Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Elizabeth Weir, Janus
Summary: Atlantis is filled with all sorts of things the Ancients left behind. Some are more interesting than others.
Series: part 1 of #3 in the Ancient!John 'verse. Part of Locality.
Notes: So, this was once part of the wickedly long fic "Custodia" was originally to be a part of. Once again, I decided this part would do better posted on its own. The Notes to "Pastor" and "Custodia" should cover all the translations for this section as well.
Patres et Filii
An Ancient!John Story
29 July, 2004 - Atlantis, Lantea, Pegasus
"So, life-sucking bugs, life-sucking aliens – anything else you might've forgotten to mention to us about life the Pegasus galaxy, Major?" Rodney asks as they walk towards the transporters.
John has just been released from the infirmary and, while he'd been pronounced both alive and damage free, he is clearly still in a lot of pain. But he insists that all he wants to do was go back to his quarters and sleep, that the Iratus bugs were nowhere near as bad as the Wraith, and that he'd be the picture of health when he wakes up. "Lots, probably. Don't know how accurate any of it is, though."
"Why don't you just start and we can cross things off the list later?"
"There is a database you could try looking in, you know."
"Yes, and you also failed to index it, which I must say is a huge lack of foresight on your part. It really makes me wonder how you ever managed to develop Stargates and flying cities in the first place if you couldn't manage to tabulate your data in any useful way."
"You do realize that I am not personally responsible for all the failings of my race, don't you?"
"Yes, yes, of course I do."
"Besides, the Council had the index deleted when they returned to Terra."
"Earth," he corrects, "and why would they do something like that?"
"We named it first," John teases tiredly – or, at least, Rodney assumes he teases. As best as he can tell, John doesn't actually care what names they use for anything. He's also been picking up Earth terms and colloquialisms as if by osmosis, almost making it seem as if he's trying his best to make them forget that he's not human, not from Earth and was born at about the time most of the Expedition's ancestors were just starting to figure out farming.
In fact, John's said remarkably little about his people in the month or so they've been here. It's almost as if he's ashamed that the Ancients – Alterans, Lanteans, Ancestors, take your pick – were so much more advanced than pretty much everyone else in the universe. Which is ridiculous, because Rodney's worked with more than a few Asgard in his time and suffice to say people with that amount of technological superiority didn't usually have a word for humble in their language. Except, of course, the Ancients had been more advanced than even the Asgard. They'd built the Stargates for crying out loud. And intergalactic spaceships the size of Manhattan. And basically seeded life in their image throughout two galaxies, if not more.
Maybe that was the problem the fact that Rodney's ancestors were pretty much the lab mice of John's. That is bound to be uncomfortable, if you care about such things.
"Yes, but we live there, so squatter's rights and all." And that's when he notices the hallway beyond is dark, smelling of dust and mould and mildew and most definitely not one of the areas of the city they've been able to explore yet. "Where the hell are we?"
For a moment John looks just as confused as Rodney feels before, "Sorry, I must be more tired than I thought."
Ah. "Your old quarters were down here, weren't they?"
His 'no' surprises Rodney. "My father's are, though."
For a moment Rodney wonders what it must be like to have a parent you would want to go see after a day like this. "Oh. Well, you want to check it out anyway?"
The Major pauses, hand poised over the panel that will take them back to the inhabited parts of the city. If he'd looked tired before he appears positively haggard now, as if all the years he'd spent in stasis were finally catching up with him. "Nothing's likely to have survived."
"Still, worth a look, right? And you said something about him keeping a list of all the ZedPMs. Maybe we could find a copy of it in there."
"Maybe later..." John hedges but then lights start flickering on up and down the hall, though both are still firmly inside the transporter. Frowning, "'Lantis," he says, glancing at the ceiling in the way he does when speaking to the city, "what are you doing?"
Rodney, of course, doesn't hear the response. That honour is seemingly only bestowed on John, and he'll admit that for a full seventy-eight minutes he was jealous but then an article had magically appeared on one of his tablets, drawn from the Ancient database and appended to a note that read:
We Do Like You
in much the same way he'd been alerted to John's existence when they'd first arrived here.
The article had talked of the Ancients building their great city-ships with complex virtual intelligences to aid them in crossing the great voids between galaxies back when their technology was far less advanced than it was now, during a time called The Schisma that none of his queries will reveal anything further about. It had also talked about them keying their technology to a gene they'd engineered into their genome and how, somehow, the two together had had unintended consequences – that, after their city-ships became self-aware, they began responding to specific gene-users differently than others. The ones they favoured were called custodiae. The ones that went and put millions of microscopic machines in their head were pastores, and they were the most beloved at all.
Since there was no way in hell that was happening (he knows it's different but he's read one too many files on the Replicatiors to ever seriously consider it, thank you very much), Rodney's decided it's more than enough to hear Atlantis' song like an unending symphony in the back of his mind. She's the most amazing thing he's ever heard and some nights he's lain in bed just listening to her, grateful and ashamed by turns that he gave up the piano so long ago – grateful because there's no way he could ever hope to capture anything more than the barest glimmer of the wonder that is Atlantis; ashamed because it seems wrong that no one else can hear her music.
Besides, ever since his gene therapy took, John's developed this tendency to talk aloud to the city. He doesn't do it all the time and, when he does, it's always when they're alone, but it helps.
"She says she's not the one doing it."
"Well that's crazy. If it's not her, who? There's no one else here. We're not scheduled to check out this part of the city for- Where are we anyway?" John tells him. "Well, definitely not us then. We're not scheduled to head this way for a couple weeks at least."
"It's not the city either – something on its own separate circuit." With a long-suffering sigh he adds, "It's coming from Father's quarters," and with that he heads down the hall, opening a door midway down it's length.
What they find he doesn't even think John expects.
Or maybe he does because he takes one look at the glowing figure standing in the middle of the room and immediately goes to the nearest couch, collapsing into it in a way that suggests this is one hundred percent normal for the Pegasus galaxy so why not get it over with and see what the man wants?
"It's only an eminentia," John says after a moment, not looking at the slowly rotating figure. "A projection of light and sound."
"A hologram. Of course there's a hologram in your living room. You have transporters, so why not holograms?" At this point, he'd hardly be surprised to find out that Gene Roddenberry had run across an Ancient shortly before conceiving Star Trek. A much more helpful and scientifically-inclined Ancient than John. "This your father, I take it? There is some family resemblance, at least, though I'm surprised to see he doesn't have your hair. That's from your mother's side I presume? He does seem to have your smirk though – yes, that one you're giving me now."
John continues smirking though it seems a bit forced. "Yeah, that's Father."
"Cool." He watches the hologram of John's dad rotate back and forth for a couple of minutes before being compelled to ask, "You going to see what he wants?"
"I suppose I should. 'Lantis?" he glances up at the ceiling. "Any way you can download my translation matrix into the eminentia? Thanks," he adds, tapping his radio. "Elizabeta? Can you come down section 12? McKay and I have found something you'll probably want to see."
Rodney turns away from the hologram and his thoughts on how to adapt the tech into his own holodeck to stare at the major. "Why'd you ask Elizabeth to come down here?"
"'Cause she probably will want to see this."
"Yes, strangely enough I got that part. What I mean is, it's a hologram of your father. Don't you want to, I dunno, listen to it in private?"
John's face darkens. "It's not likely to be that kind of message, Rodney."
He doesn't know what to say to that, so he collapses into the seat next to him and makes a show of pulling up a program to record this on his tablet.
"No matter. Elizabeta says she's in the middle of something and I'm half-asleep already so what do you say we just go ahead and get this over with."
"Major?" he asks, trying to fit whole questions – why would your father leave something like this behind and why is it coming on now and if your relationship with him was that bad, why did you come here in the first place – into one word. He's no idea if he's successful but if the yawn John gives as he leans across him to activate the message is any indication, the Major doesn't have the energy to sit up straight at the moment, let alone to answer any question more complicated than are you asleep?
The projection of John's father stops spinning, instead glancing about the room before catching sight of them sitting on his couch, his son – or the son of the man who'd made the projection – leaning heavily against Rodney's shoulder.
The man in the hologram is dressed much like he expects all Ancients to dress, which is to say in various shades of white with highly visible, highly impractical laces down the back and heavy cloth vambraces that couldn't possibly serve any practical purpose. (The anthropologists have made much of this, as well as the fact that, after John managed to acquire an Expedition uniform of his own, he's continued to wear one of his Ancient bracers. Seeing John evade their questions on the subject is a work of artifice and misdirection he's not seen since his last visit to the Pentagon.) And while he doesn't have John's hair, the eyes are the same and say far more than the raised eyebrow that accompanies his announcement, "Licinus. You're looking terrible."
"Had a run-in with an Iratus bug off-world. There was some delay in removing it."
Rodney can't help but snorting at this because, really, understatement, thy name is John Sheppard, or Licinus, or whatever the hell John wanted to call himself. Either way, the noise draws the hologram's attention and its eyes sharpened perceptively, as if in warning, though warning what to whom he couldn't say. "Who's your friend, Licinus?"
"Doctor Rodney McKay," he answers for himself, "of Earth. Head of the Science and Research Departments, such as they are, on this Expedition. "
The word science seems to mollify the hologram somewhat for he reciprocates: "Ianus Ishachidus Ianitos Rector, Lantean Director of Science... and Licinus' father or, rather, my counterpart was, before the Exodus. How long has it been by the way?"
"Just over ten thousand years."
"Really?" the hologram asks, Rodney all but forgotten. But that's okay, because he's trying to process John's father was quite possibly the basis for the Roman god Janus which, admittedly, isn't that much of a deal after working for the SGC for the last seven years. It's more of the the lab John told me about was the Director of Science's lab and John's father was the Director of Science, which somehow is more shock-inducing. "The cathedra kept you in stasis that long? You barely look like you've aged at all."
"Seemed to last no longer than a dream," John agrees, "but you didn't build an eminentia to ask me about the long-term effects of cathedra stasis. At least, not only, so why all the games with the lights and such?"
"To get your attention, mostly and to make sure the right person got this message. I knew that if the Wraith ever breeched the defences you'd try to destroy Atlantis but I couldn't know if you'd be successful and didn't want the information in this program accessible to just anyone..."
"You can say what you want in front of McKay. I trust him."
"Hmm. Where is this Earth anyway?"
"It's Terra – you know how descendants are about naming things. A couple of them actually have the gene needed to use our tech. I wouldn't be surprised if they're some of your personal descendants. So you see, they're practically family. Now what about this message?"
The hologram actually looks abashed for a moment, mumbling, "Oh. Well. Yes," and very much not denying the accusations. Which, while moderately disturbing, probably explains some of John's awkwardness when it comes to talking about his life before the Expedition found him. It continues, "I assumed you'd come down here eventually and wanted to make sure you'd be able to survive if you woke from the cathedra to find yourself alone – my program contains a list of outposts the Council sent additional potentia before the Exodus as well as a handful of those we hid among our Pegasus descendants. I've also included some designs for what servola you can probably fabricate from the materials we left behind, though I doubt they'll be of much good to you until you solve your energy problem... Don't even bother trying to repair the secondary power systems – they'll never be able to power any significant part of Atlantis and without a live potential you'll not be able to store the energy in any useful manner...
Once in Avalon it was my intention to seek out the Furlings as soon as it was possible to do so without alerting the Council. It was my hope that, with their help, I would be able to find a path that would lead those who remained back to Atlantis, possibly even with a way to defeat the Wraith... but since it has been so long I can only assume I failed."
"You don't know that. The Terrans found us, didn't they?"
Janus' hologram sighs. "Perhaps..." There is silence for a beat. "I know why you stayed. Given the chance, I would have done the same. But... I wish things had worked out differently with us."
It's impossible for Rodney to read the expression on John's face. Normally he'd be the first to admit people are his weak point but that has nothing to do with it this time. This look, it's so intense Rodney's not sure he's ever seen it before on anyone. There might be something in German for the emotion – they tend to have words for the complicated emotions that English lacks - but Rodney wouldn't put money on it. John's, "Me too," is partly filled with familial affection, partly with filial annoyance and mixed with more than a little melancholy, contempt, and frustration for good measure but even knowing this Rodney doesn't think he's captured the emotion properly.
It's quiet, too quiet, after that. The only sound he can hear Atlantis' faint berceuse, and even that's only a whisper in the back of his mind. It's only when John's head dips forward further that he realises the other man has finally lost his battle with exhaustion. He'd laugh, only he doesn't want to wake him so he settles for rolling his eyes at Janus' hologram and easing John off his shoulder.
When he looks up again it's to the unbounded remorse in the hologram's eyes. Janus' face quickly shutters, wiping away all hints of emotion but not quickly enough.
Rodney swallows uncomfortably. "I'll just..."
"Is that device of yours," the hologram interrupts, "capable of interfacing with Lantean equipment?"
"Yes. Of course. Why?"
"I programmed this eminentia to erase itself two hours after activation. It would be best that you download the planetary addresses and servola schematics before then. My flesh-and-blood counterpart would have hated to go through all this trouble for nothing to come of it in the end."
"Ah." He doesn't know whether to be appalled by the paranoia or to applaud it. Either way, he pushes himself off the couch and gets to work, opening a panel on the small pyramidal device on the table that seems to be the hologram projector.
It's not silence that follows but it's close and goes on for long enough that Rodney actually thinks his tampering with the projector has caused Janus' hologram to disappear entirely.
He's just pressed the download button when Janus speaks again, shocking him enough that he nearly drops his tablet. "You're a custodia, aren't you Doctor Rodney McKay?"
"Er, yes?" That's what John called him, anyway and John would know better than anyone. He still didn't quite believe it.
"Then you know he's lying."
That stops Rodney cold. He knows that John's been keeping things from them – about the war, the Ancients, himself – but outright lying? That doesn't seem to be John's style. He's only known him a month but Rodney would be willing to bet his life on that. He's already done so. The whole Expedition has.
But still he has to ask: "About what?"
"Not remembering. Ten thousand years in a cathedra, in constant communication with an urbs-navis with more sensors and scanners and systems most of our descendants can't dare imagine might one day exist? Even if Licinus doesn't consciously realise it, he's bound to remember every moment of it, in excruciating detail."
"How do you know?" You're just a hologram, he doesn't add. Just like Atlantis isn't just a city. They might not be on the same level but there's a level of intelligence to both, even if it's only the illusion thereof. And even if it's true, it's not like it's an important lie. "Seen many causes of ten-thousand-year stasis, have you?"
The look Janus flashes him is the same one John gives the anthropologists when they ask something stupid. "No. But it's changed him. I can tell."
"You can tell?"
"And?" he gestures for him to go on.
"We didn't yell."
"We talked for a good ten, fifteen minutes and neither of us raised our voices once. The last time I think that happened he was still a small boy... The solitude must have been crippling."
Blinking, he asked (rather intelligently in his opinion given the way this conversation was progressing), "What?" once more.
But Janus' response was, "Someone comes this way," followed by his hologram blinking out of existence for ever and ever more.
The someone turns out to be Elizabeth, who looks over the scene – Rodney kneeling by the table with the hologram projector, John dead asleep on the white, water-stained couch slightly off to the side – and manages to minimize her response to an amused smirk. "Major Sheppard said there was something he wanted me to see?"
Rodney stands because, really, his knees are going to kill him for that later and rolls his eyes at her. But Janus' words echo in his mind even after he fills her in on the relevant details and they head back to the control room to start deciphering the information they've been given.
He should be excited. There are twenty addresses that might lead them to zero point modules on the list. And as if that weren't enough, designs for servola apparently translated to schematics for robots, specifically robots that could help them repair the more inaccessible parts of the city. He is excited. The whole science department is.
And if Rodney takes a moment during his very important and exciting research to take a blanket down to John, well, that's what friends do. Crippling hypothermia is the last thing anyone needs after having the life sucked out of them by an overgrown bug.
And if he takes more moments every few hours to check up on him, well, that's just what friends do too.