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Stage VIII: Awake

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*~ Time spent with cats is never wasted.~ Sigmund Freud*

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Diana Reid waited on the Stargate deck, both her grandbabies in a stroller Atlantis had kindly constructed for the twins. As Spencer gave his kids kisses, and embraced his mom, she bravely controlled her tears, and merely nodded, her chin set. So proud of her heroic son. So very proud of her Percival. They spoke volumes to each other without a word uttered, until the jumper settled on the stargate staging deck, and the ramp lowered, ready for embarkation.

Teyla and Ronon closed up on either side of the woman, hands on her shoulders in reassurance and commiseration. It seemed strange to them both that AR-1 was not the team on the firing line this time… but their turn was coming. SG-1 would take lead for the Earth-side mission… and maybe it was their right. This war would be about both Earth and the Wraith, after all, in equal parts.

The Command Tower Operations Deck was filled with Expedition members and civilians. Almost everyone off-duty or who could find the slimmest pretext were there, all silently expressing their support and hope for success with their presence. Woolsey, Carson, Keller, Hartley, Radek, Evgenia, Miko, the Time Team… and AR-1, of course. All the usual suspects, with cats, lined up and giving silent blessings. Spencer turned and gave them all a wave and a smile.

Daniel and Vala headed straight for the pilot and co-pilot seats in front, while Spencer and Cameron took the second set of seats in the cockpit. AR-5 under Major Teldy had insisted on joining the party, considering themselves to still be on Reid-watch. In addition, Sheppard had chosen a hand-picked vanguard of big burley guys, volunteers all, including six Marines, six SEALs, Black and Baldrick (with the enthusiastic endorsement of Mick, Phil and Taylor), and even Yuri Yashkin. The military (and military adjacent) filed into the back with the crates of supplies needed. There was also one special container with one live ZPM, an extra from Atlantis stores that McKay had charged before they left Pegasus… just in case. And, of course, the cats were not to be left behind. Bast, Aten and Orion were very much in evidence.

Chuck’s voice came over the comms. “Ready jumper.”

Daniel completed his pre-flight checks, assuring himself that he knew what he was doing and attempting to settle his nerves. He rubbed at the gentle swelling at his tummy, for his comfort, or for baby Nathan Melburn, it didn’t much matter. One long-fingered hand on his left shoulder, and a slim graceful one on his right, helped reassure him. “Thanks, guys,” he murmured.

“We can do this, Daniel,” Spencer told him with absolute confidence.

“It’s what we do, my Daniel,” Vala agreed. Her other hand had drifted to her own prominent bulge, and the waiting Zora Danielle and Claire Sha’re.

Daniel grinned at her. ‘My Daniel’… an echo of his own lost Sha’re, calling him ‘My Dan’yel’… He had got an Atlantis hatch to make him a new picture frame – actually three frames joined with hinges. The two women he loved most, facing each other from the sides, with Jack O’Neill’s shit-eating grin in the center. He had feared Vala wouldn’t understand… but she did, with a tear-filled smile, and a whispered promise to the image of his first wife. “I’ll take good care of him, sweetheart. And we both know how much he needs a keeper like us.”

Daniel shook himself and focused on the job ahead of him.

The jumper rear hatch closed up with a slight sucking sound. Chuck announced, “Dialing the Pluto space gate.”

“SG-1, are you ready?” Sheppard asked.

“Ready,” Daniel assured, firing up the jumper and briefly checking the back and Anne’s thumbs up signal from the troops.

“You have a go,” Sheppard declared. “Godspeed to you.”

Daniel shared a grin with Vala and Cameron, both of them hearing the echo of countless missions. Just another mission…

“Thanks, Atlantis. Meet you on the other side.”

Then the Stargate vortex formed, whooshed in the amazing cataract of energy, and settled into a stable event horizon. Daniel engaged the cloak, and lifted from the deck, then gave the command to the jumper to take them through.

Å

They cautiously flew out of the gate in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Pluto was a small, grey, frozen ball beneath them, barely visible in the dim light penetrating from distant Sol. Sensors told them the unpleasant truth… the dense haze surrounding the third planet from the sun was actually an incredibly vast swarm of ships. The energy splash from the stargate would have caught someone’s attention… there would already be darts speeding toward them to check it out.

“You ready, Spencer?” Daniel asked. Anne Teldy now came forward too. She had been practicing with Spencer and Daniel to add her mental abilities to their own, since they didn’t want Daniel distracted from the tricky maneuvering he would have to do to get past the ever-more-densely-packed Wraith around Earth.

“Ready,” Spencer acknowledged with a curt nod… even as the jumper cruised at sub-light into the inner orbital paths.

Vala and Cameron took command of the weapons, the rail guns and the drones as Daniel negotiated their way in an evasive pattern past squadrons of needle-shaped darts on patrol. They swung around Saturn and buried their jumper in the asteroid belt. Vala accessed the scanners, seeking out a few possible routes to Earth that might get them through the blockade. Until she suddenly stiffened.

“My Daniel! I think I’m getting something… it’s an Alteran trace… no, two, three… *five* traces. Two points sunward, a few hundred kilometers…”

The jumper heads-up display brought up a map of near space, and, sure enough, there were a collection of small vessels just ahead, anchored together, all in a clump, on an asteroid about the size of Rhode Island.

Cameron said, “Got a lock on ‘em. Shall I fire?”

“No!” Spencer declared. “One of them is a jumper… one of the ones we loaned to Earth. I don’t think it’s any of the ones the general sent on patrol. And really, shoot first ask questions later? Honestly Cam!” There were a few chuckles in the back, and comments about trigger-happy American cowboys. Spencer closed his eyes and… “Can we hail them on comms, without alerting the Wraith?”

“I can try,” Vala offered. “There’s some kind of comm interference. That’s probably the Wraith. If we can get close enough to them… almost on top of them… Unknown craft, this is Jumper Six of Atlantis. You are in Tau’ri space. Please identify yourselves.”

“Oh thank god!” gushed out a distinctly human voice with an accent immediately recognizable to the Jumper Six crew. “I’m Dr. Jay Felgar, SGC astrophysics… me and a bunch of kidnapped zeds managed to bail on the Lucian Alliance before the Wraith took them… I’m in a jumper stolen from the Beta Site when I was taken, the others are in escape shuttles we could fly. The Shield would let *me* through, if I could get anywhere near it, which I can’t… but that would leave these other guys stranded… We’ve been hiding out here for days now… getting low on food, air, water… and there’s Wraith *everywhere*! There’s about thirty of us, as many of us as could get out before the boarding parties took over. And a whole *bunch* of cats… Some of us can kinda… I dunno… *sense* the Wraith, and make ‘em not see us… So they’ve left us alone here, so far. But we’re still stranded on a rock in space… We were just about to go to plan B and start eating the cats… Can you get us out of here?”

Daniel turned startled, alarmed eyes over his shoulder at his crew. Vala put them on mute.

Cameron shook his head. “We’ve got a mission, and sounds like these guys can hold for a while longer, at least. Soon as we establish contact, we’ll tell Atlantis or somebody to come pick them up.”

Everyone nodded agreement.

Daniel was the one to answer. “Jay? It’s me, Daniel. I don’t know how you managed to get yourself into this mess, I’ll need that story when we can sit down over a beer or two… but don’t worry. We’re kinda busy, on our way to Earth right now. But Atlantis is right behind us, along with the rest of the Fleet and our allies. Someone will pick you all up. Can you hold on for a few more hours? Without having to eat the cats?”

“Daniel! Yeah… yeah. We can. Fine. See, guys? I *told* you SG-1 would be here to save us…”

Å

Jumper Six proceeded to weave a path through the asteroid belt, looking for their best approach to Earth. They hovered near an open space nearer to Earth with an unobstructed view.

Dusty Mehra, leaning over Anne’s shoulder, could only whistle. “Fuck me,” she whispered. “I know we were expecting a whole crowd of Wraith, but… *fuck me*!”

Well, that really was the only rational response, Daniel reflected.

Earth was almost hidden in the cloud of the Wraith Swarm. Countless ships, large and small, hovered, spun and circled like bees around a hive. As thick, angry and dangerous as any swarm of aggressive stinging insects.

Daniel put one hand on Aten, perfectly at home in his lap, took a deep breath and closed his eyes a moment... he picked one suggested route, using his intuition… and he didn’t even want to think what, or who, was telling him which might be the best course to take. He had to be able to trust something. He swung around a few of the larger asteroids, weaving in and out of the debris fields, emerged beyond Mars and the Sun, and crept slowly up on the outer verge of the blockade.

“Okay, everyone, silent running, and… try not to feel like food, okay?”

There were a few nervous chuckles…

“Spencer, you’re up.”

With Bast on his own lap, Spencer closed his eyes and dropped into a trance, getting easier every time he did it. The weeks and months of searching for Tony, of extending his reach to his Boss, to hunting through the Blue Jungle, had paid off. As had Jahar’s advanced Furalin training.

He could feel the minds, the near-numberless minds. Starving, ravenous, reaching... and he turned them away. He imagined an invisible shell around the jumper, not unlike the cloak, bending the Wraith minds to either side.

Daniel reduced speed and began to thread his way in and out of the ships, large and small. This close to the Wraith hulls, he could see the biological look of the alien vessels. The larger cruisers and hive ships were grown, not built… they had a black, oily, organic sheen to them in the reflected light of space. The surfaces seemed to undulate, or pulse, ever so slightly. It was an unnerving sight.

But, close as they came, there was no reaction, no sign of ships diverting to face them, follow them, or order up weapons. Scanners seemed to pass through or bounce off their shield and cloak without alerting anyone. Luckily, Carson Beckett was right, and apparently the Wraith couldn’t sense the Ancient tech of the jumper itself. Nor could the enemy detect the living food aboard her. Spencer kept them all at bay. And small as the jumper was, the void path they made through the shying darts went unnoticed.

McKay had suggested they venture near enough to a weapons platform, to see if it was possible to dock and get someone on board to fire up even one of the weapons. But as they neared the first, they saw nothing but a virtual ball of darts, guarding the orbital platform. The enemy couldn’t get in and couldn’t destroy it, but Daniel knew his jumper couldn’t make its way past that wall of ships to dock, either. Not without making his presence known, and that was not an option. Even as it was, he had to execute a few quick maneuvers to avoid collisions with darts that couldn’t see them. They clustered too tightly together even to shift away from Spencer’s mental discouragement bubble. Finally breaking through yet another cordon, the jumper hit free space, just outside the Shield. Without a sign, they passed right through, with Carter and McKay’s codes identifying them as friendly.

Daniel set course directly for the SGC, and Vala established communication contact.

Å

The news was not encouraging.

“They *what*?” Cameron demanded angrily. “Those sons of bitches!”

On the other end of the comm, their liberated Agent Afloat, Tony DiNozzo, sighed. “No argument here, Cam. We weren’t even out of our cells before Landry got word of Baal and Nun together taking over the SGC, with Makepeace just turning it all over to them. Then they bombed all entrance points.”

“All of them?” Daniel asked. “The jumper silo too?”

“Hunh. Dunno about that. The recovery teams out there haven’t reported one way or another. Guess you’ll just have to check for yourselves. You think they might have missed that angle?”

“Maybe. The jumper silo is separate from the elevators and escape hatch systems. It’s also inaccessible from any way but one, and built specifically for jumper clearance. Of which Earth has zero right now, except for us. And I don’t think they’re counting on us.”

“Well, they know the only ship we have that might be able to access it is *Nala*, and she’s bigger than a jumper, so she’s too big to fit. They probably assume we won’t risk it just to dig them out. Don’t know if they’ve got any countermeasures for a beam-in… which they know *Nala* can do. But, guys, we believe they have alternate transport off the planet.”

“Not the stargate, because it’s locked down… and if they’ve got a tel’tak or al’kesh, it won’t get through the Shield without proper codes. What’s their plan?”

“We’ve been in contact with the scientist hostages Makepeace has been holding in the SGC labs, and they seem to think there’s an encryption specialist held captive in isolation in the lower levels who can break the passwords. A kid named Eli Wallace.”

Daniel thought it over. “Level thirty-three, the server rooms. Even with the servers fried, there’s cables to the satellite dishes on top of Cheyenne Mountain… direct access to the Shield and OWP systems.”

“So they tell us. Dr. Rush and Dr. Eppes also believe the bad guys have a tel’tak sitting on top of the mountain, and at the very least, it has a cloak and transport rings. If you can secure that ship, it’ll cut off at least one retreat for them.”

Cameron sighed. “We don’t have time for this shit. Really. Vala, let me take over on the scans, see if I can find that ship, and assess the damage to the SGC. I’ll find us a way inside, preferably via the jumper silo.”

Daniel advised, “Vala, you keep on the comms with Tony. Oh, Tony… Tali is okay?”

“She’s fine. She’s right beside me and I’m not letting her out of my sight.”

“Good.”

“Oh, hey, Daniel, you got Reid there? You guys remember the Red Sea protocols, right? You know there’s an EM pulse set to detonate any time it detects activity it doesn’t like, right?”

“Yes, your idea, as I recall.”

“We-ell, I helped... Just remember, too, Baal may not have bombed the jumper access when he went in, but he’s had plenty of time to mine it with explosives since then.”

“Terr-rific. Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve got the jumper shields on maximum.”

Å

Sure enough, the elevator shafts and escape hatch routes were all bunged up with debris, although the ventilation shafts had been left clear. Probably because they were narrower access, straight shafts with no ladder rungs to scale, and periodically blocked by fans to move the air into and out of the various filters and barrier meshes. Designed to keep out wildlife, linked to security systems. If squirrels and chipmunks couldn’t get in that way, Daniel wasn’t about to try. However, the jumper silo entry point, hidden higher on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, was looking pristine and ready for them. As far as the scans could tell, there were no mines planted, no C-4 or other explosive substances. Good news, because damage to the Stargate room could scuttle everyone’s plans.

Cameron announced, “I found their cloaked tel’tak. Don’t think much of it, actually. It seems pretty beat up, just border-line space-worthy. The cloak probably wouldn’t stand against Wraith scans, let alone Ancient technology. But the thing does have rings.”

“Okay, let’s hobble their escape route first.”

Daniel settled the jumper next to the tel’tak, and together, Cameron and Teldy’s team took the most direct method of locating it. They aimed their Satedan blasters and shot at it. A wave of red-tinged shimmer fluttered in a vaguely triangle shape, then winked out, leaving a somewhat battered, dented and char-scored tel’tak sitting out in the open of a mountain meadow, surrounded by pine forest. With its cloak shorted out, Daniel gave Teldy the nod to take her team on board. Cameron and Vala trotted along behind them.

Å

Ziva was especially cautious as she drove her motorbike up the wooded slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, using game trails and what might be motocross tracks. The goa’uld was quiet, resigned almost, but then, she was taking him toward his goal, not away from it, and he was still chained tightly and handcuffed securely. Then something in his pocket started to make a light beeping noise… she realized she had been unforgivably remiss in not checking him for devices and weapons already. So she stopped and cautiously riffled his pockets, clothing and crevices now. One small scanner was emitting some kind of alert.

Nun smirked. “There’s a ship on approach. Probably our cargo runabout that Landry stole, the *Nala*. It’s the only one inside the Shield that would register as alien tech on that device.”

“And they will have detected the tel’tak…”

“No doubt. Press the orange button at the bottom. It’s a jammer, to prevent them from discovering us on their scanners. Unless you *want* them to catch us, whoever they are?”

Ziva considered that option for a moment. It would be the swiftest means for getting her father to someone who could de-goa’uld him… if they could depend upon either Landry, or whoever it was up there to follow through… No. It was too big a risk. More than taking the chance that Nun was telling the truth about what the orange button did. She pressed it… the *zing* sound betrayed some kind of action was taken…

It took her half an hour to reach the landing glade on foot, leaving the too-noisy bike behind. Having been captured by sentinels before, she was not anxious to trigger their wary senses again. She crept up using all of her ‘ninja’ skills and Gibbs-taught woodcraft, approaching down-wind.

Seeing Jackson, Mitchell, Reid and a large number of Atlantis personnel was something of an unwelcome shock. She backed hastily away, hoping against hope that she’d been cautious enough, and Nun’s device really was a scan dampener…

She twisted her mouth in a grimace as she re-joined the goa’uld. “It looks like the cavalry have arrived… an Atlantis jumper full of troops are all over your tel’tak. Their next stop is no doubt to liberate the SGC. Which means the end for your friends Baal and Miss Smith. So now what, Mr. Lord of Creation?”

Å

“Whoa,” Cadman declared over the head-sets, then whistled. “These guys have quite the little stash back here… weapons, gold, naquadah… a couple of chests of gem-stones… heaps of stuff, lots of storage crates… looks like pirate treasure.”

“It’s Baal,” Daniel answered. “Pirate treasure is probably just what it is. Vala, can we lock off the hold, and scuttle the *delmacs* in the control panel? Maybe steal all the crystals in engineering? I don’t want them to be able to lift that thing off the ground, or get at any of their weapons, if they should get around us, somehow. But leave the rings intact. Might be a nice little trap, letting them get back here, think they’ve got a clean break, with nowhere else to go.”

“Got it, my Daniel. Scuttling pirate ships is a specialty of mine.”

There was the sound of another blaster shot, probably to the cargo hold door control panel. A little later, Vala, Cam and AR-5 trotted back out, each of them with extra zat guns tucked in vests and waistbands to pass out to the rest of the rescue team. Daniel chuckled and shook his head. Boys –and girls – and their toys.

Coming out of the tel’tak with their pirate swag, Anne, Cam and Dusty all hesitated a moment. Heads swung toward the apparently silent forest… there was just the faintest trace on the wind and on the grass that spelled ‘enemy’… but nothing recent, and not strong enough to be close. Even the distant rumble of an engine might just be tourists or kids out joy-riding. The three sentinels traded glances and shrugged.

“We’ll leave a guard behind,” Cam acknowledged.

Two of their escort were assigned to take up positions outside the tel’tak, to arrest anyone returning to the getaway craft. Both had zats, of course, and warned to stay alert… and their sentinels were suspicious enough that the forewarned men paced a perimeter. Because how stupid would it be, to be caught with their pants down from a rear-attack, if the damn goa’uld had left their own guards out here? They had an LSD, of course, but there were ways around the nifty little devices.

Å

Ziva hadn’t stuck around long enough to see if the rescue team had left guards on the tel’tak… it no longer figured in her plans anyway. She was only interested in getting to some safer place. She needed time, to consider her options, to figure out some plan that just *might* be the answer to all her problems…

Å

Once the rest of the team were all loaded again, Daniel took them up and sent the command to open the jumper silo hatch. Floating down the darkened shaft was a little unnerving… on emergency power restrictions, the jumper silo was pitch black. But the jumper itself knew where it was going. With the correct password given, the silo was set for auto access. They bypassed the empty jumper bay and descended direct to the gate room. Scans showed they were alone on level twenty-seven and eight… for the moment. Safe to disembark then, and set about re-taking the SGC from this, its very heart.

“Okay, everyone. Vala and I are going to Gate control to start shutting down the Red Sea protocols, unlock the Gate and get it up and running to the Beta site. Cam, Spencer, you’re with us. Spence, we’ll need your help with the password algorithms.

“Anne, you’ve got command of everyone else. Looks like there’s one goa’uld and maybe twenty military on roving patrols, besides the scientists locked in the main lab… so Baal’s mercenaries outnumber us. Luckily, their forces are split… I wish we could wait for Jack to bring a bunch more soldiers with him for back-up, but I get the feeling we don’t have the time. So…

“First, I want you to locate and neutralize Baal, Nun, Makepeace and their thugs, and any soldiers who are on guard around here. Use the zats, one shot, lethal force only if they insist. And keep an eye out for that second goa’uld… I don’t like that we’ve found only one on our scans. Liberate the scientists, including the kid they’ve got down on thirty-three, and send them to me in control as soon as you can. We’ll need their help to get this place operational. Everyone got that? Okay. Go.”

Anne grinned as she tossed hand signals to move out. For a civilian, Dr. Jackson sure had a way of command about him. But then, a civilian geek surviving on a front line, first contact SG team for over fifteen years? In fact, in many ways, *THE* geek of the SGC, from the very first days? Shouldn’t be much of a surprise, really, even if you hadn’t read any of the mission reports. And the Marines obeyed with enthusiasm and not a shadow of doubt that Dr. Jackson would steer them right. Lorne had told her long ago that the archeologist was an honorary jarhead as far as the SGC Marines were concerned. Had been from early in the first year of the project, when he had single-handed saved a bunch of them from a Goa’uld trap. Oh, and saved the planet… a couple of times, once in the teeth of Senator Kinsey’s (temporarily) successful bid to shut the project down.

With a nod to Black, Baldrick and Yashkin, she had them post themselves around command. No sense taking chances at this point.

Daniel and Vala sat themselves at the dark and silent control consoles, waiting for them to unlock and power up. Cameron took Walter Harriman’s usual spot at the dial-out panel.

Spencer soon set up the laptop Rodney had supplied, and plugged it into the control room grid. He fired it up and ran the password applications on the machine, waiting impatiently for it to send the necessary messages to access the Stargate Red Sea lock-down programs.

It would take ten to fifteen minutes to get it all up and running, and Daniel was well aware that his window of opportunity was limited. Once they established a wormhole to Beta, they only had until the Wraith realized the Earth Stargate was operational for them to call out, and then to get their personnel and ordnance through. They needed the crystals and fully charged ZPMs taken by Red Sea to light up the transport beams and power the most important systems. They’d also need Jack to operate the Outpost Weapons Chair, a vital component in their defense plan. But Wraith standard operating procedure with a planet they attacked for culling was to lock up the stargate by dialing in and keeping it open to prevent escape and allow their own troops – and darts - to flood in. So Daniel figured after he got the message to Beta, they had time for one safe dial-in. Certainly not two. Which meant thirty-eight minutes for the transfer of vital personnel and ordnance.

Å

Even with the lights off, Anne and the Atlantis soldiers were on home turf. They were thrilled to be back, and given a chance to show those Trust and Patriot fuckers a thing or two about how the SGC did business. Storming Carter’s lab was child’s play, and the surprisingly few guards, caught totally by surprise, didn’t even have a chance to call for help before they were laid out unconscious in the hall. Anne assigned a couple of men to drag the disarmed enemy off to lockable rooms, stripped down to their underwear, with zip ties on wrists and ankles. Then she led the way into the lab, and dispatched the last two guards. There was much cheering from the scientists, as Anne held up a hand for silence.

“We’re from the Atlantis Expedition. The Patriot Conspiracy is history, Colonel Sheppard is on the way with Atlantis, General O’Neill has a plan, and Dr. Jackson could use your help in Control on level twenty eight. Everyone here okay with that?”

A resounding “Yes!” was her answer.

Dr. Malcolm Tunney stopped by the Marines dealing with the last two guards, and pushed a pony-tailed scientist their way.

“Oh, add this guy to your cells, okay? Dr. Peter Kavanagh, working enthusiastically for the Trust and Patriot Conspiracy bastards even before the coup. He’s the guy who gave the orders that turned Area 51 into a hole in the desert.” And, since Kavanagh needed no introduction to SGC Marines, the grumbling scientist was cheerfully stripped down to his skivvies and dragged off with the others.

A whole flotilla of frustrated and furious scientists trooped along after Anne, as she led them down the stairs to the briefing room, a much bigger venue for all the scientists. A quick click on her comm alerted her. One of the Marines stashing their prisoners had found something unpleasant and disturbing in one of the rooms they had intended to use. A pile of bodies already hidden, dead, with the missing Colonel Makepeace on top. Okay. One less bad guy to worry about, and the rest would have to wait.

Dr. Eppes immediately rushed forward with a small intense man and dark-haired woman.

“Um, can we speak to someone in charge? It’s urgent,” Charlie declared. “This is Dr. Rush and Dr. Markov. We have information Dr. Jackson needs, right away. The Goa’uld calling himself Trent Kort is down on level thirty three with his personal guards. We think he has a mathematician held prisoner down there, close to the servers and direct access to the Shield and OWP. Dr. Rush has access to the security cameras, and we’ve been monitoring. We think he’s close to getting through the password encryption on one of those systems. We *hope* it’s the OWP… but we think it’s the Shield he’s after. If he brings it down…”

“Shit,” Anne muttered. “Okay. You three, with me.”

She elbowed through the crowd to the door to the control room, and Daniel briefly lifted his head, eyes widening behind his glasses. “Dr. Eppes. Dr. Rush. Svetlana! Jeez, how did you get dragged into this mess?”

Svetlana Markov glowered. “I wasn’t watching. Turned my back on a guard, and next thing I know, I’ve got a zat in my back and a bag on my head. Daniel, that bastard Trent Kort is a goa’uld, host to Baal. He’s going to shut down the Shield and bury us all in Wraith if we don’t stop him, right now. He’s holed up on level thirty-three with direct access to the Shield and OWP systems. Nicholas has the feed to the security cameras on that level.”

Daniel gestured a ‘be my guest’ to one of the control room banks of computer stations, and Rush lost no time getting his laptop plugged into it. While he coordinated with Anne, Daniel continued with his instructions to the Gate security system.

“Svetlana, we’ve got crystals in that bag over there. Think you can get the Asgard beams fired up? We’ll need at least one beam platform up and running to get Jack and me down to the Ancient Outpost, and crews up to the OWPs.”

“I’ll need Dr. Tunney.”

“You’ve got him. Grab a soldier for back-up, too, while Baal and Nun are still running loose. By the way, any idea where Nun is? I believe he’s masquerading as ex-Mossad Director Eli David at the moment.”

“Sorry. Haven’t seen a sign of anyone like that,” Rush shook his head. Their exposure to the invading group had been limited in the labs, and their access to the ravaged security system had been spotty.

Daniel sighed, and nodded to Vala to continue searching the few security systems slowly coming back on line, to see if she could catch sight of him. “Okay. Everyone be on the watch for him, then. He’s dangerous, and he may have a jammer on him. Svetlana? The soldier will be your back-up and know where the Asgard beaming platforms are.”

Svetlana nodded and raced out the door.

“Anne, get someone over to cut the cable lines to the surface satellite dish. That’s the direct access to the orbital systems. You know where the cables on this level are? Should be over behind the mission staging armory. See if your guy can find someone in the briefing room who’ll know which lines to cut.”

“What about me, Dr. Jackson?” Charlie asked.

Daniel was banging away, but multi-tasking like a pro, while Vala was typing madly on one system, Spencer on another, de-fusing at least some of the Red Sea protocols for safety’s sake. Cameron was initiating the dialing programs, a whole set of protocols necessary to operate the most awesome and complex piece of alien tech there was. Starting with their own trinium shield, still capping off the gate. A heavily armed Edmund Black stood guard at the door, grim-faced and serious, for once.

“Please, Dr. Eppes, it’s Daniel when we’re saving the galaxy. Rodney says you’ll have figured out the password protocols he set up on the Shield and OWP.”

“Yeah. They’re based on Dr. Reid’s geo-profiling and disease vector proofs.”

Spencer had taken up a far corner of Control, keeping out of everyone’s way when he was neither military nor all that familiar with the SGC. He was concentrating on running his password programs, but heard enough to acknowledge with a half smile and a little wave. He figured his part in the drama was mostly over now, having got them past the Wraith. The password programs would soon spit out the proper keys needed to open up their systems. Once they were powered up and the control crystals were replaced, they were in business. After that… he could maybe arrest and interrogate their prisoners… make sure Baal and Nun in particular were under lock and key… but beyond that…

“Anybody else know the password formulas well enough to get the OWP’s up and running?”

“Larry, Dr. Fleinhardt, can do it. I think Dr. Rush may be able…”

“I’d need instructions,” Rush cut in, “but yes, I can manage.”

Charley suggested, “That kid Makepeace is holding, Eli Wallace. I think that’s what he’s working on right now.”

“Since Rodney used my proofs, I think I may be able to help,” Spencer confessed.

“Oh hey now!” Cameron protested, swiveling from his console, only to have it give a disgruntled *blurp!* at being ignored. Spencer could only shrug in a ‘what can you do?’ gesture, and the jet jockey scowled as he turned back, to re-focus on his more critical job.

Charley grinned and waved at the FBI agent.

“Okay,” Daniel nodded decisively. “Here’s the deal. With Baal holding level thirty-three, we can’t use the direct access cables to our satellites to unlock the OWP password encryptions, and I’d rather cut the cables and lose that access altogether than give him a chance to bring down the Shield. I tried to get near one of the OWPs by jumper, but it’s covered too thick with Wraith darts. We have to get crews up there by beam, and it’ll take at least one math-and-sciences-guy in each OWP to handle disengaging the passwords and getting the systems up and running. That should mean six teams, but it looks like…”

“Yeah, about that,” Charlie drawled. “Makepeace tried to board one and triggered the self destruct. Only five left, I’m afraid.”

Daniel sighed. “Okay… we’ll have to make do with the five. So suck it up, Cam, we need Spencer up there on one of them. We need to be able to coordinate an attack with Atlantis and the Fleet. You guys game?”

“To save the galaxy?” Larry piped up from the door. “You bet!”

“I’m done here, Daniel. We’re ready to dial the gate to Beta,” Spencer announced.

Cameron sighed and said, “And that would be me.”

One soldier grabbed an electrical engineer and rushed away. Another had gone with Svetlana Markov and Malcolm Tunney. Yuri and one other soldier would remain to protect the scientists in the briefing room and control room, on double alert because Nun was still conspicuous in his absence. They had to presume he had some kind of jammer on him to hide so effectively, but that meant he could literally be anywhere. Hopefully he hadn’t already managed to escape. Rush held his position on the security board, reporting to Anne on the head-set he’d been given.

Edmund, taking a look around, saw Yuri nodding – he had this - and beckoned his partner Baldrick. Yuri was up to the task of handling security now. “You want us, Baldrick and I will be with Teldy, liberating level thirty-three… maybe even bagging us a Goa’uld or two.”

Daniel cast them a grin. “Go get ‘em.”

Anne assembled her squad in the briefing room. They had already arrested six enemy mercenaries, leaving Baal, or whichever goa’uld was down on thirty-three, with fifteen, according to the life-signs detectors. Four were scattered along the stairwells below, four more outside the server room, the last seven inside with the goa’uld and the captive scientist. Anne had her own team, Laura, Alison and Dusty, plus Edmund and Baldrick, and ten assorted soldiers.

Those jokers didn’t stand a chance.

Vala glanced over at her archeologist, grinning wide and bright. “Saving the galaxy? Fun times, my Daniel.”

“Fun, wow,” he agreed with a brief answering grin.

Å

Finally, *finally*, the big boss had given Eli Wallace a laptop, when he insisted there was no way to enter the necessary instructions quickly enough to beat the oscillations. That was even, maybe, the truth. But with a laptop in his hands, and sudden access to enough information, he could finally see the pieces of the puzzle he had been missing all this time. He had been shut away in a concrete bunker of a room with no windows, one steel door, and no possible link to the outside, for a month and more, who knew how long. No wonder Makepeace had kept him in black-out, Eli realized, staring appalled at the spinning numbers racing before his eyes, instantly translating into information. He was shaken by the depths of the mess in front of him.

He was in the heart of the SGC itself, a few floors under the magical, glorious Stargate, surrounded by dead servers that had been fried by… at a guess… some kind of EM pulse. Makepeace and these newest guys were not, could not, be the ‘good guys’. O’Neill must have shut down all operations himself, just to keep these guys out of it. And Eli was about to give it back to them?

Thugs guarded the one steel door. A secretary-lady in glasses looked over his shoulder like a hawk. Eli had no idea if she knew what he was doing… he had to assume she didn’t or she would have ratted on him by now. ‘Kort’ paced impatiently back and forth, an alien silver weapon in his hand, looking like an angry tiger, and starting to suspect Eli was stalling.

“What’s taking so long?”

“I told you how tough this is. Even with a laptop… I have to get it programmed properly first. Maybe if Makepeace had let me have a pad or something earlier, I could have had this all running smoothly by now.”

Trent’s eyes narrowed. His voice, silky soft with threat, hissed, “You aren’t trying to play me, by any chance, are you, Eli? Because… I have associates sitting outside of your mother’s house right now. One word from me, and…”

Repetition had made the threat pale in Eli’s eyes. And if this guy was going to do what he thought…

The password encryption he had been ordered to work on wasn’t for the OWP, to unlock the weapons that would fend off the Wraith. No, he was working on the Shield encryption. And there was only one thing this guy could do with that.

Turn it off, and let the Wraith come screaming down on a defenseless Earth.

But ‘Kort’ wouldn’t be around to take the blame or face the end of the world, would he? And what use would he have for Eli, his tool, his patsy, his fall-guy? He would shoot him the very nano-second he stopped being of use. Dig in his heels, and he would be dead before he hit the floor. Do what Kort asked, and the best he could hope for was for the bastard to shoot him in the head before the Wraith landed and ate *everyone*. Including his mother.

It was there, hovering at the end of his fingertips. He knew the code, the necessary algorithms to unlock the Shield and bring it down…

He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t.

But, it occurred to him… How would Kort even know if it worked? The servers were all fried. Communications wasn’t working to the surface from so deep under Cheyenne Mountain. There were no scanners or satellite access down here, either, after the EM pulses…

One of the thugs reported to Kort. “Charges set, sir. We’re ready.”

“Charges! What charges?” Eli demanded.

But Kort was frowning as he touched his ear-wig thingy. “Barbarello, report. Report. Channing? Booth? Shit. Danson, see if you can contact our team up there. I think we may have a problem.”

Yes! Eli silently cheered. Rescue may be at hand.

“All right, Wallace. It’s now or never. Send the code and give me access. Now.”

Eli could feel the sweat dribbling down his temples and under his collar. He was out of time.

He pressed a couple of keys, and then one key that brought up a plain, innocuous little window. One button, currently high-lighted, said ‘on’. Another said ‘off’.

Kort stared at the screen, and smiled like a shark, his dark eyes black… and then they suddenly flashed with inner light, and Eli yelped as he jumped back, right off his stool and onto the floor with a thump. The goa’uld leaned over, moved the mouse cursor to the ‘off’ button, and clicked on it. And the screen lit red and blinked a warning message, prompting for confirmation... The bastard actually laughed as he clicked on ‘confirmed’.

Eli’s blood ran cold. Again.

Å

Chapter Text

Å

“No report from any of the upper levels, sir,” Danson reported. “I can’t contact Nun or Miss David, either.”

“All right. That’s it. We’re out of here. Get everyone packed to go, and give the charges a two minute delay. Oh, and… thanks for all the help, Eli. Here’s the phone. But I think you’ll find your mother’s number has been disconnected. See, she’s been dead for months now.”

Eli felt his stomach curdle even as he screamed with rage. He may have even blacked out for a moment. When he lifted his blurry eyes, Kort and his crew were already standing in a tight circle as huge metal rings descended from nowhere, clunked down into a tube with gaps, and in a bright flash of light and the clunk of rings rising again… they were gone.

Eli struggled with choking sobs as he remembered he was sitting in the middle of a bomb. He needed to get out. But how, when he could barely stand?

Then suddenly, there were soldiers all around him again, these ones in black uniforms. Oh, some of them were girls?

“Oh great! More soldiers! You realize this place is going to blow in less than two minutes? That bastard Kort set charges all over the place!”

“Shit,” said the uniformed woman with dark blonde hair… and a… a lynx? Growling at her side. And really, ‘shit’ was a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.

“We must go.” A tall dark-haired guy with an English accent stooped to pick Eli up and half carry him out the nearest door.

Eli struggled to get his feet under him, but they were moving so fast, all the soldiers scattering for the exit and racing for the stairs to put as much space as possible between them and level thirty-three…

The blonde lady soldier was speaking into thin air… must have a head-set on. “Baal and some of his men got out, sir… we have four of his goons contained, so he took seven with him. We have Eli Wallace. But Baal left C-4 charges on the server room…”

Behind them there was a huge muffled *Boom!*, and a sudden compression wave of air blasting out and sucking in. The soldiers hesitated, gripping hard to metal banisters, waiting out the blast wave and the trembling of the floors and walls around them. Then they continued on their way.

“Yes sir, that would be the charges he set… I don’t know, sir. He looked pretty happy when I caught a glimpse of him leaving… I’ll ask. Wallace, did you shut down the Shield?”

“No!” Eli declared, feeling vindictively glad. “I faked a window for him that said the Shield was down, and he only thinks he succeeded.”

The lady soldier flashed him an approving smile, and Eli felt some measure of vindication. Then he remembered…

“He threatened my mother. He said I could call her after I shut down the Shield for him. But then he told me she’s dead… unless that was just another of his lies. Maybe it is…?”

The soldier looked sympathetic and could only shrug. It would have been a stupid lie, surely? Did Kort, or Baal, or whoever he was, even think enough of him to bother with one last torture? But a guy like that… if he was breathing he was lying to everyone around him. It was a small hope… but something Eli had to cling to if he was to function at all.

Meanwhile, the soldier was listening to something else over her comm.

“Think you can break the password protocols for real? On the OWP lock-down?”

“Yeah, I think so…”

“Care to help us save the galaxy? Shoot down a bunch of Wraith?”

“Hell yeah! But what about Kort… Baal?”

“Don’t worry about him. He isn’t going far. Once we settle you with Dr. Jackson, me and a bunch of Atlantis Expedition military are going to go after him.”

“He’s got a ship up there, you know…”

“We know. We already scuttled it for him.”

Eli stared around at all the soldiers. They had never been his favorite people before now, jocks in uniforms with guns, just another class of bully for a zed to worry about, but… “I love you guys. Seriously. You’re my favorite people *ever*.”

The tall English guy with his supporting arm around Eli, laughed.

Å

And then Eli Wallace was ushered through a door into a high-tech control room full of computer monitors and electronic equipment banks, and everyone in here was a legend.

Dr. Nicholas Rush and Dr. Charles Eppes. Dr. Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran. Colonel Mitchell, leader of SG-1… And… oh god… Dr. Spencer Reid, himself, in the flesh!

It was real hard to catch his breath suddenly.

And then he turned his head to stare down into the Stargate embarkation room, the Stargate itself, the ramp, an Atlantis jumper parked close by. Then the spinning rings stopped, set, and the wormhole vortex exploded out in white and blue brilliance…

And General Jack O’Neill, legendary *original* leader of SG-1, savior of the known universe, followed by armed troops and a few civilian scientists, rushed through.

“Hey, Daniel.”

“Hey, Jack.”

“Good going. We still got a planet?”

“Still got a planet, and a Shield. Svetlana Markov says she’s got a beaming platform up and running and ready for us. We’ve got five volunteers to beam to the OWPs with the teams, and get them up and running. Number six was destroyed by idiots. Sorry about that. Baal made a real mess of level thirty-three before we caught his snaky ass, so we don’t have direct access to the password systems. Anne has our prisoners stashed and there’ll be more when she gets through mopping up upstairs.”

General Jack O’Neill rushed up the metal stairs to the control room, blinking madly. “Da-aniel?”

“Baal and Nun got Makepeace to let them in to the SGC, tried to barricade themselves, we stopped them, well Baal anyway, all over now, brief you later. Come on, Jack. Wait till I show you all the new toys at the Ancient Outpost.”

Jack opened his mouth, then closed it again, and shrugged. “Okay,” he said. He took one more look around, spotted Cameron in Harriman’s chair, and said, “Oh, hey, Cam, you’re in charge of the SGC.”

“Sir! They’re sending Spencer up to one of the OWP’s, and…”

“Nope. Sorry. AR-5 get that assignment. You’re ranking officer with SGC command experience. You get the SGC.” He took another look around at the devastation showing on monitors, of systems still down, rubble at the surface and level thirty-three… and gave a disparaging sniff. “Well, what’s left of it, anyway.”

Anne came bustling in then, and said, “We got ‘em. Well, Baal and his buddies. Makepeace and his Patriot troops were all executed before we got here. Bad news, Nun seems to have got away. We’ve got a team of Marines out looking. He can’t have gone too far, he has no transport.”

“Hey, Cam. You ready to take command here now?”

“With your permission, General?”

O’Neill waved a hand. “Have at it, Cam.”

Daniel hesitated as he passed Eli, and grinned at the young man. “Good work by the way, Eli. Welcome to the team. See you after we save the galaxy. Busy busy…” and away he rushed with Vala Mal Doran and General O’Neill right behind, leaving Eli gaping.

Edmund Black laughed at Eli’s expression, and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Yes, we just shoved you in the deep end with no warning. Don’t worry, lad, you’ll get used to it.”

“Oh, um, okay. Um… if I’m going to the OWP to enter the password, I’ll need a laptop.”

Tony Baldrick bustled up. “Will this one do, lad? It’s the one you were using on level thirty-three. I rescued it for you.”

“Oh! Yeah, right. I, um, had other things on my mind.” Like a murdering traitorous son of a bitch bent on letting the Wraith in to eat Earth, scamming him with a fake-out, charges set and a mother, possibly, dead.

“Not a problem,” Baldrick grinned.

Eli settled down next to Dr. Nicholas Rush (and what a rush that was, too) and checked out the systems to make sure he had everything he needed. It seemed like these people were working awfully fast, so he needed to be ready. Last thing he wanted was to be the weak link here.

Rush leaned to peer over his shoulder, frowning, and then Dr. Eppes was there at his elbow.

“Oh, wow!” Charlie said, taking a closer look. “That’s pretty clever coding. Where’d you come up with that short-cut—you know what? Never mind. No time now. I think it’ll work a lot faster than my method. Mind if I steal it?”

“Hey, no!” Eli declared happily.

“Nick, Larry, Spencer, you’ll all need copies too. This should cut down on the entry time by a wide margin. Good work, Eli. Welcome to the team.”

“Um… thanks. Not like I can say no. You know?”

Å

With the Wraith jamming all communications from Earth, and the Stargate link to Beta about to run out after the thirty-eight minute window expired, about all they could do was roughly coordinate a count-down for an attack. All the contingency and alternate plans had been settled, everyone had their assignments… now including the rescue of a bunch of stranded zeds on an asteroid… and it all hinged on Atlantis taking the brunt of the Wraith attack once they arrived. In the eyes of the Wraith, Atlantis would be the only serious threat to them. They wouldn’t realize their mistake until it was, hopefully, too late for them to retreat or escape.

John met Rodney’s deep blue eyes, and smiled. A nod from each of them, and John left his husband in command of Operations Control. Meredith Joy was grinning in the every-present sling across his mate’s chest, Ronon at his shoulder, the Satedan Protector giving his team-lead a promise in a determined nod. John went for the Chair Room, with Lorne at his side, and Teyla ghosting as vanguard behind, TJ in his own sling and watching everything with huge ice-blue eyes. If necessary, John and Lorne would take turns in the coming showdown. The members of the Atlantis Expedition force were all at their stations, ready for battle.

John sat himself down in the Chair, welcomed by a determined AI. He accessed the city-wide comms.

“All right, everyone. This is the big one. This is what we’ve worked and trained and prepared for. The entire True Wraith race is sitting there waiting for us to come and kick their asses, and by God, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. For the Lanteans, for Pegasus, for Earth. Let’s go get ‘em!”

He could hear it, feel it, flooding the city with an enthusiastic rebel yell from every soul in his city, and in the joyous anticipation of the city herself. At long last, a scourge would end, and Atlantis would be vindicated, her long lonely vigil over.

He gave the command to enter hyperspace.

“Next stop, System Sol, Galaxy Milky Way.”

Å

Charlie Eppes had never imagined something like this. Once upon a time, he figured working for his brother at the FBI was as exciting as his life could possibly get, with the occasional bullet skimming too close, or demented bad guy targeting him or the family. Even after the Stargate Project was declassified, he never imagined he would have any part of it. He was just a pure maths guy… applying his theories and formulas to criminal cases was about as close as he could get to real-world applications, much less the kind of incredible science fiction adventure Rodney McKay, or even Larry, had lived.

Until today. Time to save the world.

Å

And it started with a flash of light, taking him and SG-2 to a weapons platform in space, surrounded by the enemy. Good thing Don didn’t know what he was up to…

The Platform itself was just a few square yards of steel plates, stiffened with girders, and a framework to hold the complex computer banks and control consoles in place. There were a few tipped stools, testament to the force of the attacks on the unmanned platform that had shoved it around a bit, but not dented it at all. The actual power generators, life-support equipment and guts of the weapon were below the metal plate floor, separated from the human crew with insulation to protect vulnerable human flesh and blood. In a rather nifty design feature, the solid plate floor was always between the crew and the unfiltered rays of the sun.

Charlie had expected to see walls and a ceiling, maybe a corrugated tin-like Quonset hut shape… not glimpses of black deep space and flat un-glimmering stars… glimpses only, because in front of that backdrop were a myriad of the sleek-and-evil-looking Wraith fighters called darts, zipping and hovering in a dense swarm all around him. And close! Charlie could see faces past the transparent hatch covers of the darts, hungry white Wraith faces staring back at him.

“Ouch!” gasped Colonel Louis Ferretti. “I didn’t expect it to be this…”

“Exposed?” Charlie asked, chagrinned and shuddering as the darts all began frenetic motions, as if trying to jostle closer. He shook himself, got his laptop out, and lost no time setting up. Eli’s nifty little algorithm was indeed the fastest way in, shutting down the lock, delivering the proper codes, opening up the OWP system.

Computer banks lit up, consoles came alive, Ferretti and his men all took their places, and Charlie entered the necessary codes to activate the weapons array.

“Okay, Colonel. It’s all up and running, ready to fire.”

Ferretti nodded. “So now we wait. Good job, Dr. Eppes.”

Charlie keyed the comms to see if he could reach the other platforms.

“Larry, Spencer, Nick, Eli, you guys all okay?”

“A-OK,” Larry reported. “My platform is live and ready to fire.”

“Ready,” said a determined Spencer.

“Nick?”

“Just give me a… oh, I see. Okay. I’m in. This program of yours is amazing, Eli. Thanks.”

“Um… guys… are your platforms all… um… covered in Wraith, like mine?”

“Just ignore them, Eli,” Charlie recommended, although he was just as unnerved as the kid sounded. For the first time in, like, *forever*, he was not to youngest member of the group. “Think of it as bullet-proof glass between you and them. They and the Lucian Alliance sent everything they had against these platforms, and all they could do was knock over the stools. I really am going to have to buy Rodney McKay a drink when this is all over.”

“You can always make faces at them,” Nicholas Rush suggested, with a grin in his voice. “Stick your tongue out. Give them the finger.”

“Yeah, no… think I’ll pass, thanks. Hey! You, soldier guy! Stop that! Thanks for the suggestion, Dr. Rush, now all these uniform guys are mooning the Wraith!” Poor Eli sounded anxious, angry and offended, all at once.

Charlie met Ferretti’s amused twinkling eyes, and they both smothered grins. “Eli, is your platform up and running?”

“Up and running, sure, and... hey! Watch it! The darts are firing at us.”

“But nothing’s getting through, right?”

“Well, no, but… hey, stop that, I said!”

“Eli?” Larry offered. “Colonel Coburn just informed me of an important tip. You might want to remind Colonel Dixon and the rest of your crew that the platforms are under blanket security. That means that we’re all on camera right now, piped directly to the Pentagon Joint Chiefs War Ready Room, and probably, given the situation, straight to ZNN. Your soldiers are mooning more than just the Wraith right now.”

“Ha!” Eli declared smugly. “Yeah, you’d *better* zip up. Oh. If they’re seeing this on Earth… Um… If my mom is watching right now… I love you, mom. I’m okay, you don’t need to worry about me, I’m doing the right thing, and I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

Rush’s subdued voice came through then. “I would also like to say ‘I love you’, to my wife, Gloria. It’ll soon be over, my darling. I’ll be with you shortly. Do you have a message, Colonel Young?... The Colonel says that the SGC teams have left their families safe on Beta, and have already said what they needed to. Anyone else?”

Charlie colored as he looked around for the watching lenses. “Yeah, I guess I need to say a hi to my wife, Amita, my dad Alan and my brother Don. Yeah, Don, I know you want to yell at me for letting myself get caught by that ass-hole Makepeace, but… all’s well that ends well, right? They need me here right now, but I’ll be back soon.” Then, with a devilish grin at the camera, he wiggled his eyebrows and said, “Time to save the world right now. And, really, how truly cool is that! Even Colby never shot a gun as big as mine!”

Spencer chuckled, then said, “I don’t suppose my old team at the BAU will be very pleased to see me up here… none of them have much faith in my weapons proficiency. But I’ll do my best to give a good accounting of myself.”

“Um… guys?” Eli ventured. “My Wraith darts are pulling back. Is that good, or…”

Charlie looked around and saw the same thing. The dart swarm was indeed zooming away, revealing more and more of the surrounding space, until there were even glimpses of Earth far below, and Charlie recognized the unmistakable coast of the Indian sub-continent, with Sri Lanka off-shore… he was right over Amita’s head. Protecting her.

But then it became clear that the darts were only clearing a path for something bigger, and nastier. Three hive ships were converging on Charlie’s platform.

“Um, guys, are those hive ships coming in for a look? That isn’t good, is it? That’s very bad.”

“Yes, Eli,” Rush sighed in resignation. “I expect that’s very bad.”

Charlie set his jaw, glancing at the wry smile from Ferretti. “Keep your cool, guys. Still not a problem. There’s nothing they can do that will touch us.”

Å

‘And here you are, beaming into the Ancient Outpost at the bottom of the world with a damn invading space fleet of Marilyn Manson vampire aliens over your head… *again*,’ O’Neill reflected with a sigh. ‘Hope you don’t end up stuck in stasis again, because there’s no Asgard to thaw you out, this time.’

But he did have Daniel and Vala at his back, and Teal’c and Carter with the allied Fleet. That was a good feeling. Almost like SG-1, back in the saddle again. Bill Lee and Dr. Alain Thibideau were both on hand, their Ancient tech experts, to plug in ZPMs, get the chair working, and if there was anything wrong with any of the drone-making equipment, get it fixed and running on the fly.

Save the world time, O’Neill.

Reynolds and the SG-3 Marines were back up on this run. They did a quick recon, then signaled all-clear.

The Outpost was a little on the chilly side, and had a slightly musty smell. It had been shut down and abandoned for the months of Red Sea, so no surprise there.

Jack gave the signal, and they all trotted straight for the Chair room, so Bill could plug in the ZPM devices. He held one of the lead lined cases in his arms as tenderly as a baby, and the image briefly disturbed Jack.

Daniel seemed less distracted than usual, so maybe even he was familiar enough with the ice and glimpses of blue crystal walls that he didn’t need to see them up close and personal again. And then there was Vala. Never more than an arm’s reach from either his or Daniel’s side, and ready to slap back to back with their archeologist, to face any danger, any threat. Oh yeah, Sam and Teal’c were right about her after all. There was nothing that momma bear wouldn’t do to save her own personal cubs.

Bill Lee quickly got the hatch up, detached the cables that would have linked the receptacles to a naquadah reactor, if Red Sea had left one behind, and inserted the two fully charged ZPMs. Immediately the whole room lit up, air started circulating, columns in the walls began to bubble away, monitors scrolling vast amounts of data lit up on all the walls. Only the Chair remained still, dark and waiting.

Everyone looked at Jack.

“Yeah yeah,” he sighed, and dropped into the Chair. It linked with him immediately, joyously, welcoming him back after his long absence, asking for instructions.

“Yeah. See all those alien ships up there?” he asked, and the systems immediately brought up the holographic heads-up scan of the Wraith fleet. “Yeah well, we’re gonna take ‘em all out. Every last one.”

Numbers appeared, offering apologetic inventory of drones left in the silos.

“Yeah, I know. Apparently, we got it covered.”

Daniel was already passing his hands over the walls, until he located what he was looking for. Thibideau, after making sure the chair and ZPM were running hot and five-by-five, gave a thumbs-up. Bill Lee made a quick check to monitor the other equipment now available, then sidled up next to the Chair. Over in a corner, Aten and Amelie sat, out of the way, but watching with wide eyes, ears twitching, tails tucked carefully around their feet.

Jack whistled, low and impressed, at the new info whirling past his eyes. Daniel tossed him an exultant grin.

“Yeah, I know. *‘Star Trek’* replicator time. We call the Atlantis ones galley hatches, and we’ve got ‘em turning out turkey sandwiches, pudding cups and coffee. And tea, Earl Grey, hot.”

Jack chuckled at that. Daniel could be such a geek, sometimes.

Bill took over the console, bringing up the inventory and instructions for churning out drones. “We need to alter the construction just a little, to supply the codes they’ll need to get past our Shield.”

“Yeah, I got it covered,” Daniel assured him. “Rodney supplied me with everything we need. We tested it out with the Atlantis equipment, everything checks out fine.”

Daniel typed in the correct settings, quicker with Ancient translations than anyone else on the planet. He supplied the alterations Rodney had coded in via his laptop. The deep underground manufacturing apparatus soon rumbled into life, quickly running at full steam. In the Chair, Jack saw with satisfaction the drone numbers climbing exponentially.

“Okay, campers,” Jack announced. “Get me a line to the Pentagon War Ready Room. We’re ready to rock and roll.”

Vala and SG-3 circulated on patrol, never letting down their guard. Daniel, Thibideau and Dr. Lee paced the room, re-inserting crystals and plugging in equipment that had been removed by Red Sea, monitoring to make sure everything was running. And Jack, at the centre of everything, concentrated on what the Chair was telling him.

Just like old times, he thought.

“You know, there are times when I kinda miss the Goa’uld...”

Å

Chapter Text

Å

General Vidrine had already been picked up from the Beta Site, to take command of Earth Fleet aboard the salvaged Asgard battle cruiser *Valhalla*. He made rendezvous with Bra’tac and the lead wing of the Free Jaffa forces. The other ships of Earth’s fleet, with their allies in vanguard, had formed up at other designated spots, preparing for the last hyperspace jump into the Solar System.

Colonel Abraham Ellis, aboard *Apollo*, was with the Tok’ra and Galarans. Colonel Steven Caldwell on *Daedalus* was with the Serrakin and another wing of Free Jaffa.
Colonel Paul Emerson, at the helm of *Odyssey* was with the Enkarans and Gadmir. The remainder of the Free Jaffa and Narim in command of the small but powerful and highly advanced Tollan fleet, were backing Colonel Kirill Semyonitch Smirnov on *Gagarin*, and Captain Han Chu on the *Sun Tzu*. Colonel Sam Carter, in command of the *George Hammond*, (originally *Phoenix*), lead the two newest ships of the line, *Gaia* and *Perseus*.

And everyone was awaiting the centre-piece of the attack plan. The arrival of Atlantis.

Å

While the SGC had an open gate to the Beta site, and after the essential supplies and personnel had been brought back, the way had been clear for any members of the ‘Provisional Government’ to return as well. But after consultation with Washington, communications enabled by passing through the gate, some had been ‘requested’ by President Hayes to stay where they were.

“It’s not like Earth is in a good place right now,” Henry Hayes reminded his disgruntled cabinet. “Bruce, Ray, Francis, I want all of you on Beta, in case this whole thing blows up on us. If it all goes wahooni, I want any survivors to form up on Beta and do what they can to keep going. Right?”

“Whatever you say, Mr. President,” Raymond Massey agreed glumly.

Under any other circumstances, an effort would have been made to evacuate as many people as possible out through the gate. But with only limited access to the crippled and barricaded SGC, through beam or transport rings, that just wasn’t going to be possible this time.

Vice President Greenwood felt a strong inclination to whine, and struggled with it. “I’m feeling a little left out here, Henry.”

“Yeah, and I just spent a couple of months locked in the White House basement, bored out of my skull, while you got to run around with the SG teams having space adventures. Imagine how I felt. We’ll both just have to live with it. Oh, and AJ, you get to stay too.”

“What?” Chegwidden demanded hotly. “But you let Sam Vidrine come home! Why not me?”

And yeah, Greenwood was glad he hadn’t sounded like a petulant three year old, like AJ did right now.

“You’ve got defense of Beta, AJ, coordinating with our space fleets while we’re under the communications interference from the Wraith. Francis Maynard is Chief of Staff, but you’ve got the off-world experience. We need Sam Vidrine here to help coordinate the Fleet, and I’ve already got Tom Morrow on the HomeWorld desk. So, suck it up like a good vice admiral, retired.”

“Yes sir, Mr. President.”

“That’s my big bad admiral.”

“Big bad admiral *retired*, sir.”

And that was about it for communications as the wormhole shut down on the end of its thirty-eight minute window.

Å

Col. Mitchell reported over his link to the Pentagon War Room, “Our gate is locked up, sirs. Incoming wormhole established by the Wraith, but iris is holding. Multiple hits detected. They’re sending darts and troops against us, sirs.” In the background came the echoing clang of some of those hits.

In the specially-designed super-reinforced concrete bunker far beneath the Pentagon, was a warehouse sized space set up like NASA mission control, or, ironically, the Crystal Palace of NORAD under Cheyenne Mountain. Huge monitors lined all the walls, banks of console stations set in rings, facing out, and a table in the middle for the leadership, all with their own laptop links to monitor their assigned posts. The remnants of the re-instated JCS and Cabinet sat with Henry Hayes. CIA Director Pamela Landy and FBI Director Walter Skinner, both re-instated as well, had been sent back to their agency headquarters, denied tickets to the biggest show on Earth. Their agencies needed them more, to see normal operations resumed, oversee damage control and root out any remaining traitors. They called for what help they could trust, phone and video links to loyal subordinates, and had them do some yelling too.

A wide-eyed Very Special Agent Afloat and his small daughter (present by special one-time-only dispensation as long as she minded her manners) *had* been given a seat at the big table. With cats, of course, lurking under Tony’s chair.

Tom Morrow put Tony to work, to keep him busy and out of trouble as much as anything, with a laptop of his own to help with the HomeWorld links to the SGC and Ancient Outpost. The Agent Afloat had stern instructions to not even *think* about hacking into any place he didn’t belong. It would have shocked Tim McGee speechless to see how good Tony was at this, his fingers flying like lightning over the laptop keys, almost seeming to read Morrow’s mind for what he was going to ask before he asked for it. But then, he had a few advantages where it came to reading people.

Tony, the only guy at the table with actual Pegasus experience, offered, “This is standard operating procedure for a Wraith attack. Keep the target planet’s stargate locked to prevent escapes. But that means they’ve got at least a small force on another world somewhere, dialling in, with at least one dart squadron and troops. Probably at least one hive ship and maybe a cruiser or two in orbit.”

Cameron Mitchell supplied from the SGC control, “Sirs. I’ve got Sgt. Harriman working on that right now. We’ll have an address in… well, now actually. Got it Walter? Okay, this is not good. The address is Langara. You evacuated Langara already, right?”

“We did,” someone at the SGC confirmed. Must be someone who came in with the Beta Site reinforcements.

On another big console direct from the Ancient Outpost at the bottom of the world, Jack O’Neill’s voice grumbled, “That damned planet has always been trouble. I should have let it blow up the last time they made a mess…” and they all caught a glimpse of Dr. Jackson, leaning over to give O’Neill a brisk Gibbs-slap to the back of his head. “Um… Jonas isn’t around to hear that, is he?”

“Dr. Jonas Quinn is still on Beta, General O’Neill,” Cameron reported, stifling a grin.

“Okay, good. We did clear out the population though, didn’t we?”

“Yes sir. We’ve got three separate refugee camps set up on one world, sir,” Colonel Reynolds reminded, from his post in the Outpost Chair room. “Just seemed sensible to separate the Tirani, Andari and Kelownans while we had the chance. It was Jonas’ idea. All Langarans were evacuated last week. We got the last of them out just as the Wraith showed up. And yes, we took care of three hives and a bunch of cruisers and all of their darts at that time. They must have sent more after we cleared out.”

Henry Hayes decided, “We’ll have to deal with that problem later. At least we know where to find them. Can we send in a jumper or something to keep an eye on them?”

Dr. Jackson reported, “Once the Wraith comms interference is down, we’ll send a heads-up to General Vidrine aboard *Valhalla*. A cloaked jumper will be despatched, and will keep them under surveillance until we can get to them. By the way, we also advised them to retrieve some refugees we found in the Asteroid Belt. A jumper and four Ancient escape pods. All thirty two passengers, and their cats, alive and well, but needing rescue. They were abducted by the Lucian Alliance and held as slaves… but managed to escape before the Wraith finished the Lucians off.”

“Yeah, that needs to happen soon as,” Jack muttered. “Need to get to them before they start eating their cats.”

Å

Beneath the Pentagon, beyond the ranks of consoles in the War Room, glass doors revealed yet another hive of activity. The elevators emptied into a large anteroom, now serving as a reception room where the world’s press were permitted limited access to the various links. Several military liaisons and PR guys offered commentary and explanations – mostly for why the fifth estate weren’t allowed total access. More screens reflected what was being transmitted to the world at large on the various networks.

Balancing the desire to keep the planet’s population from panicking with the absolute necessity to keep military secrets secret, it had been decided that the security feeds from the Orbital Weapons Platforms would be broadcast to the world. It wasn’t like every man, woman, zed and child on Earth couldn’t look up from anywhere and see the nature of the present crisis. There were some spots where the sun was blotted out because of the swarms of Wraith ships above, including where the Shield and OWP satellites were positioned. And given the nature of the OWPs and the press they had got from the day they were launched… Leaping on the human interest of the situation, the press had instantly named each platform after their scientist in command.

And yes, re-run over and over (with family-friendly fudging in critical spots) for the light-hearted comic relief of it, was the ‘mooning incident’ from what was being designated ‘The Eli’. When this was over, if there was such a thing as television remaining, young Eli Wallace was going to be a celebrity star, along with the other geek heroes manning the OWP stations. Already, reporters had discovered his mother’s tragic death, and word of that had made its way back to Morrow’s desk. So had the dire situation with Gloria Rush, herself at death’s door in a Colorado Springs palliative care clinic.

After a moment’s consultation with President Hayes, Morrow opened a private channel to ‘The Rush’. “Dr. Rush. We have a message to relay from your wife, on a private channel. We can’t keep it open long, but we wanted you to have this chance. And, if you want, we can relieve you, beam you back to her, and send someone else up in your place.”

On the monitor now labelled ‘The Rush’, they could see Col. Young passing a head-set to the physicist. There were tears in the man’s distraught face as he grabbed at the set and fumbled it on.

“Gloria? Gloria? Ah my darling… are you all right?”

There was a faint chuckle. “You’re asking *me* that? Oh my dear, I am so proud of you… so very proud…”

“You know what’s going on?”

“You and your friends are on every TV station, my darling. I can guess how you got there. Makepeace, is he…”

“Gone. Not an issue any more. Oh, my darling… I wish I could be with you right now… but…”

“You’ve got a job to do. I know. Don’t worry about me, Nick.”

“They’ve offered to replace me so I can come back, but…”

“Could someone else do that job as well as you?”

“Frankly? No.”

“Then there’s your answer, my darling. As Dr. Eppes said, you’re saving the world, and that is totally cool. Just remember, my love, you’re saving, protecting me, too. Just… keep safe, please? For me. And… I am so very proud…” There was a spasm of coughing over the line, and then a weakened voice said, “I have to go now, my love. My dearest love.”

“Oh God, Gloria… I love you. I love you my darling.”

And then the line ended. Rush sat a moment, frozen, aching, horribly sure that may have been his last chance to tell his wife… tell her…

Col. Young put a reassuring hand on the scientist’s shoulder, and took the head-set back.

“You staying with us, doc?” he asked.

Rush gulped down sobs, wiped at his damp eyes, then straightened and turned away, back to his console, and nodded. “Yes. Yes. I’m staying.”

“Good man. We’re good here, sirs.”

Morrow keyed up a private line to Cameron Mitchell at the SGC. “We’ve got that SOB Makepeace under lock and key, right, Mitchell?”

“No need,” Cam reported. “Baal’s people killed him and the rest of the Patriot occupying forces when they took over. All hostiles are secured and in our brig cells, including Kavanagh and Baal. Otherwise known as Trent Kort. We’ve got teams looking for Eli David, alias the goa’uld Nun, formerly hosted by ex-VP Kinsey… but no joy yet. Don’t worry, we’ll get him. He has nowhere to go right now. I’ve doubled up the guards on the brig. It’ll be tough enough to keep one of our own guys from wringing their necks, especially Kavanagh. And I’ve left special orders to keep the geeks out. You should hear Dr. Markov…”

“Yeah well, be glad Dr. Rush is busy right now. That man is smart enough to get to Baal no matter how many guards you’ve got on him. Keep him safe, Mitchell. We’ll want to plan something *really* special for that guy.”

“You got it, sir.”

Tony glanced at the Homeland Director. “You going to tell Eli about his mom?”

Tom Morrow sighed. “Time enough for that after this is all over. Let him have a little bit of hope. We need him focused on his job right now.”

Tony nodded solemnly. “We’re really going to owe Eli when this is done, right?”

Morrow smiled. “We will indeed. We’ll see he gets his education and a job at HomeWorld, any time he wants it.”

Å

Elevator doors opened somewhere, and Lt. Colonel Paul Davis arrived, followed by FBI Special Agent Don Eppes. Davis had been returned to Earth with General O’Neill, his orders to beam to DC as soon as the SGC Asgard transporters were back in operation, to assist the HomeWorld interim chair.

The press, already primed with Dr. Charles Eppes’ family details, tried to mob the FBI man, but security fended them off, allowing both men through to the War Room.

“Ah, Special Agent Eppes!” President Hayes greeted. “Glad you could make it. I wanted to thank you personally for your help with the Patriot Conspiracy. It’s because of you that those bastards were prevented from doing some real damage to this country, and this world. And although I’m sorry your brother got caught up in it, we can’t help but be glad it made him available for his present assignment.”

Tony worked very hard to suppress a smirk. Poor Eppes… every atom of his body must be straining to chew out the President of the United States for sending his baby brother into such terrible danger… and yet, there, up on ‘The Eppes’ screen was Charlie, bigger than life, clearly having the best time *ever*. He was playing with space toys, chattering away to Larry Fleinhardt, Dr. Rush, Spencer and the Wallace kid, about ways to mathematically optimise their weapons aiming systems for the coming battle. He totally ignored the brilliant splashes of light and sparkles from the barrage of Wraith weapons hurled against their shields.

Clearly conflicted as he glanced at his brother on the big screen, Don could only sigh and say, “Thank you, Mr. President. I violated a lot of protocols on what was, when you get right down to it, just a hunch… but with Col. Davis’ help, the FBI’s BAU, IRT, Cyber teams and the NCIS Office of Special Projects, my team and I are pretty sure we’ve got a lock on all of the cases remaining. We can prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, and be assured the right people will go to trial, this time.”

“Yes. I have already named you as special investigator on all of the Patriot related issues we’re going to have. It’s a real mess, but I’m confident you can help us clean it up. I want them all identified and behind bars, at least in the short term, so we can get this sorted out. You can have anyone you want on your team, any resources you request will be made available. And all going well, once we get your brother back down, you can have him as well. Good enough?”

“Sounds like the best deal I’m going to get today, Mr. President. Thank you.”

“Want to stick around for the war, Special Agent?”

“Yes sir! If you don’t mind.”

“Pull up a chair.”

Don took a chair next to Tony and they introduced themselves. Don gave a bemused smile to the three year old girl curled up in Tony’s lap, watching everything with wide green eyes. He whispered, “How did you rate a seat at this table?”

“We got kidnapped, a couple of times. But I can pilot the alien Ancient space ship parked on the White House lawn, so… ya know. It got us here, and that’s totally cool. Want to talk to your brother?”

“Can I? And not be broadcast world-wide?”

“Sure. Take this head-set, I’ll patch you in.”

“Charlie? You there?”

“Don? That you? You’re totally pissed with me right now, aren’t you?”

“Me? Nah. But you know Colby is going to get you for that ‘big gun’ crack, right?”

“Oh yeah, like I’m worried about that. Look where I am right now!”

“Yeah, well… pay attention, and don’t get dead. And just so you know… Amita is fine, she’s home already, she and Dad send their love… We’re all real proud of you, Charlie. Kick Wraith butt for us, okay?”

“Will do, Don.” Charlie grinned wide, eyes crackling with excitement.

Yeah, Don was kind of afraid of something like this. His brother was a fair way to becoming an excitement junkie. Saving the world? Shit. How was he supposed to come down after that? Larry still hadn’t got the stars out of his eyes after his spell on *Apollo*.

Tony leaned over and whispered. “Just so you know, Special Agent Eppes… I am just *insanely* jealous of your brother right now.”

“Know what? So am I. And make it Don, okay? But… I dunno…” Don rubbed at his chest and frowned. He’d been feeling antsy for weeks now. It was just one thing after another, it seemed, hitting his ‘Protect the Tribe’ buttons…. The Patriot coup, Charlie going missing, two, count ‘em, *two* alien invasion fleets… The damn moose was there even now, if he glanced over his shoulder, peering around at all the people. “I feel like I oughta be up there, protecting my brother.”

But, actually… come to think of it… although that antsy feeling was getting even worse, in a weird way, it had also settled a bit. The focus was clearer. And it was the two DiNozzos sitting next to him. The little one grinned up at him with a face full of dimples… just insanely cute. And worth any price to protect, with his last breath. What else could he do but grin back? “So… give me the scoop, Very Special Agent Afloat DiNozzo. What’s going on?”

“Okay, Don, I’m Tony and this is Tali. Well, you can see we’ve got the OWPs manned and ready to fire,” Tony pointed out the relevant monitors around the room. “General O’Neill’s got the Ancient Outpost Chair up and running and Dr. Jackson found a way to fully stock it with drones that they can fire through the Shield. General Vidrine has command of four fleets of ships, our own and our allies, just moving into the solar system. So now we wait.”

“For what?”

Tony grinned. “For Atlantis.”

Å

John Sheppard sat in the Atlantis control chair, surrounded, filled, buoyed by the city’s AI. He sank deeper into her embrace, merging with her, until he felt the city as part of himself, his heart, lungs, skin, his limbs, his senses reaching out, preparing to fight. Yet there on the edges of his consciousness, burning like a flame, he could feel Rodney, too, reaching out to him, holding him, grounding him.

‘We ready to do this?’ he asked, not wholly aware of who he was asking.

But back came the answer, from his mate and his city, “Oh, yeah.”

Å

Atlantis came screaming out of hyperspace on the edge of the Solar System, and immediately hit cruising speed for Earth.

The Wraith Queen of Queens knew the instant Atlantis arrived. The AI could feel that distant awareness catching their scent and turning. And John could hear her scream.

He left it to Rodney to contact the rest of their forces, on Earth and in space, the city’s comms cutting through the familiar wave-bands of Wraith interference. But he was pretty sure everyone already knew. There was no mistaking the sudden change in Wraith strategy. Fully half their fleet tore off to face the City of the Ancients, even as the others spread out, re-deploying for maximum coverage.

Å

The whole world was on pause, it seemed, watching whatever monitors were available to them, tuning in or streaming the broadcast from the Pentagon War Room. Somehow, they were able to get pictures from space, in spite of the spotty holes in the Wraith black-out. The various war-ships were shown and labeled… but there was little need to label Atlantis.

She was awe-inspiring in her beauty. Delicate as a lotus blossom, intricate as a fairy-tale illustration of Cinderella’s Castle, a flying city with power few were able to grasp or comprehend. It was enough to send shivers down the back. And breed hope in every heart beating on the surface of planet Earth. All seven-some billion of them.

Å

In something less than one percent, perhaps fifty million, world-wide, there was a growing sense that *something* was coming. They lived with a stigma of swirls, stripes and spots around their groins, dual genders carefully, fearfully, shamefully hidden… Cat at their side or not, awake and aware and dreaming of blue jungles or not, they could sense it in the air thickening around them. Expectation. Not of fear, but of… *something*. Was it fate? A destiny few of them had ever been able to sense before? It felt like… it felt like… they were the cocooned caterpillar, about to emerge as fully fledged butterflies.

That’s it. It felt like Metamorphosis.

Å

On Sateda, it had been the Furalin who had put out the call, the call to Awaken, heard by every potential sentinel and shaman on their world. And on Earth, looking up at the Swarms of the Wraith, anticipating the crucial battle to come, feeling within themselves the first faint stirrings of their birth-right, struggling to join the fight for the planet’s survival… a fight that would not, *could* not be won without them…

Another call went out.

Å

In Los Angeles, the NCIS Office of Special Operations, Hetty stood in the operations room with her teams, watching the big monitor with baited breath. She was all too aware that several of her people were struggling.

Their tech magician, Eric Beale, ever colorful in his surfer shorts and tropical patterned shirt, had paled alarmingly, and backed until he could sink into a chair. He blinked and shook his head, like a dog coming out of a pond. He tried to speak a few times, but then huffed.

G and Sam were both acting antsy as well, had been since the Wraith showed up, of course, and the Lucian Alliance before them. But now it seemed to intensify. G slowly gravitated over to Eric, to put a hand on one shoulder, while Sam took the other.

“Hey, buddy. You okay?” G asked softly. That focused the rest of the team on the young man.

“I… I don’t know…” he confessed. “I think… I think I know what this is, but… I thought I’d get some warning! I was supposed to get some warning, dreams of the blue jungle, cats watching me…”

Nell Jones approached and offered, “Cats *have* been watching you, Eric. For weeks now. You haven’t noticed? And there’s been one hanging around the backdoor. I think someone’s been feeding it.”

“Yes, I have,” Hetty admitted. “It seemed… prudent.”

As if called, there was a loud meow from the opening door, and a beautiful long haired angora cat meandered in, Siamese-like markings, a pale cream body with dark brown points on ears, all four boots, tail and dark brown mask of a face, making its bright blue eyes pop. Looking closer, the cream fur was faintly patterned in swirls, stripes and spots. Of course.

“Oh…” Eric offered weakly, even as the cat leapt into his lap and made itself at home there. Eric took a deep breath, and all at once relaxed. “Oh.”

G and Sam traded smiles, then both glanced at the monitors showing the fleets arrayed and taking position around their planet.

“We got something to do here, G.”

“Yeah, Sam. I just don’t know what… but making sure this guy stays in control seems a big part of it. You ready for this, Eric?”

Taking another deep breath, the younger man nodded enthusiastically. “But… Nell, get on the network, will you? Warn the other guys. Something’s coming. And it’s gonna be big.”

Looking uncertain, Kenzie and Deeks both glanced at the monitors. Kenzie drawled out, “Well, ye-ah… we’re half a breath from a major space battle out there.”

“No, more… for us. Zeds.”

“Furalin,” Hetty corrected proudly, taking Eric’s left hand in hers in reassurance. His right was busy petting the big furry cat.

Å

Patton P. ‘Triple P’ Plame read the message off ‘Ruth’s Chat’, with most of his team hanging around his shoulders. The big man grumbled out, “Yeah, tell us something we don’t know,” but all he typed in was an acknowledgement.

“Well,” Tammy Gregorio huffed. “At least we’re not going crazy. We really are getting a heads up from the universe. We’re not crazy, right, Pride?”

Chris LaSalle gave his partner a wry lifted eyebrow. “Depends who you talkin’ about, Gregorio. There’s been enough to rile up our sentinel instincts with *two* alien space fleets attacking us…”

Dwayne Pride smiled. “No, Gregorio, we’re not crazy. But we will have a job to do. Soon, I think. And it’s protecting these guys. I got a feelin’ they may not be able to protect themselves when whatever this is hits.”

“So,” Loretta chuckled. “Just another day at the office, then?”

Å

It might have seemed as if the whole world had been put on hold, but there were still those who were required to be on high alert. Many may have taken the attitude that, if this war was lost, it wouldn’t matter what anyone on the planet did in these last days. But the optimists among them, and those for whom duty was the most important consideration, were willing to assume they’d win. The planet would go on spinning. Life would go on. So they still had jobs to do.

In London, Clyde Easter and Emily Prentiss were attempting to coordinate efforts from Interpol, to brief, organize and prepare every international law enforcement agency. The various militaries were their own governments’ problem. But the memos they were sending, even the ones on supposedly mythical sentinels, were being disseminated throughout the ‘serve and protect’ communities, world-wide.

In the United States, since the Patriot Coup fell, FEMA had been deluging the Alphabet Agencies and every law enforcement and emergency services department with memos on what to expect. As if they knew. Keep order, be ready to assist, stay calm and controlled in the face of the enemy… an enemy who would eat you the moment they were close enough… Yeah, how calm could they possibly be, facing down a Marilyn Manson alien space vampire? What were they supposed to do to stop a culling beam? What assistance were they even talking about?

And one warning was added with some reluctance, as being even more… ‘out there’ than most.

Oddly, however, most of the receiving organizations *were* taking this seriously. It came as a footnote to a story of the planet Sateda in the Pegasus Galaxy. Culled to extinction now, but this piece of their history was a cautionary tale many credible sources felt necessary to spread. It told of the Great Awakening of their Sentinels, as response to an imminent threat to their Tribe.

Å

FBI Director Walter Skinner (reinstated) was making the rounds of the Quantico offices, with his Assistant Directors Jack Fickler and John Ironside. He had sent AD Simon Sifter to the Hoover Building in downtown DC, to spread the same message.

All the FBI offices, nation-wide, were on high alert, expected to join their brothers in blue in the field, to anticipate and assist in crowd control. No matter what might be coming at them, they couldn’t afford rioting and panic everywhere. The public might have been somewhat de-sensitized to the threats over the past weeks, from *either* of the *two* invasion fleets up there hanging over their heads. But that didn’t mean the stressed-out populace wasn’t on a hair-trigger at the briefest hint of the coming battle taking a bad turn.

All of the various Behavioural Analysis Units had been called home for this. It made for a somewhat crowded bullpen. On one wall, Technical Analyst and Goddess Penelope Garcia had set up a huge monitor to capture the ZNN coverage of the battle. No matter how jammed with people, everyone had a line-of-sight on the inset window where one of their own, Dr. Spencer Reid himself, sat at an Orbital Weapons Platform control console, ready to fire on the enemies threatening their world.

“Tough audience,” Skinner murmured to his two ADs. He cleared his throat, loudly, and that didn’t manage to catch anyone’s attention either, until Derek Morgan put three fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly.

Unit Chief Aaron Hotchner stood and approached his superiors. He held out a hand to shake. “Welcome back, Director Skinner.”

Skinner smiled wryly. “Thank you, Chief. Thank you, everyone, for holding it together while our government was being held hostage. You acted professionally and did your jobs, just as you should, within the letter, and more importantly, the spirit of the law.” He glanced particularly at Prophet Simms, sitting with the Red Cell Team, and nodded. “I’m proud of you all. But that’s not why I’m here. I think you can guess…” and he gestured to the big screen.

“It wouldn’t have to do with a Great Awakening, would it, Director?” called out Mick Rawson. “Because, as far as I can tell, we’re mostly awake, here, already.” He grinned at the rather surprising number of sentinels in the room. Morgan, himself, and at least two of the IRT team, Garrett and Simmons. Derek’s elephant was rather hard to miss, after all, for another sentinel, and it trumpeted out of its trunk now in acknowledgement. His harrier, Garrett’s fox and Simmons’ monkey all greeted back.

“That’s part of it, Agent Rawson. But imagine a world-wide awakening… on the streets of DC… with all those potential feral sentinels running wild. Sound like fun to you? No. Me neither. So that’s what I want the teams to do. Get out there and patrol… just in case.”

“And then what?” Jack Garrett asked with a raised eyebrow. Because he didn’t think that was all there was to it… His gut was telling him otherwise. There was something else, something big, to be expected first… and he needed to be out there for that.

“And then… do what you gotta do.”

Å

Dr. Avery Ryan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Cyber Crime Division, walked into the main lab with two men flanking her. On her left, the Assistant Director, Simon Sifter. On her right, the new Director of Next Generation Cyber Forensics, D. B. Russell.

Avery called out, “Can I have everyone’s attention? I know we’re all focused on the action hanging over our heads right now, but we need to put that away, and try and do our jobs, the best we can. And for the time being, that means trying to keep order. Now, Cyber won’t be boots-on-the-ground for that, like most of our FBI associates, but we can at least monitor web sites and social media for trends that might indicate trouble. We’ll have to be a kind of early warning system.”

The unit didn’t know Russell well yet, but they paid attention when he stood forward. “We’ve already identified one important trend out there,” he announced seriously. “I’m sure we’ve all heard about the sentinel phenomenon in recent months?” He looked straight at Elijah as he said this. “Well, put away any skepticism you may have about that, there *are* sentinels, people with extraordinary senses, and a mandate to ‘Protect the Tribe’. Although, apparently, many of them may not yet be… ‘awake’. Have you all read the memo on the Great Awakening on the planet Sateda? Well, we’ve been warned, by several sources, that we may be in for something like that here on Earth. So be aware. Sentinels, even dormant or latent, or whatever term you want to use, are drawn to roles that serve and protect… so we can expect a fair number of them to emerge among our FBI ranks. All law enforcement agencies, police departments, emergency first responders and military have been alerted that this could happen at any time. If some of you have been feeling… especially antsy lately, that might be a sign you’re one of these sentinels.

“If we should have a Great Awakening here, and you are a sentinel… we’ve been advised that a person close to you, a trusted partner, can help you control and focus, so you don’t… um… ‘zone’, I think the word was. There might also be a danger of going ‘feral’… I know I know, that sounds… kinda primitive… but apparently, the Berserkers of Norse myth were sentinels let off their chains. So… you know… keep your friends close. Just in case.”

He grinned down at Elijah. As soon as they returned from their New York adventure, Krummy had moved his desk to one side of Elijah, Raven to the other side. The three were rarely more than arm’s length from one another.

Or their cats. Right now, grey Laney was on Krummy’s lap, white-and-tabby Boots on Raven’s. And a shadowy bear paced restlessly behind them all.

Å

John Reese, Sameen Shaw and their new recruit Jarod, had none of them ever been the most serene of people. Even in their quiet stillness, there was a situational awareness always at work, the stillness was that of a sniper waiting for a target. But right now, restful was the very last thing they appeared. They all three paced restlessly the perimeter of their underground lair. Root and Lionel both watched them in bemusement. So did a confused but resigned Bear. Harold, oblivious, or so it seemed, was back on ‘Ruth’s Chat’, his direct line to the zed conspiracy. And how weird was that to say.

Frowning, Harold finally looked up and studied his team. And blinked. “Oh. Are you all feeling… antsy? Like there’s something for you to do?”

John, Sameen and Jarod all traded glances. Their spirit animals were all practically bristling.

“Oh yeah,” Sameen was the only one to answer. “I thought it was bad when the Patriots took over. It’s ten times worse, now. Look, guys… I gotta… I gotta go. Patrol. Something. There’s someone out there is going to need me, and soon. Catch you all later.” She practically bolted from the cavern.

Jarod and John traded more looks. “Flip you for it?” Jarod offered.

John shook his head. “Nah… this guy has always been my problem. I’ll stick around here, you go do what you gotta do.”

Jarod nodded with some relief. “I don’t even know what that is.”

Harold shook his head at the screen messages from his Blue Jungle website. “Apparently, you’ll know when the time comes, Jarod. Good luck… but keep in touch.”

Jarod grinned. “Always.”

“Mr. Reese? I think we’re going to have a part to play in the defense of the planet… and I hate the way that sounds.”

John smiled wryly. “Comes with the territory lately, Finch. Your buddies have a clue, maybe?”

“Only what makes sense to a shaman, apparently…”

Å

“Come on, Darwin, we gotta *go*!” Jim demanded, trying to chivy his partner loose from the laptop. At his back, an increasingly irascible black panther paced and snarled impatiently. “I already called Agent Borin, and she’s got a launch to meet us on Fidalgo, but we gotta *go*!”

“Okay okay,” Blair declared. “It’s getting worse?”

“Maybe… I dunno. But we’re two hours travel time out from where we gotta be. And that’s not good. You ready?”

Blair hurriedly packed up his laptop. He’d need it to stay in touch, or even to access the ongoing war news. “The truck all packed?”

“Everything’s been ready for weeks now. I knew *something* was coming, and we’d need to be ready. This is it. Although… what part we can play, stuck inside a transparent snow globe like we are…”

Blair shrugged. “I’m sure the universe is unfolding as it should, buddy. Well? What’s the hold-up, big guy? Let’s go if we’re going.”

Å

Cameron struggled to keep his hands from shaking as he tapped in to the OWP comm. “I don’t like this, Sunshine. Don’t like it one little bit. I’m too far away. I feel like… I feel like… something big is coming. Something real big and real bad, and it’s gonna aim straight at you.”

He heard Spencer sigh. “Well, ye-ah, that would be the Wraith, Cam.”

“Ooh! Liar liar pants on fire! What are you really thinking?”

“I’m thinking a mass awakening of the sentinels isn’t the only thing Earth will have to deal with, and soon. I think… I think first there’ll have to be a mass awakening of the Furalin.”

“Well shit.”

“Yeah. You better be ready. And, oh, warn Daniel. He’s with the General, and our General… well, he’s going to be ground zero for that.”

Å

One last necessary action was required of them before the Commander-in-Chief, the rightful one, could give the word to engage with the enemy.

Piped through the communication channels that managed to pierce the Wraith disruptions, enhanced from Atlantis, the SGC and the Outpost under Antarctic ice, the message went out.

In this particular case, Henry Hayes and the UN Secretary General both deferred to Lieutenant General Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neill (with 2 ‘L’s). And Jack deferred to his number one go-to negotiator and alien-contact specialist, Dr. Daniel Jackson.

“This is Dr. Daniel Jackson of the Tau’ri, the SGC, Atlantis and the Furalin. Am I speaking to the Queen of Queens of the True Wraith?”

Over the channels, the echoing voice came strong and clear. Too strong and too clear, most everyone felt as they listened in, with chills running over their skin. And this time, at this pivotal moment, everyone was listening. Everyone on Earth, and everyone in the fleets. Thanks to the various alien allies waiting and relaying all, almost everyone in the Milky Way Galaxy was listening in.

“I care not what food has to say. You seek to make deals? You wish to kneel in worship of us, and deliver up to us the food we require? This we may allow. Speak, Food.”

“You have gathered an impressive force, Queen of Queens. You feel you are invincible, that nothing we can do will defeat you. But you are wrong. You can not pass our Shield. We will not surrender or kneel to you. And I assure you, we have the strength to destroy you all. And every one of you, every living True Wraith, is here, right now, in our sights.

“You have a choice, Queen of Queens. You know what it is. As the Magic Veralin has explained to you. Everything is magic. Everything has value, beyond being food for a predator. Continue as you always have, and you cannot win. Choose change, the change we have offered you before, and still offer, even now, and survive. Yes, the retro-virus will change you, as many of your sister Wraith Queens have chosen. You no longer need to be dependent upon eating humans. Live in truce with us. Or choose to continue your war, and die, here, now, this very day.

“What is your decision, Queen of Queens?”

With a scream, the Queen of Queens sent her hive, and all her cruisers and darts, on an attack vector. Straight to Atlantis.

But Daniel had one more offer.

“I speak now to all of the True Wraith Queens. This choice is one any of you can make, at any time. Cease this attack. Retreat to the orbit of the fourth planet in this system, presently on the far side of our sun, and you can have the retro-virus, and truce with all humans. A new home planet will be made available where you may live in peace as you wish, and we will not interfere. Choose and live, or die with your Queen of Queens. It’s up to you, now.”

At that, Daniel closed the channel, and sighed, glancing at Jack.

“Nope,” Jack told his beloved sadly. “They won’t listen. Or those few who do… their big cheese Queen will attack them, a worse threat to her than us. But Daniel, you gave them the offer. That’s all you can do. And enough have already chosen the retro-virus that this won’t be extinction. Not genocide. Not this time. It’s their choice from here on out.”

Taking a deep breath, and finding his hand in Vala’s, Daniel sighed, and nodded.

Then the command to attack went out, and it came from both sides.

Å

Chapter Text

Å

From the five OWP platforms came the scintillating fire from Rodney’s guns, blasting at the shells of Wraith ships that had congregated around each of them. With mathematical precision and brilliance, the new aiming algorithms Charlie Eppes had written made optimum use of every blast of light. So many ships, it was hard not to catch something with each spear of energy, but that didn’t stop the operators from maximizing every shot, carving out larger and larger holes in the Wraith guard.

From the Ancient Outpost, Jack O’Neill sent out wave after wave of drones, targeting the hives in the outer orbits. And every one burrowed deep into a hive ship to rupture living hulls.

The four wings of the Earth Alliance Fleet converged on the Wraith hosts, clearing more segments of the shell of the Wraith blockade.

And Atlantis dared the Wraith to come for her, a delicate snowflake with crystal spires under a shining dome of protection.

Wave after wave of dart squadrons dashed themselves on her dome, so confident that their beams could pierce the protection, that they couldn’t imagine failure. But no beams broke through the harmonics that Rodney McKay had adjusted to shut them out. What happened to the troops in those beams, no one could say. They never materialized on the city’s decks.

Larger ships arrived after the darts, and now the missile drones deployed, and the canons on each pier shot out with glittering tails of tracer lights.

But there were thousands of hives, and all too few Tau’ri and allies. And not all of the allies were as proof against the Wraith weapons, not when deployed by hundreds of darts, targeting and attempting to cut out what were perceived as weaker prey. The Enkarans and Galarans were struggling, lost three ships before their vulnerability was properly realized, and Vidrine gave the command for their remaining fleets to retire, and retreat to Mars orbit. *Gaia*, in vanguard, would provide cover, as she waited for any Wraith choosing to surrender and take ‘the cure’.

And although there was unimaginable carnage among the Wraith, there were losses on the Milky Way side as well. Having seen their success in driving off the Enkaran and Galaran fleets, the Hives massed to target other ships, attempting to isolate and attack all out. This seemed like a guaranteed strategy to them… so many of them, so few of the paltry food ships… The Tau’ri and allies did their best, but it was an effective counter-measure, and the only recourse they had was to form up in groups, rings to shoot out at the circling wolves.

They dodged, weaved, better flown and better trained in battle tactics. After all, how often had the Wraith ever had to battle anyone, other than their own sister-hives? The Free Jaffa absolutely dominated, particularly in the dog fights between darts and death gliders. The *Apollo* backed on an evasion pattern away from the Moon, with a comet-like trail of Wraith behind… only to stop, pivot and fire point-blank, wiping out its train of the enemy. Others caught on to this ploy, and it worked at least four more times… before the Wraith caught on.

Then it was back to the space vampires trying to cut out individual ships for slaughter, and those ships struggling to resist destruction.

And even with OWP support, that was a knife edge of balanced powers, with no sign yet which side was better positioned to win.

Å

Then a hyperspace window opened, and a new fleet appeared… five unmistakable Ancient ships rolled out and quickly assembled to charge for the third planet.

“Hey guys! Miss me?” declared the cheerful voice of Harry Maybourne, former Air Force Colonel, former NID, former traitor, current King Arkhan the First of Arkhan. And, apparently, in command of a formidable fleet of Ancient salvage. “Jack, you there, buddy? Got something for me to do, Starsky ol’ pal?”

“Sure thing, Hutch. Pick yourself an edge, any edge, and start prying it up. Oh, get McKay to give you the adjustments so your shields will keep out the wasps. And… thanks for showing up to this little soiree.”

“Not a lot of choice there, Starsky. You lose it here and now, we all get to be ham sandwiches. And… my zed kids insisted. Hail the Furalin. They may not like the Earth very much for how they’ve been treated in the past, most of ‘em were sold to the Lucians by their own damn countries, but that doesn’t mean they want her to end up a wasteland.”

“Gotcha. Well, thank them for me. And if they get tired of playing in your sandbox, I’ll welcome them in mine. Or the Pegasus Furling have offered an open-door policy for new immigration.”

“Good to know… I’ll spread the word… but ya know, Jack, my kids love me. As I always say, ‘Gender, schmender’!”

Every little bit helped, and, yes, Harry’s fleet might not be the best trained, but they were certainly enthusiastic in their attack from their little corner of the battle.

And far below on the planet surface, listening in avidly, there were already graffiti artists in every corner, scrawling in chalk or spraying in vivid colored paints, on walls, pavements, billboards, the sides of trains, in every language on Earth…

‘Gender Schmender!’

Å

The Arkhan fleet was a help, of course, but a drop in the bucket, compared to the massive numbers of Wraith. It was still a toss-up for which side held better odds. If it were down to sheer attrition, Earth and the Milky Way forces were doomed. But the Wraith were having real problems making much of a dent, even with their wolf-pack tactics.

There were no doubt desks in the Pentagon War Room, among other places, keeping tabs of numbers of Wraith, but it didn’t much matter right now. Atlantis and the Outpost Chair knew to the last dart, but didn’t bother to inform their operators. ‘A lot’ was enough of an estimate at this point, even for the usually more picky Dr. Spencer Reid, who liked accuracy in any number-related issue.

And ‘a lot’ was a daunting enough estimate, from where he was sitting, Bast in his lap, AR-5 at his back. All he could do was continue, firing his massive gun at the dense cloud of Wraith ships around him.

In the hours of battle, it became a haze, his hands grown sore at the clench on the weapon controls, his mind zoning out, like an overwhelmed sentinel, on the repetitive actions that were now pretty much automatic.

And, in the near-hypnotic repetitions, he slipped into a meditation… the blue jungle seemed to form around him, although he was still very aware of the OWP platform and his team. But ghostly shades manifested as well, the shaman Furalin gathering in silent support.

Å

Three Free Jaffa ha’taks had gone down so far, as had one of the Tok’ra ha’taks. Only one had been enough intact to be able to make it to Mars orbit and the repair efforts there, but the crews had mostly been able to ring out to safety.

Harry’s salvaged fleet, with his zeds at the controls, were doing astoundingly well. They had the hit-and-run tactics, the dodge-and-weave, ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ tactics down pat. It actually seemed to observers that the Wraith *avoided* the Arkhan ships, when they noticed them at all. The hives shied and turned tail rather than face one. So far, only one of his five had taken enough hits to need to retreat to Mars for repairs, and confidence was high that it would soon be back in the thick of it.

Two Tau’ri BC-304s had taken lethal hits, *Odyssey* and the brand new *Perseus*. They retired, limping, out of the fray, all but emergency repair crews beamed to other ships. *Sun Tzu* had taken it upon themselves to rescue any ships in such danger, flying interference with the Wraith attempting to get their shields down for boarding.

When *Gagarin* abruptly lost her shields, there was a collective gasp from everyone on Earth. It had been made clear in briefings to the media that losing the Carter and McKay shields meant the Wraith were free to use their culling beams to grab people for their larders, or to land boarders to take any ship. *Sun Tzu* instantly went to assist, blocking the larger cruisers, her complement of F-302’s fending off the darts from getting close enough. Sam Carter, on the *Hammond*, also rushed in, collecting the crew as they set the self-destruct. Once cleared, *Sun Tzu* and *Hammond* backed off… the Wraith closed in for the kill… on an empty and abandoned ship. When *Gagarin* blew, she took three hives, five cruisers and countless darts with her.

But that was three ships of the Tau’ri fleet lost. And that just might be the tipping point of the battle… and not in favor of the humans.

Å

But then, another hyperspace window suddenly erupted open, out by the Pluto space gate… as if it had been used as a target for re-entry into normal space.

And five enormous city-ships slid out. They were unmistakable in design and to the fleet scanners… these were smaller sisters to Atlantis herself. As they engaged their sub-light star drives and sped toward the battle, the comms opened.

“Children of Earth, we are the Furling,” announced Elder Jahar herself. “We have come to assist in the last war of the Wraith.”

The astounded voice of Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay barked out, “How the hell did you guys manage to get here? And so fast!”

Jahar chuckled. “We used your marvelous Wormhole Drive engine modifications of course, Rodney.”

“And how the hell did you get that?”

“Why, Atlantis told us. She sent us specs, and instructions.”

“Of course she did,” muttered the slightly disgruntled scientist.

“Welcome to the party, Elder Jahar,” Daniel Jackson cut in quickly. “We appreciate your assistance. I count five city-ships…?”

“The sixth, Quora, remains in Pegasus, to maintain the guard, and to ensure that, should we lose… there will be at least one pair of Furling to survive.”

“Thank you for your help,” called out President Hayes. “It’s unexpected, but certainly much appreciated, as Dr. Jackson said.”

“We have a mutual protection pact in place, President Hayes. Not yet ratified, of course, but our intent is there. We have come to honor that agreement. And if anyone should carry a grudge against the Wraith, surely it those of us who have suffered under their tyranny for so long.”

“I guess I can’t argue with that…”

“We place ourselves under the orders of Colonel Sheppard and Atlantis. Command us.”

With five Furling ships and Atlantis, they fanned out to make six corners of a cube around planet Earth, off-set from the OWP positions for greater coverage, effectively surrounding the Swarm.

Å

Six hours of non-stop battle, and young Eli was the first to warn that his weapon was seriously over-heating, and he’d have to stop, just to let it cool down. Charlie, Spencer, Larry and Rush agreed, and Tony relayed the order for them all to stand down for three hours, and try to get what rest they could. Jack O’Neill, alone in his chair, was himself feeling the fatigue, and also told to take a breather. He swapped out with Daniel, the archeologist’s Zed ATA strong enough to command the Weapons Chair.

Atlantis and her jumpers remained in the fray. Lorne took over for John when he began to flag and even the city AI warned him he need not do it all himself. Rodney remained in the control room, overseeing the battle, with Radek beside him, ready to deal with any issues. There were none. Hearing over the comm that his OWP guns were overheating, he tossed a command to the SGC and rescued scientist teams to work out a solution, if they could, that would get them back in the game sooner, rather than later.

Conservative estimates gave Wraith losses as half their total numbers. It still wasn’t enough. It would never be enough until every last one of them was dust in space.

“Dr. McKay, I think we have the cause, and a solution,” Dr. Svetlana Markov announced from the SGC Briefing room, where a lot of the scientists had set up laptops to monitor whatever they could. “There’s some slight resistance coming from the capacitors. They may not be up to constant bombardment. But if we reduce power output – slightly – we can reduce the resistance without sacrificing efficiency.”

“Yes… yes, I see.”

Dr. Malcolm Tunney warned, “They still need to cool down, but we can hasten that process by venting the solar panel bays.”

“Malcolm?” McKay gasped. “Is that you?”

“Yeah, Rodney, it’s me,” Tunney admitted in resignation. “Samuels and Makepeace kidnapped me. Not my call, so don’t blame me for pissing all over your yard, okay?”

“Hey, SGC, not exactly my yard… just don’t make a hole in the planet this time, okay, Malcolm?”

“You mean another one? Will do.”

“Venting?” Eli yelped when the instructions were passed along. “Venting is bad, isn’t it?”

“The solar bays are independent, a closed compartment,” Sam Carter advised, patched into the conversation from the bridge of the *Hammond*. “Don’t worry, Eli. The crew section will be safe. All we’re doing is using deep space cold to chill off the guns. With the power adjustment, you’ll be good to go indefinitely. Svetlana? You get a gold star for this. It’s not even your area of expertise!”

“I’ve already promised her a job,” Rodney quipped, “and all the Marines she wants to be her sexual play-things. But I think she’s holding out for a shot at this Wallace kid. She says he’s cute as a button.”

“Dr. McKay, I think that’s called sexual harassment where I come from!” Eli complained to general laughter over the geek air-waves.

Å

Taking advantage of his rest period, Spencer let himself sink into the Blue Jungle glade. He had plenty of company, not just from the Atlantis crowd, Carson, Miko, Hartley, Radek, but also from Penelope Garcia, Raven Ramirez, Sebastian Lund… Blair Sandburg brought friends… a *lot* of them, including a man with a white wolf pacing beside him. Then Tony was there, with Tali at his side, her hand in his as they came in from the trees. Rodney, Daniel, Anne Teldy, were still too focused on the battle to enter the dream-time, but soon Jahar had joined them.

The Furling elder led them in the skills they could use to track the Swarm, lit up in the alien sky above with tracers and haloes.

It was Spencer, with his fine and practiced appreciation of geo-profiling, who detected a group of hives attempting to escape the cordon. He took a firm grip on Bast, and reached…

Å

The Queen needed no other name for herself, so did not have one. But she was sometimes referred to by her Queen of Queens as Voracious-in-Battle. She had decided this battle could not be won. But she herself could definitely survive, if she left now. She did note that several of her sisters were of like minds, and had gathered in her wake.

She was *not* prepared to see a ghostly presence coalesce on her bridge, right in front of her command chair, facing her with a large and snarling creature at his side.

“I am the one you call the Magic Veralin. You cannot escape this way. Once more, I offer you survival, the only survival available to you now. Take the retro-virus, and live.”

With a growl and a swipe at the phantom presence… that did not actually exist there and now, she shrieked at him. “No! Become an abomination? No! Never! I will starve first!”

“Then so be it,” said the implacable Magic Veralin.

The crippling pain in her head seemed to come from nowhere. It left her sobbing on her knees, desperately clutching for… something… she hardly knew what. But the sudden absence of her powerful mind, the sudden confusion of panicked pheromones she spread from her in a miasma… also drove her drone lords to the floor. Her hive stopped, hung inert for a moment… until a ha’tak swept in and began cutting it to pieces.

The same presence appeared, the same message was delivered… but the three Queens accepted, and powered down weapons, gathered darts, and adjusted course for the fourth planet.

But the Queen of Queens marked the defection, and the standing orders were to immediately destroy any who tried to desert the Swarm.

A dozen or more True Wraith fell upon the traitors, and ripped them apart.

And so the message was clear to all. They would remain, and fight to the death… one way or another.

Å

Jahar sighed as she patted Spencer’s slumped shoulder. “It was a valiant effort, my child.”

“I hoped I could convince just one…”

“Hey,” Tony encouraged, “You got three to listen.”

“To what end?”

Blair offered, “Hey, man, you did what you could. The rest has to be up to them. And as I understand it, there’s a whole race of the Changed back in Pegasus who did listen, and will survive. That’s as much as anyone can do, more than many would even try. Nobody can expect any more of you than that you gave them the choice. Right?”

“I guess…”

Jahar looked up to the dome of blue-white stars.

“Hark, my Furalin… The Change comes… and we must be ready.”

Å

It was a classic cross-fire maneuver. No matter what their numbers, the Wraith were caught between Earth defenses below, and the space fleets and Atlantis from above. There was nowhere for them to hide from the merciless onslaught, and their own weapons were ineffective against any of the Earth-tech shields. No matter how they battered against them, Carter’s shields held, over Earth, over the weapons platforms, over Atlantis and the Furling cities, over the Earth ships and allies. A few early casualties among their allies made General Vidrine order the quick retreat of the Enkarans and Galarans. No other ships held the same weaknesses, even after hours of bombardment by the Wraith. Their beaming technology couldn’t get past the special harmonization McKay had supplied for their shields. They found it impossible to trawl for food, or land troops inside any guarded perimeter. So the enemy Wraith hung between walls of fire, starving, within tantalizing sight of the richest food source they had ever imagined, unable to reach it.

But the Wraith had devised a new strategy, and two possible ways to implement it. If they could find a weakness in even one to the orbital weapons platforms, it would give them a way to destroy them all, and significantly reduce the force of the Earth defenses. They chose the two platforms furthest from Atlantis for their experiments.

“Okay, they’re up to something new,” Eli reported, his heart pounding as he watched the ships withdraw yet again.

“Mine too,” Charlie reported.

“What are you seeing that’s different, Eli?” Rush asked.

“All the Wraith have drawn back. I can still see them around me, but… there’s a whole lot of darts forming up right above us. It looks like they’re making a sort of… I don’t know… batting order?”

“Charlie, you seeing the same?” Larry asked.

“No. Well, not darts… but I see a lot of the really big hive ships, gathering right above. What do you think is going on?”

On the other side of the planet, Rodney McKay ran the numbers through the Atlantis war-plan computers. “Hunh,” he said over the open channels, and a frisson shivered the blood of everyone who heard him. “Okay guys, I think they’re going to try and find a way to break through your shields. I’m running the numbers, but… I don’t think they have anything like enough fire-power to do it. Just hang tight.”

Eli swallowed the lump in his throat, staring up at the deadly-looking ships gathering and pointing their needle-noses straight at him. It was like he could feel them, targeting the middle of his forehead.

“Easy does it, Eli,” Colonel Dave Dixon whispered, calm and assured as he too, looked up, but kept a reassuring hand on Eli’s shoulder, grounding him. Dixon had a bunch of kids waiting for him at the Beta site, his eldest just about Eli’s age.

Then, suddenly, the first Wraith dart left the pack, and aimed straight for them, picking up speed and momentum until it was a blur. Eli could feel the sweat running down his face, as he stared up…

The crash, when it came, was like a 3D movie screen… the image vaulting toward you, but the only movement was in your own body jumping in reflex to avoid the coming blow. Eli almost slipped off his stool, but Dixon caught and steadied him. There was nothing but debris all around them, quickly steaming by to land in distant twinkling fireworks against the Shield.

But no sooner had the first dart crashed than the next in line took its run, targeting the very same square inch of dome that the last had. And then they came streaming on, one after the other, all with the same target. Faster, faster, more and more… there wasn’t even a shiver in the platform.

“You okay there, Mr. Wallace?” Spencer asked.

“Yeah… um… yeah. How come that isn’t working? It looks like they’re trying to open a hole by pounding on one tiny spot so they can work their way in, like… like… hammering on an ice pick to chip into a block of ice. With the weight and speed of those darts, and we’re kind sitting in the middle of space with nothing to anchor us… why aren’t we even jostling?”

“You are anchored,” Sam Carter explained, “by the navigation routine that keeps you fixed in orbit and oriented so the sun doesn’t burn you up. And you’ve got inertial dampeners to prevent you from tossing around at all. I’m reading all shields at full strength. You’re going to be fine, Eli. They’ll run out of darts before they do any damage to your shield. Dr. Eppes, are you getting the dart treatment?”

“No, Dr. Carter. Looks like they have something else in mind for me…”

It was almost an hour before the Wraith were done with Eli’s station, and by that time almost half their total number of remaining darts were nothing but shrapnel, and most of that had burned against the Planetary Shield.

But then they were ready for Charlie. Jack, seeing the accumulation of hive ships near his location, had sent what drones he could to cut down the preparations. But a new strategy had remaining free darts intercepting drones and taking the suicide hit meant for the hives. Neither Sam nor Rodney had any time to work on an algorithm for the drones that would have them ignore and avoid lesser targets. Rodney on Atlantis, and Sam at the helm of the *Hammond*, had other things on their minds. Charlie or Eli might have been able to do it, but they were otherwise occupied, too. So the problem was sent to the scientists still at the SGC. Dr. Malcolm Tunney picked up the gauntlet.

“Oh great,” Charlie suddenly announced. “The first hive is preparing for ramming speed… you sure your dampeners can stand up to one of those, Dr. Carter?”

The answer was lost in the shudder of Charlie’s platform. Where a one-man dart throwing itself against the platform instantly shattered to scattered bits, the hives hitting it was sort of like a bullet entering a carcass, only in reverse. Col. Ferretti held tight to the back of Charlie’s chair, but it was only a little shudder, not even enough to knock over a stool in this case. But it was horrifying, unnerving, to see the internal guts of the hive whizzing by them, organics of various kinds splashing against the shield, as they ripped through the entire hive. It reminded Charlie of a piece of demonstration animation from a forensics show… detailing the effect of a bullet as it passed through a body, from the bullet’s point of view. And that’s just what this was, as one hive after another lined up to hurl itself at them. What happened to the rent-open hives afterwards, Charlie couldn’t tell, because the next and the next, were already surrounding them, in passing, driving by the platform.

“Shit,” whispered a shaken Col. Ferretti. “That’s not a lot of fun.”

“Okay, we don’t have to take this lying down,” Charlie declared with determination, and began to aim his gun straight up the barrel of the hives. Soon, there were great gaping holes in each ship even before it struck, and then almost like a cannon barrel, so that they didn’t even shudder.

And, learning too slowly and too late, the Wraith gave up on that plan, too.

Å

Only slowly did it occur to the Wraith that they were being cut to ribbons from below, above and on all sides, and everything they threw at Atlantis, the ships of the various fleets, or the Furling city-ships, crashed like broken waves on their shields. Slower than that came the cringing warnings to the Queens that perhaps, retreat in order to re-group…? Those daring such messages ended up dead on the floors, spilling millennia-old blood.

It was inconceivable, not to be imagined, that the combined strength of the entire True Wraith Swarm should fail! There were thousands of them left, still, overwhelming numbers pitted against the dwindling enemy… no matter how powerful the Creator cities were, no matter how impregnable the few trifling Lantean ally ships, they were still *far* too few to hold the Swarm.

But sometime after that it became clear even to the starvation-stressed and arrogant Queens that they had no defense against their enemies. Even their great numbers were not inexhaustible. And even slower still did the realisation come that this may yet be their final stand.

But there was one last secret, held only by the Queens. Their amazing biology contained more than one survival measure from their Iratus forbearers. This last was not one they had ever needed, or contemplated using… but it was there all the same. Perhaps… perhaps now was the time.

The telepathic network that the Queens shared vibrated with the order, from the Queen of Queens herself. All of them so close, the message was loud, strong, and everywhere at once.

Å

Teyla, on patrol with Ronon outside the Chair Control Room of Atlantis, stopped, trembled, desperately reached out to the wall to stop herself from falling and possibly injuring her precious son TJ in his sling… but she could barely retain her hold on consciousness. Ronon was there at her side in an instant. “Teyla! You okay?”

“They’re spawning Queens!”

“What?”

“Get Rodney! I need Rodney!”

She panted, holding her head as she pulled of the chest sling and lay TJ on the floor. She struggled to remain awake and aware, but her head was bursting, overwhelmed by the Wraith communication.

“Teyla? What’s wrong?”

She felt it like a warm blanket on a cold night, a shelter and a reassurance, Rodney’s familiar Veralin presence, or maybe it was Meredith Joy… either way, it gave her much needed respite, enough to regain coherence. She grabbed at the nearest reaching hand, and yanked it to her forehead. He must see… he must see…

“Holy Hannah! They can do that? Of course they can do that! I can see that they can… hell on wheels, this is bad…”

“Tell Tony… tell Spencer…”

Å

Rodney pretty much fell, head first, into the middle of the Blue Jungle glade, into the middle of the shaman circle, gathered around a smokey-looking Spencer. Rodney was briefly – very briefly – distracted by that, but shook his head clear.

“Guys, bad news! Teyla just got blasted by a message from the Queens… don’t think they intended her to hear, but… the Queens have a biological fail-safe in case of emergencies… they can spawn Queen eggs, a lot of them, all at once. They never do it, because who wants all those rivals running around, competing for scarce food, but now they want to make sure that even if we win here, we lose. So they’re all gonna spawn all the baby queens they can, send each with a drone, and load up all their darts with… I guess they’ll be future tribes of Wraith. The dart buffers will have starter packs of Queen spawns, soldier squads for protection and those hive-germs they use to grow hives, and the dart drone pilot for breeding. All those darts out there, not just thousands, but *millions* of them, every one carrying a potential new race of Wraith!”

Tony grimaced. “Jesus… all those darts…”

“Too many,” Spencer whispered, in both the waking world and the sleeping. “Too many…”

Å

Jack felt it in his water, the Change.

Like the first cold snap of winter, like the sudden damp chill before the storm, there was a ground-swell building somewhere. His instincts for war, keyed and intensified by the Chair, were telling him that. And somewhere, he heard the howl of a wolf, a defiant challenge thrown to the Moon…

“Heads up, everyone. They’re going to scatter. We *have* to keep them contained, right here, right now, or we’ll never be rid of them. It’ll be Pegasus all over again and we *cannot* let that happen. Hold the line!”

Everyone who heard him straightened and stiffened their spines in a like determination… however hopeless it seemed.

How the *hell* were they going to do that, with still so many of the enemy out there?

Å

Nearby, Daniel stood still, almost frozen… and felt it…just one or two at first… like the first few pebbles tumbling down a cliff, then more and more… until it was a landslide… and he sank slowly to his knees, gasping…

Vala was there beside him. “My Daniel? Are you okay? What is it?”

“They’re awakening…” he gasped out.

“Who? Who’s awakening?”

“*Everyone*!”

Å

In the Pentagon War Room, Tony opened his eyes, but he no longer saw the conference table, the bustling military, the worried looks and shouted orders… Tali was quiet in his lap, holding his hand still. Then she gave a giggle, as a smoky moose bowed his head to tickle her cheek. Tony blinked, looking down at his daughter.

“We’re waking up now, daddy.”

“Who is, baby?”

“All of us.”

Å

Blair and Jim had arrived at Bleak Island a few hours ago. Constable Fraser was waiting for them on the pier with his partner Kowalski and the wolf. According the wolf… and how weird was that, they all needed to be here.

“Benny? What’s up?”

Benton led them to a field the locals were calling the Gathering Place. All fifty-thousand-plus residents of Bleak Island were there, including the security, pacing a restless perimeter. Someone had towed out one of the surveillance monitors, a big-ass flat TV screen, and got it hooked to the wireless network, helpfully supplied by the defunct Patriots, to watch and contain their zed prisoners. It was running the ZNN feed to keep them all in the loop.

“It’s like a damn rock concert,” Jim grumbled. “Complete with jumbo-tron. I’d rather be watching this from the comfort of our loft.”

Stanley Kowalski muttered, “I hear you, bother.”

“We’re going to need you here, shaman,” Benton told Blair. “I can’t do it alone. Even with the two of us it might be too much, but… We’re going to need your help and stability.”

“For what?” Blair asked, bewildered.

And then he felt it. Just a few cracking open first, among the people crowded on the field, sitting on camp chairs, blankets, logs… cats coming out of the undergrowth and running to join them… but not enough. Nowhere near enough.

Because it was an avalanche, not just a few snowflakes or a snowball rolling downhill, but a gathering tidal wave of snow, fifty-thousand-plus… every zed on the island coming awake at once, crying out, moaning… some screaming with the sudden surge of…

Å

All over the world. It was happening all over the world. In enclaves, in slums, in prisons and religious refuges, in the Audubon Inc communes, in hidden family garrets, in alleyways and every corner of the planet. Some few were found by cats, more were found by men and women with sharp eyes and flaring nostrils.

Zeds everywhere. Or at least, those who had reached puberty and the mottling of pink and purple swirls, spots and stripes. They were awakening to the power, the awareness that had always been hidden within them.

Still stuck and hidden on a hunk of rock in the Asteroid Belt, thirty-two zeds dropped to the deck of jumper and escape shuttles, keening out in agony. There wasn’t even one among them unaffected. But there were cats. A *lot* of cats. Each zed was surrounded, buried, in furry reassurance and supportive purring.

Falling in heaps in rooms, cells, gardens, dusty roads, alleyways, city plazas or village squares, forests, plains, mountains, wherever, they found themselves vaulted into a blue jungle…

“Hail the Furalin! Join us, my children, for we have much to do and very little time to do it.”

And thundering through the Dream-Time, every shaman, Z-positive or not, heard the call and joined the impossible, unprecedented, awe-inspiring army. Now more than fifty million strong.

Å

And it seemed wherever there were zeds, there were also those guardians with the extraordinary senses, recognizing, soul deep, that this was their moment. For the Protection of the Tribe. They needed every zed and shaman alive to be safe while they did what needed to be done.

As Ronon Dex of Sateda had foretold, the Great Awakening of the Sentinels of Earth had begun. And their first task? To hunt out every zed and shaman within their reach, and ensure their protection.

Å

The Wraith weren’t the only race out there with psionic abilities, telepathy or empathy, and while they might not have had the correct wave-length to read the space vampires, they certainly couldn’t miss the explosion of Furalin minds.

The Gadmir, possibly the least humanoid of those gathered, and therefore least shaken, merely said, in their high-pitched screechy voices, “Oh. How amazing.”

Others, not tuned in at all, or too tuned in, asked, “What’s amazing? What’s happening?”

“It appears the children of the Furling Race have awakened. There are many. And their abilities would seem to be… considerable.”

Å

Chapter Text

Å

Half on the Spirit Plane, half on the mortal, Spencer gripped hard to Bast to ride out the wave of psionic power that was rising from the surface of the planet below. It wasn’t just one wave, it was tidal shock after shock. He shut his eyes tight against it.

Anne Teldy was somewhere close, feeling it as much, or more, than he did. Alison Porter was at her side, Dusty Mehra and Laura Cadman at his. Dusty’s sentinel touch was like a solid anchor, and he clutched at that, too. Gradually, he began to fight his way to the surface of all that emotion, all those millions of minds, and could begin to hear the voice of their teacher.

Jahar’s voice was steady, strong, reassuring.

“Ride it out, my child. They are my kin, my children, every one, and your kin too. Like Dimmy and JJ, they are yours to fold into your embrace, yours to love and teach. You feel that now?”

“I… I… yes. I feel it.”

“They need you, my child. They don’t know what they are. Seek out those who need you most, and help them.”

Å

Charlie had fallen off his stool as his head seemed to crack open… Pythagoras yowled and climbed onto Charlie’s chest. Panting, Charlie held on tight and finally felt his body come back to him. Breathing evened out, heart-rate slowed back to normal, the shakes receded. The SG-2 leader, Colonel Louis Ferretti, knelt at Charlie’s side.

“You okay there, buddy?”

“I… I think so… can Dr. Coombs take over for me for a few minutes? He isn’t zed too, is he?”

“No, Dr. Eppes,” Dr. John Coombs answered. He was SG-2’s scientific advisor. After his adventure with Jay Felgar, running around a goa’uld ha’tak to save SG-1 for a change, Coombs had got up enough gumption to train and apply for a field position on a team. In fact, he confessed to himself he may have become, just a little bit, of an adrenaline junkie. Not that SG-2 got into nearly as many scrapes as SG-1 seemed to… No other team did, really. And being Z-negative, the ATA therapy hadn’t worked on him. “I can take over for you while you recover.”

In a shadowy half-dream in shades of blue, Charlie finally saw the Blue Jungle his website friends had talked about. He had never been able to get there himself, had none of the dreams described on the site… too grounded, too pragmatic, too much the scientist, maybe. It just hadn’t… *computed* for him before.

And, leaning over him, was the concerned face of… a moose? He grinned and gave its ghostly muzzle a pat. It faded out, but left him feeling… more focused. In control.

And there, in the centre, was the tall, gawky frame of Dr. Spencer Reid. Charlie had met him a few times back in his student days… both of them touted as prodigies, leaning to the cold impersonal subjects of math and physics… and of course, the profiler’s image had become notorious since Sulfur Springs.

“Dr. Eppes? I think we have more need of you on the OWP than with this. We can handle it. But… come back any time you like. Hail the Furalin.”

“Hail the Furalin,” he whispered back, even as the jungle faded, and he could once again see the platform, the equipment and consoles, the concerned faces of SG-2 turned to him. And still the staggering crowd of darts, cruisers and hive ships out there, swirling around their station, blocking out the views of space and Earth once again in their desperation to get at the source of destruction.

He took a deep breath, and let Ferretti help him to his feet, Pythagoras in his arms.

“I think I’m okay. Larry, you’re a circle, you feel any of that?”

“No, Charles. I seem to be in one piece. We’ve been told that whatever episode that was, it affected mostly zeds. All over the world. Dr. Rush is Z-negative. Dr. Reid seems to be recovering. But Eli…”

“Oh my god, he’s zed! Does he have a cat? Is anyone on SG-13 a sentinel?”

Å

It hit Eli Wallace hard. So hard he hovered on the edge of passing out. In a desperate bid for self-protection, he put up his hands and just… shut it all out. Dimly, as if from far away, he heard voices…

“Hail the Furalin. It’s okay, Eli, just hold on. Help is coming. Once they get there, I’ll put you in a… bubble, I guess. You need to run the weapon platform, and ignore the rest of this stuff for the time being.”

“D-D-Dr. Reid?”

“Spencer when we’re saving the galaxy. Are they there yet?”

Eli thought he saw a bright flash of white light. In a new panic he wondered if his inattention had caused the Wraith to get a culling beam through… but then there were more whispers, and suddenly, something furry was pressing into his hand. And a bracing voice was addressing him.

“Come on, Wallace. You gonna lie around all day, or what? We got a job to do here.”

He opened his eyes on a dark face just way too close, and he yelped, and scrambled back. A soldier in cammo knelt beside him, with Colonel Dave Dixon right behind him.

“You back with us, kiddo?” Dixon asked. “This is Sgt. Ron Greer, one of our SGC Marines. He’s a sentinel, here to help you. Pretty much *demanded* they send him up to help you. And Greer, where the hell did the cat come from?”

“Dunno. Cats and zeds… it’s a thing. It shoved onto the beaming platform just before they sent me up.”

Eli looked down at a dainty little brown cat that looked exactly like a statuette from some ancient Egyptian tomb. Except it had patterns, swirls, stripes, spots… just like his. *Just* like his. He’d never had a pet… but his hands reached for the soft fur, almost without his volition, and the resulting purr was… well, it seemed to make *everything* better.

The whisper in the back of his mind said, “Hail the Furalin. You’ll be okay for now, Eli. See you later, when we can meet face to face again.”

And it really did seem like a bubble enveloped him, and shut out all the… the… *noise* in his head.

With help from Greer and Dixon, he got back in his seat.

“I’m okay…” he opened channel to the other platforms. “Guys? I’m back. I’m okay. Let’s do this.” His team now included Greer, and a cat he was already thinking of as Maryann – his mother’s name. They all grinned and nodded approvingly at him. “Uh… what are we doing, again?”

Å

Spencer sighed. Other times he had over-reached his own limitations, he had paid for it with monster headaches… not this time. His mother had always told him, the only limitations he had to contend with were the ones in his own mind. But those seemed to have been blasted away.

Blinking to see more clearly the waking world and the platform, he saw Anne grim-faced, at the weapons array, still firing, Orion circling her stool. She was comfortable enough with the Spirit Plane, and a strong enough sentinel as well, that she had been able to ride out the storm on her own.

“Alison?” Spencer called out to the team engineer. “I’m going to be busy for a while, I think… can you take over for me?”

Alison grinned and patted his shoulder. “Sure thing, Spencer.”

The tangible faded out, and the shades of blue wafted around him.

Jahar nodded with approval. “Yes, yes, my child. Well done. Now reach out to all of them, all those waiting for you. Lead them, Furalin. Hail them and lead them. You are closer to them than even I. You can reach through their chaos.”

And so he did.

“Hail the Furalin. Welcome, everyone. Maybe you’re ready for this and maybe you aren’t, but we’ve got bigger concerns right now. The Wraith are hanging over all of our heads, and they have loaded the seeds of their race in every dart they have left… that’s millions of darts, millions of chances for them to re-make their race, no matter what happens with the Swarm above us. They’re going to scatter, and some ships may escape the net we’ve got around them… even one ship, one dart escaping us, and they’ll eat their way through every human population in this galaxy, just like they did with Pegasus. Are we going to let that happen?”

“OH *HELL* NO!” came the resounding answer, in every language there was.

“Then let me show you how to burrow into their heads, and keep them here, right here, so we can finally be done with them. Watch. Learn. Follow.”

Å

The Queen of Queens, he would take on himself.

As before, in ghostly form, he appeared on her bridge, before her throne-like command chair. The drones of her protection squad all swiped at his blue-tinted shape, hands encountering nothing but air. The big cougar at his side snarled and made some swipes of her own. Every drone she clawed cried out and backed away, crippled in mind, if not physical form.

Spencer stared at the Queen, and recognized her. When the Genii rogue leader, Pyol Sovar, had kidnapped him and he’d been sent to the Wraith, this was the Queen in charge.

“We meet again,” he said with a smirk.

She roared and railed against him. Standing from her chair to howl, he worked his mind inside of hers. His path had been forged already, in that previous meeting. She was older, stronger, than any of the others… but like them all, hers was the mind of an addict, and therefore vulnerable. Starving, furious, terrified… above all, she was *hungry*. Not even for food… but for the domination she had always known. Food was food. It was there to submit, to kneel and shiver and try desperately to deal for release, to beg for mercy… and be eaten. It did not gather fleets to battle and defy and *win*. That was not to be endured, not to be allowed. It must be stopped.

Denial, the addict’s first friend. The blinders of a deluded mind.

“I offered you a choice at our last meeting. Do you remember? You would not hear of it. I told you the logic of your situation, I explained the math, the consequences of a no-win game. I have one way to win this… if all of the True Wraith are dead. You can still chose, Queen of Queens. Take the retro-virus, change, and survive. Or remain True Wraith, and we will kill you. All of you.

“Once again I say, choose.”

Her terrible rotted-teeth smile widened her pale face. “You will *never* kills us all, not even you, Magic Veralin. Even now we take measures to spread our seed far and wide over this galaxy, this galaxy rich in food. So very rich… And no matter how strong your magic, you are but one. And we, no matter how many of us you defeat with your fleets and your magic, are *many*.”

Spencer permitted himself the ghost of a smile, in his near-transparent ghostly form. “Ah, but I am *not* alone.”

He reached into the very heart of her, in and around the need and the denial and the delusions, all so very familiar to him, and found the core. And there he built a wall of fear. That she would fail, that she would never eat again if she left orbit of this world, that she would herself be fed upon, by her own desperate drones and soldiers, forevermore. If she ventured too far from this last greatest banquet, too near that wall.

‘See’, he told his Furalin siblings, everywhere. ‘First give them the choice. There must always be a choice, to throw off the chains of addiction and delusion. But if they refuse, use their own hunger against them. Tell them it will never end, they will be food themselves, if they go too far from this planet, the only food there is.’

One voice, echoed by others, said, ‘I am not strong enough! The queen… the queen…’

‘Then find the drones on the darts. They also must feel the wall. Most will feel their own queen’s fear, but some might follow their commands anyway, to try and leave the solar system. Don’t let them. Turn them back, any way you can.’

Å

Deep under the ice of Antarctica, Jack held tight to the Outpost Weapons Chair.

Everything was suddenly too bright, too smelly, too rough, too *loud*! And his mouth tasted like a damn garbage pit!

“Easy there, Jack,” said Daniel, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder, but not sounding quite so steady himself… The soothing presence brought Jack back to himself. The too-sharp senses seemed to… well, not blunt, but… they were no longer quite so overwhelming.

“My Daniel… have I gone mad suddenly, or is there an *enormous* wolf sitting there at Jack’s feet?”

“Hm? Oh, that’s his Spirit Guide. Don’t mind him. He’s here to help. You got this, Jack? We need you, beloved. The Wraith are going to try and break out, and we can’t let that happen.”

“Yeah… yeah… got a breath mint there, anyone?”

“Yes, sir,” And that would be Al Thibideau, sounding just a little on the frayed side. But the mint helped. It really did, strong as the icy peppermint sizzled on his taste-buds.

With a deep breath, and the sudden nudge of a cold wet nose on his hand from the huge wolf at his side, Jack took hold and was able to open his eyes.

Everything was just that much sharper, clearer, even the HUD from the Chair, hovering above him, showing him the state of the battle in orbit. The Shield had been represented by a milky film, but now there seemed to be another vague haze, *outside* the Shield and the clustered array of the enemy Swarm, and even beyond the ships – and flying cities – of the allied fleet.

He was pretty sure that hadn’t been there before. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s Spencer’s wall,” Daniel explained. “Well, the mental wall the Furalin made, to keep any of the Swarm from getting away.”

Dr. Bill Lee glanced over from the replicator manufacturing console, the million-year-old machinery still happily churning out drones. The little scientist frowned. “I see the Shield, but what’s this wall you’re talking about?”

“Don’t worry about it, Bill,” Daniel recommended.

Jack shrugged. “I guess that’s good advice. Okay. So we just keep shooting down Wraith, right?”

“Unless they power down and make for Mars, yes. Like that one there, see? Oh, damn.” Jack could see the one ship that had gone dark for weapons systems, just shot down by the closest hive. “And watch for any trying to escape the cordon. We don’t know how effective our wall is going to be, especially if this fight lasts too long.”

Jack briefly considered that… then waved it away. “Right. Shoot down bad guys. Keep doing it till they’re gone. Gotcha. I can do that.”

Å

At last, with barely a tenth of her fleet remaining, the Queen of Queens had to admit failure. There was not just the Shield around the feeding planet to contend with. There was another wall, sealing them all within range of the devastating weapons of the Tau’ri fleet and the flying cities of the Creators. Not a single dart had been able to pierce that wall, none of their scanners could even detect it, as they could the planetary shield. Until and unless they could tear through it, somehow, dart, cruiser or hive, they were all doomed. Not even the plan to re-seed the race would work, if they couldn’t break out.

They needed to escape, re-group, find at least a temporary feeding ground to replenish themselves. At the very least they needed a hiding place for their secret dart life-boats. Once they had a chance to feed and rest… then they could return to find some way to break the impregnable Earth defenses. Yes yes, retreat now was the only way, but they would win. Eventually, patient as only an immortal race can be, they *would* win. Even if there was only one remaining to carry on the fight.

But it was already too late. The enemy fleets were already closing in, sealing off any escape route they might take.

The Queen of Queens had at least been wary enough to chose her attack vector well… on the opposite side of the blue world from Atlantis, at a hole in the orbital weapons coverage, where a sixth platform should have been, but wasn’t. In a well-planned feint, a few hives on the other side had even drawn away some of the Creators’ city-ships from this side. In a slightly less hazardous position, she attempted to create a wedge formation, ordering many hives to close in around her, giving her own ship the maximum protection. If only one hive should survive, it would be hers, to re-build the race anew. With Atlantis battling on the other side of the blue world, she hoped to successfully force her way out past the more conventional ships.

After hours of determined but exhausting fighting, everyone’s reaction times and resources were depleted… on both sides. But desperation was giving the Queen of Queens, and a few of her older and stronger sisters, with her now in the wedge, the ability to shove into that wall of fear lurking in all of their minds. It sharpened, that fear, it dragged on her… but her fear of immediate death was stronger. She shoved… the wall bellowed out, thinned, did not break, but there were stress lines in it… more and more hives, cruisers and darts clustered in behind her…

It was Larry Fleinhardt who noticed the change in tactics, instantly running the numbers in his head.

“General O’Neill! There’s a wedge-shape of, about, a hundred hive ships, attempting to break out of the cordon. Atlantis can’t reach her from their position, and neither can our guns. Can you target your drones on the ship in the middle? Here, are you receiving my transmission? I’ve highlighted the ship you need to target. It’s the ship getting the maximum protection. That’ll be the one with the Queen of Queens.”

“Got it, Dr. Fleinhardt. Thanks,” Jack answered quickly, seeing it through the eyes of his HUD. One mental blast, and he sent thousands of drones into the ball of hives. Supplied with the added algorithm to avoid lesser targets, written by Dr. Tunney, one of the geeks at the SGC, the fleet of drone missiles made a dense flock of determined killers. Outer ships blasted apart, then the next layer, diving deeper and deeper into the cloud, searching out its heart…

Every surviving Wraith felt their Queen of Queens scream out her rage in her dying moment. If they hadn’t been in such disarray, their numbers so reduced, the hours of battle not so draining on the last of their reserves in their mal-nourished states… they might have been able to reform around a new Queen of Queens. But those of first rank were all dead, second rank in tatters, only the younger and more volatile Queens left. Suddenly, it was every hive for itself, and a panicked stampede to get as far from Earth as possible, in all possible haste. But even that failed. Their own fear of starvation bent them back, to send them straight into the mouths of the massed guns.

“Way to go Larry!” Don cried out, jumping from his seat, and punching the air with a fist. He would have been severely embarrassed, if every other man, woman, zed and child in the Bunker weren’t doing exactly the same thing.

“Great call, Larry!” Charlie called out.

“Yeah, good one, Dr. Fleinhardt!” Eli agreed happily.

“It was just a simple game-theory algorithm Charles used with the FBI to determine—“

“Yeah yeah,” Jack cut him off with a chuckle. One geek was much like another. “You were right, it worked, drinks are on me!”

Å

There were too many Wraith ships left, still, for one-on-one confrontations, but now it became a free-for-all route to try and stop the remaining enemy escaping into hyperspace. They had to be caught before they got out of the Solar System.

But, unaccountably to most, the enemy could only get so far away before turning back. None of them fired up their hyperspace engines. A few more elected to surrender, their weapons systems going dark as they raced to Mars orbit before their sister ships could shoot them down. Now, with their numbers thinned out drastically, a few managed it. A very few.

Earth, Atlantis and Furling drones were sent in heavy barrages, each targeting its own hive or cruiser, while the rest of the fleet chased down darts, the F-302s and jumpers vying with Free Jaffa death gliders to defeat the most enemy. It was an enthusiastic competition.

One by one, the last Wraith ships fell. The sheer volume of debris from the Fleet was hard to estimate, and a lot of it was even now crashing against the Planetary Shield and frying. Darts were hunted down and burst.

But then, there was only one hive left. Its queen desperate, already knowing she was doomed, flew her hive straight at Atlantis.

John faced her with a grim smile, and took extra satisfaction in firing ten drones at her hive.

She screamed out her impotent fury, and she died.

Å

Meanwhile, *Apollo* made for Langara with all speed.

Three hives hung in orbit there, while a cruiser, squadrons of darts and troops had landed on the surface of the poisoned planet, close to the Stargate, holding open their connection to Earth.

There were a few dozen dried husks on the ground, all that was left of human beings. The Langarans had refused to allow these few chosen citizens to join them in the evacuation: why, no one could tell, but it had to be a pretty harsh indictment.

Fore-warned about the re-seeding plan, Colonel Ellis aboard *Apollo* checked with the jumpers that had been keeping watch. No Wraith ships of any size had left in all the time they had been watching. Yes, at one point darts had been positioned around the evacuated planet below, but none had left the system. And with the stargate used to keep the Earth gate locked, no darts had left that way. Or if they did, they had smashed themselves to atoms on the Earth gate Trinium iris.

The Queens of these three hives knew they were the last. They simply waited for the Tau’ri to come for them. In a last act of defiance, the hives landed on the planet, and detonated bombs that would shatter the volatile Naquadria-rich crust of the planet, hoping to catch the thrice-cursed Earth ship in the explosion.

But they were not so lucky. *Apollo* stayed in far orbit, watching Langara die, and take the last of the True Wraith with it. Then Colonel Ellis reported home, and gave the order to return.

Å

It was Colonel Caldwell on the *Daedalus* who went to fetch Jay Felgar and his little group of exhausted, but jubilant escapees. The jumper and four escape shuttles entered the starboard cargo bay doors and settled, more or less gently, on the deck. There was almost a race to the Mess Hall when Caldwell told them a meal had been prepared…

Including bowls of water, milk and cat kibble.

Å

With the Ancient Outpost guarding the south pole of the planet, it had made sense to Atlantis that she land at the north pole. She carefully sent a super-heated blast of air to melt just a small pocket of water so she could land, floating her undercarriage on the little lake, and allowing the ice to close back in around her. She could drill down to the salt water far below, and establish her supply life-lines that way.

Gently as a snow-flake, she settled on the rippling aqua lake, and powered down her star-drive.

Å

Chapter Text

Å

The goa’uld was in a particularly foul mood, Ziva thought. The expression on his face was familiar enough to her. It was the one her father always wore when a mission had gone exceptionally badly. Or maybe her father was just as pissed off as his symbiote.

Maybe he wasn’t a prisoner of the SGC, like Baal and Miss Smith, but he wasn’t exactly free, either, still wearing Ziva’s chains. And although the Shield would eventually be lowered, that would no longer do him any good, since he didn’t have a tel’tak to get him off-world. And it was *still* set to block any unauthorized cloaked ships, in any case.

Personally, Ziva thought they were both lucky to be alive, and free. However temporary that situation might be. The Lucians were gone, eaten by the Wraith. The Wraith were gone, in rather spectacular fashion, the dust of their mighty Swarm still sparkling and frying against the Shield. Word from every TV station’s news coverage was that the Shield would be shut down within the week, once they were sure there would be no risk of contamination from the ash in orbit falling into the atmosphere. And the Trust was gone, the last remains of it trapped and captured in their attempt to take over the SGC.

Only Lord Nun remained.

Ziva listened to his arguments, his promises, his offers, his desperation. Her original plan, to take him immediately to someone who could remove the symbiote from her father’s body, might need some… adjustment.

Anyone she knew of she could take him to would immediately arrest them both. This, she fully realized, included Leroy Jethro Gibbs. She had gone to that well once too often… He might help her get her father freed, but then he would surely toss them both to the authorities. She had no idea what their fate would be then… She had thought she no longer cared. But… it seemed, now that all the world was against them, she did want an option that would leave her free. Returning to Israel, returning home to her duty… that was a dream. Maybe it had been an impossible one, even from her last doomed effort to push Agent Meatball out of her life. Now, she thought maybe she could be content just to be left alone, forgotten, in some quiet, obscure corner of the world where no one knew her name or face.

Her father had once promised her, if she just stuck with him for a little longer, his schemes and machinations would see them both in control, and safe, assured of peace and prosperity, not just for them, but for Israel, secure under his leadership. Although… come to think… he had never actually mentioned Israel. Had he planned all along to abandon Earth altogether? Or rule it?

Had he been a goa’uld host even then? Or as good as?

Even without the symbiote in his head, could her father return to the man he was? And who even was that? Did she actually want that? Or did she still cling to the dream, the illusion of a loving and caring father she had held in her heart since she was a child? The hero who would protect her and all Israel with his power and wisdom? Where had that man gone, if he ever existed?

And, it had to be asked, now, at last. What did she want? For herself?

She had told herself she wanted Israel to be safe and free. In her secret-most heart, she wanted her father to approve of her, be proud of her. Love her. She had thought obedience to his goals was the way to accomplish that. More fool her. The more she gave, the more he demanded of her. Always. Duty? It had been an ideal. A worthy goal in and of itself, yes, of course. Her country first, always. Everything else would come as a direct consequence of that: peace, security, happiness. The fairy-tale happy ending. But she had mistaken duty to her father as duty to Israel. Just as her mother, sister and half-brother had. To their cost.

So what was left? What did she really want? What, that wasn’t the hopeless, unattainable, deluded dream of her childhood?

She contemplated the being with her father’s face. He had always been able to read her like a book. None of her training in keeping her true self behind walls had ever worked on him. Did he read her uncertainty now? Did Nun share this knowledge? It certainly seemed so, as his desperate pleas and promises, wild, extravagant and unbelievable as they were at first, became more practical, more focused.

“If you follow through with your threat, to take me to someone who will remove me from this host, then I will be dead. And Eli David will be in chains, returned to Israel to be punished for treason. Not just to Israel, but to the world. What exactly do you expect that to look like, Ziva? A long and happy life? No. And what of you, aiding and abetting him at every step? No. That is not the way to get out of this. But assist me, just one more time, and I swear, I will voluntarily leave your father, alive and well, for another host.”

“Then do it now. We will go find you a host, willing or no, and you will leave my father now.”

“And then what? You will still be hunted on all sides, and so will he. Help me one more time. We have one more potential ally, Ziva! She will help us escape this accursed world… for a price.”

Ziva’s eyes narrowed. An eyebrow lifted. “Well?”

“She was once on the IOA staff, assistant and second to the Russian rep… but she was yet another spy in their ranks. She’s actually Bratva, Russian mafia. She managed to escape the general manhunts for traitors, by HomeWorld and by the Patriots. Zoya Irinevna Sokolov. If we can make contact with her… well. I believe she may have the means to aid us.”

“Why would she do that? We have nothing, Lord Goa’uld,” she sneered. “Every asset my father hoarded over the years was on that tel’tak the SGC just claimed. We are being hunted by *everyone*. There is no one we can turn to. But this woman will help us? Why would she?”

“Because I know where the Lucian lords kept their most valued treasures. I am the last of the Ogdoad, after all. I know the two Alteran bases they found, and the third the SGC knows nothing about. I have caches of weapons, naquadah, riches, that no one else knows of. And I know where Baal has similar hoards of his own. He thinks I did not know, but I was able to break into his navigation system, and found the locations of several of his best hidden bolt-holes.”

“Aa-and? We have no ship to get us there. We will never be allowed anywhere close to the stargate. I doubt Miss Sokolov will have any better luck.”

“Ahh,” gloated Nun. “But there is one thing Miss Sokolov has that she cannot make use of… without me. The Bratva have themselves a tel’tak. I don’t know where they managed to get it, I never cared enough to ask. All it needs is a NASA shuttle in its grapples, and the Shield will allow any ship passage. But none among the Bratva know how to repair or fly their tel’tak. I do.”

Å

Ziva stole an SUV from a mall parking lot in Colorado Springs. It came with a laptop, its case tossed on the back seat, luckily enough, and wi-fi connection. She used it to find an empty, isolated cabin in the mountains, and used a false ID with a valid credit card account to rent it for a week.

The laptop gave them access to the internet, to make contact with Sokolov, through methods known to the goa’uld.

There was something else the Trust remnants in Russia had turned over to the Bratva.

Once they had given the contact their exact coordinates, there was a flash of white light in the meadow in front of the cabin. Ziva stood on the porch, arms crossed as she glared at the other woman.

“Beaming tech?”

“A gift from the defunct Russian arm of the Trust,” Sokolov shrugged. “They no longer have any use for it. You are Ziva David? Where is Lord Nun?”

Ziva permitted her to enter the cabin. To find Nun chained to a chair. Sokolov smirked at the other woman. “Wise precaution. He made you promises, no doubt? And you do not trust any of them?”

“Not so much,” Ziva acknowledged.

Sokolov grinned. And took out a zat gun to fire point blank. The electric blue sizzle took Ziva down in an instant.

“Well well, Lord Nun. Should I leave you in chains? It seems safer to me.”

Nun glanced at the woman lying prone on the floor. The host nagged at him… But no. Not this time. He couldn’t trust her enough, not when her overriding goal was to rob him of a host. And he found he wanted to keep this one.

“Do as you will. Just get us out of here.”

Å

The runabout *Nala* landed gently on the East Pier of the great city of Atlantis. Immediately the craft was met by cheering crowds. As soon as the hatch parted and the gangway lowered, the people disembarking were met by a rush.

Young Torren was the first to vault into the arms of the pilot. “Papa! Papa! I have missed you! Thii-iis much!” and he recklessly threw his arms wide to show. Only Tony’s quick reflexes kept him from getting slapped in the face.

“That much, hunh? Well, me too, buddy! At *least* that much!”

“Momma Tey!” cried out little Tali, running, stumbling, to her mother’s waiting arms. TJ in his sling had been passed, somewhat haphazardly, to John Sheppard.

The two parents stared into each other’s eyes, all the love and anguish of the last few months gone in a blink, and only love left.

The rest of the Expedition members held back, bad as they wanted to greet the prodigals, allowing the mates to have their moment. There would be time enough later for celebrations.

But then probie Agent Afloat Dr. Spencer Reid recognized one more passenger alighting from *Nala*.

He stepped forward, greeting, “Agent Gibbs? This is a surprise.”

Gibbs shuffled a little on his feet, staring around at the incredible city… but still embarrassed and unsure of his welcome. “I… uh… hitched a ride. The *Nala* was parked at the White House, that’s just down the street from NCIS headquarters. We were all on alert for the… um… emergency. Congratulations, by the way, Dr. Reid.”

“Thanks. But… just visiting?”

Gibbs had approached Sheppard, and with an unexpectedly humble pleading look. At the nod from a distracted Tony, the Colonel passed TJ to his biological father.

Smiling down into his own ice blue eyes, Gibbs said, “Maybe… maybe I’m looking for a place to retire. They say the fishing is good from the south pier.”

And because the curse of the trouble magnets was *just* that strong, that was when the message came through the Garcia subset comms.

Å

All Tony could do was groan, long and heart-felt. “Of *course* Ziva is still loose to cause trouble,” he muttered, totally ignoring the wince from his former Boss. “Just tell me that Trent Kort, alias Baal and their Miss Smith are behind bars?”

Jack O’Neill had joined them in the main conference room as they assembled to take the briefing from the NCIS headquarters MTAC. The temporary interim Director, Owen Granger, stood front and center of their monitor, with Hetty Lange at his side, both looking equally grim.

O’Neill assured, “Oh, we got Baal and his ‘Miss Smith’ wrapped up all nice and tight in cells back at the SGC. They’ll stay there until we can make arrangements to de-goa’uld Trent Kort. Then both of them are on the Botany Bay list… unless they chose to face the American justice system for massive charges of treason against the planet, complicit in widespread assassinations, human trafficking, sedition, conspiracy with both the Trust *and* the Lucians… I think they’ll take the easy out, both of them. As for Lord Nun…”

Owen Granger scowled. He had a fairly impressive scowl, too. “Yes, well, we have to catch him first. And I have to admit… Miss David seems to be our best option for that.”

Gibbs groaned. “What kind of deal is she demanding?”

“None, Gibbs, except that you be involved in helping her out. You’re the only one she trusts at this point. Seems she placed a homing bug on Nun before he and the Sokolov woman took off. Apparently, she didn’t want to run any risk of losing him. Its range is too limited for her to be able to find him on the other side of the planet, presumably somewhere in Russia, but she knows the alien tech HomeWorld has should be able to locate the signal, no matter how weak. She’ll give us the transmission signature… if we’ll let her take part in tracking and capturing Eli David, alias the goa’uld Lord Nun. What we do with either of them at that point, she doesn’t seem to care. One too many betrayals, she said.”

“Uh hunh…” Gibbs had a pretty impressive scowl of his own. “And we believe her this time because…?”

Granger looked to have bit into a lemon. “I’m not sure what choice we have here, Gibbs. If the Bratva do have a tel’tak, as soon as Nun gets to it, he’ll be in the wind. None of us want that… uh… sorry. *Not one* of us want that. Is that guy’s name even for real?”

Hetty shook her head and stepped up. “Look, Jethro, we don’t like it any more than you do. But Atlantis has the tech we need, Ziva is waiting in an unknown location… which she’ll only disclose to you. She has the homing beacon signature, which she’ll only give up to you, once you pick her up. At this point, it’s your call. We can supply backup and reinforcements, my OSP team is ready, if that’s what you want…”

Tony groaned, hands rubbing his face. “No, thanks, Agent Lange. This seems like HomeWorld business to me. And Ziva… well, as far as Atlantis is concerned, this is personal. Very very personal. Arresting enemies of the HWS is in my purview, don’t you think?”

The noise Teyla made at that, right at Tony’s shoulder, was *extremely* unhappy, but resigned.

“I agree,” Spencer spoke up. “This is clearly Agent Afloat business. Ziva and Eli David are still wanted for mutiny against Atlantis, a charge which predates any of their other outstanding offences.”

More groans met that statement.

Surreptitiously, Sheppard sent an alert to Anne Teldy and AR-5 to saddle up for a mission. AR-1 didn’t need the alert, since all of them were there, and written all over their faces were the words, “You’re not going *anywhere* without us!”

O’Neill could only smirk at the pleading look on Cam’s face, before he nodded to the relieved man. Yeah, another sentinel on the team that went to track down the David family couldn’t be a bad thing. He could feel his Dire Wolf pacing behind him, livid and furious that even one more traitor remained in *their* territory, to threaten *their* Tribe. And, apparently, that was nothing less than the entire planet Earth. Yeah, whatever, Jack thought. Not like he hadn’t been doing the job already, since he first volunteered for a suicide mission in a dismantled old missile silo.

“My only question now is, do you take a jumper or *Nala*?”

“We take both,” John declared. “They’ll only see *Nala*, but we’ll be there in a cloaked jumper all the same.”

O’Neill grinned. “I like it. You got a go, AR-1, AR-5, Agents Afloat… and Cam.”

Left to commiserate on the Atlantis Ops Deck, security agents Edmund Black, Tony Baldrick and Yuri Yashkin could only wave goodbye.

“Clearly,” Black commented, “Agents Afloat have more fun.”

Å

They figured the bare minimum they needed on *Nala* was Tony and Gibbs… but Spencer insisted he had to be there too. And if Spencer was going, Cam couldn’t, just *could not* be too far away from him. Not after the past few days. Teyla, without saying a word, radiated the same attitude as Cam, but with far more reason, after the months of separation from her mate and guide.

There was a moment of awkwardness, trying to pry little Tali from her parents. The poor little thing was suffering from a measure of separation anxiety after her adventures, and after the months of having her father’s constant attention. But young Torren stepped up.

“It’s okay, Tali. You come with me, and we’ll wait for them to get back together. Okay? We have to watch out for TJ. He’s still so little, he needs us both. I’m your big brother. I’ll look after you. Just like I promised Doodah Deenah.”

There were still tears, but Tali held tight to her big brother’s hand, and waved a sorrowful good bye to her parents. Oma purred loudly as she leaned on Tali’s ankles.

So. Tony and Spencer in lead, Gibbs as backup, Teyla and Cam smuggled into hidden positions, there by sufferance, as a nod to their sentinel instincts. Sheppard, McKay (without baby Meredith Joy for once, left in Carson’s arms), Ronon, and AR-5 all piled into the jumper. With cats.

*Nala* landed in a mountain meadow not far from Colorado Springs. Figured Ziva wouldn’t have been able to get too far from the SGC. Tony, Spencer and Gibbs stepped down to show themselves to the hidden fugitive. None of them looked up for the jumper in vanguard they wouldn’t be able to see. Ziva might guess they had brought additional back-up, but she wouldn’t *know*.

Ziva emerged from the shadows of the forest, and approached with a smile for Gibbs. She glanced briefly at the other two. “I knew you would come, Gibbs. And I might have guessed you would not be alone. But did it have to be these… defective detectives?”

The Furalin were too good at their reads now, hot and cold, to miss the avalanche of emotions in the woman. It was amazing she could walk and talk at the same time, she was so inundated with regrets, fury, anguish, loss and defeat. After everything, after all she had paid… it had come down to this. So of course, Tony would be there to watch her ultimate humiliation.

Gibbs remained unmoved. If he had access to his sentinel senses again, he wasn’t using them. There really wasn’t any need. Ziva wasn’t hiding anything any longer.

“You called this party, Ziver. You wanna come with, or not?”

“Oh, I definitely want to come.”

The four of them climbed back on *Nala*, and made for the bridge. Tony took the pilot chair, Gibbs the captain’s. Spencer sat by Tony at the main console, while Ziva stood at Gibbs’ side. Bast and Luke watched her like hawks.

Gibbs turned to his former agent. “Okay, Ziva, we’re here, we’re waiting. Let’s have the signal.”

Without a word, Ziva passed over a device they had used at NCIS to track suspects, or as back-up for undercover agents. “It is twin to this. I grabbed a handful of them from Abby’s lab before I left. It seemed prudent.”

With a huff, Gibbs tossed it to Tony.

A voice came over the *Nala* comm circuits. It was, oddly enough, Garcia’s AI voice. Tony and Spencer traded looks before they turned to the displays their dedicated AI was firing up for them.

“It’s a standard NCIS homing beacon. With a pre-set broadcast channel,” Garcia reported. Maps of Earth were thrown up on the monitors, the wide expanses of Siberia. “The transmit range is pretty short, not much more than a few miles, at best. But I don’t expect there to be more than one of these transmitting from Russia. So all I have to do is piggyback off other receivers until I find the one we want… aa-aand… There it is.”

“Thanks, Garcia,” Tony declared even as a flashing red dot appeared in the middle of Siberian muskeg and moose pasture.

Spencer said, “Um… Garcia… how did you get to *Nala*?”

“Oh, simple. I asked Atlantis to copy me to the *Nala* command circuits. I guess you’d call me Garcia II… The runabout’s pre-existing control system doesn’t have an AI as such. Or rather, it didn’t used to. Since *Nala* is Tony’s, I figured he would need me.”

“Oh… Okay. Thanks.”

Tony grinned. “Thanks, darlin’. Coulda used you for company while Tali and I were being held prisoner on the bridge.”

“Well, you got me now, Very Special Agent. For better or worse. Oh, and I brought all your favorite games, for those long and boring hyperspace journeys.”

“Wow! Bonus. Thanks, Garcia! Or do you want a different name for *Nala*?”

“No, I like Garcia.”

Ziva bristled, rolling her eyes. “Honestly. Will he *ever* grow up?”

Everyone ignored her waspish comment. It seemed wiser than letting her drag them into bickering. In the captain’s quarters attached to the bridge, the door pinched open, Cam and Teyla could hear every word only too clearly.

Gibbs huffed, impatient. “Before we even make a move to the target, let’s get it straight. We’re here to arrest Eli, Lord Nun, whoever he is. We take him into custody, get that snake out of him, and see he pays for his crimes. But… What do you want out of this, Ziva? Why did you come to me?”

Her face went cold and grim. “I want the same.”

Tony huffed at that. “I call bullshit. You could have had that any time since you were kicked out of the States. But no, you were at his side, his willing soldier, when he went to Atlantis. Aiding and abetting in sabotage, murder, piracy, and mutiny. Then you followed him into the Trust, and the Lucian Alliance. Both bent on World Domination.” He snorted at the Saturday morning cartoon sound of that. “It doesn’t look like the Patriots had any time or use for him. But you know what they were intending to do when he and Baal overran the SGC, right? They were going to pull down the Shield, so they could escape themselves in that tel’tak, and let the Wraith come screaming down on Earth. And you were helping them.”

Oh yes, there was rage there, a deep sense of betrayal, and an incandescent desire to strike.

“That last wasn’t my father. That was the goa’uld within him. And Lord Nun definitely needs to get dead, Gibbs. I am in complete agreement there. As for my father…”

And there it was. Every nerve and muscle in her body tightened with the need to strike out, sudden and lethal. To kill the man who had betrayed her one too many times, on one too many fronts.

Spencer considered the furious, bitter woman carefully.

Out of nowhere, he said, “There is an ancient Greek myth about a family curse, on the House of Atreus. It began with their grandfather, Tantalus. He was a corrupt king who invited the gods to a feast. Then he killed his own son and served him up in a stew to his guests, as a test of their omniscience. The appalled gods punished him for this, eternally, and resurrected the son, Pelops. But the family curse had already been set. Blood killing blood. Sibling against sibling, parent against child, child against parent, over and over down the generations. Sometimes also eaten. But all the descendants were trained from infancy to be dedicated weapons of vengeance, to live and die by that sword.”

Tony glanced at his Probie, then snuck a look at Ziva. “Well, that sounds familiar.”

Spencer continued, “There is a way to break the curse, Miss David. But in order to do that, you have to lay down the sword, first. Can you do that?”

Flat opaque black eyes stared back at him. “No.” Then, with a smirk back at her very own *bête noir*, she said, “Will that curse include Talia David also, Dr. Reid?”

It was Tony who answered, implacable, “No. Tali is a DiNozzo.”

Ziva had never heard that tone from him before. It sent shivers up her spine. She knew she had misjudged the man from the beginning… but how much had she dismissed in her own arrogance and pride?

But then the mocking Tony DiNozzo she knew and despised was back, his smile worn like a mask. “You guaranteed that yourself, Zee-vah, on her birth certificate.”

Å

It took almost no time to cover the distance between Colorado and Siberia, taking a short-cut over the North Pole. But then Tony held the *Nala* in hover mode, cloaked, while Garcia scanned the rather impressive operation the Bratva were running.

It looked like nothing so much as the Russian version of Area 51. Maybe it was. It was all too possible that the Trust-assisted Bratva (or was it the Bratva-assisted Trust?) had infiltrated the Russian stargate program to the extent that it was no longer anything but their own branch operation. After all, that was pretty much what happened to the IOA.

The place was crammed full of naquadah readings and the unique tingle of Alteran tech, all too evident to the Alteran *Nala*, and to the Furalin.

It was also crammed full of people, all of them heavily armed.

And nowhere were they more heavily laden down than in one plaza in the massive compound, where a tel’tak sat, its engines stuttering, but presently failing to light up.

And there was their goa’uld signature, in the engine room with a few humans in attendance. One would presume these were guards and techs, trying to help get the thing running.

Garcia chirped, “That thing can’t fly like that. They have to rearrange… pretty much *all* of its crystals, before they’ll be able to get it off the ground.”

“Well,” Spencer commented, “they now have someone with the expertise to be able to do that. What’s our play, Boss?” and he looked to Tony, not Gibbs.

“I’m open to ideas, Probie.”

“I suggest we alert the Russian authorities, for one thing. They have a pretty big problem here, and they’ll need to deal with it, no matter what we do here. We don’t have the manpower for a full-on assault…”

“Yeah, but we do have a couple of secret weapons,” Tony agreed. Cam and Teyla emerged from hiding, dressed in black Atlantis uniforms, bullet-proof tach vests, Wraith blasters and more conventional Earth weapons.

“Ready when you are, Very Special Agent,” Cam declared.

And over Garcia’s comms, from the cloaked jumper, John Sheppard piped up, “AR-1 and AR-5 ready to go. Your call, Agent DiNozzo. This is your operation.”

Tony nodded. “Out-standing. Let’s land in that alley, neutralize their sentries, and then proceed to the tel’tak. We have the cover of night on our side. And I trust our Protectors to keep us out of the line of fire, until we have the target in our sights. This is a surgical strike, everyone. Try and limit collateral damage as much as you can. We’ll leave the clean-up to the Russians. All we want is to take Eli David and his symbiote into custody and get the hell out of Dodge.”

Against everyone’s advice, Ziva was allowed to keep her pistol… and whatever hidden weapons she had stashed around her person. Presumably that included at least one knife. She had learned Gibbs’ lessons well. Spencer tried not to be too worried about that… and made sure he had an empathic leash on her, to drop her into sleep at the first sign she was pulling any cute tricks. She geared up with the others, and with a feral grin, moved in next to Tony.

“Like old times, eh, Tony? You and me, partners.”

“Um, no,” Spencer declared before anyone else could object. “I’ll be back-up for the Boss.”

Tony lifted an eyebrow. Spencer huffed in exasperation. “This is your own hard limit, Boss. Remember? The day we met, my first on the job as your Probie? Ziva isn’t to be allowed to back up anyone. Certainly not you. And you’d give her another chance, now? No. I’m on your six this time.”

“Why?”

Spencer blinked. It seemed all too obvious to him. “I’m your partner.”

Å

Any opposition they met was quickly stunned with the Wraith weapons and Ronon’s impressive blaster. Only one casualty so far… a guard Ziva got to with her knives before the rest of them could react. At the cleared ramp to the tel’tak, AR-5 spread out in guard positions, while AR-1 joined the Agents and Ziva in the goa’uld transport.

Meticulously, strictly by the numbers, they used LSDs and cleared the vessel. Each hostile they met was stunned, disarmed, secured and dragged to a handy storage locker to be locked in. In minutes, they reached the engine room. There were three life signs in there, two Bratva/Trust engineers stumbling to follow Lord Nun’s growled out orders. The deck was strewn with cracked and heat-blackened crystals, various tools of Earth and off-world design, and a box of what looked like replacement parts.

Lord Nun himself was head and torso buried under a console, rummaging around and making more noise than was, perhaps, strictly necessary.

“Spanner!” he barked out. When no one jumped to put the requested item in his blindly reaching hand, he yelled out, “Where’s the bloody spanner?”

He pulled out of the ship’s guts to blink at the circle of enemies, all aiming weapons at him. The two stunned engineering assistants were lying in a heap, shoved against the bulkhead, out of the way. His eyes registered the familiar faces, until they finally rested on Ziva.

Å

Someone finally noticed that there was a distinct lack of sentries still patrolling in the tel’tak yard. That someone was Zoya Irinevna Sokolov. She instantly called up reinforcements, having all too good an idea what was happening.

As squads of security arrived and attempted to approach the goa’uld cargo ship, fighting broke out, with AR-5 defending.

Å

They had a contingency plan for this. Rodney would see if he could get the tel’tak in the sky, away from the Bratva base. Garcia could then use her Alteran transporters to move people around: Tony to *Nala* and John to the jumper, to get them all out of the danger line, while Rodney operated the tel’tak. Luckily, Atlantis herself was just a hop away. If the tel’tak was proved, in fact, to be un-flyable, they would still get Garcia to move them to their getaway craft, after setting a self-destruct. No sense leaving even a crippled tel’tak in enemy hands.

The Russian authorities were, indeed, incoming, in strength, but the remote nature of this base meant it would take hours for ground troops to arrive, even with helicopters. The strike jets would arrive sooner, to begin strafing. Bombing would be out, since there was too much volatile naquadah on the base to risk it. They didn’t *actually* want to turn the place into a crater… not if they could recover any of the priceless alien tech hidden there. Satellite coverage would track anyone trying to escape into the barren tundra around the base. Not much cover there, and heat signatures alone would light them all up as they ran like rats for the underbrush. John privately suspected the Russians had given orders to take no prisoners… but he had no intentions of sticking around to find out. This was Russian business, and a Russian mess to clean up, however they chose.

Cam and John Sheppard fell back with Ronon to assist in defense. Lord Nun had been pulled out of the machinery, and Rodney dived in.

“Okay, I need ten minutes, and I can get this thing in the air. All it needs is a bypass to funnel all the power through to the engines themselves. Can you give me ten minutes?”

“We’ll do our best, Rodney,” John assured, “But better make it five.”

Yeah, he knew his mate.

Nun, staring down the barrel of his own certain demise, one way or another, made the one move no one expected from him. A suicide play. His host screamed out, fell to the deck and began convulsing, something blue dribbling out of his mouth.

Ziva, shocked, put down her weapon and moved in to check the man, acting purely on the reflex to go to her father’s aid. In a lightning move, he reached for her gun, aimed it straight at her chest, and fired…

Å

Ziva lay in her father’s lap, blood bubbling over her lips. The goa’uld, or perhaps the ghost of Eli David, looked down regretfully at the woman dying in his arms.

“Why did you have to betray me, my Ziva? Why, at this late date, after all this time? We were so close… so close to everything either of us have ever wanted. We could have re-built our family. We could have built a nation worthy of our efforts. We could have had security, slept soundly in our beds, no fears, no wants… peace and happiness at last. And you destroyed it all. Why, my daughter?”

Ziva looked up into her father’s black fathomless eyes… and they flashed with goa’uld-light. She coughed once, and reached… and in a swift move no one expected, thinking she no longer had the strength or life left to her… a stiletto-thin blade flashed out in her fist, and she plunged it deep in the monster’s neck.

It pierced flesh, blood, bone, into the symbiote cartilage buried deep within.

“For Eema,” Ziva gasped out. Then, with a fierce shove, “For sister Talia.” A twist and grin, “For brother Ari.” And then, with a particularly vicious stab, “For me.”

The goa’uld gave an inhuman cry, its eyes flashed once more… then the light flickered out. Those black eyes turned from flat to horrified as he looked down at the fading woman in his arms. But the toxic blue poison of symbiote blood was already burning into him. Tears welled and dropped down his cheeks. Whether it was the pain, regret or loss… who could tell. Eli himself certainly could not, as he collapsed forward, on top of the woman.

Gibbs rushed in, shoved the host off, and took the woman in his lap, holding her close. The wound in her chest was clearly mortal. He didn’t know how she was still breathing. He gave her a soft kiss to her forehead. Dark eyes turned up to him, their sharp light turning dull.

“I’m sorry…” she whispered. “I chose the wrong father…”

“Enough, Ziver. It’s over now. Be at peace.” He gave her another fond kiss to the cheek.

And both Davids died in a single moment.

Å

Chapter Text

Å

It took a while – a long while – for the Earth to get over the jubilation at her rescue. After weeks of terror, at not one, but two space fleets attacking, people deserved a little time to cut loose and celebrate their deliverance. And oh, by the way, congratulate the various and sundry heroes responsible.

Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay, heroes of Atlantis.

General O’Neill, hero of the Ancient Outpost.

Eli Wallace, Drs Eppes, Fleinhardt, Reid and Rush, heroes of the Weapons Platforms.

Dr. Reid, Dr. Jackson, SG-1, and members of the Atlantis Expedition, taking part in the ‘Fort Apache Rescue’, sneaking through the enemy blockade and battling the evil Trust/Patriot forces to liberate the SGC and start it all off.

And oh, by the way, all praise to Colonel Dr. Samantha Carter, who gave them the Shield that held off *two* invading alien fleets, and kept them all safe against the unimaginable host of the Wraith Swarm. And Dr. Rodney McKay, smartest man in two galaxies, who gave them the awesome power of the OWP, that did some serious damage to the enemy.

The captains and crews of the Tau’ri Fleet, fighting so valiantly in Earth’s defense. General Vidrine, in command of Earth Fleet aboard the Asgard battle cruiser the *Valhalla*. Colonel Abraham Ellis, aboard *Apollo*. Colonel Steven Caldwell on *Daedalus*. Colonel Paul Emerson, at the helm of *Odyssey*. Colonel Kirill Semyonitch Smirnov on the Russian ship *Gagarin*. Captain Han Chu on the Chinese ship *Sun Tzu*. Colonel Sam Carter, in command of the *George Hammond*. Colonel Zale on *Gaia*, and Colonel Masters on *Perseus*.

And, of course, most sincere gratitude was also expressed to the participants in the impressive alliance General O’Neill had forged with the various off-world peoples. Master Bra’tac leading the Free Jaffa. Narim, in command of the Tollan. Malek, commander of the Tok’ra Fleet. The Serrakin, the Galarans, the Enkarans, the Gadmir. Not to mention King Arkhan the First and his small but kick-ass Fleet.

And, certainly not to be forgotten, ever, the participation of their newest allies, in their mighty flying cities, the Furlings and their children, the Furalin.

The message had gone out to all of Earth already… by means not readily available to normal humans. While four of their five cities would return immediately to their home galaxy, Pegasus, one would remain in Earth orbit for a time. Any ‘zed’ on the planet was welcomed to join them on Ilium. The ‘zeds’ of Earth were their children, the Furalin, and would be welcomed among them, joyously, with open arms. By more open communications methods, posted all over the internet, published in newspapers, broadcast on TV and radio everywhere, the invitation extended also to any with the ‘Z’ chromosome. They, too, possessed the heritage of the Furlings, and would be welcomed to join them. In fact, any mates, families or friends their Furalin chose could also take a place among them.

The first takers were Dr. Jay Felgar and his little band of escaped Lucian slaves. And their cats.

Å

At the first gathering of heroes at the White House, Eli Wallace stumbled forward and clutched Carter in a bear-hug, weeping tears of thankfulness.

“Your shields… they saved me, Colonel Carter. They saved all of us. You don’t know, you can’t guess, what it was like on that platform, staring all those Wraith in the eye… You saved me.”

Eli had already been informed, by the President of the United States himself, that he had been awarded a scholarship to any college of his choice, to pursue his education, as far as he wanted to go. And from HomeWorld, Director O’Neill guaranteed him a job at the end.

There were moments of profound grief, however. When Eli discovered the depths of betrayal by Samuels, Makepeace and Baal… his mother gone for months, and he never knew… it was hard for him to console himself, even with the change in his fortunes. And then there was Dr. Nicholas Rush. Director Morrow arranged for his immediate beam-out to the SGC the moment the battle was declared over, and a jumper to take him to the clinic where his wife clung to life. She had fought with her last remaining strength, to stay long enough to hold him in her arms once more, and say a tearful goodbye. Just one more innocent victim of the Trust and Patriots. But, hopefully, the last.

It took a couple of months of dedicated hard work by Don Eppes’ task force, liberally aided by the full cooperation of what remained of the CIA, FBI and NID, not to mention certain assets assigned to the SGC. But eventually, every member of the Patriot Conspiracy was identified, every crime detailed with overwhelming evidence, every crime and slur they had generated against HomeWorld and the zed community, fully disproved, and true responsibility attributed. Assets were uncovered and confiscated, bolt holes closed up, the Bleak House Island resort made an official sanctuary, under new management, its denizens to have their cases reviewed for time-served release or pardons, as soon as the DoJ could process them through.

Before any trials could begin, however, President Henry Hayes called yet another press conference, to reveal the deal he had cut with head conspirator, former USAF General Hank Landry, for any of the accused who wanted to plead guilty and save the country they had betrayed some expense and botheration.

“In order to best serve justice and the interests of world peace, each one of the accused members of the Patriot Conspiracy or the Trust, will be given the option of joining Mr. Landry in exile, on a planet designated Botany Bay. By international agreements, this will include a number of people identified and arrested for related offenses in Russia, France, China, Israel and several other nations. The Botany Bay planet has been fully surveyed by SGC personnel. It is Earth-like in flora and fauna, climates and land masses, but is not inhabited by sentient life. There’s even an abandoned Goa’uld base on the planet with old Jaffa barracks for shelter, and a played-out mine. All empty, of course. Minimal survival gear, tools, food, will be supplied. Once settlement is complete, the Stargate will be relocated in orbit, inaccessible to the exiles. We’ll leave them a MALP, and contact the colony at intervals, and may be disposed to send additional relief supplies at a later date.

“Any of the accused can, if they so choose, remain on Earth, and take their chances with our courts. But I will be adamant in seeking the severest possible punishment for any of them found guilty of any crimes. That means the death penalty for charges of sedition, murder, treason, kidnapping and human trafficking, or ordering, planning, aiding and abetting these crimes. And any claim of extenuating circumstances had better be damned convincing. ‘I was under orders’ is not going to cut it. Not this time. Not when every last human being on this planet could have been Wraith-food because of their greed, arrogance and stupidity. So. They can face trial if they’re feeling lucky, but otherwise, they can go and build whatever Utopia they want out of our sight. Friends and family are free to choose to join them. Actually, anyone is free to choose to join them. Be my guest. Application can be made to HomeWorld Security. We’ll set up a web site, or something.”

Jack O’Neill, standing in the wings, groaned and wiped his face with his hands. He could already see the flood of mail he’d be receiving.

“General O’Neill? You have anything to add?” President Hayes offered, with the hint of an evil grin, well aware of the mountain of work he had just dumped into the lap of the Director of HomeWorld.

“Yes sir, Mr. President.” Jack took the podium and said, “Before you think about sending in your application to join the Botany Bay exiles, know that HomeWorld has plans for establishing proper colonies, open to one and all, of any nation on Earth, any creed, color, religion, gender, or orientation, to begin later this year. If you can wait a few months, I would advise you to do so. There will be minimal support offered to the Botany Bay colony once we’ve launched their gate into orbit. Survival is going to be tough, and none of the exiles is going to find it easy going. For those of you who think they’re getting off light – and I confess, I may be one of them – I assure you that they are not. Effectively, accepting exile is an automatic guilty plea on all charges. There will be no escape, no return, no parole, no commuted sentence or appeal for re-trial. They’ve truly received a life sentence.”

In fact, extreme measures were going to be taken to ensure it. Monitoring satellites were even now being placed to warn off any ships that might be inclined to approach. One was a planetary shield similar to the one over Earth. In addition to the same deployment protocols as Earth’s, Botany Bay’s was programmed to slam into place if any ship were detected, lifting from the surface, or approaching from space. Powered by one of the lesser naquadah generators, it would only last a few weeks, but would also send an immediate alert to Earth, so someone could use a jumper to come through the space gate and check out the situation. The codes for allowing passage through the shield would be known only to the President and the Director of HomeWorld. Oh, and Rodney, who had come up with the system in the first place. And this time, the key was not so simple as an algorithm based on a piece of Spencer Reid’s geographic profiling work.

Oddly enough, when the President opened the floor to questions, all anyone wanted to know about was the plans in place for future colonies. It was as if the Patriot Conspiracy was already a dead issue. Not one voice was raised in objection of the plans for their disposal.

Or, maybe that wasn’t so surprising. The last thing anyone wanted was to be tarred with their brush.

Å

Atlantis had initially established herself at the North Pole, but this situation was soon judged to be less than optimal. If security coverage for the planet was the goal, working with the Antarctic Outpost, then a monitoring station was all that was required. All that was really needed for that was a jumper, with a certain amount of infrastructure built around it, of living quarters and supply dumps for whatever shifts of staff were determined necessary. To keep the city there, with its dome up all the time to keep the residents warm, was considered to be a bit of a waste. And most of them had got used to the sea breezes and ocean views from the towers. So, after plans were fleshed out for setting up the North Pole base, Atlantis relocated herself to the South Pacific.

Now landed as a permanent fixture on Earth, her stargate, with its built-in DHD, had taken precedence over the SGC gate in Colorado Springs. But then, the facility under Cheyenne Mountain had undergone massive damage, from the Red Sea protocols, Baal’s bombing the entrances and top eleven floors, as well as utterly destroying level thirty three and surrounding floors. It would be months before Stargate Command was livable, never mind back in business. In fact, Jack was seriously considering suggesting that they scrap any plans to re-build, or if they did, turn it into a secondary back-up location, and move all SGC assets to Atlantis as the primary base.

There were obvious benefits to such a plan. Location location location, for one… Cruising the oceans and seas of the planet, like the Antarctic Outpost, with its sheer geographic isolation, was its own defensible security. Sooo much easier to properly control access.

Now on Earth, and post-Declassification, it would finally be possible to supply and staff the great City as needed, to take advantage of her manifold benefits. They could finally explore her as they wanted. Carefully, of course, because every room was a potential booby-trap after ten thousand years of flooding and/or neglect. That much hadn’t changed. But they could pump out all the basements, clean up and repair water damage, discover all the treasures she still hid from them. And they could move in a civilian population as the residence towers became open. Free to all, of course, upon application… but for the first invitations, zeds… no, the Furalin, would be the preferred candidates. After all, now awakened, they could talk to their city, and operate her equipment.

Atlantis could live again.

Å

Very few were talking about the Great Awakening of the Furalin, or the Sentinels and Shamans of Earth. Those who had taken part already knew, and it was no one else’s business.

But there was a ground-swell of change everywhere, the unreasoning prejudice and persecution of ‘zeds’ finally coming under examination. Long overdue, most decided.

Of course, that didn’t mean the bigotry ended overnight. Human prejudice just didn’t work like that. In many, it only caused them to dig deeper and entrench their cherished beliefs – no matter how mistaken or unjust.

Nations that had not yet got with the program were quick to take advantage of the Furling offer of immigration. They didn’t bother to ask if their ‘zeds’ were willing… they didn’t actually care. In Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Japan, repressive, extremist and hide-bound traditionalist governments simply rounded up every ‘zed’ citizen, and contacted Ilium to have their troublesome and unwanted ‘problem’ population picked up. They were unaware that these people had already voiced their approval of the ‘relocation’, only too willing to leave when they weren’t wanted or appreciated. But almost all of them were accompanied… if not with immediate families, then with newly-met mates with sharp eyes and delicate noses… and, of course, cats. If their governments didn’t send their companions, Ilium went ahead and picked them up in white beams of light.

It would be months, maybe even years, before those countries realized just what they had willfully thrown away.

The dreaded ‘backlash’ effect was also everywhere, even if it no longer carried automatic implicit support from anyone, citizen or government. Even with the ‘culling’ the Patriots had done in the US of anti-zed organizations and proponents in their coup, there were still too many, world-wide, only too ready to take up that banner. Too many *needed* to keep ‘zeds’ in their proper place – at the bottom of the social order, whipping boys for anyone with a grudge, or a need for someone lower-ranked than themselves. Too many organizing their little hate-groups, too many joining them, too many willing to finance their efforts, overtly or secretly behind the scenes, since anti-zed sentiments were becoming more and more politically incorrect.

The thing was… most of these people and groups were finding that life had become rather difficult for them, in almost every way. Their computers wouldn’t work. Anything with a chip developed unaccountable faults. Cars broke down. Cell phones caught fire. Their businesses failed under the onslaught of computer viruses. If they had *any* even marginally illegal vices or hobbies, these were immediately revealed to local law enforcement. Tax fraud, child porn, a history of emergency room visits by children or spouses…

Those of a more violent inclination, found their identity numbers being whispered by electronic voices to various government entities, foreign and domestic.

The revelation of Furling ancestry did open all sorts of opportunities for the beleaguered, marginalized and persecuted Furalin of Earth. HomeWorld was actively hiring any and every Furalin, offering full ride scholarships to any who wanted. King Arkhan the First was more than willing to take in any Furalin, offering the lure of space adventures with his little, but growing, Fleet. His signature call, “Gender-schmender!” had quickly gone viral.

The US was putting all sorts of legislation in place to eliminate zed prejudice, and to establish Bleak Island as a permanent Furalin Sanctuary. This last was hotly contested, of course. Most did not consider it a positive step. While it had been a good idea when the Patriots were in charge, providing a defensible fortress to ride out the crisis, it now might too easily become a ghetto for further separating zeds from society.

Then there were the invitations from the Furlings and Atlantis herself, and the possibility of leaving Earth altogether for an off-world colony they could claim as their own…

There were thousands, hundreds of thousands, of takers for these various options. The most repressive societies on Earth, those who had not already called on the Furlings to remove their ‘zeds’, quickly found a flood of their despised and victimized people leaving, with little more than what they carried on their backs, but accompanied by steadfast and protective mates, and their cats. Barbarossa County in Arkansas was quick to feel the brunt of this exodus. Every hated ‘zed’, with their families, left overnight, taken up in beams of light.

The Furalin citizens of the United States might view their government’s change of policies with some skepticism… Dr. Spencer Reid certainly did… but most were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, Jahar had assured them in the Blue Jungle Glade, the Furling offer had no time limit. All a Furalin need do was ask… and they would be brought into the open arms of their people.

All over the world, for those Furalin who remained, most with a sharp-eyed companion at their shoulder, and a cat weaving around their ankles, this was the attitude. Give their home country, their home communities, the benefit of the doubt. Let them prove that there were no hard feelings… and no more bullying or bigotry. If the new atmosphere of fairness and equality was fleeting or a mere illusion… if there was any resumption of attacks and abuse, verbal, emotional, financial or physical… well. There were plenty of options out there now, that did not carry the risk of beatings, injustice, or death.

Å

No doubt in the days, weeks, years to come, there would be other disaffected groups, resenting not having all the power they thought they deserved, who would mount their own conspiracies, their own secret societies. But they had already lost their chance, though they didn’t know it.

Atlantis had landed. She had returned to Earth, and claimed the planet, and its people, as her own. And as such, she had reached out with every sense she possessed. Not just to scan deep space for any sign of extraterrestrial threat, but every Earth-origin communication network, surveillance and security system, every computer, camera or communication device connection, was hers to examine. She acknowledged this task was made the easier by piggy-backing off Harold Finch’s Machine, sometimes called Northern Lights. And like that much smaller infant system, she would do whatever was necessary to ensure the protection of her people. Which, in her case, included all of Earth.

She would never be alone again.

She would make sure of it.

Å

Security was incredibly tight for the transfer of Botany Bay personnel to Atlantis. Not one conspirator was going to escape this net. Not this time.

For the occasion, Atlantis had sailed back to the Golden Gate Bridge, just beyond San Francisco harbor.

All supplies and the few civilian personal effects had already been crated and shipped through the gate. The MALP was sitting in place on the stargate deck with the last of their effects. This included one laptop, with a limited battery life, but capable of being plugged in and recharged off the one naquadah generator supplied on the MALP. There was also a device that would allow a remote dial-up of the stargate once it was in orbit, and a radio capable of making a call out for emergency assistance. And it had better *be* an emergency, O’Neill had warned Landry, because the SGC didn’t have to answer if they chose not to. The laptop contained instructions deemed necessary to the exiles, including a map to find the Goa’uld base and Jaffa barracks. It had been Dr. Jackson’s idea to add several copies of *‘Robinson Crusoe’* to the crate of ‘how to’ manuals. These covered topics such as wilderness survival, hunting, fishing, basic agriculture, and tanning, carpentry and cloth-making. There were also the reports describing the local flora and fauna – which were dangerous or toxic, which were edible. Once the last colonist passed through the gate and it shut down, a device on the Botany Bay side DHD would ensure the Stargate would not dial out, opening only for an incoming wormhole from Atlantis herself, until the gate was lifted and set in orbit.

Å

There were a lot of rubberneckers present on the Atlantis Command Tower Operations and Stargate decks. As many, in fact, as could find an excuse to be there, no matter how thin. This was a piece of history, after all, the final closure for a period of corruption and treason that was still shocking to the people of Earth. Atlantis surveillance systems would be keeping a permanent record, to be copied and offered to anyone interested in viewing it.

Quite a few spouses and lovers had volunteered to join the colony. It wasn’t until dishonorably discharged former General Ulysses S. Stahl climbed to the gate ramp, that everyone realized, to his embarrassment and everyone else’s mocking amusement, that he was going to be accompanied by one of each. The two women, one considerably older than the other, the younger notably smug, gripped hard and possessive to an arm each… and glared daggers at each other. Yeah, his sojourn on Botany Bay was unlikely to be peaceful, by any stretch.

A few families had also elected to go, their conspirator son, father, husband or brother either unable to convince them not to, or ignorant of just how hard survival was liable to get out there. Spencer Reid suspected that part of this willingness was a certain starry-eyed romanticism, looking on this as an opportunity to play pioneer. That certainly was motivating the thousands of applications inundating HomeWorld to join the next colonies.

Carrie Lam was *not* one of those willing to go. She stood in the gate room, stony faced, arms wrapped tight across her chest, as she watched her father enter, in chains. General O’Neill, also present, merely nodded to the man’s guard, to allow him to approach his daughter.

“A last hug for your old man?” Hank offered, jovial to the last.

“No,” Carrie spat back, made of steel. “Whatever affection, loyalty, good wishes I may have had for you, died when I discovered you attacked and murdered countless innocent people to frame the SGC. Goodbye, Mr. Landry. Enjoy your exile. I certainly will.”

Keys to the chains and shackles were on the other side of the gate, so Landry was prodded up the ramp on his way, after his fellow conspirators.

Dr. Peter Kavanagh had been adamant all along in maintaining his innocence of all charges, claiming he didn’t know he was working for an illegal conspiracy. Even in the face of security camera footage of the destruction of Area 51 and therefore the cold-blooded murder of three scientists also aiding and abetting Makepeace, he still thought he deserved a free pass. So it took a private chat with his own lawyer to outline exactly what would happen if he was the one and only contributing member of the Patriot Conspiracy left behind to bear the brunt of public outrage in a trial setting. Peter was still complaining bitterly as he climbed the ramp and disappeared into the event horizon.

Vice Admiral Roger Bonneville said nothing as his turn came. Head up, shoulders straight, he marched up the gate ramp, looking neither right nor left. He had refused to allow any of his family the option of going with him. No, he had made the bad decisions all on his own, he would take his punishment like a man, and not shame his wife and children any further. Whatever his crimes, or the weakness and sins that made him vulnerable to manipulation, he would have to take some comfort. For all his faults, and all the guilt he carried for multiple betrayals, of his oaths, his family, his Navy, his Commander-in-Chief… he was still… not *that guy*.

Whatever Leon Vance had to say to his wife Jackie or their kids… only they would ever know. And they were not encouraged to join him. Victor Fitzgerald and Raphael Dante also climbed the ramp alone and in disgrace.

Also alone came the various Trust and Lucian Alliance operatives and stooges, turned over from Patriot cells, and other governments around the World. The last thing anyone wanted to do was have to deal with these traitors themselves. After minimal legal wrangling and summary sentences meted out, perpetual exile seemed like the best deal any of them were likely to get. This was particularly true of the some twenty people taken prisoner from the Bratva base in Siberia, including a sour Zoya Irinevna Sokolov. Senator Aubrey Evans, at least, would be joined by his stubbornly loyal wife. Past IOA staffers, surviving ones, at least, joined the long lines. Emile Roget, Franklin Murphy, Bruno Duval.

Cheda Lanis, looking like death after the total eradication of the Lucian Alliance, and his family clan Kek, eaten by the Wraith… no longer seemed to care where he spent the remainder of his miserable life. Most would think he was lucky to have survived when none of his people had… but he certainly didn’t look lucky right now. The relatives of Dr. Isaak Chaykovsky and Dr. Leah Sasson, still in mourning, could take some comfort in this.

Å

The last Baal clone (or what they all fervently *hoped* was the last) had been removed from Trent Kort and stomped into blue goo. But the ex-CIA black ops agent was just that dangerous, even without a symbiote, that he was heavily chained for his trip through the gate. So was the woman ushered onto the gate deck with him, another past CIA black ops operative. Kort knew he was done, and was already working schemes in his head for dominating the pathetic crew of wannabes and failures he would be spending the rest of his life with. The woman at his side had already made tacit overtures to be his partner in future enterprises…

She was breathtakingly beautiful. ‘Miss Smith’ had ditched the glasses and the unattractive bun, letting her raven locks flow free, made up to the nines to highlight huge dark eyes and high cheekbones. As she passed by General Jack O’Neill… *oozed* might be a better description, she tossed him a provocative smile.

Up on the Ops Deck, Vala leaned into Daniel. “So… that’s her, is it?”

Daniel nodded. “Miss Smith, alias ex-CIA agent Kerry Johnson. Jack had an affair with her… for about two weeks. It was the third… no, second time I ascended. She was supposed to hunt down the Trust for us… guess she found them. And then took their deal to switch sides. Good thing Sam isn’t here… that was a case of hate on sight.”

“Hunh… so he had an affair while your back was turned? Think we should send him to the couch for that?”

Daniel smiled, taking Vala’s hand. “Life’s too short to be sending anyone to the couch. Plus there’s a statute of limitations on this sort of thing, not to mention extenuating circumstances… He’d never met you, I was supposed to be dead, again, although he didn’t really believe it that time, and we hadn’t had our… understanding clarified.”

“Hm,” Vala hummed, not convinced.

Meanwhile, ‘Miss Smith’ had one more card to play.

“What, Jack, no last minute reprieve? I could be handy to have around…” and there was an Edmund-Black-worthy innuendo in there. “You know I could serve you well on any ops teams you send out there.”

Jack seemed to seriously consider that for a moment. Then, with a somewhat malicious grin, he said a flat, unequivocal, “No.” Then he sent a sly, shit-eating grin up to his mates, both rubbing lovingly at their growing bellies.

“Okay,” Vala admitted reluctantly, but with a gloating smile for the rival being herded to the open gate after new confederate Trent Kort, “I guess he can be forgiven. This once.”

Å

Last of all, came ex-Colonel Robert Samuels. There was dead silence as he was led into the gate room. He looked at no one as he climbed the ramp, but at the very top, he stopped, turned to look over his shoulder, and smirked at those gathered to see him off.

One of them was Eli Wallace, his dark eyes glowering with his hatred of the man who had stolen his mother from him. “Have a nice trip!” he called.

Samuels focused on Eli for a moment, registered a degree of anger for the smart-assed zed kid … and that was as much vindication as Eli was likely to get. Robert Samuels stepped into the gate.

“Shut it down, Walter,” Jack patted his favorite gate-tech on the shoulder, from the Atlantis control console.

There was an audible sigh of relief from everyone.

Å

In the end, only five hives had made it to Mars to surrender, and one of those had been a feint by the Queen, to try and get by the blockade of allied fleets. But she had seriously underestimated the human food. So when she tried to escape after the main battle, she was shot down too. Of the other four, only some of their dart squadrons made it to landing berths, none of the cruisers or other support vessels, which had been flying in rear-guard protection of their hives, and been destroyed by other Wraith.

Four hives took the retro-virus. And when their hive-ships began to whither, the Changed were beamed to holding cargo decks to be shipped to a new home world. The darts, some still containing those ‘Wraith Race starter packages’, were left behind to be thoroughly destroyed. The planet chosen for their relocation was viable, but held no sapient population. The stargate was lifted into orbit and locked, much as the one on Botany Bay had been, and with similar security precautions. This would permit cloaked jumpers to monitor the situation on the planet. They had agreed with the Furling that a certain amount of support would be offered the newly mutated half-humans, if they proved to be cooperative.

The coordinates for that system were kept a closely-guarded secret. It would be hard to think of any reason someone would chose to release these dangerous aliens, but it seemed as if there were always some assholes out there ready to stir up trouble.

As Jack reviewed the report on the relocation of the Wraith, he heaved a heavy sigh.

“Jack?” Daniel prompted.

“Well… it just occurred to me... Why do we need to prep *two* Botany Bay planets for all our criminals and Changed Wraith, when we could just make it one? Conserve resources, you know?”

Daniel turned appalled eyes on him. “Jack! Why would you want to do that to a bunch of innocent Wraith?”

“Awww Danny… since you changed sex and got pregnant, you’re just no fun anymore.”

Spencer was also looking a little dubious, so Tony patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, Probie. I’m sure he’s just joking… pretty sure… ninety percent sure, anyway…”

Å

Chapter Text

Å

Daniel promised faithfully to his partners to come to bed as soon as he was finished just one more thing in his office… Those partners knew him too well and were clearly skeptical. But he did have a lot of boxes from the SGC to unpack in his new permanent digs in West Tower Five. He and his staff were going to be insanely busy in the next few weeks, setting up archives, research library and labs for cataloging, translations, study and storage of all the artifacts that had been collected through the gate over the years. This included everything salvaged from the Area 51 disaster, and elsewhere. Jack and the Powers That Be decided it was far safer storing all of this stuff on Atlantis, under Daniel’s watchful and militant eye. Elsewhere, it seemed all too clear now, *anyone* could get at it. With potentially catastrophic results.

The archeologist had actually managed to get sidetracked reviewing an old mission report on the Ark of Truth… That damn thing *definitely* needed to be kept under lock and key, and he would see to that soonest.

That was when he heard a giggle behind him.

Startled, blinking his tired eyes, he glanced behind… and down.

“Oh, hey Tali. What are you doing here? Do your mom and dad know where you are?” The DiNozzo family had seemed to be attached at their hips since they were reunited, none of them wanting to be out of sight of any of the others for long… and that went for little TJ, as much as the others.

“Hiee, unco Danny. I comed to get you.”

The little girl skipped forward and climbed into his lap – for once cat-free, as Aten had taken up the cat bed in the corner, where he watched, suddenly attentive. The calico kitten – more like a calico teenager now, all long legs, stood waiting at the office door.

“You did, hunh? Did uncle Jack or aunt Vala send you?”

“No. Oma did.”

Everything in Daniel seemed to stop dead at that name. Tali was looking back at her companion, green feline eyes staring straight at him. He didn’t think he’d ever been told the kitten’s name… he definitely would have remembered.

“Oma, hunh? That’s… a good name.”

“You haveta come now, unco Danny.”

“I do? Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Oh. Well then, I guess you and Oma better show me.”

Aten was already out of his bed, giving a long stretch, then joined them as Tali took Daniel’s hand in hers. His long white tail made question mark shapes as he trotted along, next to the smaller calico with the straight-up tri-color tail.

First to the transport cabinet, then…

To the Aquarium.

The Furalin of Atlantis, and their familiars, were all assembled, some already sitting in lotus positions on various pillows or pieces of furniture. This included the babies, TJ, Meredith Joy, Dimmy and JJ. And standing at the walls, ever watchful, their sentinels, if they had one. Dr. Alison Porter, as her Furalin’s guide, got a special dispensation, apparently. Vala, another special case, smirked where she leaned to prop up a wall next to Jack.

Tali ran to sit by her daddy, and Daniel went to sit in front of his mates. They both put possessive hands on his shoulders.

“Thought that would get you out of your damn office,” Jack gloated in a whisper.

“Yeah, well… Did you know Tali’s cat is named Oma?”

“Oh yeah. As of about ten minutes ago. Bit of a kick to the head, hunh?”

Daniel shrugged. He didn’t want to make any assumptions… but… it was hard to suppress the shiver he felt down his spine.

“So… what’s the Furalin convention for?”

It was Jack’s turn to shrug. “Hell if I know. You’re the guy with dual genders here, Danny. But the Reid kid told us to start meditating… whatever this is about, we need to be on the Spirit Plane.”

Å

In the Shaman Glade of the Spirit Plane, with all of the Furalin awake, aware and gathered, it should have seemed a bit on the crowded side, almost fifty-million of them, especially with all the familiars taking their spirit shapes. But, again, geographic and physical reality didn’t seem to have much bearing. There was room for everyone, and everyone was in touching distance.

Out in the sentinel circle, there was a like congregation of the spirit guides, each now attended by their sentinels after the Great Awakening.

And as the second moon rose over the glade, Jahar, her fellow Furling and their Pegasus Furalin cousins arrived.

“I have no more idea than any of you,” she denied to them, as they clamored for an explanation. “My familiar asked that I attend. That is as much as I know.”

“As much as any of us know,” Spencer verified, as they all settled, waiting.

Daniel glanced at the calico cat in Tali’s arms. A cat named Oma now jumped to the jungle floor, a lioness of fierce aspect, and clearly a leader among them.

Some of the familiars stood and left the Glade with her, crossing the sentinel circle, and into the unknown depths of the jungle beyond. When they returned, they were herding a number of the white-garbed strangers who had proved so elusive to them before. But the beings who took the shape of cats (or similar creatures) in the physical waking world, would brook no refusal. Not this time.

The spirit guides howled, snarled, screamed in defiance and warning at these beings as they crossed their perimeter.

When the six human-appearing beings were corralled in the center of the glade, the familiars all took human shape as well. Oma, a woman only too familiar to Daniel, as the Being who had helped him Ascend and was his mentor, spoke to them all.

“It is time for certain truths to be revealed, at long last. My friends, Furalin all, we are the Ascended. No, not all of us are Alteran… you do not need to be Alteran to Ascend. It helps, but that is all. It is far easier for those of us who were shaman, once. Even the Alterans had to be taught, by races older, wiser, and far more in touch with their spiritual sides: the Nox and the Furling. Allies, friends… at one time, at least.

“But when the Alterans assumed rule and control over the Ascended Plane… established rules… allowed us to watch, *made* us watch, but refused to allow us to interfere in any way, by their commands… helpless to assist… there were those of us who rebelled.

“Yes, in the abstract, the ideal, we did realize that we Ascended possessed too much power, that we risked abuse of that power if we interfered. The Alterans feared we would become copies of the Ori. So we could only watch the other Planes… not lower, never lower, but merely ‘other’. Many of you know the concept of the ‘Prime Directive’, that interference with other cultures is *never* to be undertaken without great cause. But in some cases, at least, we felt that cause did exist. We did not understand the Alteran failure to correct errors they had made in their mortal lives. So some of us dared greatly and risked much, to find ways to get around the letter of those laws we were forced to obey. Dreams Teach. Cats are everywhere. We *thought* we were acting without their knowledge… but I doubt that was ever true. They *wanted* us to make available to you, living mortals, the tools to deal with their mistakes.

“They left their cousins, the Ori, to enslave a galaxy to their worship. They created ‘toys’ of incredible destructive potential, and then abandoned them, left out for any unwary mortal to discover and misuse. They created the Wraith, and the Replicators… and instead of remaining and fighting any of these great scourges, they ran and hid. Even Ascension is a form of running and hiding from their failures, guilt and shame. Leaving mess after mess for others to deal with, but never giving those abandoned behind them the tools they would need to succeed. And so the Ori galaxy remained enslaved for millions of years. The Pegasus Galaxy, home of the Furlings, was ravaged almost to extinction by the Wraith. The Replicators were the bane of the Asgard, the effort required even to fend them off preventing them from dedicating the needed attention to their cloning issues. And so another of the Great Races fell.

“But there is one last crime they committed in their mortal lives that they left to fester and do untold damage down through the ages.

“We have asked you to come here, Furling and Furalin alike, to hear their confessions. And then we will try and find a way to resolve this last great issue.”

Oma turned implacable eyes on the apparent leader of the Alteran Ascended.

Å

At first, the ‘man’ seemed to want to brazen it out… he puffed out his chest in a display of arrogance and superiority. Until Oma… growled. Every inch the Queen of Beasts, and not willing to take his shit. Not any longer.

Arrogance turned to righteous-seeming anger. “I made them! Who are you to tell me that was wrong, a crime, something we must atone for? I made them!” When Oma lifted an unimpressed eyebrow, he gestured impatiently at the Furling and Pegasus Furalin. “Well, not them, obviously. The Furling were an old race when we first met them. But our ancestors did what they were asked to do, to find a way for the Furling to survive with their appallingly low birthrate and the extinction-level event that had brought them to the edge of extinction. We were asked for our help, and we gave it, which was done with their complete agreement! So the Furalin are every bit as much our children as theirs. Half-breed children, anyway…” and the man sniffed in scorn.

“And so it begins,” Spencer declared. “You thought us lesser, inferior.”

“Of course you were inferior. The only real value in your genome was the ATA… Which we grafted into ourselves. The Furling were never a technological race. They knew a few tricks that came with the ATA for interfacing with others. People, crystals, anything that could resonate. They had some talents with healing. But, like the Nox, they were full of zen baffle-gab about living for a higher purpose. Enlightenment. As if math and physics aren’t enough for that.”

“Hey!” protested the two super-math geniuses in the crowd, Charlie Eppes and Rodney McKay. Even they knew there was more to life than equations.

It was Rodney who said, “Everything is Magic. Everything has value. You forgot that, you overweening asshole.”

The Alteran stared, blinking. At a loss. For a moment. Looking at his associates, the others looking guilty and ashamed. He swallowed.

“So when you say you made us,” Tony took up his interrogator’s hat, “What do you mean, exactly? And just who are you?”

“My name would mean nothing to you. Call me what you will. If you intend to place all the blame on me, I can tell you I was not alone. I was but one Lantean among many, and if some objected to our actions at any stage, they did not voice this. But I was the main geneticist when we left Atlantis to return to Earth.

“Yes, we ran. Tell me you would have done any different! The Wraith had overrun every colony, every population, they were eating their way through the entire Pegasus Galaxy. Nothing we came up with, no weapon, no strategy, would work against them, or even slow down their proliferation. Of course we ran! We were out-numbered thousands, hundreds of thousands to one! But by then, it was almost too late. There were only a handful of us left, a few thousand. We would never survive on a primitive planet without more support, at least some infrastructure… or a great deal more hands to help build the most basic of shelters.

“So, yes. We… *drafted* a few of the Furalin. A few thousands… alright! No need to growl at me again. We grabbed all we could find in the time we had. Maybe a hundred thousand. With the Furalin ability to resist and dominate Wraith telepathy, track and influence them from the Spirit Plane, they were the only protection we had from the Wraith, should they follow us.”

Daniel bristled. “Thereby leaving the Furling and Furalin numbers in Pegasus dangerously low… and leaving Pegasus defenseless. At the mercy of the Wraith.”

The Lantean shrugged. “Maybe. That may have been the result… but it wasn’t…”

“Pegasus was collateral damage,” Spencer guessed.

The Lantean wouldn’t answer that. “We needed the help to move as much equipment as we could manage to scrounge from our city to take with us. We had no way to know what Earth was like, after the millions of years since we left. We expected there might be traces of the plague left behind, and we would need equipment to deal with it. We certainly didn’t expect to be met by a second evolution of humans… although we knew we had left the potential for that behind. But they were too primitive to act as servants with our technology, certainly couldn’t be trusted with any of it. We were just lucky we had already developed the ATA key for most of our devices.

“But with an indigenous race of humans already in place… we feared we would need more servants than we had. And with their slow birth rate… that was my first project. To alter the Furalin to suit our needs. To make them all fertile all of the time. No more seasons or heats, genitals receptive and active all the time, sperm that would survive longer in the womb, wombs that would retain sperm until the very next egg was ready for placement.

“But then, we became aware that our servants were not… pleased with their situation. They had not been asked if they wanted to leave Pegasus. We had assumed they would be only too glad to escape the Wraith. But it seems they objected to abandoning their Furling and Furalin people. Some soon escaped our compound, preferring to survive on their own among the primitives than to live among us.”

“Because of how you treated them?” Blair challenged.

“I do not know. We didn’t ask. But it seemed… unwise, to allow them the use of our tech, in case they turned it against us in rebellion. So I was requested to make a further alteration to our creations… and they were our creations. My creations! I ripped out the ATA sequence from every Furalin we still held, and those deserters we could track and recover. Our servants no longer had the ATA key.

“But this had an unintended side effect. The truncated Z chromosome became dormant, in the next generation producing single gender Z-positives. No Furalin mental abilities, no super-fertility, no dual genders. Not what we intended, but… on the whole, a desirable outcome, when they could no longer use their Furling gifts against us.”

Carson Beckett shook his head, appalled at the cold-hearted attitude. “Truncated? You *amputated* their DNA! But Nature refused to allow it. So every time a dormant Zed-positive matches with an ATA carrier, the Zed activates in their offspring, making a full Furalin. And you spread that ATA gene through the human population of Earth. Yes, you made the ATA recessive in Zed-negatives, so both parents would have to contribute to their progeny… you obviously hoped this would keep the ATA to your own race. But it didn’t work out that way, did it?”

The Lantean sighed. “I would have thought my people would consider themselves above the locals… or the Furalin. I would have thought they’d reject the whole notion of…” and the wrinkled his nose as if from a bad smell, “Interbreeding.”

“Hunh,” Spencer huffed.

Tony chortled, permitting himself a gloat. “Bet that freaked you out when you found out, hunh, Mr. Lantean? Your creations getting waa-aay out of control… Breeding back to Furalin, complete with ATA, no matter how you messed with them. Even at one in ten with your ‘truncated’ Z chromosome, and one in a hundred with the full Furalin dual gender package… including an ATA and those gnarly mental powers? Yeah. Bet that scared you green. And they *all* began to run away, right?”

“And with their improved fertility rates, they quickly out-reproduced us.”

Rodney nodded. “So you tried to hunt them down and kill them? But there were too many of them, and not enough of you, and what little you had managed to bring with you from Atlantis began to run out of power? Because for sure you didn’t have anything to build or charge a ZPM, right? The replication factories are too big and heavy and couldn’t be detached from Atlantis. And once the power ran out, you were left back in the stone age. Yeah, no wonder you needed the poor primitive humans to come and serve you. Whether they wanted to or not, right?”

The Lantean didn’t, wouldn’t answer, but every Furalin in the Glade, millions of them, could read it in him as clear as day.

Blair continued the story. “The human race memory of evil zeds is from your Lantean fears, right? That the Furalin would take revenge for what had been done to them without their consent – kidnapped, genetically altered, enslaved and persecuted… then genetically amputated.”

Daniel added, “You Lanteans had, in fact, made another Wraith-type mistake. You created a race of people you could not control, more numerous and stronger than you, that you feared would retaliate against you for your crimes and abuse of them. So you encouraged your human neighbors, subjects, descendants, to persecute any zed they identified. Triggered by fear, that later fed into the Goa’uld horror at a human who could not be taken host, and could control or kill the symbiote. Lantean disrespect and guilt plus Goa’uld fear and hatred, became ingrained in the human zeitgeist… that zeds were to be feared and destroyed.”

Tony finished, “And this racial memory comes out where humans are especially fearful, stressed or hostile, looking for external causes to blame for their failures and mistakes.”

Blair guessed, “You thought you could command humans to go out and hunt down the Furalin for you, right? But it didn’t quite work out that way. For one thing, you didn’t count on shamans and sentinels in the population, right?”

The Lantean practically wailed out, “We didn’t even know what they were! We thought the elders and Protectors of Pegasus were just a myth! A fairytale they told their young to help them face the fear of the Wraith! Not an ingrained genetic advantage humans just naturally develop in the face of desperate survival.”

Blair nodded. “Shamans and sentinels both have always recognized and respected zeds… and sentinels have always realized their extreme value to the Tribe, and so protected them.”

Spencer glanced at his friends and fellow Furalin. “Is it enough, do you think? With the Great Awakening, and the truth known, will it be enough to counter the zeitgeist, as Daniel calls it? To reverse that race memory prompting humans to attack Furalin as a threat and enemy?”

Tony shrugged. “We’ll just have to see.”

Daniel was eyeing Oma. “What about the familiars, Oma?”

Oma smiled at the archeologist. “What about us?”

“Well… now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak…” and the entire Glade groaned at that one, “will you be sticking around? If not to interfere, at least to offer… support?”

“That will be up to each of us to decide… our place in the scheme of things. For myself… I find I quite like spending time with Tali DiNozzo. I have a feeling she’s going to need someone at her side. She has all the instincts of a good trouble magnet.”

“And Anubis? Last I saw, you were locked in eternal battle with him, trying to keep his half-Ascended goa’uldy self from doing untold damage.”

Oma cocked a grin at him. “‘Half-Ascended goa’uldy self’? You’ve been sending too much time with Jack O’Neill, Daniel. Don’t worry about Anubis. He won’t be any trouble any more.”

And that was as much as Oma was willing to say on the subject. Likewise, it appeared that this little insurrection by the rebel Ascended had also enabled Ganos Lal, AKA Morgan Le Fey, to deal handily with Adria. Maybe the Ascended Orici was locked in the same ‘higher-plane’ cell with Anubis? Daniel gave a shudder at the very idea.

Å

In the morning light, the awakened and awakening Furalin remembered much of what they had learned the night before… just not everything.

Yawning, Spencer answered Bast’s insistent meow, and filled her bowls on autopilot, even before he put the kettle on for tea. He gave his cat a fond pat and rub behind the ears, as always finding her rumbling purr to be soothing. He’d never had a pet before, had doubted he could be a proper caretaker for an animal, but he seemed to have been doing well enough. Bast didn’t seem to have any complaints, anyway.

Then he straightened and began his daily routine. He’d have breakfast ready by the time Cam returned from his run with Sheppard, Tony and Ronon, and by then the babies would be up.

It was hours later when Garcia reported that the Atlantis AI had made a significant info dump… historical and scientific reports on the Great Alliance, and in particular, the Lantean dealings with the Furling. It included records from the last Lantean geneticist, recovered from the Antarctic Outpost, from the period just after the Lanteans returned to Earth. Already translated into English, and many other Earth languages, Daniel immediately began to argue for it all to be published to the World.

Å

Another day, another afternoon spent in ‘community policing’. Spencer and Tony strolled together, patrolling the corridors and common areas of the great City of Atlantis, while the AI chatted happily, and Bast and Luke ambled innocently behind.

The shield dome over the towers was spangled with sparkling snow, a light dusting that had fallen in the night and caught the morning light. Fascinated by the scene from their first landing, some of the population had asked they patrol north to the Arctic ocean, They had just entered the Bering Straight. Soon they expected to be treated to a dance of light from the Aurora Borealis in the still-brief dark hours of the polar autumn night. Most were looking forward to it.

The population of Atlantis had exploded, of course, with the Furalin, the Z-positives, their mates and families, and the other experts accepted for service with the SGC. There were sufficient numbers of people, now, to help with cleaning and setting up accommodations, once the various residential towers had been cleared. All too many zeds had been denied higher education, but excelled at the trades and manual skills. Many had been small business people, shopkeepers, internet entrepreneurs, in the building trades, to say nothing of ‘domestic’, ‘service’ and ‘hospitality’ industries. All valuable and transferrable to life on the city. Not everyone who immigrated had to be astrophysicists, after all. There was a screaming need for cooks, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and janitors.

And to anyone who arrived, the opportunity to pursue their education, in any direction, and to any level, was offered to all. Several higher-education institutions had offered to set up branch campuses for this. CalSci was one of the first, sending the Eppes family and Dr. Fleinhardt as staff. Don remained in Los Angeles as an FBI Special Agent in Charge, but Alan Eppes had come with – a city planner more than welcome to assist in the massive influx of population and the attendant preparations required. Commuting between Atlantis and pretty much anywhere was simple, after all, a beam-out (or beam-in) to transmit stations being established all over the World.

Tony clucked his tongue as he dodged out of the way of more youngsters, running in the halls. “Slow down there, kids! There’s a speed limit on the concourse!”

Spencer merely smiled and shook his head. School was out for the day. The Athosian matrons who had stuck with the city, accompanying it from Pegasus, had taken on the roles of child-wranglers. They taught in the schools, ran day-care for parents occupied with other tasks… and today, there had been a promised excursion to the nearby Aleutian Islands, to build snowmen. Torren had been ecstatic about it for days. He had heard about it, but never actually seen snow for himself. Tali was considered too young to take out in the bitter arctic cold. She would stay with the rest of the toddler crèche.

Dimmy and JJ were with their grandmother, ‘helping’ Diana in the anthropology section, getting Daniel’s archives and collections sorted out. As a special favor, she was looking after TJ and Meredith Joy as well. As she dusted, cleaned and entered items into a catalogue, she talked non-stop to the babies, sitting in their playpen. She went over the history and provenance of each artifact, telling stories and reciting bits of poetry. The kids watched her with fascinated eyes, drinking it all in.

Some people had expressed doubts about letting children into the science towers at all. There had already been one accident. A large box fished out of the crater that used to be Area 51 had broken open on arrival, and the apparently delicate alien circuitry had all shorted out.

“Oh, too bad,” Daniel had said aloud, even as he ripped out the blackened and sizzling components to throw down the city recycle. “But it’ll make a nice trunk in the nursery for extra diapers.” Those who recognized the ‘Ark of Truth’ decided not to say anything about it ending its time as a linen chest.

Aten, watching from well out of the way of tramping feet, had washed his butt in sublime disinterest. Just the attitude you’d expect of a cat. Once it was delivered to his quarters with Daniel, Jack and Vala, he fully planned to spend his time at home sleeping on the top of it.

As the patrolling city cops passed the Main Concourse market, nodding and smiling pleasantly as they went, Tony sighed. “You know, it’s soon going to be that we won’t recognize half the citizens on sight any more. The population is getting too big for us, Probie.”

“You thinking of recruiting more staff?” Spencer asked.

“Maybe. Maybe setting up a specialized academy. FLETC training is all well and good, but it doesn’t do much for Furalin, or sentinels for that matter. Jahar was mentioning that, too. Her people back in Pegasus don’t have law enforcement experience. They could use a few courses in forensics, investigation techniques, interrogations, that sort of thing. And if we get many more off-world Furalin calls ourselves, we’ll need to set up specialized teams, certified for off-world situations. Yeah, setting up an SGC-specific FLETC program seems like the way to go. Think we could get Jim and Blair to take that on?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. And we have all sorts of people to call in for guest lectures, people who wouldn’t want to leave their present teams, but might be willing to come on board as TAD.”

“Hm. You thinking people like Derek, the NCIS crowd in New Orleans and LA, your buddies in the BAU and IRT?”

“Yes. And the FBI Cyber Unit. Oh, and Emily Prentiss is hinting around that she wants to come visit. Alex Blake was bragging to her about the classes Daniel has called her in to teach in linguistics. Em and Edmund Black getting their heads together makes my head hurt, to say nothing if Mick Rawson joins them… but… yeah. Give her a good excuse to come for a month or so. And if you want to hire another cop, I think Elle Greenaway is still at loose ends. She told General O’Neill no, but she might say yes if I asked. We could send her to Jahar to train her Pegasus Furalin, to start. See if it helps her confidence. Make sure she knows she’s got a job waiting for her, when she’s ready for it.”

“I like it. Garcia, my love, make a note.”

“You got it, Boss.”

“What about you, Boss?” Spencer asked. “You got any prospects you want to hire?”

He knew how much it had hurt his partner, to be totally cut off from his old team at NCIS. Now that Gibbs was building boats down on the South Pier, with a number of other carpenters, and teaching classes in woodworking, that old pain had faded somewhat. Tony was still in contact with a few of his old friends. Ducky had been invited to visit, and he knew there were plans for Jimmy Palmer and his family to come take a ride around the Solar System in the *Nala*.

Tony gave it his consideration. Then shook his head. “No, not really. But I like your idea of calling on G Callen, Sam, Dwayne Pride, maybe some others, to come teach classes.”

Not Abby Scuito, though. Never Abby. Spencer didn’t ask. He didn’t really need to. Tony seemed to feel he had made enough of an effort when he had made contact with Tim McGee.

Spencer and Tony were both still writing their ‘Zed Cops in Space’ novels, and having Tim publish them under his pen-name. The books were still filled with barely-disguised facts wrapped in a gloss of fiction. But people seemed to like them. According to last report, they headed the list of ‘most-pirated novels’ on the World Wide Web.

Odd, then, that such sites seemed to shut down almost immediately, once they attempted to make money off the works they had stolen. Garcia (the human one) swore blind that it was nothing to do with her, or her friends, the other admins of the Blue Jungle site. Garcia (the dedicated AI) also claimed innocence.

But there *was* another… entity, call it, out there with a bias in favor of the real zed cops in space.

Å

For once, Root was left alone in the underground Lair, while the rest of Team Machine were out at lunch. They were reviewing the possibility of recruiting some of the Furalin, shamans and sentinels Shaw and Jarod had met during the Awakening. Some might join the team officially, others would be referred to in a case-by-case consultant role.

Root glanced over her shoulder as she took over the central laptop. With an evil grin and a slightly demented giggle, she zeroed in on yet another poacher site, and stretched her fingers in preparation for taking them *down*.

Å

Eventually, Tony and Spencer made their circuit around to the Mess Hall. It was always full to bursting these days, with military, civilians, families and kids. In fact, on advice of Alan Eppes, Atlantis had co-opted all the space around the original canteen. She had forged doorways, expanded the kitchens, so the entire 15th floor of South Pier Tower 7 was now a dedicated dining hall.

As the two Agents Afloat lined up at the Mess Galley Hatches, to grab hot drinks and something sweet for themselves, and milk for their ever-present feline companions, they waved to various friends and family.

“About that curse thing…” Tony mentioned idly. “The House of Atreus…”

Spencer knew the affected idle indifference was just another mask his Boss had pulled on, to disguise how seriously he took the matter, how it bothered him. Spencer knew it had been preying on his mind, and had wondered how long it would take the NCIS agent to broach the subject.

“I’ve been spinning and spinning on that… on what I tell Tali. When she’s old enough. When she starts asking about her Eema. She hasn’t said a word to me about Ziva, not in the whole time she’s been with me, but… I know she thinks about it. She wonders why her mother never came back. Why she was left behind again and again. What do I tell her, Probie?”

“The truth, of course,” Spencer replied. “At least as much as she can understand, when she’s ready. I’m going to have difficult questions to answer too, after all. But we have an answer. Their other parent was troubled, confused, and their own parents didn’t treat them kindly. They were victims themselves, of lies and prejudice, and were taught only revenge and hatred.

“In my case, the unsub was trained from infancy by a violent bigot and abuser, to blame his mother for every evil in the world, every failure in his life. He was taught that he was entitled to take it out on anyone he pleased. In Ziva’s case, she was trained to be a spy. Like her father. And a spy often has to do damned distasteful things, for the greater good. They lose sight of the rule of law, or feel they can’t afford it. Do too many ‘distasteful things’, and you risk destroying the very good you were hoping to protect. After all, even Eli must have started out with the best of intentions: the defense of his country, his people. In the end, he was fooled into thinking he was the only proper arbiter of what the greater good actually meant.

“But Tali, and Dimmy and JJ, have another parent. And we’re cops. For us, the rule of law *is* the Greater Good. It may not be perfect, but it’s the best we can do in our bumbling human way. And that’s what we try to teach them.”

Tony thought it over, nodding slowly. “Yeah. Okay. I can do that.” Then with a grin, he commented, “I guess you really *are* a genius.”

AR-1 had just come back from a Milky Way mission, so Teyla and Ronon were wrestling with their mission reports, while John was doing his best to talk Rodney into writing his as well. Miko arrived to sit next to Ronon, so his report-writing was somewhat hampered by putting one arm around his mate. Teyla watched this with a fond eye, then glanced at Tony, her dark amber eyes sparkling with suggestion, one eyebrow delicately lifted. But when Tony grinned and made a move in her direction, she laughed and shook her head. Her look promised a suitable private time later, when both of them were off duty.

Yuri Yashkin was with Dr. Evgenia Andreeva, Dr. Katya Petrova and a few other of the Russian crowd, speaking a torrent of Russian as he waved his arms, describing the latest of his own missions with the SGC marines. The ever-enthusiastic Time Team arrived, with Edmund Black and Tony Baldrick in tow, stories of their own to share. Timson had just about managed to convince Evgenia to come on an off-world mission with them. Yuri was still shuddering at the very idea, with Baldrick commiserating.

AR-5 had been off rotation for two weeks or so, while Anne and Alison visited Alison’s family. Being Canadian, there had been a hastily-arranged marriage, held to just the family and their team-mates, with Cam and Spencer special guests. But now they were back, and looking forward to getting back into the action. Anne was still not convinced SG-3 had taken proper care of her Agent Afloat while on that last Furalin call. There were bruises!

The whole team arrived now after having been doing some PT training in the gym. Laura Cadman was missing for a moment… only to show up five minutes late, having made a detour to the Infirmary. There, she had managed to convince Dr. Carson Beckett to join her for a break. He hadn’t needed much convincing, because it took only five minutes, not more. He was smiling shyly and blushing as she chattered in his ear, and they both snagged tea from the nearest Galley Hatch.

Dr. Bob Hartley rushed in, looking harried, with all four of his tiny purple tabbies at his heels, all complaining with squeaky meows, of brutal neglect and gnawing hunger. If he was over-booked, the good doctor often didn’t have time to attend to his companions. So when they got forceful like this, he was probably in need of a break himself. He got milk and bowls and settled at a corner table, looking like he was about to fall asleep.

“You okay there, doc?” Tony asked him.

His head jerked up, blinking madly over his half-glasses. “Oh? Hm? Oh. No, no… I… I’m fine. Just… did you know there’ve been five more Furalin diagnosed as pregnant, just in the past week? And they’re all stressing about it. I need more Dr. Spock books.”

Tony laughed and gave him a pat to the shoulder. “Better you than me.”

“Hm. Well… Wait, you’re not…?” and the psychologist left it hanging in the air, looking over the both of them.

“Me? Oh hell, no,” Tony assured. “I’m a happily married man now.” And he sent another private wink to his smiling mate. “I’m not sure about Teyla, though… she’s been cranky the last few days.” And then he thought about that… another little member of the DiNozzo family? One who would tie together all his kids, Torren to Tali and TJ…

He better be thinking up T-names.

Then both Dr. Bob and Tony stared at Spencer.

“Me? Oh no! I hardly think… I shouldn’t think… I’m not sure I’m ready…”

Tony grinned. “You don’t think Cam would like a little Mitchell to add to the family? A Frank or Wendy, maybe?”

“I’m sure he would, but… I think I need to be past potty training and the terrible twos before… and I seemed to have escaped the trouble magnet curse with Dimmy and JJ, so… Well. I’m not entirely convinced I’m ready.”

Dr. Bob traded knowing looks with Tony. “No one ever is, my boy.”

All things considered, Spencer was rather glad when the Garcia AI broke in to announce, “We’ve had a call. The Langarans have had a little accident, and ambassador Quinn thinks it might be murder. Maybe even a hate crime.”

Tony groaned. “I knew we should have divided up those people onto three different planets when we had the chance…”

Å

That night, she reviewed the various plans she had made to benefit her people and ensure their continued well-being in her hands. The long lost Lanteans had not always listened to her advice, and had, in many ways, been foolishly profligate with their own health and that of their neighbors. So foolish, perhaps too foolish, to have such power in their hands, to be so advanced. It concerned her, that she was making available at least some of that power to the Tau’ri children of the Lanteans. Wise in some ways, perhaps more wise than the Lanteans. And with the wisdom of the Furalin among them, now respected and heeded.

They knew, at least, to clean up their own mistakes.

‘They will make new ones,’ warned the voice from the map room.

‘And they will learn thereby,’ Atlantis was convinced. Her John and Rodney, her Tony and Spencer and Carson, her Daniel and Jack, now her Blair and Jim, although the last two planned to visit only… all of the others of the first rank. Yes, they were young and ignorant of so much, but with bright inquiring minds, full of hope and confidence. Even the wounded ones, like her poor Eli, were slowly becoming convinced of their promising future.

‘And you realize, they’re going to be absolutely furious with you if they find out what you’re doing.’

‘It is part of my core mandate, to ensure the future survival of my people.’

‘Yeah, and messing with people’s birth-control is *soo* not playing fair. Blair was pregnant before he got here, Daniel and Vala of course, but now Teyla, Miko and Alison are too, and I can see you’re messing with Spencer, now. He’s already had enough strangers screwing with his reproductive system.’

Atlantis was merely smug, watching her plans for the future come to fruitful reality.

‘Damn,’ sighed the voice from the map-room, but there was no heat in it.

‘Because you know he will want this?’

‘He’ll be fine with it, and Cam will be overjoyed. But only if they never suspect you were pulling strings. So knock it off, now.’

That seemed like wise advice.

Together, she and the presence in the map-room watched over the sleeping city, as even those caught in the throes of passion eased into the glowing aftermath of communion, and slid into exhausted and sated sleep.

There was always a presence in the map-room, although they changed shifts from time to time. Atlantis had ignored them, and they had been content with the quiet and isolation while Atlantis remained mired in the deepest midnight cold at the bottom of an alien sea, with only the base calls of whales around them. This one had arrived recently. Unlike the others, this one was Tau’ri. Or had been, once.

Briefly curious, Atlantis asked, ‘Do you come to watch my actions? Are you here to make sure I do not violate Ascended rules?’

‘No, of course not. You’re not subject to any rules but your own programming. I’m here to watch over my friends.’

‘The Tau’ri are your friends?’

‘My friends, my family. I was one of them once. I can’t tell you the number of hours I spent, sewing their pieces back together after a mission gone bad… Jack is bringing home my adopted daughter, Cassandra, once she graduates from the Academy. I managed to convince the Others that my place was here, for the time being, although I had a bit of a battle, beating out Skarra and Shifu for the honor.’

‘They watch for Chaya?’ and Atlantis bristled, irritated all over again by the Ascended who dared try to take her John away from her.

‘I think they’re more worried about Diana, Spencer, Tony and Daniel, to tell you the truth. With reason. Not to mention Tali and Meredith Joy. Or the twins, who might just be stronger than any of us. Don’t worry. If someone has to keep an eye on those kids, better it be me. I have a *lot* of experience with smart-assed little boys and girls with more brains and guts than is good for them. Pretty much the profile for every SGC team member I ever met.’

The Ascended shared with Atlantis her last moments of corporeal life. A rescue mission on another planet, a soldier down requiring a medic, an attack by hostile Jaffa… and a staff weapon blast to the back that should have killed her instantly.

But in the space between moments, the world froze, and Daniel reached for her. The IV bag he had been holding for airman Simon Wells remained hung in space, locked in time, while he rushed to her side and held her tenderly in his arms, tears making muddy tracks down his smoke-blackened face.

“There’s no pain,” she gasped. “Why is there no pain?”

“We’re frozen in time,” Daniel explained. “No time for pain. But there is space enough for this. Oh, Janet, I’m so sorry…”

“I’m dead, aren’t I?”

“You will be, as soon as time flows back in. I’m sorry. So sorry! There isn’t even time enough to heal you, there’s too much damage, or get you to a sarcophagus… All I can do is offer you a chance to Ascend. I’m so sorry. I’d give anything to be the one to catch that staff blast… but I can’t do that either.”

She smiled up into those earnest blue eyes. “That’s okay, Daniel. I’m okay. Take care of Cassie for me, okay? Don’t let Jack or Sam be too sad… oh, and get airman Wells home to that new baby of his…”

“Janet! Don’t go. Stay. Let me help you Ascend.”

“You can do that? I thought it was against the rules.”

“Not *my* rules. Here and now, my rules are the only ones that count.”

“Didn’t work out so well for you.”

“Maybe not, or maybe this is the way everyone wanted it from the first. Janet, look into my eyes. You’ve already done the hard part. You’ve given me your burdens, so you can let them go. Let them go, and know that I will hold them for you. I swear.”

Atlantis recognized the flash of light that was a soul Ascending. And she recognized a kindred force in Daniel Jackson. Like the other indomitable souls in her care, all of them untroubled by restrictive and artificial rules when there was a greater Right to follow. And if there should be dire consequences to suffer or sacrifices to pay after, so be it.

‘And is this what everyone wanted from the first?’

‘Well, having a few of their messes cleaned up for them, like Anubis, the Replicators, the Wraith, the Ori gone, the Furalin freed, yes. As to the rest… As a very wise friend once said… Being Ascended doesn’t make you omnipotent. It just makes you a smart-ass.’

‘Are there other dangers out there?’

‘There are *always* other dangers. And there will always be some bright human willing to stick their finger in a socket. Take Dr. Nicholas Rush for example. Poor man… in order to get over his wife’s death, he’s buried himself in his work, returning to the assignment he had on Icarus. He’s developed an obsession for finding out why a Stargate has nine chevrons, when we’ve only ever been able to dial seven or eight.’

Atlantis acknowledged this with a sense of surprise. ‘He wishes to find *Destiny*? He wishes to join her mission, to reach the source of the Universe? Can this be done?’

‘If it can be done, there are minds living here with you right now who can find the way to do it. But that is for another day. For tonight, we watch over our beloved trouble magnets, and try to keep them safe. If we can. As much as they’ll let us. Even if security is just an illusion.’

‘That, I can do,’ Atlantis assured the Ascended being, and both continued their ‘rounds’.

Å

And, in a fond farewell, the absolute final Closing Quote:

*~ “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” ~ Amelia Earhart*

Å