The Ancient!John 'verse: Custodia (1/1)
Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay
Summary: Iohannes is the last Alteran in two galaxies and, quite possibly, the universe. But he isn't quite as alone as he first thought.
Series: part 1 of #2 in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
Notes: This was originally intended to be part of a larger fic that told old Ancient!John's adventures through "The Eye." Then I decided that that story would work better if this was a seperate fic. I don't intend to rewrite every episode, but this one I kinda needed to. If anyone can think of a good name for my "Ancient!John" series, you're more than welcome to suggest them - I'm rather at a loss.
An Ancient!John Story
15 July, 2004 - Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
He misses the others.
This surprises Iohannes, mostly because he knows none of them would ever have missed him. Oh, Father might've been upset that his only child had died in the Siege, but everyone who might have actually cared for him – Nicolaa and Ciprian, his fellow pastores; Matertera Catalina; even father's on-again, off-again amator, Forcul – had either died during the Exodus or Ascended long before.
/You know that's not true,/ Atlantis whispers to him.
/And you know just as well as I do that's a lie,/ he whispers back as he continues on, walking dead and darkened halls, needing to sleep but unable to for the images that linger there.
Still, regardless of his feelings for them, he misses the others. Or, rather, is pained by their absence. Whenever he enters the conference room he still expects to see the Council there, waiting to either praise or condemn whichever of his actions have most lately drawn their attention. Every time he passes the room the Terrans have designated the mess he must take pause, part of him expecting to see his fellow Lanteans mediating en masse as they work towards Ascension, and hearing any sort of noise coming from within still startles him. And though he'd purposefully chosen for the Expedition's living quarters a section of the city that had been abandoned at the start of the Siege, he still feels he's done something wrong by taking one of the rooms on the sixtieth floor of the Central Spire for himself, even if it is one of the more ascetic.
He misses being able to say something, anything, no matter how innocuous without having to explain himself. A simple comment in the mess one afternoon about missing cicerum had turned into an hour of rapid-fire questions from the anthropologists about Ancient cuisine. His equally simple insistence that they please stop calling him Ancient had been even worse and, so far, only McKay and Elizabeta even seem to remember that his race had never called themselves such.
That he knows of, at least.
/Ten thousand years is a long time. Of course we are ancient to them./
/You are ancient,/ Iohannes reminds Atlantis. She had been built sixty-five million years ago, in a galaxy so far away that the light from its earliest stars would not reach Pegasus before the heat death of the universe. She had seen more generations of Alterans than one person could be reasonably expected to remember. Even having spent the last several millennia with her, he was still aeons younger and she would continue on for aeons after. She always had and always would.
Age is relative. Are you ten thousand, two hundred and thirty-five years old, simply because you were born so long ago? Or are you thirty-four, because that is the age of your physical body? Or are you somewhere in between, the length of your life based entirely off your perception of it?
He reaches out a hand to touch one of the city's walls as he walks, his feet taking him along paths he still knows well despite the intervening years. It's almost a physical pain seeing her so damaged, though the Terrans have done their best to start repairs. But it's only been seven days, most of which have been spent setting up their operations, and restoring Atlantis to the height of her glory would be the work of lifetimes.
The city thrums beneath his fingers, reminding him that despite her injuries, she is still alive. But now that he's had the thought, Iohannes suddenly cannot shake the knowledge that he will never see Atlantis whole, not even if he did not have to worry about the Wraith, or the Asurans, or any of the other dangers that may have developed in this galaxy while he slept. Not only is it impossible that he will live long enough to see it, no pastor ever will because he is the last pastor she will ever have. He will be the last person, in a line that stretches back tens of millions of years, to ever hear her voice. When he dies, she will be alone.
The ballast tanks burble worriedly, /Do not think like this./ Atlantis, knowing what he feels about Ascension, hates it when he thinks about his own mortality. Once, long ago, she'd confided in him that she'd chosen to speak to him because she feared he would otherwise get himself killed, not because he had a desire to die but because he lacked enough desire to live.
He pulls his hand back, feeling angry and not a little small for making her worry. The thrum diminishes but he can still sense it, just as he can sense her intellegentia artificialis everywhere on Lantea. It's comforting and, at times, not a little confining. /I'll think whatever way I want, especially when it's true./
/We will not be alone,/ she chastises. /We will never be alone. The descendants will care for us. If not the Terrans, then some others. We will always be found./
Iohannes is not sure how an ancient, city-wide artificial intelligence could be so naïve but her capacity for self-deception still surprises him. Perhaps it has something to do with the damage she sustained during the war with the Wraith. /The Terrans are the first descendants I know of to have developed the genes needed to operate Alteran technology but even among them it is rare and weak. They won't be able to talk to you and aren't you the one who always says mental health is just as important as the physical?/
/That will change./
/It might not. Besides, the Terrans hardly came here with the intention of starting a colony./
/That too will change./
/It might not. They didn't know about the Wraith. They might decide it's easier just to abandon you./
/That's different,/ he huffs, turning mid-stride back towards the inner city as if a change in direction would aid his case any. Ciprian had once indicated to him that most pastores' relationships with Atlantis weren't based on mutual antagonism but Iohannes had never quite believed him.
/You know it is. I... I couldn't leave. You are nothing more than a remote research base to them./
/We were once nothing more than an urbs-navis to the Alterans, but that changed./
He steps into the first vectura on his route and tells it to take him back to the Central Spire. /Not all change is for the better,/ he reminds her. If he sounds bitter, he can't help it. As much as he failed to get along with the others he'd never wanted to outlive them. Not like this. Never like this.
Atlantis tries to comfort him by saying that most, if not all, of those who left during the Exodus probably Ascended and are therefore not really gone.
/That just makes it worse,/ he reminds her.
/In your eyes, perhaps.../ she begins but, before she can continue, they both sense the strange reading coming from the vis mensurae; one biometric reading failing as another, slightly different, replaces it. As if that's not strange enough, the second feels almost Lantean. Almost, in the same way Beckett and Markham and Kusanagi almost fool the sensors. In all her years the city has never seen anything like it. It's coming from the Director's laboratory.
A shot of cold fear runs through him: that lab is McKay's now.
He's still in the vectura and Atlantis takes it upon herself to reroute him to that level, not even waiting to be asked, knowing that he wants, needs to get there as soon as possible. As soon as the vectura doors open he's running, thinking the door open halfway down the hall and reaching for his side arm.
He expects to find McKay injured, at the mercy of some previously undetected alien entity or malfunctioning Lantean device.
What he does not expect is to find him standing in the middle of the room, slack-jawed and wide-eyed but apparently unharmed. Which is sort of a relief, even if it doesn't make much sense. He's not quite sure why, but he likes the guy. It normally takes him a while to warm up to people, but the obvious love McKay has for the city allows the man to slip past his defenses. Besides, there's something refreshing about his unwavering honesty, no matter how brutal it can get. At least it's better than the lies and manipulations of the Council, or the tenterhooks the rest of the Expedition are on around him.
"McKay?" he asks, approaching slowly. Atlantis tells him that the second lifesign has completely replaced the first.
The man gives no answer.
"Rodney?" he tries again, trying to think if he'd ever heard of any creature which might be able to take on another's form or imprint itself on their mind. None immediately come to mind but he'd never paid that much attention to biology and-
-and McKay cuts off that line of thought by replying breathlessly, "I can hear it," though he's still staring at nothing, pupils blown so that only the thinnest, brightest strip of blue remains. "About an hour ago I started to notice this humming and at first I thought it was one of the pieces of equipment, but then it become louder, clearer, more distinct, tonal – almost like a nocturne, in fact – and then I realized it wasn't any of the equipment..." He blinks rapidly, focusing on Iohannes with more intensity than he thought their descendants were capable of. "I'm hearing Atlantis, aren't I?"
Iohannes nods, his own eyes going wide. "But how?" It made no sense for one – you had to have the gene to hear the city and, even then, only a rare few ever actually heard her song as anything more than the occasional background noise. And McKay, he knows, most emphatically does not have the gene.
"Beckett's gene therapy must have worked."
"What gene therapy?"
"The one Beckett's been working on to give people the ATA gene – the one that allows us mere mortals to turn on all your fancy toys."
That was... interesting. But more importantly, "I'm just as mortal as you are, McKay."
"Really? I'm telling you I'm hearing a ten-thousand-year-old city playing Chopin in my head and you choose to focus on that?"
He shrugs this time, fighting back a smile. "Atlantis likes you."
"Atlantis likes me?"
/We do,/ the city in question inserts, not that McKay can hear. It's one thing to hear her song, a simple quirk of genetics. It's another thing, requiring a couple million tiny computers interacting with his nervous system on a cellular level, to hear her voice. It is one reason there had always been far more custodiae than there had ever been pastores.
"Of course she likes you."
"Oh. That's... surprising."
"A little, yes."
Iohannes has no idea what to say to that, so instead, "Well, I'm glad you're not dead."
McKay doesn't seem to know what to say to that either. "Was that ever a possibility?"
He explains about the vis mensurae.
At the end of it, the Terran is looking at him quite curiously, as if he's a piece of technology behaving contrary to what he's expected. "And so you came running."
It wasn't a question but Iohannes answers anyway. "Yes."
"I was in a hurry." Even he can hear the defensive note in his voice.
"Because you thought I was dying."
Nothing follows the huh for a long moment. Iohannes wonders if this is a sign he's supposed to leave but then McKay holds up a parma and asks if he knows what it's for. Because he's got the feeling he's being laughed at, he says no.
"Cool. Wanna help me try it out? I've been reading this database of yours and think I've got a good idea of what it's supposed to do. If it works it might just about be the coolest thing ever..."