Characters: Ancient!John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Elizabeth Weir, Colonel Everett, Aiden Ford, Carson Beckett
Summary: They don't have the weaponry or the manpower to win. But that doesn't mean they'll stop trying.
Series: part 1 of #8 in the Ancient!John 'verse. [Start of Season Two] Part of Locality.
Notes: They don't have the weaponry or the manpower to win. But that doesn't mean they'll stop trying.Notes: Writing this chappie + listening to the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Soundtrack = many tears. But I think I can safely guarentee you'll like this installment better than the last... Oh, and I decided that the last 1/4th of this story would work better seperately than as part of this, so, here it is. The start (technically) of S2.
An Ancient!John Story
And the next thing he knows the floor of the Control Room is rushing at him at nearly fifteen miles an hour, which is a whole lot faster than any floor anywhere should be allowed to move, ever.
The next thing Iohannes knows after that is, when he tries to stagger to his feet, Carson's at his side forcing him to sit back down, claiming that concussions are no laughing matter and neither are broken ribs and that if he ever tries such a stunt again he's going to lock him in a very white room with a nice jacket and soft walls, which must be a cultural reference he's not been introduced to for all the sense it makes at the moment.
"Yeah, 'cause laughing is just about the first thing that comes to mind right now," he groans, putting a hand to his side and trying to find the energy within him to heal them up. To his surprise he finds some and, after a glowy-hand moment, they're only cracked and he's not even that tired from it.
/Oh, that's nice,/ he tells Atlantis, who does the mature, million-year-old city thing and ratchets the fans in the ventilation system up five or six notches in a dignified attempt at mimicking an exasperated sigh.
"What happened?" Elizabeta asks. She and the other remaining Terrans have flocked to his side, rather forgetting they're supposed to be getting ready to evac since his plan failed. Well, at least he thinks it failed. The last few minutes are rather fuzzy, up to and including his rather spectacular fall but since no one's cheering, he's guessing the monitors don't show the approaching Wraith ships as having been destroyed. He'll even hazard a guess that he can't have been gone or Ascended or whatever happened for longer than a few minutes by their reactions.
"Damned if I know," he hisses, glaring at Carson who's currently trying to get him out of his TAC vest so he can get a look at his ribs. "Just leave them, will you? We've got more important things to worry about right now."
"Oh, really?" the doctor says, his accent becoming stronger with his worry, to the point where his translation matrix is having trouble compensating. "Like what?"
"Like getting away from the porta before the finiens eventis vaporizes us and makes the whole thing rather pointless."
They all turn and look at the porta, which isn't doing anything interesting at the moment but Carson and Ford help him up and away from the stretch of floor right in front of it anyway. Literally seconds later (Rodney times it, muttering something about him not having the brain cells to splatter upon perfectly good floors and decidedly not meeting his eyes), it starts to activate.
"How'd you know that?" Ford asks, sounding like he's just discovered the best thing ever.
"I dunno," he murmurs, adjusting his vest so it rests a little less heavily upon certain ribs. Then louder, "It's the SGC," he calls to Rodney, who's run up the steps to check the controls there. "Lower the iris."
He can practically hear Rodney's eyes widen when he calls back. "He's right!"
"That is one cool party trick, sir," Ford whistles as the caracacta falls.
"Yeah. Kinda freaking me out though," he answers, watching a few Terran Marines step through the pons astris. He'd known more than a few near-Ascension Alterans in his time and a couple of them had precognitive abilities but he'd never shown the slightest tendency towards such things, even back when he was young and didn't know any better and actively trying for Ascension. The fact that it's manifesting now means it's probably not precognition but lingering memory from his brief whatever-you-want-to-call-it, which means... "Bet you the last of the coffee in the city that their leader's going to be a Marine colonel by the name of Dillon Everett."
"You can keep your coffee, sir."
He shrugs. Bet or not, he knows he's right. "I just give it to Rodney anyway."
Ford makes a face that's a cross between amused and weary. "I'd also keep that to yourself, sir."
"Why? The stuff tastes awful – worse than even that moonshine the Athosians tried making out of that vine on the mainland, the one that Sergeant Haywood said reminded him of something called kudzu."
"'Cause a lot of people back home, 'specially in the military, don't exactly approve of relationships like yours."
"Really?" At Ford's nod, he frowns. "How annoying archaic."
By this point the greying man who is obviously their leader – and who is, in fact, one Colonel Dillon Everett – has come through the gate and approached Elizabeta. For moral support Iohannes and Ford join her at the top of the steps, just in time to see him hand her a piece of paper that does not make her happy in the slightest. Ford even salutes which Iohannes personally feels might be overdoing things a little but you can't deny him his enthusiasm.
Still, anyone who annoys Elizabeta so much so quickly rather annoys Iohannes as well despite their recent differences, so he decides to return the favour. "Colonel, it's not that we don't appreciate the thought, but if you'd read the report on the armada heading this way, you'd know that there's not much we can do about it." He's the last person to give up on Atlantis, he really is, but he doesn't see how a handful of Terran Marines is going to make much of a difference, at least not with what ordinance they've brought with them.
"Oh, I've read your report cover to cover, Major," he replies, emphasising the last in such a condescending matter that Iohannes can't help but feel he's being mocked for daring to assume a rank that he's full well earned, even if it was in a military other than his own.
Rodney's practically grinning as he approaches them from the control centre, having clearly heard this last. "You must have found a ZedPM."
Iohannes resists the urge to roll his eyes, managing only by crossing his arms and looking reproachful which seems to have a powerful effect on the Terrans he's already familiar with. Perhaps it'll have the same on this one. "Of course they must have found one. It's the only way they could've dialled in from Terra. The problem is there's no way they could have brought it back here where it could be of some use and maintained the wormhole at the same time. Unless," he raises his eyebrow in what he hopes is a condescending manner, "you found two?"
"As we speak," Everett announces, seemingly unimpressed, "it's being transported up to the Daedalus, our new battle cruiser."
"Sister-ship of Prometheus – I wouldn't have thought it'd be finished yet."
"With the ZPM boosting her engines, she should be here inside of four days. That is how long we have to hold this base. Major-" Everett turns towards him, clearly enjoying walking right on in to his city and ordering everyone about like he has the right to order them to do anything, "What do I call you anyway? The reports we were sent have you listed as Major Sheppard but Doctor Jackson back on Earth insists that it's more correct to call you Pastor Janusson..."
Iohannes counts to decem. He's already learned that pastor has religious connotations for the Terrans and he'll be damned if he lets Everett marginalize him in that manner. So, in as calm and unconcerned manner as possible, "I've rather gotten used to Major Sheppard."
"Ah. Major Sheppard it is then, if you would dial the Pegasus alpha site and recall all military personally as well as any civilians who'd like to return and help take part in damage control. And when you're done with that, please join me in my offices in the Conference Room. We'll discuss our tactical position."
/His offices my ass,/ he fumes at Atlantis as he walks away.
/He'll learn,/ she reminds him gently. /And we're detecting radiological signatures in the crates the Terrans brought through the astria porta./
This perks Iohannes up – slightly. /They've brought nukes?/
/Six of them, by the readings. Naquadah warheads, much like the fission reactors already here./
/Well, that's something at least,/ he tell her while aloud he passes along the message to one of the techs that hadn't evacuated yet to call the others back.
He pops into the conference room just in time to hear Everett announce proudly, "...deliver an impact of Mach five at two hundred and fifty miles. A standard magazine will hold ten thousand rounds."
Ford oohs and awes over it like the Terran weapons are something special, and Iohannes resists the urge to roll his eyes. Again. There's something about this man that annoys the hell out of him, and he's rather worried it's the fact it's that he's a colonel. Which is higher than major. Which, he tells himself, isn't petty at all.
/Yes it is./
/Shut up, 'Lantis, and keep an eye on the armada./
She flickers the lights in annoyance which causes all the new Marines to look up anxiously and all the old ones in the room, if he's honest, to roll their eyes when they see he's the reason behind it.
Elizabeta enters the room while Everett's asking about the alpha site. "I've got Chuck on it. But I'd rather like to know how you plan to defend this city before they get back."
"I don't need to explain myself to you," is the Colonel's response.
"I understand that you're in charge now but we've been responsible for the lives of the people on this base, both military and civilian, for the past several months. I don't think it's an unreasonable request," is Elizabeta's answer to that.
Everett really doesn't like tha, and snaps, "I don't need your cooperation either."
Now, Iohannes may not like Colonel Everett and may resent his rank but he's perfectly willing to be shouted at if it gets them the results he wants. It's another thing entirely for him to yell at Elizabeta and so he feels entirely justified when he reminds the Terran, rather coolly all things considered, "But you could probably use mine... Sir. So, with all due respect, show Doctor Weir some and answer the question."
"Is that a threat, Major?" the Colonel asks just as evenly, having reined his temper (which seemed to have surprised even him) in.
"If you want it to be," he shrugs. He'll do whatever he needs to do to save Atlantis, up to and including threatening the Terran in charge. If his attempt at Ascension hasn't shown that, nothing will. "I understand needing a clear chain of command but cutting out Doctor Weir only alienates the people whose trust and respect she's earned. Which is everyone on the base, including me."
Everett stares at him – hard – for a full fifteen seconds before conceding. It's a long fifteen seconds though, and either means the man's stubborn enough to help them hold Atlantis for the four days their linter will need to get here or that things are about to go very badly very fast.
It's rather obvious which one he's hoping for.
He tries to warn them about the orbiting mines. He really does. But naturally they don't listen to the one person who's actually lived through a siege of this sort before. Because, naturally, the people who'd never even left their planet until fifty years ago (for a measly moon at that) are the better choice to organize a planetary defence line. Never mind that Iohannes had been in charge of said project for the better part of five years before the Exodus and been one of its junior team members for over a decade before that.
But now they're down six nukes, blind as Menebrian bats and still unable to power the cathedra, and if Colonel Everett has ordered him to the eminentia room just to ask for diagrams of the city's historical defences, well, they're going to all be learning some colourful new curse words.
"I was told I could learn a lot about the history of Atlantis in this room," the Colonel begins as Iohannes enters.
Iohannes resists the urge to tell him that he could learn a lot about the history of Atlantis in any room, so long as he's in it, and says instead, "We haven't used it much because of the power requirements." It's rather embarrassing how much this man is getting under his skin and, if he had time, he'd try to figure out why that is. But they don't, so he doesn't and settles for containing the worst of his annoyance.
"Still, I would like to see for myself how the Ancients lost the first time – to try to avoid their mistakes."
"We could do that," he supposes and, seeing as how it's not all altogether bad idea, asks Atlantis to pull up an appropriate map. "This is the Pegasus galaxy in 30 Aetas Lanteae – about three years before the start of the Wraith War and just over a century before the Exodus. The blue stars are systems inhabited or protected by Alterans. It's most of the inhabited worlds in this galaxy." The stars start to turn red. "Tarquinus," he gestures to a dot on the edge of the galactic disk, not far from the dozen or so systems that have turned, "was the closest to the Wraith homeworld and the first to fall..." The stars began turning more quickly now and in great swaths, "Until, after almost a hundred years, Atlantis was all that remained."
"And that's when the siege began."
"What?" Where had he gotten that idea? "No. That had been going on since about 63 AL – Tarquinus had been our major manufacturing hub and the Wraith were able to use parts scavenged from the rubble to upgrade their ships, though it took them a while to figure out how.
"We were able to hold them off for several more years but, no matter how many ships we destroyed, more kept coming..." Defensive satellites, space mines, bombs and missiles of all sorts, the shield, even the Asurians – they'd tried it all and none of it had worked. Not against more than a few. Not well enough to stop them from sending more. "We could win almost every battle but had no way to win the war. The Council decided it would be best to abandon Atlantis where we'd left her, shielded in the furthest depths of this ocean, in the hopes that the Wraith would think her destroyed like her sisters and that, one day, they or their descendants could return. And that's it." Atlantis raises the lights. "That's the story."
"So you think this is a no-win situation?"
Iohannes snorts. "If I believed that I wouldn't have stuck around all these years, would I? No, what I mean is, even if we beat them this time, they're gonna come back and it's gonna cost us more each time. And this Expedition just doesn't have the weaponry or the manpower to hold off a siege the way my people did ten thousand years ago. What we need is a viable, long-term plan for defeating the Wraith and forgive me if I don't think that's something your planet is willing or even able to commit to."
The colonel looks at him like he's examined Iohannes quite thoroughly in the last few minutes and not come to a conclusion he likes. "Major, I think I should tell you that Colonel Marshall Sumner was a very good friend of mine. We served together a lot of years. You know, I cannot for the life of me figure how it is that you could go as far as you did and not save him. How you could get that close, how you could admit to firing the shot that killed him..."
So that's what this is all about, is it? Everett thought he'd shot Sumner for his job? How brain-damaged were these Terrans? "To be completely honest, you don't know what the Wraith are like. Sir. You may have read our reports but it's all academic until you've seen one suck the life out of someone right in front of you. Name anyone you like – father, lover, brother, best friend - if it had happened to any of them, I would've still done it and I'd hope they'd do the same for me if our positions were reversed."
That's when Atlantis tells him the hives have just released their darts and he's back in the cathedra again, thinking it's like nothing changed at all.
Everett's clearly pushed Rodney too far when he asks what the status of the hive ships is the next morning, because he's on the verge of a panic attack – and not a helpful one – when he answers, "They're coming, that's their status! Tomorrow, the day after, the day after that – eventually they'll get here. Whether we're here to greet them or not is another matter!"
"Rodney..." he drawls in the way he knows both annoys and amuses the scientist, hoping to distract him before he says something unforgivable to the colonel that gets him kicked out of the meeting altogether. He'd probably add something pointed about cutting back on the coffee and getting some sleep if he thought there was any real possibility of Rodney listening to him. Which, considering Rodney's attitude towards him at the moment, is about nil.
"Look, the chair is out of drones and, even if we had the ZedPM, it's going to take more time than we have to get power back up in the section of the city that makes them so how do you expect to handle the next wave? You've already tried your brilliant Ascension plan and they kicked you right back down before you could do anything useful. What do you want us to do? Throw rocks at them?"
Everett gives a tired wave of his hands. "I'm open to suggestions."
/Your custodia is going to get himself shot if he keeps this up,/ Atlantis muses unhelpfully.
/For the hundredth time, he's not my custodia. People don't have custodiae. They have friends and lovers and spouses and brothers and brothers-in-arms, but they do not have custodiae./
/Hundred-and-fifty-third,/ the city corrects.
/My mistake. Hundred-and-fifty-third. Now will you let me think? Hard as it may be to believe, I rather like you and don't want you to end up as a pile of rubble at the bottom of the ocean./
/We don't blame you for Tirianus./
Iohannes can feel the blood draining from his face at her mention of her lost sister-city. /This has nothing to do with Tirianus./
/We know you tried your best, pastor. That is all anyone could ask for./
/This has nothing to do with Tirianus,/ he repeats. /I just want you to survive for another ten thousand years, long after I'm gone./
/We don't want to survive without you,/ she whispers, sounding so small and lost and broken its impossible to believe the others, even without the nanoids, don't hear the utter heartbreak in her voice, in her song. He thinks he even catches Rodney giving him a worried look but it's cut off too quickly for Iohannes to be entirely sure.
As it is, he thinks its the most amazing thing he's ever heard, sorrowful as it is. Swallowing hard, /I won't live forever, carissima. One day you'll have no choice but to go on without me./
/We do not want to live, pastor, if it means your death./
/It's not as easy as that./
/It should be,/ she huffs and lets him get back to the business of saving her and everyone inside her.
But the mention of Tirianus gives him an idea. A terrible, wonderful, brilliant, awful idea. "Let's forget about the darts entirely for the moment. Compared to the hives, they've got no fire-power worth caring about and they'll be nothing more than leaderless drones without their queens and tribuni on the hives."
"And how do you propose we do that?"
"We fly the puddle jumper in stealth mode right down their throats."
Everett widens his eyes. "Are you volunteering for a suicide mission?"
Rodney snorts, muttering, "He's volunteered for worse," before, more loudly, "It might be possible to figure out a way to remote control the jumpers; that way no one would have to fly into anything."
"Can it be done?"
"I dunno," Iohannes says honestly. "We intentionally designed the systems in the jumpers to be as incompatible with the urbes-naves as possible, should the Wraith ever capture one. But if anyone can do it, McKay and Zelenka can." This earns him an actual smile from Rodney before he and Radek take off, muttering.
The Colonel is actually looking at him with a modicum of respect when he asks a moment later, "How much damage can one puddle jumper do?"
"Not enough," he admits, turning towards Elizabeta, who's been overseeing the proceedings in a rather symbolic and slightly secretarial way, "I know you wouldn't let me steal a ZPM but by any chance would you feel any differently if I tried to steal us a couple of nukes?"
"We could try asking the Genii first, Major."
"You're probably not gonna like what they'll want in return."
"In for a penny," she says curiously, pushing back her chair in a way that makes him assume she likes the idea. "They want to test their weapons, now's their chance."
He doesn't see Rodney again until almost two days later, when they're putting his plan into action.
"The generator's not powering up like it should be..." he mutters while Iohannes sits helplessly in the cathedra. He's still not used to being able to do nothing while everything goes to pieces around him. He's still expecting to have the options (of power, of unlimited fuci) being Alteran afforded him. The waiting is terrible and it might well be killing him.
Rodney looks awful, like sheer stubbornness is the only thing keeping him going right now. And, while Rodney may be one of the most stubborn people he's ever met, even he's reaching his breaking point. "When was the last time you slept?" Iohannes asks as unobtrusively as possible, but he only gets a vague wave in reply. Father could get like this sometimes, yet he's hesitant to really snap him out of it for fear they'll never get the cathedra up and running if he does. "Rodney?" he tries again, louder.
"Not now, John," he snaps. "I'm working."
Over the radio, Elizabeta informs them of the approach of the next wave of darts.
"There's something wrong! Power levels are dropping!"
"Is there anything you can do?"
"We must have exhausted the Mark Two's energy output," he answers, still valiantly trying to get the generator to work. But it's useless. Iohannes can see it now. Rodney's smart but no amount of genius will get you water from a stone. Atlantis will never survive long enough for the Daedalus to arrive with the potentia that could save her. He has no choice.
But more importantly, he has no time. Just long enough to whisper goodbye to Rodney and high-tail it to the jumper bay using all of the short cuts and secret passages he knows of.
He's already in the air before anyone realizes that it's not the remote control program flying the jumper.
"John," Elizabeta shouts through the radio as soon as she's figured it out, "just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
He expects to feel sick, rather like he had when Ascension had seemed the only way he could save those he cares about, but surprisingly he doesn't. He feels genuinely calm and at peace with his decision, rather like he'd always been told really successful meditation should feel like. As if, in this act, he's discovered the perfection of creation. The beauty in the physics. The music in the mathematics. The unexpected drama in life itself, its actors and its stories and the way that just one person, one action, can change the history of the whole universe.
(What would have happened if that first man, back on Loegria, hadn't pushed the button that started the nuclear war that destroyed their homeworld? There would be no Wraith, certainly; no Terrans either and he wouldn't be sitting here, the last of his race, about to pilot another nuke into his enemy's ship.)
"I'm saving your life," he tells her, comfortable in the knowledge he's doing the right thing, "and the lives of everyone else on Atlantis."
He doesn't want to die. He has no more desire to die than he has to Ascend. Yet what does his death matter when it means his friends will live and Atlantis will be able to stand for ten thousand years more?
Besides, he's already outlived his time. The rest of his race is too many years dead and he's just an artefact with no place in the universe other than as a curiosity piece. No, the Alteran age is long past and, maybe, the Asgard are right and it will be these Terrans, these descendants, who shape the face of galaxies in the future. Maybe that age has already started and his actions now will be one day seen as the passing of a torch. The mentor giving his life for his protégé.
Iohannes likes that idea. He likes that idea a lot.
He has only one fear and that's, "Y'know, if this works, somebody might have to do it again."
He doesn't have a name for the emotion he hears in her voice when she answers, "Understood."
He's close now. So close. "They haven't detected my approach." He has only a moment left, and already Atlantis (so far in the distance her song sounds weak, breakable and already half-lost) sounds as if she's weeping, singing songs for the dead so ancient even he doesn't understand the words. "Weapon is armed and ready."
As he lines up the jumper he searches for something to say. For something that can tell the Expedition how glad he is they found him, how happy that he's had these last few months with them, how proud he is to be leaving his city to their care. But he expects they know this anyway and doesn't bother. He just flicks off the cloak, ups the throttle and tells them, "I'm going in," before he sees a bright white light...
...and finds himself on the bridge of the most primitive linter he's ever seen.