AUTHOR: Alli Snow (allisnow)
CATEGORY: Angst, AU, weirdness
Early Atlantis. Maybe still on Earth. Hard to tell. Ancients move around him, beautiful and serene and unaware of his plight, and even if they did knew he can’t imagine that they’d care much.
Wraith-occupied Atlantis. He stays away from any inhabited areas this time, but he can still feel their presence, a violation of the city.
Somewhere in the middle. There is a man sitting in what was once Elizabeth’s office, dressed in the civilian uniform of the expedition, typing on a computer. This man is middle aged, of medium build, blonde and blue-eyed and in general unremarkable except for a funny little cowlick on the back of his head. He sighs and shakes his head and rubs one hand against his mouth, and it’s strangely comforting for John to know that the job hasn’t gotten much easier over time.
Empty Atlantis. He is deposited in the darkened Gate room, and after a moment of looking warily around he sits and pulls out some of the protein bars that Teyla packed for him so many eons ago. As he eats he looks up into the still and silent recesses of the city that in actuality aren’t so still and silent. He can hear Atlantis whispering to him.
See this. See me. See all that I was, all that I am, all that I will be.
“Go to hell,” he says aloud, surprised by the hurt in his voice. “You guys were so great, you think I’m so special, why don’t you do something to help me?”
But we have.
Startled, John drops his power bar. This is not the voice of the city, and at the same time it is. “How?” he demands, wondering if he’s finally, completely lost it.
You were held in captivity for two weeks. The Wraith scientist put a great deal of effort into manipulating your DNA. Did you not think it strange that you were able to escape so easily?
“It wasn’t easy,” he snaps, but now that he’s thinking about it he realizes that of course it was. The ground had trembled, as though with an earthquake, and with a very small amount of finagling the doors had opened. He’d made it out of the facility and to the surface, and then to the Stargate, and even though he hadn’t had an IDC something had told him to go through anyway, and something had possessed Elizabeth not to activate the shield, and he’d made it back alive.
Did you not wonder what prevented the damage in your genes from manifesting until you were safe back in Atlantis?
“But what’s the point?” he asks angrily, trying not to imagine the horror of skipping, randomly, around some Wraith-infested planet, or around the galaxy at large. “Even if you put it off, it still happened. Why? Just so I could get an in-depth history lesson?”
We want you to stop it.
“Stop what?” he asks, but he knows. The invasion of the Wraith. The despoiling of the Ancient’s prize jewel. “I can’t stop anything. I’m not really here. The only time I can even interact with people is when I’m back home. Are you saying I can stop it from there?”
No. By the time of their coming, our children will not have fought the Wraith in many decades. They will grow complacent. They will believe the threat defeated. They will not be prepared for what comes. They will not heed the warnings of their ancestors.
He thinks about this. If they’d had more time to explore Atlantis before venturing offworld – and they’d had more time, they just hadn’t known that the city would rise to the surface of its own accord – they might have learned more details about the Wraith early on. He might have realized that killing the Keeper would be a bad idea. They might have stopped the whole awakening before it ever happened. “You mean I’m supposed to warn the people in Atlantis about the invasion before it happens, but soon before it happens so they take me seriously?” He asks scornfully. He’s pretty much figured out who he’s talking to now, and he’s a little annoyed that the ascended Ancients will break their own non-interference rules whenever it’s convenient for them.
You must pass on the information.
John scrambles to his feet, almost falls as the room spins dizzily around him, but stays upright. “Listen, geniuses, I can’t pass on anything. No one can see me when I move. Nobody knows I’m there!”
The voices are silent for a moment, for several moments, for so many moments that he starts to worry that he’s scared them away, and then he worries again that he’s simply gone barking mad. But he can still sense their presence with him, up there in the darkness, and at length there is a reply.
Ask him who his parents are.
He scowls. “Ask who?”
He cannot see you. But because of his lineage he is a strong carrier, harboring both lines of genes, and he senses your presence. Even better than the girl.
But the voices withdraw, leaving on the silent, plaintive cries of the city herself, and he has nobody and nothing to rage against except for the darkness.
He is standing in one of Atlantis’ hallways. The sun streams in through the colored glass and he can hear faint voices in the distance; he can almost convince himself that he is back in his own time, but there is a wrongness about everything which dispels that hope. He looks around, wondering if the voices of the ascended will speak to him here as well, and that is when he sees the girl.
She’s ten, maybe eleven, dressed in the simple-yet-eclectic garb John has come to identify with the Athosians. Her long dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail, her dark eyes lively with intelligence. It is not the girl he has seen enslaved and later fed upon in the Wraith-infested future of the city, but the resemblance is striking enough that he’s intrigued, and follows her down the hall, through a door and out onto one of the western-facing balconies.
He finds himself staring at Teyla.
It’s her, but it’s not. The hair is still long and glossy, but there’s a certain weariness that’s set in around her eyes. She’s older, although not by very much. Ten years, perhaps.
“Liaden,” she says, turning away from the view and sounding surprised. “I thought you were going to the mainland with Patrick?”
“I am,” says the girl, Liaden, and she grins. “Andy said that if we’re good he’ll let the two of us take turns flying a little once we’re out over the water.”
Teyla raises her eyebrows. “And does Elizabeth know about this?”
“She won’t if nobody tells her,” the child responds, the smile turning decidedly mischievous. “I thought maybe you would want to come.”
“No thank you,” Teyla responds promptly, although her smile is indulgent. “I plan on staying here where it’s safe.”
Liaden makes a little show of her mock outrage. “I won’t lose control! Patrick might, but Andy will be there and he’s such a natural he’ll probably be able to rescue us at the very last second before we plunge into the water,” she says, with obvious relish.
“Just what every mother wants to hear,” says Teyla, shaking her head. “Be careful, Liaden.”
“I will,” says the girl breezily, and she spins on her heel and turns to go.
“Be careful,” echoes John, feeling a strange sort of warmth spreading through his body as he looks at the girl. Liaden.
The child stops short. She turns back, looking puzzled. Teyla doesn’t seem to notice.
John catches his breath. “Can you hear me?” he asks the girl.
Frowning, the girl looks around the balcony, and she bites her lip. Then she shrugs and continues on her way.
John follows her to the jumper bay. Andy proves to be a rugged, competent-looking Air Force captain that John has never seen before, but he reasons that anyone Teyla would trust with her daughter must be, well, exceedingly trustworthy.
Patrick, a blonde boy about Liaden’s age, with clear blue eyes and a conspicuous cowlick, arrives shortly thereafter with a ten-years-later version of Laura Cadman. The captain is taking the children with him on a trip to the mainland, John learns, to visit some friends and also take some soil samples, and Cadman tells Patrick not to crash into the ocean, and in his barely-accented voice the boy replies that he’d never do something so completely lame as that which reminds John of Rodney’s near-miss and makes it all but certain that this child is Cadman’s son.
They climb in, and Laura waves a cheery goodbye, and John resists the urge to jump in after the children because he doesn’t know what might happen if he shifts away while not within the city.
And then, as though thinking about it could make it happen, he skips.
The young man with the bronze skin is sitting alone in one of the city’s many labs, reading a thick novel with a red dust jacket. He looks up and frowns, almost exactly the same frown as the girl Liaden, and John asks nervously, “Can you hear me?”
The man slowly closes the novel, marking his place with his finger. John doesn’t have to glance at the cover to recognize Tolstoy. “Not… exactly,” he says, his voice deeper and rougher than expected. “But I know when you’re there. And I can… I don’t know what you would call it. I guess maybe it’s hearing.”
John’s mouth is suddenly dry, and he berates himself for never trying this before, even though there was no reason to expect that it would work. His hands are clenched tightly at his side. “You don’t seem… you know, worried.”
“I’ve felt this a couple of times now,” says the man, glancing idly around as though not sure exactly what part of the room to address. “Nothing bad ever happened. And you’re not a Wraith. If anything I’d suspect you were one of the Ancestors.”
John steps closer, very close, finding familiarity in the strong lines of the other man’s face, in the hazel eyes and tousled brown hair. “What’s your name?”
“Johnny Beckett,” is the calm reply.
John forces himself to breathe slowly. “Who are your parents?”
“Why do you want to know?” asks Johnny – no… easier to think of him as Beckett, especially since he doesn’t have the accent – his lips twitching in a wry smile. “Gonna go back in time and kill them so I’m never born?”
“You’ve seen Terminator?” asks John, surprised.
The other man looks startled for the first time. “You have?”
They lapse briefly into silence.
“Patrick and Liaden Beckett,” says Beckett at last. “They’re my parents. Still here on Atlantis, both of them.”
The little girl with the dark hair and the mischievous grin… the blonde boy with a hint of his father’s accent and heaps of his mother’s wit… it’s hard enough for John to accept that they actually exist, that he is or was or will be a father. A father. It’s almost impossible to imagine those children grown, with a child of their own, and their child is this tall, serious young man. He can’t seriously wrap his mind around being a grandfather. But it’s true. He knows that it is.
He cannot see you. But because of his lineage he is a strong carrier, harboring both lines of genes, and he senses your presence. Even better than the girl.
John nods to himself, understanding part of the riddle at last. Both of this man’s grandfathers were natural carriers of the ATA gene, although the case could certainly made that one had more of a natural flair with it than the other. And his maternal grandmother had a small amount of Wraith DNA as well. His lineage does in fact make him special.
“Have you ever seen a Wraith?”
Beckett frowns. “Not face to face, no. I saw one from far away, before another member of my team killed him. There aren’t many left.”
“That’s not true,” says John quickly. “They’re hiding out somewhere, waiting for you guys to become complacent and stop worrying, but they’re not gone. I don’t know what you think happened,” he hurries on when it looks like the other man is about to interrupt, “and I’m not even sure I want to know, but they’re not that easy to get rid of. They’re out there, just biding their time, and… and… they come through the Stargate, one time when you’re not being careful enough, you think it’s somebody else but it’s them, a lot of them, and they take the whole city.”
That part, he knows didn’t come from him. Or not directly from him. It came through him, like he’s a conduit, a radio, from the voices that whisper behind the city’s darkness.
“They feed on most of the people but they keep the ones alive who have the ATA gene because they need someone to work certain parts of the city’s technology, and they breed humans for the gene so they can figure out things like the star drives and get to Earth. It doesn’t work, because of measures that were put in place, but a lot of people die and the city is destroyed.”
Beckett gets to his feet; he looks startled, and for good reason. “How do you know this?” he demands, for the first time appearing uncomfortable. “Are you… from the future?”
“In a manner of speaking,” says John wryly. “I’ve been a lot of places. I haven’t actually seen it, but…”
Take his hand, say the voices.
John frowns. “I can’t.”
Do it, John.
The stretched rubber band feeling begins to come over him – so soon, so quickly, he’s about to shift again. He’s out of phase, a ghost, a shadow, and he can’t believe that Beckett will be any more insubstantial than anything else he’s tried to touch, even if they are related. Besides, if it is true, what right does he have to trap this man in the nightmare with him?
“Can’t what?” asks Beckett again, sounding anxious. He sets the book down on the counter. “Listen, do you need help? Can I do something?”
“You can come with me,” says John, fighting at the pull of another time. “See it for yourself.”
The other man hesitates. “Will I be able to come back?”
Do it now.
“Yes,” says John, hoping he won’t be made a liar, and as he skips away he grabs at Beckett’s hand, which is real and warm and solid.
They’re in the central tower, on the walkway which crosses from Elizabeth’s office to the control room. Beckett immediately pulls away, gasping and rubbing his eyes, blinking in the sudden brightness, and he turns and actually looks at John, stunned. “What just happened?”
John ignores the question. “You can see me?”
Beckett stares, which answers that question easily enough. “Yeah, I can… You… You’re John Sheppard.”
It’s not a question, but before John can reply there is the sound of a wormhole engaging in the room beneath them, and voices from the control room.
There was someone in the glass-walled office, not Elizabeth but a tall, slender woman about her age with shoulder-length brown hair, dusky skin and hazel eyes. She comes striding out of the office – Beckett and John both hurry unnecessarily out of her way – and calls out, “Raise the shield, Bobby. Who is it?”
Beckett’s silence has taken on a new level of profundity. Curious, John prods him. “What is it?”
The other man swallows hard. “I think… Those eyes… I think that’s Kyla.”
The family tree is starting to become a little much for John’s overtaxed brain to handle; it’s enough for right now to realize that the hazel-eyed woman is one of his descendants.
“Radio contact coming in from the Calbach,” says the man seated at the controls.
“The Calbach? We haven’t heard from them in a while,” says the woman lightly. “Maybe they’re ready to trade after all.”
The technician listens closely to something only he can hear, then nods. “Just got a transmission from their Prime Minister’s office, Dr. Channing. They say they want to come through and discuss terms.”
Channing smiles. “I thought they might come around,” she says. “Let them through.”
This, of course, is the beginning of the end. It is not a trade delegation from some world called Calbach that comes through, it is the Wraith. The same Wraith that have been hiding somewhere since before Johnny Beckett’s day, perhaps biding their time, perhaps not, waiting until a day when such simple tactics would succeed. Perhaps they had spent all that time working on the technology that, as soon as the bearer passes through the event horizon, temporarily paralyzes all the Ancient machinery in the tower, including the shield controls, the manual-off for the Stargate, and the programmable self-destruct.
Communications are left unimpeded, but it is obvious after only the first fifteen minutes that the city will not be able to withstand this assault. Most of the tower staff are shot and rendered unconscious, and some are simply fed upon where they lay. Kyla Channing is captured and held unharmed, for the time being, and after the central area of the city is secure she is trundled off somewhere to be held with the other expedition members who have the ATA gene.
Johnny Beckett is pale and sweating. For someone who has never seen a Wraith up close before, not to mention their savagery and the destruction they leave behind, this is indeed a potent warning.
“Calbach,” he murmurs when the carnage pauses and they have a moment to think. He’s sitting down with his head between his knees. “I’ve never… never even heard of them… obviously someone they meet later on... and they betray us…”
“Maybe not betray,” says John gently, trying to be comforting through his own pain and disgust. “Maybe they were tortured for the information. It doesn’t matter. Forget Calbach. They have to know to be more careful, have more safeguards in place. Maybe just the knowledge that the Wraith are still out there will help. Assuming,” he adds as an afterthought, “that they believe you.”
“They’ll believe me,” says Beckett faintly. “Stranger things than this have happened in the Pegasus Galaxy. But I guess you know that, don’t you John?”
John doesn’t answer. The shift feeling is beginning to come over him again, and he takes his grandson’s hand, and prays.
Together, they skip.
And at the last minute, as though a giant hand has reached down and batted them to the side, they change course, jerking somewhere else, back to the dark lab, and War and Peace, and an Asian woman who was just crossing the threshold sees their reappearance – or maybe just Beckett’s – and shrieks and jumps back out the door.
Beckett laughs hollowly. “Now they’ll have to believe me,” he mutters, and looks around the room. “Are you still here?”
“I’m here,” says John. “Can’t see me anymore?”
“No.” Beckett crosses his arms, brow furrowed. “I don’t… I don’t really know what to say. It feels like I’m going crazy.”
“Join the club.”
“But you’re really John Sheppard, aren’t you?” He laughs a little. “My, well, namesake. Hard to believe. Hard to believe any of this, that I was just… that I saw… what I saw. And now it’s all on me to stop this from happening, isn’t it?”
“As far as the Ancients are concerned,” says John bitterly, “we’re just tools. Me, you… maybe even Teyla.”
He catches himself.
Teyla. She’d been a part of it too. The Ancients had needed John’s lineage, his genes, to continue into the future so there’d be someone he could communicate with, someone he could warn. They’d knowingly thrust him into her path every time he’d skipped back into his own time, probably figuring that eventually he’d turn to her like he had, that he would get her pregnant with Liaden, that Liaden would conceive a child with Carson Beckett’s son, and that that child would have the just the right genetic mix.
It seems like it would be a hell of a lot easier to just go back in time and prevent the Wraith from ever being created. But then again, that’s not how the ascended Ancients seem to work.
“Is Teyla still alive?” asks, not sure if he wants to know.
Beckett’s expression is hesitant. He glances towards the open doorway, no doubt wondering about the frightened scientist, before he answers. “I… I never met her.”
John’s gut tightens. “She’s dead?” he asks, feeling cold.
“Until today, I would have said yes. But until today, everyone supposed that you were dead too.” He pauses thoughtfully. “When my mother was about my age, the expedition found a man… an Ancestor. He was old, and sick; they put him in quarantine. But from what I understand Teyla spent a great deal of time with him. Brought his meals, kept him company. And they talked, although nobody ever knew just what they discussed. It’s a strange story. When Teyla wasn’t with him she was alone in her room. Then one day somebody turned off the cameras in the infirmary. When Grandfather Carson came into the room, the Ancestor was gone. So was Teyla. No one ever saw either of them again.”
John’s mouth is dry, his head spinning. “She just… just left her daughter?” Of course, he had left his daughter too, before she’d even been born, but it hadn’t been his choice.
“They discussed it beforehand, my mom’s always told me. She just says that they both knew ‘it was the only way’. That’s all she’ll say about it. I know it’s painful for her, since she never knew her fa—you,” he says awkwardly. “But there were many people here who loved her and looked after her, even after she was married, and I know my mom believes that Teyla made the right decision. Whatever it was.”
Without warning, with absolutely the worst timing ever, John feels the world begin to stretch away around him. He’s filled with panic, the cold knowledge that this may be the closest thing to home he ever sees again; why should the ascended take pains to redirect him back to reality, now that the correct events have been set in motion?
They must have been set in motion.
“I have to go,” he tells Johnny Beckett. “Tell your mom—“
For a long time it seems as though nothing has changed. His random stops are clustered together in the heyday of Atlantis, when Ancients drifted through the halls confident in their superiority over all other life, then scurried from building to building with their eyes trained on the pristine skies, then prepared themselves for evacuation back to Earth through the Stargate. Once he even drops in on the expedition during their first arrival, which is as novel as it is heart-wrenching: to see Sumner, and Ford, and Rodney, and Elizabeth, and himself, all eager and excited and not knowing what the coming days and weeks and years would bring. Only the city remains the same through all of this, beautiful Atlantis.
Finally his damaged, displaced DNA takes him somewhere he’s never been before: a little house far away from the city center, near a manmade beach on the water’s edge, where Kyla Channing plays with her children: a hazel eyed boy barely out of his toddler years, and a dark-haired girl with piercing eyes who in another life was enslaved and killed by the Wraith.
There are no Wraith here. There is no threat. They are happy.
They are John’s descendants, and the descendants of the Ancients, the Ancestors, and they are home.
The ascended work within their own rules, for they know that to break them outright would open the doors to complete anarchy. And when it comes to these beings, with the power to not only move mountains, but also make it so they never existed in the first place, anarchy could be synonymous with the end of life in the universe.
Teyla was but a cog in the machine they devised, the same as he was, but the ascended are not completely without compassion. They sent something of an emissary to help her on the path to enlightenment, which was also the path to John.
If time is different to the Wraith, it is a known quantity to the Ancients who still watch over their city, and they manipulate it like running water. When he sees her standing there, a bright shape in the darkness, he knows that it is her hand who has been guiding him even as he has danced to someone else’s tune.
Confronted with the scope of such immense power he feels a flush of panic, of the helplessness that was ground into his bones, and he shies away. This cannot possibly still be the woman he cared so much for, who taught him to fight with sticks and cared for him during the bleakest of times and raised their daughter into a fine and beautiful woman.
His body is ailing, and if he remains he will die. And yet ascension is not the answer either, not for him, because the greatness of the power would be outweighed by the inability to do anything worthwhile with him, and it would drive him crazy anyway.
Quickly, then, she says, smiling, while the others are pretending not to look.
This seems to be a joke amongst the ascended, one he tries not to think too hard about.
“Okay,” he says, ignoring the fear in his heart, closing his eyes.
There is a great warm rush, like being submerged in bathwater, a rising up, a great peace, a sense of rightness in his body that has not been there in a very long time, a profound understanding, riding the winds, a welcoming.
Are you sure you do not wish to stay?
It’s not Teyla asking; she already knows. It’s the others, and he has the sense that they see this has a homecoming, the return of a great hero. But there is no place for heroes here, for those who would ignore the way things have always been done, who would invite anarchy and unrest. The others may not understand this, but she does.
And so they fall back home, back to the city, back to Atlantis.