The Ancient!John 'verse: Pastor (2/2)
Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Elizabeth Weir, sentient!Atlantis
Summary: The Atlantis Expedition never knew Major Shepperd. When they arrive in the Pegasus Galaxy, however, they discover a single Ancient remained behind to protect the city...
Series: part 2 of #1 in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
"Let me guess," John says he steps out onto the balcony. The way he leans against the railing seems to suggest that he's heading for a nap more than an argument but the passion behind his words is clear. "You're going to try to talk me out of rescuing those people."
"You don't even know if they're alive, Iohannes."
John snorts at this. "You don't leave people in the hands of the enemy – especially ones like the Wraith. You're just going to have to trust me-"
"Just listen to me for a moment, alright?" Elizabeth placates, "I'm not any happier about it than you are, but I'm not about to let you or any member of this expedition risk your lives on a suicide mission. Because that's what it's going to be, unless you know something you're not telling us, since one of the few things we do know is that these Wraith defeated the Ancients-"
"I don't need the history lesson," John snaps, everything about him hardening right before their eyes. Rodney wants to say something – to tell them that the door didn't close all the way, that he can hear every word they're saying, even if the wind is snatching most of it away – but can't. He just listens, and feels his own body tense at John's words. "You don't get it, do you? I've been fighting the Wraith my whole life. I know what they can do.
"I've seen good men, men under my command, kill themselves rather than die at their hands... It's a horrible death. The Wraith never kill in the field, not if they can help it. They drag their prisoners back to their ships and feed upon them, sucking all their life – all their potential – out of them. And all that's left at the end are these lifeless husks, worse than corpses..."
Elizabeth pales, but stands her ground. You could always count on Elizabeth for that, no matter how scared she must be. Rodney knows he feels faint just hearing what these Wraith can do. "We're practically defenceless. How do you know going off on this half-baked rescue mission isn't going to bring them all right back here?"
"It probably will," John's voice is calmer now, tired, filled less with indignation than resignation, "either way. You have technology that no other race in the galaxy has, unless the Wraith have radically changed their standard operating procedure in the last few thousand years – which, from what Jinto tells me, they haven't. It won't take them long to realize that Atlantis is alive again, even if your men don't give anything up under torture. She'll always be in danger as long as the Wraith are alive. They'll come. They're always coming. But maybe we can slow them down."
"You don't know that. I mean, who knows, maybe we could negotiate a peaceful-"
"Peaceful? Are you kidding? Haven't you been listening to me, Elizabeta?"
It's foreign, the way he says her name, the stress in all the wrong places. If he'd somehow managed to forget that John was an Ancient it would all have come rushing back with that one word. Because whatever else John may be (a soldier, not a scientist, who thought his name was pretentious and would rather be thought dead than evacuate Atlantis), he's an Ancient. Maybe not an Ascended Ancient, with all the associated powers, but still an alien. Someone they couldn't trust would want the same things and act the same way as a human would.
"They're intelligent, yes," John continues, "but there's no reasoning with them. Do you sit down and have negotiations with your livestock on Terra? Because that's all they see us as, livestock. And if word gets out that you're from Avalon, a galaxy that hasn't been repeatedly culled to the point of extinction over the last few thousand years, and that the only way there is through Atlantis?" he trails off, running a hand over his face.
"But none of that matters right now, 'cause right now there are good people out there who don't deserve the deaths they're facing, and I'm going to rescue them, if I can," he finishes, looking for a moment as old as he probably is. Confident and cocksure, yes, but tired and oh-so-old.
"I won't authorize a rescue mission if I don't know it has a reasonable chance of success... but that's not going to stop you, is it?"
"No, it's not." Of course it wouldn't, and Elizabeth was stupid to expect otherwise. They'd been on Atlantis for less than a day. John lived here and, presumably, knew its ins and outs far better than they did. The idea of her needing to authorize anything was laughable – except for the fact that there were thirteen trigger-happy marines inside who hadn't taken too kindly to their leader's abduction. And Ancient or not, those are long odds if they decided John was a threat.
There is a pause and then, "I can tell Atlantis to stop working for you, if that's what it's going to take. I don't think anyone would be happy with that though, least of all Atlantis..." There's another, longer pause, and when he continues, it's in a voice Rodney almost has to strain to hear, even as he tries not to. Despite this difficulty, he's suddenly very certain that John knows he's there and is letting him listen in for just this reason. "I'm perfectly happy just being what I was before: a simple soldier who, by a quirk of genetics, just so happens to be one of the pastores Atlantis. I've no desire to take control of your people from you, but I'll do what it takes to get them back."
Elizabeth's the one to draw out the silence this time when it comes. "We're going to have to have a nice long talk about things when you get back."
"Yeah," John agrees with a smile Rodney can't quite read, and then he's heading his way, and Rodney has to scuttle away from the door, just in case by some miracle John hadn't noticed him listening in.
But he can worry about all that later. Right now, it seems, he has to narrow down a gate address for John to go to, and who knew how many of the seven hundred twenty possible combinations might actually lock. And then he has to see if he can get the city up and running without a ZedPM, and without those idiots who called themselves electrical engineers nearly blowing up the city in the process. And then hopefully he'll be able to take a proper look at the damage a few generations of siege and a couple millennia underwater have done to the city's systems. If they're lucky – and so far they have been – he'll be able to get a good, proper interface going between their Earth equipment and Atlantis' OS, so they won't have to do all the diagnostics by hand.
And then maybe, just maybe, he'll be able to look up Iohannes Ianideus Licinus Pastor in the Ancients' database, or see if he can't find their equivalent of an Encyclopaedia Britannica and look up a couple of the words John had been flinging around, seemingly unaware that they didn't understand the terms.
/It was the only thing you could do,/ Atlantis whispers in his ear after the debriefing, when she knows he's about five seconds from running. He knows there was nothing more he could have done – not for the Terran legatus, Colonel Sumner, not for the untold millions who must have died while he slept; not for anyone – and, worse, the descendants know it too.
/I know,/ he tells her, slipping into a small office near the control room and slumping against the wall there. Atlantis knows his mood and keeps the lights off, though she hates it when he does this. But all he really needs is a moment to collect himself, to push aside the horrors of this endless day, and then he can go back to the party the descendants are holding and pretend everything is all right.
Iohannes is very good at pretending. Sometimes it seems to him that all he ever does it pretend.
Elizabeta, it appears, is very good at finding, or else the city has nudged her in the right direction, because she finds his hiding spot not long after he does. Cruelly she turns on the lights. This earns her a glare that doesn't stop her from asking, "How are you doing?"
That earns her a raised eyebrow.
"Okay," she laughs, "I imagine it's been a strange couple of days for you."
"That's one way to put it." He hasn't quite figured out what the other ways might be yet, but figures they'd involve a lot more swearing.
Still, he feels uncomfortable in her presence. She's halfway across the room, quietly pensive, but there's something about her that made him uneasy. He knows now is probably the best chance they'll get for a while for that conversation he promised her but words cannot describe how much he really, really doesn't want to have another confrontation right now. Food would be good right now, and a shower, and then maybe a nice, soft bed because, despite the fact he'd apparently taken the universe's longest nap ever, he's starting to feel pretty tired.
But before his escape plan was fully formed she spoke. "I asked Doctor McKay to look you up in the Ancient database."
"Oh?" he says just as casually because, really, what else is he supposed to say to that? Well, why not just ask me yourself? comes to mind, but then again, so does meretrix, though that one is more directed at Atlantis than Elizabeta. Though if she keeps on turning on lights in perfectly nice dark rooms, she might be on the receiving end of that one too.
"Yes. Apparently tribunus means executive officer in Atlantean."
It actually didn't, but the more senior tribuni had been sent on ahead to secure the encampment on Terra, so it had been true enough in the weeks before the final evacuation. He doesn't bother to correct her, mostly because he can't see the point. "That going to be a problem?"
"The opposite, actually." She gave him a curious grin when he looked up, her eyes crinkling in a way curiously out of line with the rest of her features. "With Colonel Sumner gone, our ranking military officer is Lieutenant Ford and, while he's a good man, the events of the past few days have already proven that we need someone with more experience in charge. I'd ask Sergeant Bates but he has scarcely more and, either way, I'm hesitant to undermine their leadership structure, particularly when we're so far from home..."
"So you want me to do it."
Elizabeta nods, seeming pleased he'd caught on so quickly.
"You do realize that's probably a spectacularly bad idea, right?"
The praetor Triarii would probably have laughed in her face at the idea and he had been a spectacularly cold man who must have gotten physical pleasure from chewing out the lower ranks considering how often he did so.
She'd probably have gotten a similar reaction from most of his commanding officers, for that matter. By the time of the Exodus, he'd been in the Lantean Guard for nearly half his life and, in that time, had had three high-level disciplinary hearings, earned five laudes counselium from two different cities, and probably would have been cashiered from service altogether had not the war with the Wraith needed all able bodies. Had he not been a pastor, he probably still would have been discharged and forced to go to Terra after Triarius, but they needed him too much for that. Sometimes Iohannes felt that was the only reason he stayed in the Guard.
/You know that's not true,/ Atlantis urges, the city humming around him with concern, while Elizabeta continues, "Perhaps. But, at the moment, you're the most qualified person I've got."
He tells the city, /You only say that 'cause you like me./ To Elizabeta, he says nothing.
/We say it because it is true, pastor. The Council may have kept you out of need, but you stayed out of want./
"Adulator," he mutters at the nearest wall. "Atlantis likes to lie to me," he tries to explain to Elizabeta, who's looking at him with concern. "I think she thinks it's beneficial to my mental health or something."
She looks like she's about to ask – ask what he means, what he said, what it means to be a pastor Atlantis – but she swallows her questions, perhaps sensing that there are no real answers. True, his people had done the initial encoding that bound their technology to their genetic sequence and yes, they had imbued their cities' early computers with a sophisticated VI, but no one – not even Father – had been quite certain how the pastores had grown from the two. All Iohannes knows (or will, at least, admit to knowing) is that, over a few thousand years, the urbes-naves developed sentience and a marked preference for specific gene holders. The ones the cities favour are called custodiae. The ones who go the extra step and have the nanoids implanted are pastores and, to them, the cities speak.
"Besides," Elizabeta asks instead, "would you really be comfortable leaving Atlantis' safety to someone else?"
She has him there, so, "Alright. I just hope you don't end up regretting it."
"I won't," she says with such determination he almost – almost – believes her. But she's not the first person to take a chance on him. So far, without even trying, he's managed to disappoint them all. He doubts it will be any different with Elizabeta. So he says nothing and allows himself to be dragged back to the party.
For a while he merely watches but before long he finds himself cornered by a youngish, dark-haired man who introduces himself as Doctor Sean Corrigan, formerly of Trinity University and currently the head of Atlantis' Department of Anthropology, which means less than nothing to Iohannes. He and a tall, dark-skinned woman he calls Doctor Lazos, the UOC linguist proceed to pepper him with questions about the significance of the inscription on stairs in front of the porta.
"It's a poem and a promise, of sorts," he tells them, despite the fact he could go into far more detail if he wants, and gives them his best I-only-know-how-to-shoot-things smile. While it works on the Lantean literature front it invites questions about the position of the military in an Ascension-oriented culture that he's even more uncomfortable answering.
He gets about as far as, "Interesting," before McKay comes up and, thankfully, tells his interrogators that, "As entertaining as I'm sure he finds answering your asinine questions, I'm fairly certain John has better things to do than be the Ancient version of Cole's Notes for you. Like helping me solve the city's power problems. Unless you want to sit around asking your questions in the dark which, admittedly, as anthropologists you might but forgive me if I'd rather we actually had half a chance of being able to defend ourselves when the Wraith inevitably track us down."
"There aren't any more potentia on Atlantis," he tells McKay once they're far enough away from the party that there's little chance he'll be dragged back to it when this is all over.
This morning (relatively speaking) he'd been in the auxiliary control room with half-a-dozen scientists and most the remaining soldiers, trying to coordinate Atlantis' defences against the Wraith; now he was in a hallway full of offices that had sat empty for ten thousand years and trying to explain the basis of most Alteran technology to one of their Terran descendants. Trying to make sense of it all is making his head hurt.
"Well," he begins eloquently, holding up his hands in demonstration, "they're crystals about this big that house pockets of spuma spatii quattuor dimensionum from which we extract energy." Iohannes let his hands fall. "I really don't know how to explain them better than that. We use them to power the city."
"Oh? Oh! You mean the ZedPMs."
"Zero Point Modules. It's what we call your potentia, I think. But yes, I was fairly certain there weren't any left in Atlantis or else you would have told us about them earlier, what with the Wraith and no shields and all of that. I imagine you want the city to stand just as much as we do."
"Oh," Iohannes says rather vacantly because…
/We like him,/ Atlantis sees fit to insert at this point, /and your father kept a list of planets to which the Council sent the potentia to in the last days./
/I know. And you do?/ Usually urbes-naves take ages to warm up to anyone, even other cities' pastores, and for her to come to this decision so quickly is nothing short of bizarre. But then again, this whole day has been nothing short of bizarre:
He remembers waking up after two fitful hours of attempting to rest in the noisily empty barracks and going to the auxiliary control room to help co-ordinate that day's defences. His eyes are still blurry from the lack of sleep.
He remembers the northern pier being hit by a particularly vicious blast and the room exploding around him. The Terran medicus, Carson, had picked the glass out of his wounds; thin white line still ran across his exposed skin, a sign he'd been too weak to heal himself fully.
He remembers being unable to wake Nicolaa, whose console he'd been hunched over, and being unable to find Josua at all. His uniform had been as much drenched with her blood as his own before he'd used what little energy he had left to repair it enough to escape the infirmary.
He remembers Atlantis telling him to evacuate and going to the cathedra instead. He remembers telling Atlantis to keep lowering the power, until the shields are barely holding the water at bay and there's barely enough life-support pumping into the cathedra room to keep him alive from one breath to the next. He remembers feeling the porta activate and thinking, they're finally returning, before disconnecting himself from the city.
It seems like a single day to him; those thousands of years he spent cajoling Atlantis to spend less and less power, to sacrifice some of the lower levels to maintain structural integrity elsewhere, having passed in the blink of an eye.
He's never felt so tired in his life.
"The Council sent a lot of potentia off-world before the exodus. There should be a list in my father's lab," McKay's whole face lights up at this, like he's just told him the Wraith are gone and it's with sincere regret that he has to bring reality back into the equation, "but it may take some time to find – he was protective of his research to the point of paranoia and never known for his organizational skills to begin with."
"Oh. Well. Wow. I mostly just said what I did about the power to aid in my own escape. The power situation really isn't that dire. The naquadah generators have nothing on ZedPMs but they should be able to power critical systems – other than the shield and weapons and whatnot – for another couple of years at least. It's just that there are some things I wanted to look at down in the labs – or, well, at least what that Czech physicist what's-his-name thinks are labs; knowing the idiots they've tried to foist off on me it's probably the Ancient equivalent of a laundromat or something as equally dull that they've gotten so excited over – so I can claim the best one before one of the idiots who won't know how to properly appreciate it gets their hands on it. And, well, you looked like you could use a hand getting away from those soulless piranhas that make up the anthropology department so yeah, I figured I'd help the both of us.
"But if you actually think you might have an idea where we might find some ZedPMs, that's even better. Do you want to go now or-?" he looks hopeful, yet, oddly enough, not at the thought of finding more pot- ZedPMs.
Guessing the reason, "No," Iohannes says with a smile. "Go pick out your lab. We'll have plenty of time tomorrow."
"Tomorrow. Right. See you then."
McKay's halfway down the hall before Iohannes asks, "Where are these labs this physicist of yours found?"
Scarcely pausing, "The east pier, in one of the taller towers. Why?"
That sounded about right if he was looking for the science labs. But, if Atlantis liked him... "Try the fifty-third level of this building instead; the last Director of Science turned one of the larger rooms on the north side into a personal laboratory. You'll probably like it better."
McKay does stop at this - even turns around to gape at him - and it's more than evident that he doesn't have a clue what to say. "I, er- Thanks, John. That's- thanks."
"No problem." He gives a jaunty wave and turns towards the nearest vectura. Atlantis is telling him that the Terrans have set up sleeping quarters near the south-east pier and, if he's careful, he should be able to get there without being drawn back into the party.
The rest can wait 'til morning.