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Mystery of the Phantom

As Elizabeth sat in her office in Atlantis, she couldn’t help but smile at the feel of the reports in her hand; she knew that it sounded a bit arrogant, but after spending so long answering the questions and problems of others, it was a relief to be the one who made the final decisions once again now that she was back in Atlantis.

What made that fact even better, as far as she was concerned, was the fact that the situation in Atlantis had continued to run fairly smoothly since the end of the siege. So far there’d been no apparent sign of Lieutenant Ford or the Wraith, which was at least somewhat encouraging; if Ford had been captured the Wraith would probably have come back to respond to the knowledge that Atlantis still existed, so the fact that there was no sign of them suggested that the resourceful lieutenant was still out there. Zelenka had also reported that a large amount of previously-inactive technology had started to come online after the installation of the new ZPM; with an almost fully-charged ZPM combined with the ten percent still available from their original module, the remaining staff on Atlantis had been able to devote more power to activating systems that had been previously left dormant to conserve the ZPM’s energy.

Admittedly, the new soldiers were something of a point of concern for Elizabeth as far as their attitude towards the Phantom went- and she really needed to stop thinking about that; he hadn’t contacted her so far, but the lack of information about his capture made it fairly clear that he was still out there in the city somewhere-, but she wasn’t too worried about it; if her first year in Atlantis had shown anything, it was that John could take care of himself under most circumstances that would have caused anyone else serious trouble…

Her thoughts were cut off by the sound of an incoming wormhole being dialled, prompting Elizabeth to glance up and out of her office just in time for the Stargate to activate, the shield being lowered a few seconds later to allow Major Evan Lorne- one of the new additions to the Atlantis staff and Sumner’s new second-in-command- to walk through the wormhole, one of his team close behind him.

Elizabeth’s suspicions were instantly on-edge as the wormhole closed with no sign of the other two members of Lorne’s team; the casual manner in which he was walking at least suggested that it wasn’t bad news, such as the others having been abducted or something like that, but Elizabeth had a feeling that Atlantis’s ‘quiet period’ had just come to an end.

“A dead Wraith that had been shot with bullets?” Sumner repeated as he looked at Lorne; he might trust the younger man’s record, but getting used to a new second-in-command wasn’t exactly easy…

Actually, as much as Sumner hated to admit it- it sounded so arrogant even to himself-, a part of him had preferred Ford because he was younger; unlike the lieutenant who’d served in his position last year, Major Evan Lorne already had a certain way of doing things in positions of authority like this, while Ford had been thrust into the position of command out of a lack of any other high-ranking officers to do the job instead and had been trained based on what Sumner was looking for in a second-in-command rather than anyone else.

It wasn’t that Sumner had a problem with people doing things their way rather than his way so long as they were properly trained; he’d just grown used to knowing how his officers would deal with certain problems, and he no longer had that same certainty any more.

“Yes sir,” Lorne replied, nodding in confirmation at the colonel and drawing his attention back to the present; the meeting that he was currently attending with Doctor Weir and Teyla in Weir’s office. “At least, it looked like bullets; the guy was a real mess by the time we got to him…”

“The Genii have such weapons,” Teyla pointed out, which didn’t make Sumner feel any better; with the way things were between them since their attempted takeover of the city, the last thing he wanted was to run into more Genii.

”Doctor Beckett is performing an autopsy,” Doctor Weir began, only to pause as the aforementioned doctor entered the conference room, looking anxiously around at the others. “And here he is now.”

“I’m not done,” Doctor Beckett began (Almost before Doctor Weir had finished, Sumner noted; it didn’t matter too much in private, but that kind of lack of formality could be problematic if it got out), “not nearly, but I thought you might like to know this; the enzyme sac under the right arm has been removed.”

Sumner’s eyes widened in understanding.

Ford…” he said, inwardly cursing at what this new turn of events could mean for the young man just as McKay entered the room.

“What’s going on?” the Canadian scientist asked.

“If you hadn’t been late, you’d known that we’ve just found a dead Wraith on P3m-736 which all evidence suggests was killed by Lieutenant Ford,” Sumner replied briefly, before he turned back to Doctor Weir. “Permission to take a team on a retrieval mission, Doctor Weir?”

“Granted,” Doctor Weir replied with a brief nod.

“Whoa, wait a minute; 736?” McKay repeated, looking at Sumner as though he’d just been ordered to fly. “The UV index there during the day is something like a thousand…”

“Bring your sunscreen,” Sumner replied; he didn’t have time for team members who weren’t willing to pull their weight when he ordered them to do so. “Be ready in ten minutes.”

With that, he walked out of the office and headed for the armoury, already making a note to prepare himself for the worst-case scenario.

No matter how fond he might have been of the young man back when they’d been cut off from Earth, the fact remained that, with his mental state currently a mess from that Wraith enzyme in his system, coupled with the fact that his condition required him to seek out the Wraith like an addict searching for his next fix…

If things reached a point where he was certain that he couldn’t capture Ford and bring him back to Atlantis for treatment, he may have to kill his former teammate to prevent him compromising the base’s security.

Sumner would just have to hope that it wouldn’t come to that; he had a feeling that Teyla and McKay wouldn’t exactly be receptive to the idea of him killing someone they’d worked with for as long as they’d spent time with Ford…

A couple of hours later, Elizabeth continued to go over various forms, signing her approval on various forms involving experiments in some of the newly-activated sections of the city, while making it clear that all scientists involved were to report to a qualified linguist before they even thought about touching anything; Doctor Jackson’s absence might be an issue- she still wished she’d been able to persuade Daedalus to wait behind until whatever that ‘Vala Mal Doran’ woman had wanted with him had been dealt with, but she had to admit that she was grateful to be back in the city-, but that didn’t mean that the rest of her translation staff were incapable. So far they’d yet to discover anything significantly interesting- the possibility that there might be a way to recharge the ZPMs in particular had inspired a great deal of attempted research-, but there were still some intriguing discoveries.

Zelenka was particularly intriguing by an as-yet-unidentified device he’d discovered in one of the labs near the centre of the city, which seemed to have been damaged the last time it was used; examination of the interior that revealed that many of the control crystals commonly used in ancient technology were badly cracked, with some of them even blackened in a manner that suggested there’d been a fire in the machine the last time it was used. He was still unclear what it actually did, but he had assured her that he would let her know what it was for as soon as he could spare the time to do some more thorough research in the database…

Not for the first time, Elizabeth wished that she’d been able to convince the diplomats in charge of the SGC to allow the Phantom a bit more leeway in his cooperation with the city- rather than the possible unofficial cooperation that Sumner’s recent attitude suggested he’d allow to take place in the event of a more serious crisis-; if nothing else, he might have been able to tell them a bit more about some of the technology they were uncovering in their more recent explorations. The group back on Earth might have recommended capturing the Phantom in order to make him talk, but Elizabeth was fairly certain that John wouldn’t have much to say in that scenario no matter what they did to him; he did more good while he was free in the city and able to do things his own way than he could ever accomplish locked up or under another’s orders, and locking him up might only limit his willingness to help them…

It was almost funny, now that Elizabeth thought about it; what she knew about the man who’d saved her life on at least three separate occasions- he’d specifically saved her during the Genii invasion of Atlantis and had gone on to save the city as a whole during the nanite crisis and the recent siege- was really shockingly little when she studied it closely, and yet, when she got down to it, she trusted him to protect her in a crisis more than she trusted Sumner (Even if she still didn’t know why he seemed so particularly interested in protecting her…).

God, when Lorne had called to request assistance in finding Sumner and Teyla after they apparently vanished during the search for Ford, Elizabeth had briefly thought about asking John to go and help them before she decided against it; from what she’d heard and seen about that planet in reports, there wasn’t much more John could realistically be expected to do beyond be another pair of eyes…

But what had prompted her to do that in the first place?

What was it about John that inspired such… faith in her?

Why did she believe that he could do something even if nobody else could…?

The sound of the gate dialling pushed all thoughts of John temporarily from her mind, particularly when Chuck glanced over at her in the manner that she’d come to recognise as his ‘you’ve got a message’ attitude; clearly someone wanted to talk to her over the radio.

“This is Weir,” she said, as she entered the control room and nodded at Chuck to activate the radio once again. “What’s your status?”

Doctor Weir, this is Colonel Sumner,” Sumner’s voice replied. “No immediate sign of Lieutenant Ford yet, but Teyla and I ran into… someone that I think could be helpful to us.”

Elizabeth was unable to stop the momentary surprise that crossed her face; after Sumner’s continued suspicion of the Phantom- he’d only started trusting the Athosians on missions after those Athosians who’d joined offworld teams had been given fairly thorough training in their weapons and tactics-, to hear him say that someone he’d only recently met could be helpful to them…

“Who are we talking about?” she asked, deciding to focus on the matter at hand; if this man was good enough to merit Sumner’s approval, she wanted to know more about him as soon as possible.

He introduced himself as Specialist Ronon Dex; apparently he was culled from his homeworld seven years ago, but the Wraith stopped feeding on him for some reason- he doesn’t know why and I’m not inclined to doubt that; he looked as puzzled by it as anyone- and turned him into what Teyla calls a ‘Runner’- basically someone the Wraith hunt for sport with a tracking device in them-, and he’s been on the run from them ever since,” Sumner replied. “There’s no way to verify how long he’s been doing this, of course, but the man definitely knows what he’s doing- he took me and Teyla down while we were on full alert before we even knew he was there, and he was able to outdraw me even when I took him by surprise-, and he’s offering to help us track Ford if we can remove the tracking device from his back.”

“And… you trust him?” Elizabeth asked, surprised that Sumner was even saying this; after all the times he’d disagreed about having the Phantom in Atlantis, he was now supporting the idea of another alien helping them?

Well… I trust that he knows what he’s talking about; it might not be our military, but he’s definitely had some kind of training, and he clearly looks like he can handle himself,” Sumner said at last, before he sighed slightly. “Besides, he’s still got Teyla; I’ve already lost one of my team, and I’m not that interested in losing another. If Beckett can at least take a look at this guy, we might be able to get him to help us out now; we might even have an ally if we can help him make contact with his people afterwards.”

“All right, fine,” Elizabeth said, nodding in understanding while trying to seem nonchalant despite her inner satisfaction; it wasn’t quite what she was hoping for in a best-case-scenario, but if Sumner was willing to accept this man as an ally than he might be more receptive to the possibility of working with John in the future…

A few hours later, Beckett’s impromptu ‘house call’ completed and the new arrival out of the room where he’d been staying while getting one last check-over, Elizabeth could only wish that she had better news for him. Specialist Ronon Dex of Sateda- Sumner hadn’t been kidding when he said that Dex looked like he could handle himself; the man gave the impression of being far larger than everyone else than he actually was, and looked like a pretty formidable fighter even without that impression- might not have been able to help them recapture Lieutenant Ford, but that was only due to the young man fleeing into a Wraith culling beam rather than allowing them to help him (Sumner had been unable to stop him because the unexpectedness of the manoeuvre had caught him off-guard); according to McKay and Sumner’s first-hand reports, he’d done exceptionally well in fighting the enzyme-enhanced Ford prior to that.

As he stood staring at the screen displaying the devastated, apparently bombed city on the other end of the wormhole leading to the address that he’d identified as Sateda, not even Dex’s seemingly default expression of a grim stare could stop Elizabeth from recognising that she was looking at a man who was barely able to process the fact that he’d just lost everything.

“I… don’t understand,” he said at last, almost as though he was seeking confirmation of what he was looking at.

“We have machines called MALPs,” Elizabeth explained, sparing a brief moment to be grateful that what they’d seen suggested that Sateda had been at least somewhat technologically advanced; what they’d gathered from the MALP suggested a development level maybe a couple of decades ahead of the Genii (Most likely due to the more public nature of the expansion rather than the Genii’s efforts to remain secret). “They're capable of transmitting back images and information from other planets. We sent this one to the address you gave us.”

“That is Sateda?” Dex asked, his expression making it obvious that he already knew the answer; like anyone having received news like this, he was trying to find other ways of asking the same question to stop himself having to face the reality of what had just been revealed to him.

“I’m sorry,” Sumner said, nodding slightly at Dex. “It doesn’t look like anyone survived the last attack.”

After a few moments of silent staring, Dex turned around and walked back down the stairs, the motion giving Elizabeth a brief glimpse at the weapon that hung by his side-

She froze.

She’d seen that gun before…

It had only been a brief glimpse, but the weapon that Ronon Dex was carrying was definitely identical to the gun John had used on Kolya when she’d been held hostage; John’s later use of it to disarm Sumner and Everett’s men during their confrontation in the conference room before the siege must have happened too quickly for anyone to really make out what it looked like or Sumner would have asked Ronon about the weapon already.

Elizabeth couldn’t believe it.

My first clue… she reflected, allowing herself a slight smile while nobody was looking.

It wasn’t much, of course- given what they’d seen of Sateda it didn’t look like the Satedeans had possessed the technology to develop something like that themselves-, but it did give her something to work with; at last she had the chance to get some kind of more specific information about what John might have been up to in his life in Atlantis before they arrived, beyond just killing Wraith when they were attempting to cull a planet…

Later on, the day’s work completed and her only immediate appointment being with her bed for a few hours of sleep, Elizabeth found herself standing in front of Dex’s now-unguarded room- without the Ancient gene and with his planet gone, Dex had nowhere to go, so Sumner had decided to remove the guards from his room-, knocking briefly on the door and hoping that the new arrival wouldn’t mind her questions; he might seem somewhat ‘rough around the edges’, but he otherwise seemed to be a good person.

“Come in,” Dex’s voice said, turning to face her as she entered his room. “Doctor Weir.”

“Specialist Dex-” Elizabeth began.

“Ronon’s fine,” De- Ronon replied briefly.

“Ronon,” Elizabeth corrected herself, smiling slightly at him in gratitude for the informality- she could never get entirely used to military protocol of referring to people by their surnames-, “firstly, I wanted to express my… condolences… for what happened to your world; I know that doesn’t make up for anything you’ve lost, but-”

“It’s appreciated,” Ronon said briefly.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, before assuming a more serious expression. “Secondly, I wondered if I could ask you something.”

“If you want,” Ronon replied. Elizabeth was briefly reminded of diplomats she’d met who allowed her to make a point without realistically expecting it to make a difference to their wishes, but decided to go for it anyway.

“Where did you get your gun?” she asked, hoping he’d assume it was ideal curiosity and leave it at that; given that Ronon hadn’t asked about the Phantom yet, Elizabeth was assuming that he wasn’t particularly interested in the man in question and saw no reason to make her own curiosity about the masked man known to him (If nothing else, given that the Phantom had evidently failed to show up to save Ronon’s world she had a feeling Ronon wouldn’t be a particular fan of him no matter how many other worlds he saved).

“This?” Ronon asked, drawing her attention back to the present as he pulled his weapon out of his holster, allowing her to look at it long enough for her to confirm her initial assessment of it before he put it away again with a dismissive shrug. “Found it on a crashed ship on a planet I visited once; picked up a few power cells for it while I was there as well- things recharge over time if you leave them alone long enough- and I’ve used it ever since.”

“I can understand why you would…” Elizabeth said, nodding briefly at him before she swallowed slightly while looking at him. “Look, I… I know this won’t make up for you having… lost… everyone like that, but if you need somewhere to stay now…”

As she trailed off, uncertain whether he was even interested in hearing what she was saying and wanting to observe his reaction, Ronon glanced briefly at his surroundings before he looked back at her with a brief shrug.

“Not sure I’d fit in here,” he said simply.

“Actually… I think you could,” Elizabeth replied. “From what Colonel Sumner told me, you can definitely handle yourself in a fight; given our own limited experience with the Wraith- we only arrived in this galaxy last year-, we’d appreciate any advice you could give us in fighting them, and we could use someone like you on our side in future.”

She didn’t mention the main reason she was interested in him staying- that she was hoping he could serve as an example that would encourage Sumner to be more receptive to working with the Phantom in the future-, and was only partly successful in convincing herself that she didn’t bring that up because it didn’t matter; the reason that she gave for wanting Ronon Dex to remain in Atlantis was valid, even if it she had an ulterior motive as well.

After a long silence, Ronon nodded.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said simply.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, nodding at him before she turned around and walked out of the room, knowing from his current stance that Ronon had no further interest in talking.

Despite the relatively small victory she’d just won- if she’d won any kind of victory; Ronon still had to make up his mind one way or the other-, Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel a certain satisfaction at how that conversation had gone.

One piece of the puzzle about John had fallen into place; he’d acquired his main weapon from the same source as Ronon Dex had.

Admittedly, that could still mean that he’d either discovered the same crashed ship that Ronon had found or that he’d discovered the original homeworld of the people who had created the weapon, but it was progress; now all Elizabeth had to do was figure out how that information fit into the background she was trying to create about her city’s mysterious hero…

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