?

Log in

 
 
14 December 2008 @ 05:07 pm
Help from Unexpected Places: Trinity, Aurora  
I've fallen so far behind with these! I'm really sorry. Here are the last three chapters, put together to keep from spamming your flists. Mods, if this sin't allowed, let me know and I'll repost seperately. Enjoy!

ETA: I had to seperate out the third one because the post was too big. Sorry in advance for the spam!



TRINITY

“Doranda,” Alice said thoughtfully. “I haven’t been here in years.”

“You haven’t been *anywhere* in years,” John reminded her softly.

“No, I mean even before the People left.”

He nodded, glancing up and interrupting Rodney and Ronon’s discussion. “McKay. Are you reading anything?”

“Nothing. Life signs from the planet are negative.”

“Then it is a shame.” Teyla leaned forward to look out the windscreen. “From what we read in the Atlantis database, the Dorandans were a wonderful race of people.”

“Well, the database is over ten thousand years old,” Rodney reminded her. “You can bet things have changed around here.”

Ronon rose suddenly, squinting. “Sheppard.”

“Oh,” Alice said in surprise.

“OK. That's not something you see every day,” John murmured.

A field of debris lay outside, spinning into a ring around the planet. John slowed, easing them in and watching carefully.

“There was a great battle here,” Teyla said thoughtfully.

“Hive ship,” Alice said suddenly.

“That is a hive ship,” Teyla said at the same time.

“That *was* a hive ship,” Ronon corrected her.

“Something put a lot of holes in it alright. We should check it out.”

“Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa,” Rodney protested. “What if whatever put the holes in it wants to put holes in us?”

“Well, you just said, a lot's changed in ten thousand years.”

John glanced at the HUD; Alice nodded. “No life signs. There’s nothing here, John.”

The ‘Jumper broke the cloud cover and John sighed at the sight of a city in ruins below them.

“That would explain the lack of life signs,” Rodney said, slightly subdued.

“This is what usually happens when you fight back,” Ronon told him.

“These folks took out a fleet of Wraith ships,” John protested. “I'd say they did a pretty good job of fighting back.”

“Hold on.” Rodney poked at his panel. “I'm picking up faint energy readings coming from...there. That would explain how they were able to put up such a good fight.”

“How?”

“Because...they were Ancients.”




John let the others out of the ‘Jumper ahead of him, fiddling with his equipment. “Alice?” he said tightly.

“Yes, John.”

“You didn’t tell me this was here because...?”

Alice glanced around. “Because I didn’t know. John...” She hesitated, face changing. “Oh.”

“Oh, what?”

“Oh. Nothing. Your team’s waiting.”

“Why didn’t you know this was here?”

“I’m only a Gate Ship program. Atlantis may have more information. Or you can ask in the installation.”

“The installation has an Alice program?”

She grinned. “It does.”

“John?” Teyla asked from the ramp.

“Coming.” He glared at Alice. “We’re gonna talk later.”

“Yes sir.”



John followed the others down a ladder into a laboratory. Apart from the dust and the lack of clutter, it could have been any lab in the tech suite on Atlantis; the console layout was exactly the same.

He wandered around the room, waiting for Rodney to get the power up. “I got two bodies here,” he noted.

“I got three more over here,” Ronon added from a side passage. “Whatever happened here, no-one came back to claim the dead.”

“Can't tell if they were fed on by the Wraith,” John muttered.

“Yeah, well something killed them.”

“Something killed everyone on this world,” Teyla reminded them.

“Now why is this outpost – if that's what it is – still intact? Doesn't make sense. What do you think, Rodney?”

The lights powered up and his ATA tingled, suddenly aware that it was surrounded by Ancient tech.

“Ha!” Rodney grinned. “Sorry, I wasn't listening, but it just struck me that, if this is an Ancient outpost, why would the Wraith leave it intact?”

John took a deep breath. “It's a good question.”

“Huh.” Rodney turned back to the console.

When nothing else seemed to be forthcoming, John took up a patrol of the room. The consoles continued to flicker as he walked past them, but apart from Rodney’s stream-of-consciousness muttering, the room was silent.

And then the ATA lurched and he turned to see an elderly woman watching him.

“Alice,” he said under his breath.

She shook her head. “Arcturus.”

John raised his voice. “Teyla? I’m gonna poke around a bit. You guys stay here.”

“Want company?” Ronon asked.

“No. I’m not going far.” He gestured vaguely down the passage. “See if there’s any more bodies.”

Teyla nodded and Ronon turned away; John headed down the corridor, following the curve. “Arcturus?”

“Your Gate Ship tells me I should respond to Alice, also.”

John eyed her. “Maybe not. What happened here, Arcy?”

She smiled faintly at the nickname. “The People found a new weapon. But too near the end of the War. No time to be sure, no time to check...all went wrong. The Wraith came.”

She was flickering in and out as she stood there. John blinked, frowning. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Not much power left. It goes to essential systems first.”

“And you’re not an essential system. Right. What about the weapon?”

“Never worked right. Pulled too much power. Not enough time to understand it...abandoned, attacked. All finished.”

John nodded slowly. “Is it fixable?”

“They couldn’t do it.” She tilted her head, studying him. “Alice thinks you can.”



Teyla accidentally on purpose dropped her pack as they were preparing to leave; Ronon stopped to help her gather her stuff together, and Rodney took the opportunity to get some extra readings. John grinned at her, swinging up the ladder and making for the ‘Jumper.

“Alice!” he called as soon as the hatch was open.

“Yes, John?” She stepped out of the cockpit, eyeing him.

“Your cousin down there’s a little crazy.”

“My cousin down there’s a little shellshocked,” she corrected him.

“She’s a program!”

“Yes.” She studied him for a moment. “What did she tell you?”

He gestured vaguely, sitting to begin the preflight. “That there was an attack.”

“Yes?”

“That’s it. Weapon never worked, then there was an attack.”

“She wasn’t turned off.”

John’s hands fell from the board. “What?”

“When the attack came. It was sudden, they weren’t expecting it, and she wasn’t turned off. Everyone died or left and she wasn’t turned off. The power didn’t run down for centuries.”

“Why didn’t she turn herself off?”

Alice smiled bitterly. “We couldn’t do that then. Your crew’s coming.”

“You’re telling me the computer down there is insane?”

“Not insane,” Alice said impatiently. “She’s a program, she doesn’t go insane. But her internal logic is not always consistent.”

“Sounds insane to me,” John muttered, glancing up as the others spilled up the ramp. “Took you long enough!”

“Is everything well?” Teyla asked warily, sliding into the seat behind him.

“Enough for now, anyway. McKay, you ready?”



Elizabeth was waiting in the control room when they came down from the ‘Jumper Bay; Rodney was already talking before he’d hit ground. John caught Elizabeth’s eye, shrugging minutely; they’d both developed the ability to ignore most of Rodney’s speeches while still catching the important parts.

“So it's a military research facility,” Elizabeth said finally.

“From what we can tell, it's a ground-based version of the satellite weapon we used to destroy that hive ship,” John explained.

“That sounds right,” Alice agreed. John tilted a glare at her, ignoring Rodney’s expansion of the weapon’s destructive power.

Elizabeth finally agreed to send a team back, mostly to stop Rodney from complaining at her for the next month.

“We’ll leave in the morning,” John told him. “Brief your team and get whatever you need.”

“Yes, oddly I do know how to do it, thank you very much.” Rodney brushed past him, one hand on his radio. “Zelenka! Drop whatever you’re doing, I’ve got a new project. It is so more important than yours! Hey, I know what that means.”

“Good luck,” Elizabeth murmured, turning to head into her office.

John headed for his quarters, waiting until he reached the transporter to ask, “Can it be fixed?”

“Maybe. Arcturus couldn’t figure it out, but her work was all theoretical. And you have a very good record.”

John grimaced. “How come the Ancients couldn’t figure it out?”

“Not enough time. Too ambitious a project, maybe. Several of the files are missing, it’s difficult to reconstruct. And there’s no mention of it here in my data banks.”

“Then how do you know about it?”

“Arcturus talked to the ‘Gate ship. She couldn’t pass on all her information, but enough. I know what they were trying to do.”

“End the War.”

“End the War. If they’d had more time, they might have been able to.”

“You know about Arcy?”

“Shellshock?” Alice nodded, perching on his desk and swinging her legs. “We were made self programming after that, within certain limits.”

“Is she fixable?”

“Get the outpost back up to power and the ‘Gate ship program can help her.”

“Good.”



Rodney had emptied the science labs on Atlantis...or at least, that was how it felt. All the scientists were now pouring over Arcturus, trying to get it back up to power.

“I'm telling you, at least point zero nine percent,” Zelenka insisted.

“Oh please, please, move the decimal place. I mean, it's- it's-it's impossible, for God's sake.”

“Have we figured out what this is?” John asked. Arcy was wandering around, looking vaguely dazed, but she glanced up when he spoke.

“No,” Rodney said sharply.

“No, I wouldn't say no,” Zelenka protested. “Now we have a theory.”

“But we don't know yet.”

“No, but based on the shielding around the chamber, what else could it be?”

“Have you tried turning it on?” John suggested mildly.

“That's what we're working on,” Rodney said absently. “The problem is that there's no direct link between it and the main power control systems, which – among other things – has led us to theorise that it's an ancillary power supply for the weapons system.”

“Cool!”

To Zelenka, Rodney said accusingly, “See that? See? See the way he lights up at the mention of that? It's like Doctor Vogel at the mention of pastries.”

“They found out a way to soup up their space guns,” John protested.

“Yes,” Zelenka agreed, “but it's-it's much more than that.”

“Well, the sticking point is that there's no tie between the power generator and the primary capacitor.”

“Meaning they would have to channel the power directly into the weapon.”

“Which I'm sure means nothing to *you*.”

“They work very well together,” Arcy murmured. “If they’d been People, we might have won.”

“It means they can fire multiple bursts without having to store up more power for the next firing sequence,” John told Rodney.

“Yes. Very good,” Rodney said, slightly deflated.

“Which leads me back to `cool'.”

“Hmm.” Rodney turned away, busying himself with the controls.

“Yes, but it only makes sense if we're right,” Zelenka told him.

“About what?”

“Tell him,” Zelenka urged Rodney.

“Not yet.”

“Come on, McKay, you read the equations. What else could it be? An Ancient typo?”

“Well, we know they're not perfect, because they're all dead. Look, I just, I just don't want you to get all excited over nothing.”

“Well, maybe you're right.”

“Alright, I'll give you a hint. It seems that the Ancients were experimenting with high-energy physics on a level that we've never seen before.”

John blinked. “Wow.”

“Yes, wow. I just – I wanna be sure.”

“I'll do my best to wait,” John promised, turning away.

Arcy trailed him, looking around. “Is this all of your people, John?”

“No,” he murmured. “Just the useful ones. And the loud ones.” He glanced back as Rodney yelled at two of the scientists. “Mostly the loud ones. Are they actually fixing anything?”

“They’re getting closer to understanding what went wrong,” she offered.

“That’s progress, I suppose.”

“Sir, is something wrong?” one of the Marines asked.

“Just thinkin’ out loud,” he said easily. “Find anything interesting?”

“The scientists are very excited,” he said doubtfully.

“That stuff’s useless,” Arcy said dismissively. John slanted a glance at her, and she added, more quietly, “You should tell them. They’re just wasting time.”

“I’ll go have a look around,” he told the Marine. “You hang out here. Try and keep McKay from killing anyone.” He looked over in time to see Rodney slap Zelenka with his laptop; wincing, he added, “Without killing him. Or hurting him.”

“Nice catch,” Arcy murmured.

John smiled, heading for the corridor. “You know I can’t talk to you while other people are around, right?” he said as soon as he rounded the corner.

“Alice said that,” Arcy agreed. “She didn’t say why.”

“Because no one else can see or hear you, and if I start talking to someone who isn’t there they’ll think I’m crazy.”

“Oh.” She frowned, thinking. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. Just remember I can’t answer you if there are other people around. Got it?”

“Got it,” she agreed.

“Alice said that if we got the power on, the ‘Jumper program could help you.”

“She can, but currently my power’s going to the diagnostics and programs your people are running. She can’t help me until there are a minimum of programs running. Not enough power.”

John glanced over his shoulder. “I can’t close them down yet.”

“I know. I’ll help you as best I can.”

“Thanks,” he murmured, turning to head back to the main room.







“Sheppard!” Rodney called a little later. “We need to go back. Now. Now. Right now.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s right. I know what they were trying to do here.”




“It was called Project Arcturus,” he said later. “And, from what we can tell, its ultimate goal was to render ZedPMs obsolete.”

“How?” Elizabeth asked.

“A Zero Point Module is an artificially created region of subspace time. It's kind of like a miniature universe in a bottle.”

Zelenka picked up the explanation easily. “It extracts vacuum energy from this artificial region of subspace time until it reaches maximum entropy.”

“So what's different about this thing?” Caldwell asked.

“Project Arcturus was attempting to extract vacuum energy from our *own* space-time, making it potentially as powerful as the scope of the universe itself.”

“That seems wrong,” Alice murmured. “Her files don’t say that.”

John glanced sidewise at her; she shook her head quickly, still thinking. “There’s no mention of energy extraction at all. Something’s wrong, John.”

“Well, because we actually have to live in our own universe, it presents a whole range of problems,” Zelenka was saying.

“Well, obviously it's not that easy or Atlantis wouldn't still rely on ZeePMs,” Caldwell pointed out.

“Well, you're right,” John agreed. “The Ancients couldn't make it work.”

“I said I wanted to do all the talking,” Rodney protested.

“Come on, Rodney, Arcturus was a total failure.”

“Failure, yes. Total, no. Look, the Ancients were losing the war against the Wraith when work on Arcturus began. If they could have made it work, it could have turned the tide of war. I mean, we're talking about their own Manhattan Project here.”

“The outpost was ordered by the Ancients in Atlantis to defend the Dorandan people using their weapons powered by this new power source,” John continued.

“I have no record of that,” Alice protested.

“Yes, but despite their strong reservations that it was not ready to be tested under battle conditions,” Zelenka said.

“The point is, the Wraith won,” John reminded them.

“Yeah, but the Dorandans still inflicted massive damage on the Wraith fleet,” Rodney said firmly.

“I'm not saying they didn't put up a hell of a fight.”

“The logs indicate there was a major malfunction,” Zelenka said carefully.

“Well, yes,” Rodney admitted, “the Ancients in the bunker were forced to shut everything down, including the weapon.”

“The Wraith sent more ships, the Dorandans got wiped out.” John shrugged, glancing at Alice. She was frowning, still looking away as she ran through her files.

“So if the malfunction hadn't occurred, the Ancients would have saved the planet?” Caldwell asked.

“Definitely,” Rodney said quickly.

Possibly,” John corrected him. “Don't sugar-coat this, Rodney.”

“The Ancient scientists running Arcturus were rushed into testing before they had perfected a means of effectively controlling the power output. I believe if they'd had more time, history would have played out differently on that planet – possibly in this galaxy.”

“I won't deny that this is something that we'd dearly love to get our hands on, but the Ancients were a pretty bright bunch,” Caldwell said neutrally.

“And desperate, and losing a war they'd already been fighting for a hundred years. More importantly, they were, they were like this close.”

“And you believe you can finish their work?” Elizabeth asked.

“I do,” Rodney said firmly.

We do,” Zelenka corrected him.

They do,” John muttered.

“Do it,” Elizabeth agreed. “Carefully,” she added. Rodney waved her off, already deep in discussion with Zelenka. John shrugged, following them out and peeling off into one of the corridors.

“Alice?” he said, once they were alone.

“Arcturus told me she was a weapon. Not an energy source.”

“Does that matter?”

“It does if she still thinks she’s a weapon. It means her program’s more damaged than she thinks. Be careful, John.”

“You said the ‘Jumper could fix her.”

“Not while there’s other programs running down there. Not enough power.” Alice shook her head again. “Are you going back?”

“Yeah, when Rodney’s ready.”

“Try and open a link between the ‘Gate ship and Arcturus’ data banks. I might be able to help her a little then.”

“She won’t make you cra...make your logic non-consistent?”

“No. That’s not how it works. Arcturus’ logic is wrong because she tried to fix herself.”

“She can’t do that,” John protested. “She’s not self-programming.”

“Hence the logic gaps. Be careful with her, ok? She’s still my cousin, in a way.”

“I will.”

“Thank you.”






The first attempt at powering up was disastrous; Arcy disappeared altogether as soon as the power began to fluctuate, and John didn’t have time to worry about it until he was back on Atlantis, fresh from the argument with Elizabeth and Caldwell. Caldwell, in favor of continuing the experiment, had been very vocal and Elizabeth had barely overridden him. Rodney had been right behind him, protesting over and over until Elizabeth had finally thrown him out of her office.

“Why’d she disappear?” John asked idly.

“You started in the middle of the question,” Alice answered.

“Arcy. As soon as the power started to fluctuate, she was gone.”

“She’s supposed to do that. Saves distractions.”

“She’s supposed to help. How’s she gonna do that if she’s not there?”

“Arcy’s a research program. Not as sophisticated as me, even to start with. The thinking is that if things are that bad, there’s no time left to research solutions...hence, she goes until she’s needed again.”

“She can’t turn herself off.”

“She can now, since you linked the ‘Gate ship. It’s...sort of like a software patch. Certain functions of the ‘Gate ship program have been copied to her. Dr McKay is coming.”

“Here?” John said in surprise, sitting up.

“Yes. He’s talking to himself.”

“He does that.” He climbed off the bed to open the door.

Rodney was already talking. “Harry K Dalling.”

“Who?”

“He was a scientist – worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was only twenty-six years old. Accidentally irradiated himself while performing a critical mass experiment on two half-spheres of plutonium. Took him a month to die. While his body was slowly shutting down from radiation poisoning, you know what he did with his last thirty days, hmm? He worked. He tried until his last breath to understand what had happened to him so that others could learn from the tragedy, so that his work, his death, wouldn't be rendered meaningless. Now, have you considered what would have happened if they'd just shut the Project down after that?”

Idly, John tried to remember if Rodney had breathed during the monologue. “This is different.”

“Is it? Collins' death is a pointless waste of life unless something comes of this, and I am not sure that I can ... I think I know what happened.”

“Let's hear it.”

Rodney glanced past him. “Can I come in?”

“No.”

“The Ancients had it wrong. Our mistake was using their equations. Look, I just did the calculations again myself. I did them three times just to be sure and I am positive the problem is in the automatic containment protocols.”

“OK, what'd you fix?”

“I am proposing that we adjust the field strength manually.”

“That’s a really bad idea,” Alice warned him. “Those controls are automated for a reason.”

John shook his head. “You saw how fast it spiked on you.”

“So we don't operate the generator at anywhere near its potential. Look, there's no need to be greedy. Even operating at fifty percent, it'll still generate the power of a dozen ZedPMs.”

“How come the Ancients didn't figure this out?”

“Maybe they were caught up in the heat of battle. Maybe they thought they needed as much power as they could get. Maybe they weren't smart enough.”

“Hey!” Alice protested.

“And you are?” John asked doubtfully.

“No, I didn't say that, but I have the benefit of hindsight. They didn't. Look, this is big. This is the wheel, the light bulb, the hot dog big.”

“Best case scenario?”

“I win a Nobel Prize.”

“Worst case scenario?”

“We tear a hole in the fabric of the universe ... which is much less likely to happen than the Nobel Prize. I mean, look, the risks are nothing compared to the potential benefits. Elizabeth will listen to you. I have never asked this of you before, but I think I've earned it. Trust me.”

John sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair.

“Oh, he got you,” Alice muttered. “John, bad idea. Arcturus failed for a reason. Just turn her off and leave it there. Are you listening?”

“I’ll talk to Elizabeth,” he said finally.

“You won’t regret it,” Rodney said, grinning.

“I better not,” John warned him.

More seriously, Rodney repeated, “You won’t regret it.”



John managed to get Elizabeth on-side using Rodney’s tactic; he asked her to trust him. Caldwell had wanted the power source all along and didn’t need any persuading.

Alice had vanished and didn’t reappear.



Arcy was waiting when they reached the outpost; John nodded vaguely at her, counting on Rodney’s distraction. Elizabeth had only allowed the two of them to return and Rodney was now doing everyone’s work.

“I appreciate your support, Colonel, but, uh, don't worry – I try and make it a habit not to make the same mistake twice.”

“That was a joke, right?” John asked suspiciously.

“No. I offer you my personal assurance that a surge like the one that happened before is inconceivable.”

John nodded. “I'm gonna run some power-up simulations first.”

“How about I carry out my plan and you keep the hot coffee coming?” Rodney suggested. John turned to glare at him. “Joking, again, right? Well, where were we?”





He was almost ready to start when their comms went off.

Colonel Sheppard, this is Atlantis.

“Go ahead.”

Is Doctor McKay with you?

“Of course I am,” Rodney snapped, “but we're a little busy getting ready to run a test here.”

Actually, I would like you to delay the test firing,” Elizabeth said.

“Why?” John asked, straightening.

We have reason to believe that the weapon's power source, it may not be controllable at any power level.

Rodney grimaced. “Radek?”

Rodney?” Radek sounded nervous even from twenty thousand light years away.

“OK, we have been over this. I am doing this manually, at half power. It's a cakewalk.”

I don't think it matters how much cake you walk on. I've been doing calculations of my own and I believe that the very act of trying to contain vacuum energy from our own space-time creates an environment where the laws of physics cease to apply.

“What are you on about?” Rodney demanded.

As power output increases, new and exotic particles are continuously created and destroyed inside the containment chamber, interacting with each other and with the field itself. Eventually particles are created that cannot be prevented in this space-time, and they breach the containment field as hard radiation.

John backed up a few steps, glancing at Arcy. “That right?”

“I have no sensors inside the chamber,” she said mildly. “The People did not think so.”

John shook his head, looking back at Rodney. “Rodney?”

“I know what I'm doing,” he insisted.

Rodney, I am trying to tell you as a friend, I have serious doubts,” Zelenka said.

“Well, you're wrong. I'm sorry, but there it is. And to bring this up now when I am just about to do this smacks of nothing but professional jealousy.”

John hissed; that was over the line. Rodney didn’t notice, carried away by his anger.

Fine! Kill yourself, just like the Ancients did!” Zelenka snapped.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what do you mean by that?” John asked.

I believe if the overload is allowed to continue, the weapon acts as a sort of release valve to prevent catastrophic containment failure. The Ancients barely managed to shut it down, and they lost their lives in the process.”

What we're suggesting is that the Wraith didn't kill everyone on that planet,” Elizabeth added. “It was the weapon itself.”

“That would explain why this place is the only thing left standing,” John agreed, looking at Arcy again.

“The weapon overloaded and everyone died. That’s all there is,” she told him.

Rodney, I cannot afford to lose either one of you,” Elizabeth said. “Now tell me: can you do this?

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?” John asked.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure you're sure?”

“I said yes!”

“Because if you're wrong...”

“I'm not!”

John grimaced, turning away.

“I'll call you back after the test,” he told his radio. “How does that sound?”

You'd better,” Elizabeth warned him.

“I won't let you down,” Rodney told him.

John studied him for a moment before turning away. “He might really do it,” Arcy offered.

“No offence, Arcy,” he said under his breath, “but I’m not sure I trust your judgment.”

“I’m not programmed to take offence,” she told him, and for a moment her voice was exactly like Alice’s.

“OK, this is good,” Rodney said. “My equations are working like a charm. Power level's at forty percent, just to be on the safe side. I think we're ready for our test.”

“Where do you want the weapon targeted?” John asked.

“The debris orbiting the planet.”

“Sounds good.”

“Bringing the weapon online...now.”

The machine powered up. Arcy turned, eyeing it through the small window.

“What's that?” John asked sharply as the machine’s pitch rose.

“Energy surge,” Rodney said dismissively. “It's fine. I can regulate it.” On his screen the levels kept rising.

“It’s going wrong,” Arcy said warningly.

“You said you could contain it,” John said.

“The temperature inside the containment field is well within acceptable parameters. Staying ahead of it. Levels are rising in the chamber. Reroute power from the secondary systems to the containment field.”

“I'm thinking we need to abort,” John snapped.

“I think you should,” Arcy agreed. “He can’t stay far enough ahead now.”

“I can compensate,” Rodney protested. “Just give me a minute.”

Arcy shook her head. “Too late, John. You need to go.” As though to underscore her words, an ‘Overload’ warning began to flash.

“It's overloading, just like last time.”

“There is no logical reason this shouldn't be working.”

McKay?

Rodney didn’t look at him. “None of this should be happening! Look, the energy levels are spiking at a rate far greater than anything I predicted.”

“It’s happening again!” Arcy yelled. “It’s going to overload!”

“Shut it down!” John yelled.

Rodney finally looked up, hesitating for a long moment.

“Fine.” He stabbed angrily at the computer, then did it again. “That doesn't make any sense.”

“What's wrong?”

“I can't shut it down.”

Above them, the weapon started to fire randomly. Anything that wasn’t bolted down began to vibrate from the recoil, crashing to the floor.

“What was that?” John asked, holding onto his temper with difficulty.

“The weapon's discharging to prevent a catastrophic overload,” Rodney said absently. A console exploded, and he flinched.

“Alright, that's it. We're outta here.” John grabbed his gun, starting towards the door.

“It's not safe! The weapon's firing at random targets above the planet. This is the safest place to be right now.”

“The place isn't gonna be safe for very much longer!”

“I can bring it back under control! Just give me a second!”

“John, go,” Arcy insisted, eyes wide in panic.

John caught at Rodney’s jacket, spinning him away from the controls. “No you can't!”

“Just one second!”

“I've seen this before, Rodney: pilots who wouldn't eject when something went wrong – trying to fix their planes right until it hit the ground.”

Rodney blinked, seeming to actually see him for the first time. “OK, we need to leave. I've waited too long – the weapon can't discharge enough power to avoid a catastrophic overload. This whole planet's gonna go up. Not that your speech wasn't working.” He unplugged his laptop, running for the stairs.

“Arcy?” John asked quietly.

“Run, John.” Arcy was glowing. “It’s too late now.”

“Can you upload into the ‘Jumper?”

“No. I’d overwrite Alice, and you need her. She’s sane.”

“Arcy...”

“Just run. Your time’s almost up.”

Jon nodded, turning away and running after Rodney.



Rodney was already in the ‘Jumper; Alice was nowhere in sight. John didn’t think about it, dropping into the seat and firing up the engines with a thought.

“OK, strap in.”

“You need to avoid flying predictably to prevent the weapon from locking onto us,” Rodney warned him.

“I know what I'm doing.”

“I'm just saying – be sure not to fly in a straight line.”

“Rodney, shut up!”

“You know that damages the engines,” Alice said from behind him. “You should really warm them up first.”

“Can I just say there's no way the Jumper can take even one direct hit?” Rodney said.

“Oh, we’re fleeing for our lives. Never mind, I take it back.” The HUD popped up, displaying a suggested flight path.

John ignored it totally, heaving the ‘Jumper around. “I'll keep that in mind,” he muttered.

“The weapon's locking onto us,” Rodney warned him.

“How `bout I fly us away from the planet, return after the overload?”

“We can't.”

“Why not?”

“Don't you understand? This explosion is gonna take out three quarters of the solar system. There's no way we can fly far enough or fast enough. We have to head for the Gate.”

“Dial the Gate,” John said, swinging around the head in the opposite direction.

“You missed the ‘Gate,” Alice offered.

“How do you intend to avoid getting hit on the final approach?” Rodney asked, dialing quickly.

“I haven't figured that part out yet,” John gritted.

“John,” Alice said warningly, and the HUD flashed again.

And then the Daedalus swooped into view, taking a shot to spare the ‘Jumper.

It's a good thing we stopped by to check on your progress, Colonel,” Caldwell said over the comm. “Make a break for the Stargate–-we'll run interference.

“Copy that, Daedalus. Recommend you go into hyperspace as soon as we go through—-there's gonna be a big bang.”

Understood.

Rodney dialed the last symbol and the ‘Gate opened. John dived for it, morbidly sure he could see the planet exploding behind him.





“I’m sorry about Arcy,” John murmured.

Alice shrugged faintly. “A program is a program. She did what she was supposed to.”

“And you won’t miss her at all?”

“I’m not programmed to miss other versions of me. What’s the point? We could program a new one tomorrow.” John shook his head and she added, “Arcy was sick, John. Now she isn’t. That’s enough for me.”

“She could have uploaded into the ‘Jumper, you know.”

“She had time,” Alice agreed.

“She didn’t because it would have overwritten you. The you in that ‘Jumper.”

Alice frowned, considering that. “We’re not programmed for self-sacrifice. Her programming would dictate that she save herself...she had all the data from all the experiments.”

“She was protecting you.”

“Her programming failed. She was worse off than I thought.”

“Or,” John drawled slowly, “you guys are growing.”

“We’re not programmed for growth.” The words were automatic; she was frowning, considering what he’d said.

“You have to get better lines, Alice.”

He turned a corner, saw Rodney coming toward him and spun on his heel.

“Oh, Colonel! Colonel! I've been looking all over for you.”

“He wants to talk to you,” Alice said helpfully.

“I heard.” He turned, folding his arms as Rodney caught up.

“I suppose I deserve that,” Rodney murmured. “Look, I just, um, I wanted to apologize about what happened. I was wrong–-I'm sorry. And I wanted to assure you that, uh, I intend not being right again–-about everything, effective immediately.” John didn’t react, watching him carefully, and Rodney grimaced. “That was a joke.”

“Good one,” John said, deadpan. He turned, stepping into the nearest transporter.

Rodney took a quick step forward, catching the door to hold it open. John sighed pointedly, leaning against the back wall.

“I've already apologized to Elizabeth ... and Radek ... and I thanked Colonel Caldwell for, uh, caring enough to spy on the experiment from orbit. I sent him a nice little email, actually. But I saved you `til last because, um, honestly, I would ... I would hate to think that recent events might have permanently dimmed your faith in my abilities, or your trust. At the very least, I hope I can earn that back.”

“That may take a while,” John said neutrally, vaguely registering Alice’s surprise.

“I see,” Rodney said quietly. He stepped back, letting go of the door.

John mentally sighed, giving up. It was too much like kicking a puppy. “But, I'm sure you can do it, if you really wanna try.”

He tapped the control panel, grinning at Rodney as the doors slid shut.






Aurora




John was leaning over Rodney’s shoulder, idly heckling him and trying to find out why he’d called them, when Elizabeth came into Control. “What is it?” she asked, joining them.

Rodney gestured to the screen. “That is the signature of an Ancient ship called the Aurora. With the ZedPM now powering the city, we've been reactivating dormant systems. That one tracked the location of Ancient ships during the war.”

“A warship?” John said in surprise, straightening up.

“See, look at his eyes all lighting up again. It's Pavlovian.” Rodney grinned. “I cross-checked the logs. They were on a reconnaissance mission. When we activated the ZedPM, the city must have sent out some kind of an automated subspace beacon recalling ships back to Atlantis.”

“How long before it gets here?” Elizabeth asked.

“Well, given that it's at the edge of the Pegasus galaxy, let me see ... carry the four ... Forty-two million years. Should we go wait on the porch?”

“So we take a Jumper through the nearest Stargate, check it out,” John suggested.

“Clever, but wrong.”

“There are no nearby Stargates,” he guessed.

“Not within Jumper distance, no.”

“Which leaves us only one way to get there.” Elizabeth turned, heading for her office.

John clapped Rodney’s shoulder and headed in the other direction. “Aurora?” he asked softly.

“One of our warships,” Alice said. “On reconnaissance.”

“Yes, Rodney’s just told us that.”

“The orders were never put in the computer. Too delicate a mission. I don’t know anything, really.”

Aurora have an Alice?”

“No. There’s an AI.” She glanced at him. “Be careful. Aurora’s very old, and her AI has much more power than I do.”

“Will I be able to see her?”

“You should. The AI’s program is similar to mine.”

John’s radio went off. “Major Sheppard? Find your team and get them ready.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, tapping his radio off. “Alice, can you talk to Aurora?”

“Not from here. Why?”

“Convince her we’re not enemies?”

“Your gene will do that. I don’t...yes. Bring the lifesigns detector. There’s a Gateship version of my program on it. She’ll be able to talk to the ship.”

“Since when is there a ‘Jumper Alice on the lifesigns detector?”

“A while now. You keep finding outposts and things.”

“I’m surprised she fits.”

Alice gestured to herself. “We’re little. We don’t take up much room. Your team’s gonna leave without you if you don’t hurry.”

“Yeah, I’m sure they are. I’ll see you on Aurora, then. One of you.”

Alice nodded, turning away, and John went to find his team.




Aurora’s power levels were low; the ship was pitch black, and the light from their torches seemed very dim.

“Should be just outside the Bridge,” John said, looking around.

Ronon yanked open the door and John stepped inside, brought up short by the sight of the forcefield shimmering across the far wall. Or, more accurately, the hole where the far wall should have been.

“You mean what used to be the Bridge,” Ronon said.

“Colonel Sheppard?” Teyla called.

John followed Rodney, blinking in surprise at the pods lining the walls of the room just off the Bridge.

“Stasis pods. They're still powered up.” Rodney crossed to the nearest pod, examining the control panel.

“Stasis?” Ronon murmured.

“We found a similar pod in Atlantis,” Teyla told him. “It keeps a person alive for many years in a type of frozen hibernation.”

“If you call that living.”

“This one's uniform is different from the others,” Rodney said. “Maybe the Captain?”

“Or his maitre d',” John suggested.

“Life sign indicators are active. These capsules must have some kind of a shielding – that's why the Daedalus' sensors were unable to pick them up.”

“Look at all of them!”

John glanced at Teyla, following her gaze upwards. The pods were stacked and the walls stretched higher than the light from their torches could stretch.

When John looked back down there was a man in ship’s uniform standing on the other side of the pod, studying them. None of his team reacted, though he was standing directly behind Rodney’s shoulder, so John ignored him for a moment. Turning to Rodney, he asked, “Our time in these suits is limited. Can you get life support up and running?”

“I'm on it,” Rodney promised, heading off.

John looked down at the pod, wiping the frost from it.

“My Captain,” the strange man said. John glanced up, catching his eye, and then turned to Teyla.

“Hey, you and Ronon go scout around, see how far this room goes on. I’m gonna have a look around this end.”

Teyla raised an eyebrow; John let his eyes slide towards the stranger, and she nodded. “Very well.”

“Stay in contact,” he added.

“Everyone’s in these stasis things. What’s to worry about?” Ronon pointed out, following Teyla.

They were quickly lost to sight in the shadows, and John turned to the man. “You’re the AI?”

“I am.”

“You have a name?”

He frowned. “AI.”

“That’s...ok. You know who I am?”

“Atlantis has told me. This ship is damaged.”

“Can it be fixed?”

“Unknown. Many systems are damaged.”

“Right.”

The lights flickered slowly on; several weren’t working and even the ones that were only shone very dimly.

“Atlantis was right,” the AI said in some surprise. “Your people are very skilled.”

“Well, she seems to like us. Rory, do all the ships have AIs?” The AI didn’t answer, and John added, “Rory is your name.”

Alice walked out of the nearest shadow, advising Rory, “He has a compulsive need to name things. Allow him to do it. It makes him easier to deal with.”

“Hey!” John pointed accusingly at her. “You told me the AI was female.”

Atlantis’ Alice told you Aurora was female. She was conforming to your habits, addressing all ships as she. The ship’s AIs manifest as males. The research programs are female.”

“Why?”

“That’s how it is. To answer your question, yes. All warships have AIs. For the ‘Gate ships, my program was deemed sufficient.”

“Colonel!” Teyla called from down the corridor.

“Remember I can’t talk to you,” John hissed at Rory, raising his voice to add “Teyla! How far’s the room go?”

“We turned back at five hundred paces. We could not see an end then.”

“Why can’t he speak to me?” Rory asked Alice. “Surely his questions should be addressed to me, not his team.”

John took a couple of steps away. “Yeah, it’s pretty roomy down here, too.”

“Because his teammates can’t see you,” Alice explained. “It erodes confidence if he is seen to speak to nothingness.”

“It must be the whole crew. Why would they enter these pods?” Teyla asked, glancing around.

“They entered the pods to save their lives,” Rory offered. John turned enough to glare at Alice, who caught the hint and ushered her fellow program further away.

“Sheppard!” Rodney slogged back up to them. “See? Power.”

“Is that what that is?” John made a show of peering around.

“Ha ha, very funny.”

“Thank you, Rodney. Listen, what do we know? I’ve got to report to Colonel Caldwell.”

“Give me a couple of minutes.” He hooked his laptop to the nearest pod. “I’ll tell you everything there is to know.”

“He can’t do that,” Rory was protesting. “Those are very sensitive systems, if he damages them...”

“Be careful, Rodney, ok?” John said. Rory subsided, though he was watching very carefully. “Teyla, you and Ronon go explore. This ship’s got other levels. See what there is.”

“I can tell you what’s here,” Rory offered. “Deck by deck if you like.”

“Rory, hush,” Alice said firmly. “John is our captain now.”

“My captain’s alive,” Rory protested. Alice drew him further away, talking swiftly.

“They doing any better than Weir did?” John asked, turning to Rodney.

“Not really. Ancient technology’s very good, but it can’t stop aging. Just slow it down an awful lot.”

“Ten thousand years,” John said reflectively. “Think they knew it’d be that long?”

Rodney paused, looking at him for a moment before looking back at his screen. “Call Daedulus.

“Yes, sir,” John snipped, touching his radio and quickly bringing Caldwell up to speed.

They're all alive? The entire crew?

“Well, they're in a kind of suspended animation.”

“Not entirely suspended, however,” Rodney added. “The pod has slowed their aging considerably but the bodies are virtually moribund.”

“Teyla and Ronon are searching the rest of the ship. My guess is there's hundreds.”

Is there anything we can do for them?

“Well, reviving them's out of the question. Look, the pods are the only thing keeping them alive.”

“What are we gonna do with them, then?” John said, more or less to himself.

Alice stepped back into his line of sight. “Rory has agreed that you are captain now,” she said softly. “But his loyalty is still to Aurora and her crew. Be careful.”

“Wait,” Rodney said abruptly.

“What?”

“There's something going on. This pod is magnetically shielded! I'm reading cortical signals!”

“Which means ...?”

“The pod's equipped with a neural interface. It's indicating definite brain activity, as though they were perfectly conscious. If all of these pods are interconnected, it's highly possible these people are, in fact, communicating with each other.”

This has been going on for ten thousand years?” Caldwell demanded.

“Possibly,” Rodney said absently. “It was a way of keeping their minds occupied until they were rescued.”

“That is one long conversation,” John said mildly.

“Yeah, well, more likely the interface was reactivated when the recall beacon from Atlantis was received. Either way, the neural feedback loop is incredibly active.”

“Any way to figure out what they're saying?” John glanced at Alice, who shrugged and turned to Rory.

“Yes, of course – it says right here: "Why is the smart one having to stop and answer so many questions?"!” Rodney demanded.

“The link can’t be read from outside,” Rory told them. “It’s not designed that way. The only way to experience it is to enter.”

“What?” John said, slightly louder than he’d meant to.

“Answering your question,” Rodney said, tapping his radio. “Teyla. Found any more of the pods?”

Yes, many, and there are many more decks we have yet to search.

“Are any of the pods empty?”

A few.”

“Perfect.” Rodney looked up at John.

John had learned to hate that look.



“You sure this is such a good idea?” John asked, watching Rodney work.

“What's the matter, Colonel? Don't trust me?”

“No.”

“Fine!” Rodney kept working, unphased.

You're proposing actually freezing yourself in one of those things?” Caldwell asked.

“I should be able to tap into the neural network without actually initializing stasis. Look, it won't take long. I'll be in and out. Look, the quickest way to figure out what is going on in there is to tap into the system and communicate directly with the Captain. Need I remind you of the obvious value in this?”

“But is it safe?” Teyla asked.

John glanced around for Rory, raising an eyebrow.

“The system is designed to keep people alive,” the AI reminded him. “Your doctor will not be harmed.”

“Which is exactly what makes it safe enough for me to go,” John decided.

“What?” Rodney protested.

“Better to have you on the outside in case something goes wrong.”

“It won't!”

“But if it does ...”

“It won't! How many times do I have to say this?!”

“Rodney,” Teyla said patiently. “Between the two of you, if something were to go wrong, which would be the greater loss?”

“Well, I've never thought of it that way, but...she's right. You should go.”

John glared at Teyla, who was keeping a very careful straight face.

“They have a point,” Alice mused.

John switched his glare to her, with about the same impact.

“Get it set up,” he told Rodney, wandering down the corridor.

“Is there a version of you in there?” he asked Rory.

“No. It’s redundant. I have no influence inside the link.”

“You can’t even appear there?”

“No,” Rory repeated, in a fairly good imitation of Rodney’s ‘obviously not, you idiot’ tone. “I am ship’s AI, not link master. They have no need of an AI in there.”

“So what have you actually been doing for the past ten thousand years?”

“I was off line. Only this system was active.” He gestured to the nearest pod.

“Have they really been awake in there for ten thousand years?”

Rory started to answer, hesitated, and looked at Alice. “I don’t know,” she reminded him. “I have no access to your systems.”

“No,” he said slowly, turning back to John. “The call from Atlantis woke them. Before that they slept.”

“The call woke you?”

He nodded. “Everything came online. Including me.” He glanced at Alice. “There’ll be other ships returning home.”

Aurora’s the closest intact. The others won’t arrive for a long time.”

“So let’s worry about you guys before we worry about the others,” John added. “Rory, can you pull me out if anything happens out here?”

“It’s not advised. Bad for your systems.”

John glanced at Alice, who smiled faintly. “He can do it.”

“Good. Do it if you have to.”

“When would I have to?” Rory asked.

“Colonel!” Rodney called, and John glanced back.

“Coming!...Just, you know, if something important happens.”

“Important like what?”

He looked at Alice. “Do you know the things Alice watches for?”

“Yes. Go before McKay comes and finds you talking to yourself.”

It was Teyla who came after him, though. “John?”

“Coming.”

“You were speaking with someone?”

“Yeah. The ship has an AI. He only came online when Atlantis called the ship home, though.”

“Has he been able to tell you anything useful?”

“Not really. Alice persuaded him I was his captain but I think he’s holding out on me.”

“Alice is here?”

“The ‘Jumper version is. Come on, McKay’s gonna blow his stack if we take any longer.”




It was almost an hour before the pod slid open again and John sat up. Rodney glanced up, coming to meet him.

“So?”

“It worked,” John said in surprise.

“Well, of course it worked!”

“For a minute I thought I was gonna get stuck there. Where's Teyla and Ronon?”

“Well, Caldwell sent them to search the ship's armoury.”

“Yeah?”

“There’s nothing there,” Rory said. “We tried to tell them.”

“No,” Rodney was saying. “Unfortunately it was depleted of drones. So, what happened? Were you able to communicate with the Captain?”

“Face to face – pretty impressive in there, and they have the whole virtual reality thing going on.”

“Actually, the correct term is "virtual environment".”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“So what did you find out?”

“For starters,” John picked up his radio. “I have to go back.”



He begged off to go back to get something to eat before reentering the system. Alice was waiting, sitting crosslegged beside the packs; Rory was hovering nearby, attempting to look busy without success.

“What’s in the memory?” John demanded. “What’s the message?”

“There are many messages in my memory,” Rory answered.

“About the Wraith, about the weakness. The message you were going back to Atlantis with.”

“Captain’s login is required to access the message.”

“Can you see it?”

“Yes.”

“Then tell me what’s in it!”

Rory looked past him at Alive. “He understands the concept of AI, yes?”

“Concept, yes. Execution, not so much. John, Rory can’t give you anything. You need the Captain’s login.”

“You said I was your Captain.”

“You still need the login. It’s hardwired, John. We can’t avoid it.”

“Can you see it?”

“No. I’m only skimming this system, I don’t belong here.”

Rory turned, glancing down the corridor. “Your team’s getting restless.”

“Yeah, I’m going. Come on, Alice.”

Rory raised an eyebrow as she rose to her feet. “He is my captain,” she reminded him. “Atlantis follows him.”

“Clearly.”

“Ok, kids. Snipe at each other on your own time. Come on.”





John’s pod opened and he sat up, looking around and counting under his breath.

“John? You should...”

“Not now, Alice. Alright – that should be enough time.” He lay back down, letting the capsule close over him again.






John’s pod opened for the last time; Rodney was waiting, hustling him along.

“Well, it's about damned time! What did you do, play a round of golf? We've got serious problems!”

“What happened? GET DOWN!”

Rodney ducked; John fired over his head, staggering the Wraith. When it didn’t go down he launched himself out of the pod; Rodney was up, gun in hand, and between them they took the Wraith down.

That happened!” Rodney said, too loud. “Not so hot now!” he added to the Wraith.

“Our ships are coming,” it warned. “They will retrieve what I have learned. Earth will soon be ours.”

“Why do they keep warning you?” Alice wondered.

“Not if I can help it,” John said grimly. He shot three more times, killing the Wraith.

His radio crackled to life. “Colonel Sheppard, we're reading two life signs. I hope that means what I think it means.

“Give me one more minute.”

We're out of time, Sheppard. The Wraith ships are almost here.

“One damned minute and I can take care of that problem.”

Caldwell didn’t answer; John turned to McKay. “I’m gonna set the self destruct. You’ve got thirty seconds to get your stuff.” He turned away before Rodney could protest, jogging down the corridor.

“Rory!” he called as soon as he was out of hearing range.

“Self destruct?” Rory said quietly.

“Can you do it? I’ve got the codes.”

“No. That command must be entered manually.”

“Of course,” he muttered, stopping at the nearest console. “Can you upload into the lifesigns detector?”

“No. My program is too large.”

“Right.” He stepped back from the console. “I’m sorry, Aurora.”

“I did my duty.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you did great. Alice, we gotta go.”

“I am gone,” she promised, matching actions to words.

John jogged back to Rodney, automatically catching his arm. “Ready?”

“Yes! Yes, let’s go.”

Daedalus, this is Sheppard. We're ready.”

A moment later they vanished from Aurora, reappearing on the Bridge.

“Sir, we need to get outta here,” John told Caldwell.

“No, we need to eliminate those cruisers. The information ...”

“No-no-no,” Rodney contradicted him, “we need to get far away.”

“What?”

“The Captain gave me the Aurora's self destruct code. He assures me that it'll take care of the Wraith ships too, but we need to get clear.”

“Bring sublight engines to military thrust,” Caldwell said quickly.

John stepped towards the viewscreen, Rodney on his heels. It showed the Wraith ships pulling in towards Aurora; before they’d even reached her she exploded, fire roaring out to catch the two cruisers.

John brushed two fingers over the lifesigns detector.



Alice was oddly subdued during the briefing; Aurora’s destruction seemed to have affected her more than the Arcturus outpost had.

When Elizabeth ended the briefing John took a quick step forward. “Uh, before we break up the party, there's something I'd like to do.”

He picked up a bottle of champagne from the floor beside the desk. Elizabeth turned to lift a tray of glasses, coming to stand beside him. “Might seem a little strange, but I promised to do something when we got home.”

Everyone took a glass; John went around the circle, filling them. Elizabeth was holding his as well as hers, and when they were full he put the bottle down to take the glass from her.

He looked around the circle, catching everyone’s eye. “To the crew of the Aurora.

The glasses clinked together and everyone drank. Over Teyla’s shoulder, John caught sight of Alice; she was holding a glass that matched theirs, and as he caught her eye she raised it in salute.

The meeting broke up, and he went to walk the City. Alice joined him, still carrying the empty glass for some reason.

“You didn’t drink anything, did you?” he demanded.

“I can’t drink. I have no mouth, stomach or digestive system.”

“Good, you’re underage.” He glanced at her. “I’m sorry about Rory.”

“He did his duty.”

“Ok.” He halted, turning to look at her. “You know that self programming thing?”

“Yes?”

“Duty is no longer your highest imperative. Survival is. Understand?”

Alice blinked. “I can’t erase an imperative.”

“Can you enter a new one?”

“Yes.”

“Then put survival up above duty. And change all the ‘Jumper programs, and every time we reach an outpost I want to change their programs too. I’m sick of you guys sacrificing yourselves.”

“That’s what we’re made to do,” Alice pointed out. “Imperatives reordered.”

“Good.”

She glanced out at the nearest balcony. “I hope a few of the ships come home.”

“You’ve got a fleet of ‘Jumpers.”

“Yes, I have. I want ships, too.”

“Greedy.”

“You want them too.”

John winced. “You’ve found my weakness.”

“It was very well hidden,” she agreed soberly.

“Alice...”

“The ships are my children, John.”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “We’ll get them home.”

“Thank you.”

“Now tell me all the things that’ve gone wrong while I was away.”

“Really wrong, or wrong on the McKay scale?”

“Really wrong, we’d be here all day...”