that just bothered him even more.

John was snapped out of his reverie by Doctor Keller entering the room. He straightened up in his chair and rolled it closer to the huge wooden table Woolsey had imported, resting one arm on its surface. “Well, doc, what’s the verdict?” He found himself hoping that it would turn out to have been a lie.

Jennifer set a folder down on the table and turned to face them. “Well, they seem to have been telling the truth at least partly.” She looked directly at John. “According to every test I’ve run, those kids are your children, Colonel.”

John leaned slowly back in his chair, exhaling deeply. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Keller took out a small remote and pointed it at the flat-screen. Three different strands of DNA twisted across the screen. She hit the button again and similar sections on each of the strands became highlighted in blue. “I ran every test I can think of, and then checked and double checked to make sure. You’re a parental match, Colonel. They have Sheppard DNA.”

John was quiet for a minute. No one else said anything either. He swallowed to try and moisten a throat that had suddenly gone dry. “And what about…”

Keller took a deep breath and nodded. “I ran that test too. We still have some of Dr. Weir’s old records on file.” She pressed the button on the remote once again and another DNA strand, this one marked ‘Elizabeth Weir,’ appeared next to the other three. Another click and new sections became highlighted between hers and the two that belonged to the kids, these in green. “She’s a match too.”

Propping one elbow on the arm of his chair, John rested his forehead in the palm of his hand, his lips drawing together in a thin line. His peripheral vision caught Teyla letting out a deep breath, an unsettled look on her face as she also sank back into her seat.

“Well...” said Woolsey helpfully, then trailed off into silence. They were all digesting this bit of news. Having someone claim to be the child of your dead boss was one thing; having the proof of it staring you in the face was something else all together.

Suddenly an idea blazed through John’s mind and he grabbed hold of it, desperately reaching for something that would make more sense than what they had been told. “What if they were grown in some lab somewhere?” he blurted out. “I mean, someone could have lifted some DNA samples off me and Elizabeth when we went off world and decided to make a couple of kids.”

Keller nodded, seeming to consider the idea. “I suppose it’s possible. I can run some more tests, compare them to some of Dr. Beckett’s cells and see if I can find any similarities.”

“That still doesn’t explain how they know so much,” said Ronon, as usual cutting right to the heart of a problem with as few words as possible.

“No it doesn’t, but I think it’s best we explore all our options here,” said Keller, crossing her arms. “At this point almost the only things I’m 100 percent certain about is that they’re healthy and completely human.”

Woolsey sighed. “Very well. Is there anything else worth reporting, Doctor?”

Keller turned back to the flat screen and pointed the remote once again. “Well, it seems that Miss Sheppard and -”

John winced. “Can we not call her that?” he interrupted.

Keller glanced at him, clearing her throat uncomfortably. “Right. Sorry.” She grimaced slightly in apology and quickly looked away. “Um, anyway... it seems that Emily and her brother Connor both have a very strong showing of the Ancient gene - actually a little bit stronger than yours, Colonel.”

“Great,” said Rodney sarcastically, piping up for the first time since Ronon had smacked him into silence earlier, “if things start going haywire around the city we know who to blame then.”

“I would have thought you’d’ve been happy to have some super new guinea pigs to work with, Rodney,” needled John out of habit, although his heart wasn’t really in it at the moment. He was remembering his speculation of earlier, when the kids had first been locked up and he had caught himself wondering if they had inherited the ATA gene...

“Well I would of course, but -”

“But those children are not going anywhere except the brig or the infirmary until I deem it safe to let them move elsewhere,” said Woolsey. “I’ve ordered them to be kept separate for the time being until I’ve had a chance to question them further. I don’t want them collaborating; hopefully there will be some discrepancies in their story that we can use to find out what is really going on here. Dr. McKay, if you would look into the gate address that they dialed from? Perhaps we can find out more information from there.”

Woolsey issued a few more orders and then dismissed everyone. John saw Teyla eying him and quickly repeated his earlier exit, slipping out of the conference room before she could catch him and ask him how he was doing. He really didn’t want to have this discussion just yet, even though he knew it was inevitable.

The sun was beginning to set, and buckets of golden-orange light were pouring through the stained glass windows in the gate room. John was halfway there before he realized that his feet had automatically directed themselves towards the door of the balcony. He froze for a moment and then redirected his steps towards the stairs. He very rarely went on the balcony anymore without a specific purpose, and to go out there now, with everything that was going on... He caught Chuck watching him from behind his console. The technician hastily looked down, but John had seen that knowing expression. He frowned as he jogged down the steps; that man was too perceptive for his own good.

Still seeking fresh air, John took a transporter to the southeast pier and found a smaller, more secluded balcony on one of the towers. The doors hissed open and he stepped out into the amber sunlight, blessing the cool sharp breeze that whipped through his hair and helped to shake him out of his stupor. At least most of it. He walked up to the railing and leaned against it, looking out over the glittering sea that stretched far beyond the horizon. Ronon was right of course. Although artificial growth was within the realm of possibility, it still didn’t account for how much those kids knew... about Atlantis, about Elizabeth... about him. He had noticed it before, how at home they seemed in the city. And - he now realized in annoyance - how some part of his mind had automatically run under the assumption that they were telling the truth about who they were: the part that had wondered about the ATA gene, the part that had smirked at the boy’s sarcastic handling of Woolsey in the holding cell...

John gave a low growl of frustration and raked his fingers through his hair, again resting his forehead against his palm, so that he was now staring down at the pier below. His head was like a broken record, stuck on repeating ‘But it can’t be true! It isn’t possible!’ over and over again, battling with that tiny part that wondered why he was denying the situation so fiercely. Round and round went his thoughts, swirling so fast that he thought his brain might explode. Why couldn’t he just accept the information he’d been given and deal with it like he did with all the other strange things that they encountered every day? The breeze blew across his face again and he sighed, straightening up to gaze at the gilded sky. This had been one hell of a day.

He stood there and watched the sunset for a few more minutes, until the wind grew cool enough to warrant a jacket that he didn’t have with him. Reluctantly, he turned to go inside, and as his eyes caught one last glimpse of the sparkling towers around him, a new question whispered through his thoughts. Why did she keep coming back?


--o--


Connor was pacing. Arms alternating between swinging at his sides or being folded across his chest, he crossed the rectangular space that was his cell. The soles of his military issue boots scuffed across the gray floor, making the only other noise besides the faint hum of the invisible force-shield that surrounded the bars. He didn’t know how long he had been doing this, or how many times he had made the circuit - side, side, diagonal, side, side, diagonal... somewhere after a hundred and fifty he had stopped counting. Normally, pacing wasn’t his style; that was Emily’s job. He was the calm one (mostly). She would be practically climbing the walls, out of her mind with impatience, and he would sit out of her way and let her fume, because he had learned long ago that suggestions of ‘would you please just sit down!’ and ‘wearing yourself out won’t make it happen any faster’ never quite connected well with his sister. But Emily wasn’t here.

He didn’t know where they had put her. If he had to hazard a guess, he would have said that he was in the northern cell block, a prison area situated just beyond the base of the central tower. Another guess would have placed Emily as being held in one of the rooms next to this one, but he didn’t know for sure. He didn’t know anything for sure at the moment. Everything felt like a bad dream, or that Wonderland book he had read when he was little. Had they really traveled back in time? He hadn’t been able to read much of the information on that data console back on the planet, but that was the only explanation that made sense. No one knew who they were. His dad was still a Lt. Colonel and didn’t have any gray hair; Uncle Ronon’s beard was shorter and his dreads were longer; the infirmary was arranged all the wrong way, and his mom... well, she must have been off somewhere doing something - a diplomatic mission maybe. Her absence at all the proceedings so far was strange, and even more so had been Woolsey’s implication that she wasn’t the leader of Atlantis at the moment. Connor had asked the nurse who had examined him earlier if he could see her, and since being put in the cell he had made several attempts to question the guard standing by the door, but to no avail. No one seemed to want to talk to him about Elizabeth Weir.

Or anything else,’ muttered his thoughts. He knew these people - they wouldn’t hurt Emily - and he could see the reasoning behind keeping the two of them separate, but the knowledge didn’t make him any less antsy. He was supposed to look out for her; he needed to reassure himself that she was alright. ‘Dad’s gonna kill me if she isn’t alright.’ But his dad was right upstairs... wasn’t he? But yet he wasn’t... ‘Urrggh!!’ In frustration Connor swiped his left arm at the barrier, receiving an extremely painful shock for his trouble. His hand now numb, he cradled it against his chest while murmuring curses under his breath. He’d known that was coming, but it still hurt like h-

The outer door to the room opened, and Connor spun around, half hoping that it was his mom come to see him at last, but it was only another guard. There was a German flag on his arm, and he was carrying a dinner tray. The two guards exchanged a few words with each other; Connor’s German was a little patchy, but he knew enough to gather that they were apparently having lemon meringue pie in the mess hall that evening - a rare treat indeed. He smirked half-heartedly to himself.‘Uncle Rodney’s gonna have fun with that one.‘ The posted guard opened the cell door and the German stepped inside, deposited the tray on the floor, and then left. Connor stepped over to the tray and nudged one of the plastic containers on it with his foot. Oh look, he got pie too. What joy. He tried to imagine meeting his sister’s eyes and sharing as laugh over the ridiculousness of their adopted uncle’s behavior as they normally would, but his heart wasn’t in it. Connor sighed and picked up the tray, carrying it over to the corner where he sat down and mechanically began to eat. The teasing and jokes of earlier that day seemed miles and miles away.


--o--


“Please state your full name.”

“Emily Lora Sheppard.”

“Connor Evan James Sheppard.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“Don’t you know it’s rude to ask a girl that?”

“Please answer the question.” Annoyance.

Sigh. “I’m fifteen.”

“In what year were you born?”

“2011.”

“2013. What year is it now?”

Ignore. “State the full names of your parents.”

“You’ve already asked us that!”

“Full. Names.”

Eye-roll.

Sigh.

“Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force, Commander of...”

“... Elizabeth Weir Sheppard, PhD in...”

“Is she here?”

“Could we please talk to our mother?”

“I would have thought -”

“Why hasn’t she come to see us yet?”

Silence. Hesitation. Obviously uncomfortable, which turns into cool stare. “As you seem to keep forgetting, I am the one conducting this interrogation. You will please refrain from asking further questions.” Looks down at paper.

Suspicion.

Distrust.

Jerk.

“Place of birth?”

“Atlantis.”

“In what part of the city were you born?”

“What kind of a question is- ?”

Glare.

Sigh. “As far as I know...”

“Have you always lived on Atlantis, or did you ever reside on Earth?”

“Well, we...”

“... wiped out when I was a kid...”

“...were surrounded by the smartest people in two galaxies...”

“...had tutors mostly...”

“... ZPMs?”

More eye-rolling. “No, I never had a rabbit...”

“Describe in detail the events...”

“...my sister’s first mission...”

“...our mom, Elizabeth...”

“You flinch every time I mention her...”

“...planet with Ancient ruins...”

“...weren’t really ruins at all...”


--An hour and a half later--


“Thank you. That should be all.” Woolsey scribbled some final notes on his pad and clicked off the recorder that had been running for the entire interview. He pushed back his chair and made to leave. Connor suddenly stood up, ignoring the two machine guns that were now pointed at his chest and back. “Mr. Woolsey!”

The man in question paused and turned around, gesturing for the guards to lower their weapons. His face was impassive. “Yes?”

Connor caught the older man’s eyes and stared him down; he wasn’t going to let it go this time. “Why won’t you answer any of my questions about my mother?”

“I haven’t answered your sister’s either, if it makes you feel any better.”

“But why?”

Woolsey’s mouth twisted, and his voice was sharp when he spoke. “Mr. Sheppard - assuming that is in fact your real name - you and your sister just walked through my stargate from nowhere not twenty-four hours ago. Do you expect me to suddenly trust you and welcome you with open arms?”

Connor shook his head. “There’s more to it than that,” he said fiercely. “Look, I know you’ve probably checked our DNA by now. You’ve seen that at least part of what we’ve told you is the truth. It’s a simple question! We’re not asking for the IDC codes, we just want to know why we haven’t seen our mom! She wouldn’t just ignore something like this happening!”

Woolsey fixed Connor with an unreadable stare for several long seconds. Then he gave an almost imperceptible nod, and he seemed to suddenly deflate somewhat. “Very well.” He stepped back towards the interrogation table and set down his things. “Sergeant, please bring in the other prisoner.”

As Connor sank slowly back into his seat, he caught a glimpse of something in Woolsey’s eyes: pity. A cold fear suddenly gripped his heart, setting his stomach churning. ‘Please...’ he thought desperately. ‘Please no...

Several minutes passed before the guard returned with Emily. When she was brought into the room, he started to jump up, but the nod and small smile she gave kept him in his place. When his disturbed look didn’t abate at this reassurance, however, Emily’s brow furrowed in concern and she glanced at Woolsey apprehensively. She slowly moved to the chair that had been placed on Connor’s other side and sat down.

“What’s going on?” she asked him nervously.

“He’s going to tell us why we haven’t seen Mom,” he replied evenly, all the while praying ‘it can’t be that, it can’t be that, it can’t be that...’ Her eyes snapped towards Woolsey and stayed there, eager for information.

Woolsey cleared his throat uncomfortably. He rested his hand on the back of his chair as if to pull it out and sit down, but seemed to decide against it. Instead, he let his arms rest at his sides and stood up as straight as he could possibly manage, so that he was looking down at the two of them sitting there.

“I don’t know exactly what is going on here - whether or not you’re from the future as you claim, or whether you come from some alternate reality as Dr. McKay believes - but in light of the recent medical evidence that has been presented to this case, I believe you have a right to know.” He paused to take a breath, frowning slightly as he looked at each of them in turn. “The Dr. Elizabeth Weir who once ran this expedition was taken captive by the Replicators nearly two years ago and is now believed to be dead. Dr. Weir gave her life to ensure this city’s safety. It was a terrible loss, one that is still felt deeply to this day.” He paused again, and the pity Connor had seen became apparent in his voice.

“I’m sorry, but that’s why she won’t be coming to see you.”

--o--

He has to be lying. He just told us that because he still doesn’t trust us. Mom’s just off-world - maybe she’s on Earth for something... That has to be it. There’s no way it could be true!

Emily repeated this thought process to herself like a mantra as she was escorted down a hallway, trying to avoid thinking about that sick numb feeling that was swirling around inside of her. A few minutes after breaking the news, Woolsey had quietly ordered the guards to take her and Connor back to their cells. She hadn’t protested, hadn’t demanded that she be allowed to be with her brother as she had fully planned to. She hadn’t said a single word.

Everything around her was blurry - trapped in a fog. At the moment there was room for only one wonderful truth that she clung to with all her might. ‘My mother didn’t die. This is the past. This is the past and she never died so she can’t be gone. She can’t be...

The way no one had answered her questions, how even Aunt Jen- Dr. Keller - had avoided her gaze when she’d mentioned Elizabeth after her scan. Woolsey’s shocked voice while they were in the holding cell - “...Elizabeth Weir? The former leader of this expedition?” The things she hadn’t even noticed at first, like how she hadn’t heard anyone suggest contacting Dr. Weir and informing her of the situation. Or the haunted look hidden deep behind her father’s eyes...

Emily’s breath caught. Her heart started beating faster and her head felt fuzzy as tears began to burn behind her eyes. ‘Can’t be... no!‘ The denial started screaming ever faster and she looked around frantically, trying to figure out where she was. There. She recognized the view out that window; they were in the lower northeastern section of the tower. She did some mental calculations; if she could get to a transporter, then it was only two floors up... ‘can’t be, can’t be...’ All she had to do was give the guard the slip. Easy.

She waited a few more seconds and then suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and gasped, gripping her stomach; she didn’t have to fake the distressed look on her face. The guard moved towards her to steady her, but before he could grab her she sank down on one knee as if overcome, moaning as if she were in pain. Panicked, the guard did exactly what Emily had been betting on. He straightened and looked around, calling for help. The few seconds that his eyes were turned away from her were all she needed. The instant that he looked away she was off, shooting down the hallways like a bullet. She heard a yell behind her and the sound of thudding boots. Adrenaline coursing through her veins, she went even faster, skidding on the smooth floors as she turned the corner and sprinted toward the transporter that she knew would be waiting. Still several feet away, she waved her hand in the direction of the control panel and the doors slid open just as she reached them. She launched herself inside, colliding painfully with the back wall, and slammed her fist against the icon she needed on the city map. ‘Come on, come on!’ The doors were almost closed when her thwarted guard came into view through the narrowing slit. Fury contorting his face, he pointed towards her and marched forwards, but he was too late.

Emily barely had time to lean her head back against the wall and take a deep breath before the doors opened again, revealing a completely different location than the one she had just vacated. There were no windows here, merely strip lights and the standard decorative copper panels. Best of all, no angry guard. No one at all in fact. Even so, Emily didn’t waste any time. She darted out of the transporter, took a moment to orient herself, and ran down the right hand corridor, still high on adrenaline. She could run into someone at any moment, but she didn’t care - didn’t slow down - confident in her knowledge that she probably knew more about how the layout of this city than the entire military contingent put together. And she had to get there... she had to know for sure... Without thinking, she barreled around another corner and up a flight of stairs, right smack into three soldiers. Everyone froze for a moment. One of the soldiers had his hand to the radio at his ear, obviously having just received the news of an escaped prisoner. They stared at her in surprise, only coming to life when she bolted towards the exit beside them.

“Hey!”

More yells followed as she pounded up a second set of stairs. They were right behind her - she could hear them cursing at her under their breaths. Emily poured as much energy as she could into making herself go faster. At the top of the stairs another corridor stretched out before her, this one relatively short and lined with doorways on either side. She only had a few seconds, but she had one large advantage over her pursuers: they didn’t know where she was going. Without breaking pace, Emily stretched out her hand and waved it over a door panel as she ran past. Further along, halfway down the hall, there was a gap in the wall that held yet another staircase. She did a ninety-degree left turn so fast that she nearly fell over - her palms slammed against the hard surface of the bottom stair and she scrambled desperately up the steps to the landing, trying to make as little noise as possible and praying that they hadn’t seen her. Shouts echoed through the hallway two seconds later as the soldiers entered it. She strained her ears, trying to hear over the sound of her pulse thrumming and her breaths that came in heavy draws. As close as they were behind her, they should have reached the corridor just as the door she had opened was closing...

“That way!” came a cry. Emily imagined someone pointing. A scuffle of boot-steps - Emily held her breath as she listened - and they were gone. She sagged back against the wall, eyes closed, her legs splayed out in front of her as she tried to catch her breath. The door the men had just gone through concealed another hallway, one that lead in the direction of the ZPM room - a likely destination for an enemy spy or whatever they thought she was. Believing that someone was about to blow up the city should keep them occupied for a little while.

Still, she couldn’t stop just yet. She pulled herself to her feet using the nearest bit of stair railing and continued upwards. It wasn’t far now... A few more corridors and a short set of stairs later - which she managed without meeting anyone - Emily finally found herself at her destination. She came to a halt in front of the set of double doors, paneled in beautifully patterned stained glass. Uncertainty and no small amount of fear suddenly flooded through her. The need to get to this place had been driving her through that entire chase, but now that she was actually here... She heard Woolsey’s voice in her head. ‘former leader of this expedition?...now believed to be dead...’ She opened the door.

The memorial hall was just as beautiful as she remembered. The ceiling soared upwards, and the entire upper half of the walls were made of stained glass windows that let light pour into the circular room in sheets of transparent gold. Even with all the light there were candles everywhere, and small clusters of flowers were gathered underneath each of the framed photographs that lined the walls. Wooden plaques placed beneath the photos commemorated the final deeds of the person above them, and in most cases the space was littered with notes, personal photographs, and prayers written on bits of paper and left by friends of the deceased.

It was a calm place, and quiet; one that managed to maintain a spirit of warmth and peace despite its tragic purpose. Emily stepped further into the room and the doors closed behind her. Afraid of what she might see, she tried to avoid looking at the pictures on the wall and noticed instead that there was something missing. The low stone monument that usually occupied the space in the center of the room - a large circular plinth carved with the words ‘Heroes of Atlantis’ in Ancient along its rim - wasn’t there. Its absence made sense, Emily supposed. Her mother had commissioned the memorial when she was two;as she had been told later, apparently Elizabeth had decided that a more permanent tribute to Atlantis’s fallen was long overdue...

The memory reinforced the reason for her presence there with a painful nudge. Emily closed her eyes and inhaled, breathing in the air that smelled of flowers and faint incense. Ignoring the fear that was clawing at her mind, she forced herself to look up. Slowly, she walked along the wall, silently praying that she wouldn’t see what something told her she was going to find. But find it she did. There, beneath the largest stained glass window, was a photograph adorned with more flowers than any other. Emily walked towards it, shaky and afraid, and stopped.

“Mom...” she breathed, the tears that her escape had suppressed rushing to the surface. It felt like a knife was twisting in her gut. Slowly, she reached out a hand and touched the beautiful Athosian-made frame that held the image of a beaming Elizabeth Weir, standing proudly on the gate room staircase. ‘No...’ whimpered Emily’s thoughts. Her eyes swam and she looked down, trying to keep from crying. Something else Woolsey had said sprang into her mind - Uncle Rodney believed that they were from an alternate reality, which would mean... But right now that didn’t matter. Even though this might be a different reality, and this wasn’t her home and this wasn’t her mother, Emily couldn’t banish the pain she was feeling and she couldn’t stop the tears from finally falling.

Her hand still against the base of the frame, she stood there, shuddering with small sobs. There was a faint noise behind her that she barely registered and then moments later a pair of strong arms wrapped themselves around her. “Hey,” said her big brother’s voice, and it was strained, like he was fighting back tears too. She turned towards him and buried her face in his shoulder. Connor held her as she sobbed. “I know,” he whispered thickly, and Emily felt a few wet drops land on her hair. “I know.”

--o--

John stood silently at the door to the memorial hall, watching as the two children held each other, the golden light from the windows pooling around them, shining dust motes floating through the air. After a few moments he couldn’t stand it anymore and looked away, his throat thick.

When the alert had gone out after the girl’s escape, he had been meeting with Woolsey, waiting for the other senior staff members to arrive so they could discuss the findings from Woolsey’s interrogations. John had immediately begun coordinating with Major Lorne to recapture her - she had last been seen heading in the direction of the ZPM room - when the call came in from Connor’s guard. The boy demanded that he be allowed to help find her, claiming that he knew where she was going. Against John’s advice, Woolsey had allowed it, after a moment of serious consideration in which his brow furrowed even more than usual. Escorted by four guards, Connor had come running straight here and convinced them to let him approach his sister alone. John had arrived just as the boy had gone in, surprised at first over where they were. It only took a moment though to figure out why, and he mentally cursed. Woolsey hadn’t informed him that he had told the kids about Elizabeth.

John breathed in deeply through his nose and steeled himself to glance through the open doors once more. Elizabeth had been gone for so long now, and to see such fresh pain brought back memories he would rather have forgotten. He turned away and stepped back . He was an intruder on their grief: a grief that was very real- as impossible as it was and as much as he would like to rationalize otherwise. He swiped his hand over the door control panel, closing it, and turned towards the guards. “Give ‘em some time. There’s no other exits; they’re not going anywhere.”

His order confirmed with four sets on nods, John turned and walked away as fast as he could.


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