Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Sam Carter, Alison Porter, Anne Teldy
Pairings: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Sam Carter/Jack O'Neill (background)
Summary: Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.
Series: part 3 of #39 in the Ancient!John 'verse (part 1). Part of Locality.
Notes: I know, I know, but RL has been a pain and school has been insane. Plust my muse has deserted me, so it's been slow going.
1) The Ancient is, "Hello? Is anyone there? It’s all right. You can come out, sweetheart." 2) Tuerus means to keep in good repair; my autocorrect kept changing it to uterus, so if there are any of those in the doc, It's because I missed one in the proof. 3) Nebrius Fell in 8273 BCE, 2 years before Iohannes' dad, Ianus, was born. 4) Mnemosyne, Melpomene, Alcaeus, and Terpsichore were all part of the Nebrian fleet; Iohannes' paternal grandmother, Beatrix, was heres of Alcaeus when Nebrius Fell. 5) I think I mentioned the Hamaxobii once before, in relation to Ronon's gun. They're the Travellers; we'll see more of them soon.
2 August, 2007 – Vindicta, in orbita Erecurae, Pegasus
Colonel Sheppard bounces on the balls of his feet as they wait for the Expedition geologists to secure their oxygen masks. After a several minutes, the speed and intensity seems to require some comment, if only to determine that Sam is not, in fact, seeing things. "I thought Ancients were supposed to be patient."
John stills, startled. "Where did you get that idea?"
It had seemed fairly self-evident from what she'd seen in the Milky Way – from the ruins of their cities, abandoned during the event John calls the Minor Diaspora but has never really elaborated on; from the fragments of their texts that survive, of which those that are not technical manuals or research notebooks tend to read like Eastern philosophies; from the few Ascended Ancients she'd met, who preached tolerance, restraint, and nonviolence with the intensity of the converted – but John is the Ancient. Granted, a highly singular Ancient by anyone's measure, but an Ancient nonetheless. He would know his species; far better than Daniel, who has the tendency to think the best of people even after he has reason to believe otherwise.
"I don't know," she says helplessly. "Oma Desala?"
"Oma was a special little snowflake, even by Alteran standards," John tells her, batting aside her scant evidence without quite appearing to realize what he's saying. He's given no indication that he'd known Oma Desala in his previous life, although that means very little where John is concerned. There are whole great and glorious Ancient histories that the Tau'ri know nothing about, simply because John has never thought to mention them.
"Merlin then?" she presses, because if John is remembering things from the year that Rodney claims he has forgotten, she's not going to call him on it until she can get as much information about this fool's errand as possible.
He snorts, momentarily fogging his mask. "Moros Lal is a piss poor example of anything other than psychopathy – or maybe sociopathy. I always get those two confused. Either way, he was nuts. And not in the mostly harmless way I am."
Sam frowns. "Are we talking about the same Merlin here? Because the guy I met was a bit on the absentminded professor side, I'll give you that, but I wouldn't have called him psychotic by any stretch of the imagination."
"Maybe he changed after he got to Terra," John shrugs.
"But you doubt it." It's not a question
"Nobody changes that much."
"You did," she doesn't say. It seems too cruel. Instead, Sam offers what appears to be the Ancient remedy for all ills, "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago."
John's laugh is muffled by his oxygen mask. "I think the one you're looking for is: Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day."
"I've not heard that one before."
"It's Winnie the Pooh," he informs her before adding somewhat defensively, "What? I have a niece."
"Jake's more of a Thomas the Tank Engine fan."
John nods solemnly, though she doubts he's as cognizant of Tau'ri children's programming as he's letting on. Then, almost chagrined, he adds, "I'm sorry."
This startles her. "For what?"
"You shouldn't have had to do this. We should have been able to figure it out for ourselves. You've fought your wars. You should get to have your peace."
"I don't mind."
"I know you don't. But none of us are young anymore and saving the universe is a young man's game."
"Is that what you think we're doing here? Saving the universe?"
John only shrugs, staring off into the distance as if the answers were writ upon whatever shadows he watches.
Sam follows his gaze but sees nothing. When she looks back, he's gone.
Nebrian Outpost, Erecura, Pegasus
The proximity alarm sounds thin and pale in the silence – a stale, muted protest against the raging chaos that surrounds and threatens the research station.
John quiets it with a wave of his hand, an echo of the cease and desist command reverberates through the twin devices installed in the mastoid skin behind Rodney's right ear and between his C2 and C3 vertebrae. It's a raw sound, rough and untamed, and out of instinct he raises a hand, remembering all too well the burst and bleeding eardrums from Rory's earliest days.
His hand comes away clean, stopped by the oxygen mask and common sense. Rory is sentient, this outpost is not, and this knowledge is enough to redirect the devices in his brain stem towards the internal sensor array. "It's like we picked up from orbit," Rodney says, shifting through the corrupted data. "The atmosphere inside is thin, but oxygen levels are already starting to rise, which makes more intact systems than the last outpost we visited. We should be able to take off these masks in a couple hours if I can repair whatever damage the who's who of corrosive chemicals outside has done to the environmental systems, which is far from certain.
"We can go ahead and ring down the geologists if you think we can trust them to keep their masks on. The sooner they get down here, the sooner we can get out of here and the less likely we are to be caught up in a volcanic eruption, to say nothing of earthquakes and let's not forget the storm of corrosive chemicals outside. Next time you want to play hide-and-seek with the universe, try to put your puzzle pieces on a more hospitable planet, would you? Some place with people, maybe?"
"I don't know, Sir," Major Teldy says, shining her gunlight into all the dark corners of the hallway they now find themselves in. "I'm personally enjoying the lack of hostile natives." She, John, and Rodney himself were the only three to ring down with this group, ostensibly to determine if there's anything left to salvage in the research station – a task to which Major Teldy is uniquely unsuited, considering the predictable lack of hostiles. But she's good company for a Marine and unlikely to shoot either of them unless truly provoked, even if those are likely the orders Sam gave.
"There aren't too many of those in Pegasus since the Confederation Charter."
"I consider the Genii a hostile race, Sir."
Rodney snorts. "I agree with you there, but it's John you have to convince. He likes Ladon Radhim for some reason."
"Really? Why's that, Sir?"
John doesn't answer, nor give any indication he's so much as heard the question. A quick diagnostic of the comm units assures him that the problem isn't one of transmission, but that only serves to fuel the fear beginning to churn in Rodney's gut. He's already lost John half-a-hundred times already (or so it seems). He can't lose him again now, he just can't.
"Commander Sheppard?" Teldy repeats. The nose of her gun, which had dipped during their conversation, rises again to train on the back of John's oversized USAF sweatshirt.
Against all common sense, Rodney walks into her line of fire, holding up a hand in the universal – for humans, at least – signal to wait just a damn second. "John?" he asks, moving closer. "Is everything all right?"
John answers him, at least, even if he doesn't turn around. "Don't you hear it?"
"It's… Stay where you are," he says, making a quick stilling motion behind his back even as he takes a handful of steps forward – putting him perilously close, if by chance there are hostiles here – to the intersection of four shadowy corridors. "I think… Salve? Ibi ecqui est…? Omnis bonus est. Egredi posses, mel."
And then Rodney hears it: not the sweeping, symphonic song of a city-ship like Atlantis nor even the sweet, uncultured tunes of a computer come to intelligence in isolation, but a string of seemingly random clicks and beeps that it doesn't require a custodia to hear. "What the…?"
"It's Hafnia-3, a really old machine code – older than 'Lantis old…" He turns back towards the shadows, the translation reverberating through Rodney's devices, "Don't be afraid. We're friends. We only want to help."
"How do you know that?" Rodney asks in surprise. Even Ascended, John had never seemed interested in how computers work so much that they did and had somehow evolved to give him 'Lantis and Rory. But then again, he's never needed to know. They've always spoken to him. He's never needed to coax one into doing what needs with line after line of awkward, imperfect code.
"Better question," Teldy interrupts, "if it's so old, what's it doing here? I thought the Ancients didn't come to this galaxy until ten thousand years ago."
"The Tethys-class lintres were built a little after the urbes-naves. I'm sure their primary code had been updated a dozen times over by the time the last one was destroyed, but some of their less vital systems still used the old stuff – the tueri especially."
"What's a tuerus?"
"Repair units – you'll see. You've been here a long time haven't you? It's awful, I know. We're here to take you home."
At the word home a small figure comes darting out of the shadows, humming sadly as it hovers ankle-height off the floor. It resembles nothing so much as a deflated football – the American kind – or a tissue box that's bowed out at the sides, and is about the same size as either. A ring of electric blue and burnt orange lights cut through its dull, dusty casing about a third of the way from the top flickering wildly, without any sort of readily discernable pattern. Two camera lenses of unequal size jut out from its casing, placed at one-hundred eighty degrees from each other. The larger focuses on John with inhuman intensity, continuing to clack and clatter like the outpost is coming down around them.
"Hey buddy," John says, kneeling down and holding out a hand, "how did you wind up here all alone?"
The robot clicks and clatters, suggestions of meaning cluttering the back of Rodney's mind, before darting into John's arms.
John pats its case gently. "I know, buddy. I know, but it really does get better from here."
7 August, 2007
They find five of them before the end: four tueri – small repair robots that had been left behind by Mnemosyne on that linter's last stopover to handle minor repairs while their engineer was back on Nebrius – and a larger curator unit from Melpomene, all with the associated personality quirks that one would expect from intelligentiae tacitae that have been around for a couple million years. The last ten thousand, spent mostly on their own, has actually appeared to smooth out the worst of their idiosyncrasies, if the ones he'd known on Tethys were any standard.
"I actually knew one," he says on their one night at the outpost after five unsuccessful days of searching for anything that might have compelled his Ascended self to send them halfway across the system. Everyone is gathered around the large trestle table in what passed for the mess hall for the original researchers, poking unenthusiastically at their MREs, "on Tethys that went full-on Rambo."
"No!" Sam laughs, a bright sound despite the shadows under her eyes. "I mean, how? They can't have been programed for that sort of thing at all."
"You never know. A lot of them had been around since the first Tethys-class lintres were built during the Second Wave, shortly after my people arrived in Avalon. Some of my ancestors managed to turn paranoia into an art form before the end."
Rodney snorts at this. "Some of your ancestors? Your father made paranoia seem like a serious breach of good judgement. I've been working on decrypting his notes for years now and've barely scratched the surface of what's there."
Iohannes opens his mouth, but Major Teldy beats him to the punch, saying, "Bully for the Colonel's ancestors," before gesturing at him with her plastic fork, "I want to hear more about this Rambo-bot."
"It didn't start out as a Rambo-bot."
"Of course not," Rodney mutters. "That was your influence, wasn't it?"
"No. I was just as surprised as anybody when the Wraith boarded the linter and this little tuerus comes flying out of the vents, guns blazing. Never seen anything like it – and neither had the Wraith. It probably saved my life."
This startles a laugh out of the Major, a sound that goes a long way to reminding him that, for all the service she's seen, she's still young. She doesn't know what loss – real loss – is. None of the Terrans do. Iohannes shouldn't begrudge them that, but it makes things hard sometimes. More then their species, it is their differing backgrounds that cause the most problems.
Major Teldy cannot be more than thirty. She may have fought in wars, she may have seen her comrades die in droves around her, but she doesn't know what it is to be the member of a dying race – to know that every one who falls is a cousin, sharing the same small, salvaged set of genes that is all that remains of one's species. By the time he was her age, he'd spent over two decades trying to save a race that didn't want to be saved – that had accepted its own end and revelled in it, believing that their passivity was moral superiority – that Ascension was anything more than an escape.
At thirty, he had been custodia, pastor. He'd earned four of his eventual five laudes counselium and risen to the rank of tribunus. He'd fought in two major battles and uncountable nameless skirmishes. He'd piloted Tethys to her doom and Tirianius to her death, drowned in an ocean and all but died in a desert. He'd lost so many that only Atlantis knows the official count.
Suddenly, almost desperately, he needs the Terrans to know, to understand. His life until the First Expedition found him had been so empty, filled with little more than blood and the vague hope that all this would one day just end. If they continue down this road they're on, their species could end up the same way – fighting the Wraith, fighting the Lucian Alliance, fighting some race as yet unknown. They have to learn. They have to survive. He can't watch another species destroy itself – not when he can stop it, not when he can save them.
"At the time," Iohannes begins, explaining as he goes, "we had an alliance of sorts with the Hamaxobii – a group of Descendants who had recently abandoned their homeworlds because of the Wraith. They transferred their entire population to a fleet of primitive lintres, much as my people had done after the Fall of Loegria – the original Loegria. They had tracked a series of hives ships and their escorts entering a region of space known as the Palamede but hadn't seen them leave. We all wanted to know if they were massing or, more likely, been destroyed in the crossing.
"The Palamede is perilous. You've got neutron stars and supergiants and even a miniature white hole all in this space about 5 light years across in any direction. Sensors don't work there. Gravitational shear will destroy a linter as soon as hide it. There's only one planet in the area, this barely habitable thing trapped in a quaternary system that no one sets foot on if they have any choice about it.
"Anyway," Iohannes says quickly, staring down at his hands and remembering the rivers of blood that have stained them. He tucks them into the sleeves of his borrowed sweatshirt before continuing, "it was a trap. We were ambushed. We tried to outrun them, until the engines failed – though broke away might be the better word. The Wraith boarded what was left. A dozen of them beamed directly onto the bridge and took those of us still alive prisoner. That was when the Rambo-bot showed up; it wanted revenge for what they'd done…
"It distracted the Wraith so I was able to get away. The others… most of the others weren't so lucky." Iohannes glances up then, startled by the number of eyes on him. Their stares make him feel uncomfortable, as if they expect him to go mad at any moment – as if they expect him to re-declare for Haeresis and demand their utter obedience or complete obliteration. It's all he can do to stay in place under their stares; he's less successful disguising the full-body shudder this thought brings. "What?"
Up until this point Rodney had been the only one not starting at him. He looks Iohannes' way now, glancing at him only long enough to roll his eyes at him before pointedly returning to his earlier study of the remnants of the MREs. "You just said more about your past just now that you've said in the last three years."
He has to struggle to keep his voice steady, only managing it by keeping all his attention on the tuerus that appears at his elbow as if summoned. Stroking its worn metallic casing, he says, "It's not my history, not really. A lot of people were lost that day that I couldn't have. It's their history, not mine."
"Shouldn't you tell it then?" Doctor Porter asks. He'd almost managed to forget that she was there – that she must be having a field day with this – but it's too late to back out now. Besides, she may actually have point. "If you're the only one left to tell the story, shouldn't you make sure it doesn't die with you?"
"You say that like I paid attention to the stories. There's a lot I don't know – a lot that I don't remember and even more I never bothered to learn. I mean, I can tell you about the seven waves of colonization or the stuff I lived through myself, but some stuff nobody ever knew." Iohannes gestures at the tuerus still at his elbow. "Take Nebrius. She Fell in the thirty-second year of the war, but nobody knows what really happened. The only survivors were from Alcaeus, which wasn't with the rest of the fleet when it was destroyed."
The tuerus bumps against his arm sadly. Mnemosyne, which had been its home for millennia before being left behind here, had been part of the Nebrian fleet.
"I know, buddy. But I'll be taking you and your friends back to Atlantis soon, I promise."
It bumps his arm again, trilling excitedly. Iohannes expects it to stop there – all of the tuerui have expressed excitement about leaving the outpost – but it continues, adding a few beeps and whistles to the mix before brushing past him to land on the table.
"Hey now, what did I say? No bots on the furniture," Iohannes tells it, going to lift it off-
Then its ring of lights turns completely orange and it's holographic projector hums to life, creating a flickering image of a young woman with dark hair and streaks of oil across her face and Guardsman's uniform.
"Auriel, we've just received word that Nebrius has Fallen – which you would know if you were wearing your radio. Father's just sent word from Terpsichore that some of the fleet survived the battle and are regrouping in the Palamede. The Praetor must be planning a counterattack… They're sending a transport for us. It should be here by morning…"
The hologram cuts out. There's a moment of silence and then the room fills with noise.