On an academic level, he knew that he couldn't hold himself responsible for the fates of everyone in the Pegasus Galaxy, and his interaction with the Athosians ever since he'd become a public member of the expedition had been complicated, but that didn't mean he'd wanted them to go missing. Teyla, Halling and the other Athosians who were acting as official members of the expedition still obviously regretted that they'd been away when their people were taken, even if they accepted that it was unlikely their presences would have changed anything, but for the moment Atlantis's efforts to investigate this mess were limited to dealing with minimal leads and no real idea of motives.
As a result, when Elizabeth called for an emergency meeting with the senior staff in her office on Teyla's request, John wasn't sure what he'd been expecting to hear, beyond some new idea on the Athosians' part that might help her find her missing people, but even his wildest theories hadn't inspired him to consider this as an option.
"They are called the Vedeenans," Teyla said, as she paced in Elizabeth's office, the rest of John's team sitting in silence to listen to her explanation. "I've known about them my entire life but I've never met them. They do occasionally trade with others in the galaxy but for the most part they keep to themselves."
"Why do you want to visit them now?" Elizabeth asked curiously.
"It is said that their leader, a man named Davos, is a great seer."
"What do you mean?" McKay asked sceptically. "Like a psychic?"
"I do not know the full extent of his powers, but it is rumoured that he can even glimpse the future."
"Oh, gimme a break!"
"You do not believe such a thing is possible?" Teyla asked.
"Even after Jonas Quinn's experience with Nirrti?" John put in.
"Even after what?" McKay looked at John in surprise. "What are you talking about and how don't I know about it?"
"A couple of months before Doctor Jackson returned to SG-1 from his Ascension, his then-replacement Jonas Quinn of Kelowna learned that the genetic tampering he'd been subjected to by Nirrti during a previous mission had augmented his brain so he could see the future," John explained, before shaking his head. "Wait, actually, from what I remember, there was some debate about whether he was seeing the future or just seeing the most likely possible future at that time, and he was able to change what he saw at least once…"
"OK, seriously, how do you know that?" McKay asked incredulously. "You barely spent a few weeks on Earth when they were training you-!"
"I read a lot of files," the man once known only as the Phantom smiled. "The point is, there's a precedent for the idea that the future can be predicted with the right amount of information available and a suitably evolved physiology and capability to take in that detail, but it needs a very specific set of extremely complicated circumstances to get to that point without it being dangerous to the subject, so it would be fairer to say that this is just 'very, very improbable'."
"Oh, now you're quoting Hitchiker's at us?" McKay said indignantly.
"Says the guy who recognised the quote in the first place."
"Gentlemen," Elizabeth cut in, smiling slightly as she glanced between the two even as her firm stare made it clear that she wasn't interested in letting this discussion continue. "The important thing now is that Teyla believes that Davos may be able to help us find out what happened to the Athosians, we have no clearer leads, and we can all confirm that there is a precedent for people possessing the abilities Teyla has heard that he is capable of."
"I realise that it may seem… desperate," Teyla conceded uncomfortably, "but it has been several weeks and our usual methods of investigation have turned up nothing."
"And there's nothing wrong with trying for less conventional methods of doing things, as I like to think I've proven since I officially joined you all," John observed with a smile as he stood up. "Shall we?"
Timing-wise, John wasn't sure if everything they'd lucked out or were dealing with a series of unfortunate events that went beyond that children's series he'd heard about. Arriving on Vedeena to find that Davos and some of his people were already expecting them was just unconventional rather than totally unexpected, and while the reports that Davos was ill raised a few concerns, it was refreshing to get those assurances that his apparent visions of the future had some evidence behind them, both with the tale of how he had saved his village and the vision he had apparently shown McKay of the team being captured.
When they had returned to Atlantis, John had already been aware that the IOA were sending Richard Woolsey to the city to carry out some kind of evaluation he couldn't remember, but even if he accepted the man's apparent claim that he would just be acting in an observational capacity right now, this latest turn of events was the real problem he wanted to focus on right now.
"So… a Wraith left a message with a culled planet that he wants to meet John Sheppard?" John looked at Elizabeth and Woolsey in surprise. "How would he even know that's my name?"
"From the description provided, it sounded like it was the Wraith who helped you escape from the Genii during that time you were kidnapped," Elizabeth explained.
"Ah," John nodded in understanding. "That might explain it."
"Explain it?" Ronon asked.
"I grant that I only spent a couple of days with the guy, but that particular Wraith… well, my real name came up during my interrogation, and there wasn't exactly much point in denying it when we were talking later," John explained.
"And you let him go with that kind of information?" McKay looked at the military commander incredulously.
"It seemed like a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, particularly when he didn't know I'm the Phantom, and I'm not going to be the kind of guy who just kills someone because of what he is after he saved my life," John explained. "I've never killed a Wraith that wasn't actively trying to kill someone else in some way or another, and that particular Wraith had actually helped me escape and even restored me to full health when he couldn't have known help was coming; it wasn't a situation I'd ever imagined I'd be in, but I wasn't going to kill an ally just because he wasn't human."
"In any case," Elizabeth said firmly, "regardless of whether or not John was right to spare that Wraith back then, what matters right now is that this Wraith claims to have a matter of great importance he wanted to discuss with us. We have sent an advance team to the address proposed for the rendezvous, but the interesting detail is that it sounds remarkably like the planet described in McKay's vision."
"We're believing that now?" Ronon asked.
"Davos did know we were coming," Teyla observed.
"I take it you didn't ask him about the Athosians?" Elizabeth asked.
"I did not have the chance," Teyla admitted. "After he showed Rodney the vision, he fell ill."
"They were hoping we could help him out," John put in.
"I'll send Doctor Keller," Elizabeth said. "She could use more field experience."
"And we'll check out the rendezvous," John said, standing up with a smile, before turning to look at Woolsey as the IOA observer cleared his throat in a pointed manner. "You have something to say, Mr Woolsey?"
"Well, as I said to Doctor Weir, I'm here strictly as an observer-"
"Which doesn't mean you have to stay silent; talk."
"Very well," Woolsey said, sitting up more firmly in his seat. "I must question the wisdom of this decision; we hardly need mystical visions to know that this Wraith can't be trusted-"
"I know he can," John cut him off.
"Because of one incident?"
"Because of what I know of Wraith culture," John said. "I'm not denying that there are quite a few of them would be happy to kill us just because they enjoy feeding, but I've been fighting Wraith for five times longer than anyone else from Earth has even known they existed, and I have encountered a few who were willing to treat humans as more than just the next snack even if the human didn't have anything to offer them. I couldn't predict when I'd encounter them, but I knew when I'd met a Wraith who'd be willing to negotiate if the circumstances allowed me the time to talk, and this Wraith is definitely one of those."
"But you are proposing walking into a trap-"
"I don't think I am," John countered firmly. "I was put in charge of Atlantis's military forces because I know the enemy; you can't pick and choose when you want to take my advice about them."
Elizabeth might have to maintain her role as a professional semi-detached observer, but she was secretly proud to see John taking that kind of stand for his principles; this was the first she could remember that he'd tried to establish his command status outside of an immediate military threat, and he had done a fairly good job in her opinion.
Of course, there's a difference between making a point and making a good point, but John has to be allowed to test his instincts in these situations…
"This is a bad idea," McKay said as the team walked through the forests of M2R-411, McKay looking anxiously at their misty surroundings and moss-covered trees. With the scientist leading the way based on his vision, John walked just behind him, resisting the urge to scratch at his face; to ease identification when they met his old Wraith associate, he had chosen not to wear his mask or his usual make-up, but it still felt uncomfortable to be exposing his scars to open air like this.
"You're the one who said it was impossible to see the future," Ronon noted from his position at the back.
"Before I had everyone reminding me that we've met people who could do it before now…" McKay began, trailing off as they came to a set of ruins in a more open part of the forest. "And this is where it happened!"
As though those words had been a cue, Wraith guards emerged and took up position around the team, pointing stunners at the team as they raised their weapons in turn. It didn't take long for the familiar form of John's former fellow prisoner to walk up to join them, the star-tattoo around his eye as he looked thoughtfully between the four humans before his gaze settled on John.
"You were supposed to come alone," the Wraith said.
"Sorry about that," John shrugged, slightly lowering his own weapon as he looked at the Wraith, deciding to balance trust with caution while grateful he'd been able to argue against bringing a cloaked jumper as back-up. "You can understand that things are… difficult."
"Indeed," the Wraith said, looking back at John in an appraising manner. "Shall we consider these our… honour guard, I believe is a suitable term?"
"Works for me," John nodded, accepting the Wraith's brief acknowledgement that they had both brought guards to what was intended to be a private meeting. The Phantom would never have been able to arrange something like this because of his reputation for just killing Wraith whenever the chance arose, but John speculated that his apparent 'Wraithspawn' status gave this guy enough incentive to believe he was different.
"We shall speak over here," the Wraith indicated another part of the ruins. "Our guard will remain here to ensure our security."
Nodding in acknowledge, John shot a brief warning glance at the other three humans before he followed the Wraith to a section of the ruins that at least offered two intact walls joining at a corner, giving them a degree of privacy for their new talk.
"So," John said, turning to look at the Wraith (he'd have to work on finding a name for this guy soon; the tattoo made him easy to pick out from a crowd, but he needed a name that would roll more easily off the tongue), "what's the situation that prompted you to look for me?"
"I… require your help."
"Help?" John repeated, looking sceptically at the Wraith. "I mean, I could get behind that when we were in a situation where we were the only ones we could rely on in a facility full of enemies, but you're part of the Wraith fleet now; why would you need me?"
"As you know, the Wraith are at war," the Wraith said. "I believe you refer to our enemy as the Replicators."
"Some do; I think of them as the Asurans myself," John conceded. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"While we have a weapon- a virus that was designed to re-set their attack directive, causing them to stand down and return to their planet- at present it is not working."
"And that's a concern to me because?"
"It is well known among the Wraith that Doctor McKay of Atlantis made certain changes to the Replicator base code, opening the door for them to alter their own programming," the Wraith commander continued.
"In McKay's defence, he didn't know he'd give them that kind of insight," John observed.
"Regardless of his motives, they have since repaired the weakness our virus exploited," the Wraith affirmed. "As a result, in order to make the virus operational once again, I need to know the changes Doctor McKay made."
"OK, I understand that you're not exactly stupid, so can you clear up the part where I would actually agree to do this?" John asked. "I appreciate that not all Wraith are mindless animals, but I'm not exactly inclined to save them en masse like this."
"Only because you are unaware of their new tactic."
"This is the part I'm not going to like, right?"
"They have realised that we have a significant vulnerability in the form of our food supply," the Wraith affirmed. "They have begun to annihilate human worlds."
"Ah," John acknowledged. "Yeah, that is something we're going to be wanting to stop."
"As do we," the Wraith smiled. "You understand the reason for my contact now, I assume?"