Words: 1,796 (of 16,253)
Pairing/Charecter(s): Ancient!John, Rodney, Stephen Caldwell, Heimdall the Asgard, OC; John/Rodney
Warnings/Spoliers: part 4 of #13 (part 1, 2, 3) in the Ancient!John 'verse. Spoilers for SG-1's "The Fifth Race," "Revelations," "Fragile Balance," and pretty much anything else with the Asgard in it.
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, quotes et al are properties of their respective owners and I am merely using them under Title 17 of the US Code, § 107, aka the Fair Use Doctrine, without intents to infringe upon or defame anyone's legal rights.
Summary: John, Rodney, and the Asgard. Finally.
Notes: So, a short one, but I promise to God that the next bit will be the last. I just realized that if I did the whole save the Asgard race technobabble and Rodney's recharge the ZPMs technobabble in the same chappie that even I started to get headaches... Oh, and in Norse mythology, Sigyn was the wife of Loki. Heimdall was a god of knowledge.
An Ancient!John Story
Despite the fact that their ship, Muspelheim, could easily hold the Daedalus five times over it has apparently only brought three Asgard to Atlantis. Two of them, Sigyn and Heimdall, are geneticists and jointly the heads of what John's taken to calling Project Ragnarök, which is the Asgard's attempt to repair the damages several thousand generations of cloning having done to their genome. The last is none other than Thor, the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet, who seems to be here in more of an engineering capacity than any formal, diplomatic capacity.
But whatever. Rodney could really care less about who the Asgard are, even if Sigyn is the first he's ever met with a female personality. He's mostly just interested in what they're doing which, as John keeps saying obliquely, is trying to save the Asgard race.
"So," John says when they're finally – finally – in the lab in section seventy-three, leaning against a dead control panel, "quick history of this place: sixty-five million years or so ago, the people you came to think of as Ancients were on the losing side of a war with the Haeretici. Being consummate cowards, they eventually decided to leave the home galaxy in what lintres and urbes-naves they had left, Atlantis being one of them."
"Haeretici," Caldwell repeats, butchering the word. "You mean the Ori, right?"
"Before they Ascended," Rodney confirms, before gesturing at John impatiently and saying, "But what does that have to do with this place and saving the Asgard race?"
"We got paranoid. Keyed all our tech to our genetic code, but-"
"-but," Rodney finishes for him, feeling his eyes go wide as he takes in the room they're in once more, suddenly understanding what this place is for and what the Asgard might want with it, "your genetic code was the same as your enemy's, so the only way that would work would be to change your own."
"That's just..." he says excitedly, rushing over to examine the nearest of the twenty or so devices that line the room, looking more like oversized water-coolers than medical equipment. Heimdall (or, at least, he thinks it's Heimdall) is currently interfacing the device with an Asgard computer and gives him a sour look at the interruption," it must have taken generations – unless there are more labs like this one in the city?"
Shaking his head, John replies, "This is the only one in the city," not bothering to hide his amused smile. He's about to go on – perhaps, if looks are anything to judge by, ask him if it had been worth the wait to see this place-
-but then Caldwell interrupts, sounding oddly like Elizabeth when he asks, "Gentleman, if you don't mind explaining what's so fascinating?"
"The ATA gene's artificial."
Caldwell frowns. "I thought Doctor Beckett's gene therapy activated dormant genes in those who receive it."
"Yeah. His gene therapy does but what John's saying is that the Ancients didn't just choose random, pre-existing genes to bind their technology to, they wrote them into their genetic code."
"And what does that have to do with this room?"
"Because," Rodney says, impatience tingeing his excitement as he pulls out his own tablet and begins trying to interface it with the machine next to Heimdall's, "you can't just go about adding genes to an adult's DNA and expect things to work out. The human body just doesn't work that way."
"What Doctor McKay is attempting to explain," the one he's fairly certain is Sigyn interrupts, apparently having tired of trying to work while they were carrying on in the background, "is that the Ancients eugenically modified their own population several times. This lab was a key component of the earliest and most extreme incidences, whereby those lived within Atlantis surrendered their reproductive rights to the state. All of the children born during this period were genetically engineered to carry what you call the Ancient Technology Activation gene. The majority of these embryos were transferred into the female genetic donor as blastocysts, but some – approximately ten to fifteen percent – were carried to term artificially in these devices. I believe you would call them extra-uterine foetal incubators."
"Extra-uterine incubators. You mean artificial wombs?"
"Indeed, Colonel Caldwell," she agrees. "While we have technology that operates on a similar premise for maturing our clones, the methodology behind the Ancients' technology is entirely different. It is our hope that, by modifying the devices, we will be able to create Asgard capable of sexual reproduction and, thusly, save our race from extinction."
This causes Rodney to pause in what he's doing (which, at this moment, is basically downloading the incubator's schematics). He wants to save the Asgard race – they're not bad people, even if they are arrogant bastards who had only the thinnest grasp on the meaning of words like manners and allies – but the very last thing he wants to ever think about is Asgard sex.
He glances at John – only briefly, as Heimdall is between them, and Rodney doesn't trust himself to keep a straight face for that long – and sees even he looks a little put off by the idea.
Caldwell, though, seems to be made of tougher stuff, and asks without seeming to consider it's... frightening... implications, "And you think these incubators will do the trick?"
"We are hopeful. But the devices are very old, even by Ancient standards, and have been poorly maintained."
"We only really used these right after the Schisma," he can practically hear John shrug. "Or, at least, that's what 'Lantis says. I only know about this place 'cause I stumbled across it when I was ten or eleven or so and even then I hadn't thought this place still existed. Many sections of the city were abandoned long before we left Avalon and most of those were scavenged to death for spare parts after the Siege started or before then, back during the Plague, when we were pretty much grasping at straws trying to cure it..."
Heimdall, who must have better multitasking skills than his colleague, nods knowingly at this. "I had the opportunity to visit Atlantis shortly before it left Earth and, as I recall, even then many parts of the city were in disrepair. I always thought the situation quite unfortunate and await the day that you are able to restore it back to its previous glory."
Rodney blinks. He'd known cloning was able to extend the Asgard lifespan considerably but for Heimdall to have visited the city before he'd have to be even older than John. Idly he wonders how many clone bodies the geneticist might have gone through in ten thousand plus years but for the most part keeps his attention on the diagrams flashing up on his screen.
(If he's reading them correctly – which he is because he's the smartest man in two galaxies – Rodney thinks they're not just incubators: no, these machines do the whole she-bang, from collecting the donor's genetic material – luckily, only blood samples – and doing whatever genetic engineering is needed through to childbirth.)
Still, despite his distraction, he can hear John beaming at the Asgard scientist. "So does 'Lantis. She's been planning how she's going to redecorate practically since we regained contact with Terra."
"I admit to a certain fascination with the Ancient practice of modifying certain members of their population with nanomachines for the express purpose of communing with the artificial intelligences that ran their cities, particularly given your reticence towards other forms of technological augmentation."
"If I remember correctly, the Asgard were never big on mechanical modifications either."
If Heimdall had had a proper nose, Rodney thinks he would've wrinkled it. "While it is true we had considered such things once, I believe our interactions with the Furlings proved this an unwise course of action."
It's John's turn to nod, Rodney can see from the corner of his eye. "Yeah, well, back to the incubti: any chance of making them actually work?"
Sigyn huffs at this and (maybe, it's hard to tell with Asgard) glares at Heimdall. "Possibly. The machines are old and may not be able to be returned to full functionality. Even then, it is uncertain whether the organic interface we use in place of a placenta for growing our clones will be able to function properly within the incubators or, if we are able to replicate the inorganic medium they appear to have been designed to use for the same purpose, if Asgard embryos will be able to thrive within it.
"While we are likely to be able to work past these problems, the fact remains that these devices were designed with the sole aim of modifying the Ancients' genome into what it is today. I am uncertain the alterations we will need to make for our purposes will allow for anywhere near the same functionality, or success rate."
"However," Heimdall adds, "these incubators are still the best chance we have yet found towards saving our race from extinction."
"That's good to hear," Caldwell says honestly but before he can say more Sigyn interrupts, saying-
"There is only a seventeen point twelve percent chance of success," in the haughtiest, most contemptuous way he's ever heard from an Asgard (and Rodney's worked with a lot of Asgard). Even Heimdall seems surprised by it, because it causes him to say something to her in their native tongue that, despite his inability to understand, can only be a telling-off. Either way, it causes Sigyn to retreat to the far corner of the room, muttering darkly under her breath.
Heimdall takes the Asgard equivalent of a deep breath and, rather gently, says, "I apologize for Sigyn. She has been working on our cloning problem for almost three thousand years – since long before it became as extreme as it is now. I fear she has become disheartened at our prospects for survival, particularly in light of what she views as overly stringent sanctions on our research. She, however, has always been careful to stay within the High Council's strictures, so there is no need to be unduly concerned."
"Hey, as long as no one gets cloned against their will, more power to you. Well," John claps his hands together, "I dunno about you, Colonel, but all this science talk is starting to make my head spin, so I'm thinking lunch, then how to recharge a ZPM in five easy steps, then the dial-in to Terra."