Fandom: Stargate – All Series
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Jack O’Neill/Daniel Jackson, Pre-John Sheppard/Jack O’Neill/Daniel Jackson
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Torture, (The “torture” warning is for a mention of past torture.)
Word Count: 68,900
Summary: Afraid and alone, John Sheppard dreams to escape his reality. Soon enough, he finds the dreams are more than they seem. When the dreams lead him on the journey of a lifetime, will they also lead him to a brighter future?
Artist: Coco Portera
The Long and Winding Road
John sighed and looked out at the distant mountain tops, cupping a mug of hot coffee between his hands as he leaned on the wooden railing of the porch. The temperature was colder than in DC, but warmer than Antarctica, so John was wearing a warm sweater and heavy jeans but had left his coat in the house.
The house. Jack O’Neill’s house. In Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Home of Stargate Command, but that was beside the point.
John had been invited to use the guest room at said house after a discussion about his dreams of sweeping landscapes and singing lava lamps. Jack had figured that there might be something to those dreams, so John was asked, kindly, if he might be willing to share more of them—or possibly to share his dream journals. John had nixed that idea because not all of the dreams were rated PG—and more than a few of them contained explicit sex between John and Jack, John and Dr. ‘Call-Me-Daniel’ Jackson, or the three of them together.
There was no way John was going to let them read those journals and dreams, especially since Jack and Daniel were happily sharing the master bedroom. Just like John had figured they were.
Still, here he was, leaning on a very nice front railing of a very nice front deck in front of a very nice Craftsman house. Jack clearly loved this house, so John felt sympathetic toward him because he had to live part-time in that apartment near the Pentagon.
Not that it was a shabby apartment. But still.
There was snow on the mountain tops, which made sense, but it just made John think of Antarctica. Which made him think of the Ancient outpost. Which made him think of that chair that sang to him. Which made him think of the battery. The ZPM. The Potentia.
“That’s a pretty heavy sigh, John,” came a voice from behind him, and John turned to see that Daniel had exited the house carrying his own steaming mug.
“Hey, Daniel. I didn’t hear you come out.”
“So I see,” Daniel laughed. “What has you so deep in thought?”
“The…lava lamps,” John said, censoring himself just in case someone might be listening in.
And wasn’t that something John never wanted to get used to: rogue intelligence agents spying to get information in order to work against their own planet.
Daniel gave him a knowing look. “I see. Are you thinking anything in particular?”
John laughed. “Yeah, actually. I’m thinking about the best way to tell my father that I’m taking a trip around the world with a superior officer and an archaeologist before going on a dangerous mission that will put me out of contact for at least a year.”
“Ah. That is a conundrum. How are you going to swing that?”
John took a deep swallow of coffee and shrugged. “I don’t know. Postcards, maybe?”
Daniel laughed. “That could work. Jack’s just about finished with breakfast; you want to come in?”
John straightened and took one last look at the mountains. “Yeah. I’m starving.”
He followed Daniel back into the house, nose twitching at the delicious aroma drifting from the kitchen. “You know, when you showed me all those take-out menus in DC, I just figured you didn’t know how to cook.”
Jack smirked and set a platter of bacon on the circular dining table. “Well, to be honest, I spent so much of my time in the Air Force in the field, that I never bothered to learn to cook. Then I got married, and Sara was the cook—until she got pregnant and could not stand the scent of anything being cooked. I had to learn quickly, or we didn’t eat. After Charlie…well, I lived alone in this house and I either used the kitchen or I didn’t, and it seemed like a waste.”
John noticed the stutter when Jack mentioned Charlie, and since he had an idea that Jack was not talking about Charlie Kowalski, he let it go. Instead he said, “I learned while I was in undergrad at Stanford. I had on-campus housing for my freshman year, as required, but my neighbors were the partying sort, so as soon as I could, with my mother’s permission, of course, I got a small apartment just off the campus. Since I was living out of the dorms, the meal plan went out of effect for the most part, so I learned to cook—or I learned to eat what I cooked, at any rate.”
“Ah, the things we do for the sake of quiet study time,” Jack joked, and John rolled his eyes as he reached for the butter.
“Laugh all you want, but I wanted my basic undergrad degrees before I joined up. Dad would not allow me to enter the Air Force Academy because he didn’t want me in the military. If I had my degree, I could get into Officer Training easier, and that was the way to my wings.”
They ate in silence, the pancakes and toast satisfying their hunger as the quiet satisfied their need for comfortable companionship. When everyone was finished, John reached out and gathered plates from the table, ignoring Jack’s protests.
“Sorry, but in my house, if you cooked, you did not clean.”
John washed, Daniel dried, and Jack went to his office to retrieve a stack of maps and notebooks. John had been in Colorado for a week, since the second week of September, moving in with Daniel at Jack’s house until Jack could join them a week later. Jack had explained that he was needed at Cheyenne Mountain to finalize the plans for a big mission, and Daniel was needed to decipher the glyphs that were found in Antarctica.
John’s presence was explained by his transfer to the SGC and his place on that upcoming mission.
John had gathered his collection of college-ruled composition books full of dream details, his personal kit, his most beloved belongings, and a small collection of civilian clothing. He had spent a few days with his father, explaining another regular transfer to the other side of the country, and Patrick had handled the news well, just being happy that John was on the same continent as the rest of the family. John had made phone calls, inquiring about renting an efficiency apartment, but Daniel had put the kibosh on that idea by inviting him to stay with him. John didn’t know it was Jack’s home until he saw the photos on the wall and smelled the aftershave that lingered in the air—the one different than the scent Daniel preferred.
The trio settled into a routine once they were all together, sifting through mission reports so that John would get an idea of what went on at Stargate Command. He had seen a lot of combat in his life, but nothing like he read in those mission files. He read the reports and asked many questions—and took many notes. While Jack and Daniel were busy under Cheyenne Mountain, John, who was still technically on a long leave of service by orders of General Jonathon O’Neill, was studying the mission objectives set forth by Dr. Weir and the IOA, and he was becoming deeply disturbed.
“So,” said Jack once the dishes were finished and the files piled onto the dining table, “what has you in such a snit about the mission, John?”
John sighed and opened one of his notebooks—not a dream journal. “Well, have either of you actually read the prospective supply list that Dr. Weir has approved? I mean the detailed supply list, not just her tech wish list.”
Daniel frowned. “I haven’t, no. I mean, I’ve been mostly trying to decipher the information left at the outpost because that’s the only information we really have about Atlantis.”
And that rankled John to no end, the fact that this City of the Ancients began its existence on Earth, only to be moved to another galaxy when some mysterious virus proved to be deadly to the Ancients. And yet, when they left Earth behind, they took practically everything informative with them, and what was left behind had no known cataloging system. Everything that was found needed to be translated and cross-referenced practically to death, and linguists like Daniel and his team were working as hard as the soldiers to figure it all out. Dr. Elizabeth Weir had even tried to learn the language of the Ancients so that she could be an efficient leader once they recovered the city.
John opened a folder and pulled out pages of computer printouts. “This is the detailed list that I called about, so when you see him next, please thank Sgt. Harriman for me, would you?”
Jack nodded and took the list. “Of course I will,” he agreed. “That man is a godsend. Now, what do we have here?”
John shrugged. “Well, firstly, you should know that Harriman basically had to hack into Weir’s computer just to get this. She didn’t give it to anyone willingly.”
Jack began reading the printout and frowned. “This isn’t anything like the prospective supply list that I received from the IOA.”
John nodded. “Yeah, I have that one right here.” He pulled out a different sheet and passed it over so that Jack could compare them. “That list is only inclusive as far as computer equipment and scientific personnel. Weir is really basing her needs on the sciences, but I don’t think she’s facing the reality of what she might face out there.”
Jack read the first page then flipped it over, finding nothing on the other side. He frowned and reached for the second list. “This…makes no sense,” he said finally. “There are barely enough provisions to last for an entire year with the amount of people that we want to send through. The armory list is even smaller.”
John nodded and indicated his notebook. “According to my calculations, the ordnance list is incredibly light as well.” He looked up when Daniel reached out to snag the lists from Jack. “Basically, this looks like Weir is planning to set up a lab somewhere in Chicago rather than to lead an expedition to another, possibly hostile, galaxy.”
Daniel huffed in annoyance. “This makes no sense. The last time I spoke to Elizabeth and Rodney, they both seemed to understand the necessity of having a strong military presence on the mission. Rodney in particular was worried that the science staff should be kept safe at all costs if we’re going to gather important technology.”
Jack snorted. “McKay is the scientific equivalent of a hypochondriac—he decries soldiers but begs for their protection at every turn.” Seeing John’s questioning expression, Jack explained, “Rodney McKay is slated to be the Chief Science Officer on the mission. He’s the foremost expert on Ancient technology and the loudest proponent for the gene therapy because he doesn’t have the gene himself.”
John thought for a moment before saying, “Oh, yeah, the loud one in the orange fleece!” Frowning, John said, “Wait, wasn’t he the one yelling about how Beckett should just tranquilize me to take the blood?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Yes, because he’s desperate for the gene therapy—which hasn’t yet been developed safely.”
“Huh, what’s the holdup? Does the vampire need more blood?”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t know. Beckett is a gifted geneticist, but I’m putting in a request for a few more to help him out. He’s a bit single-minded for my taste, but he knows enough to not ask me for more blood.”
Daniel looked up, surprised. “Wait—is that why you’ve kept John on leave from duty? So Carson can’t get a needle into him?”
“Yes, Daniel. Keeping our dreamer here is the safest way to keep him puncture-free.”
John choked on his coffee and reached for a napkin. “That’s not funny!”
“No,” Jack agreed, “it’s really not.” He tossed the papers on the table and pushed back in his chair. “Beckett has been trying to find some sort of transference therapy for the ATA gene for three years, John. He’s used my blood, several times. He’s used his own blood. And now he’s using yours because your expression of the gene is like mine had a baby with Superman! And he is no closer to finding a solution. And the worst part is that I keep signing requisition approvals for lab mice, and none of the little fuzzy buggers have survived!”
John winced at the mental image and gathered his notes together. “Okay, well—is there another geneticist that can add to Beckett’s research?”
Jack nodded. “Yeah. I’ve got people looking into it. There’s a rising star by the name of Alicia Biro that we’re looking at. She’s being vetted as we speak because she has talent as a trauma surgeon as well.”
John nodded. “That’s good. Is she experienced with the military at all?”
“Oddly, yes. Biro is a former active-duty Marine who is currently working at the VA hospital in San Diego, so that’s a boon to us.”
“Okay, then, I really hope she likes the idea of working with space explorers.”
* * * * *
The blue-eyed man smiled into the abyss as people around him dropped to the floor. “There’s no danger to us,” he said manically. “The danger is to the others. They’ll all die, and then we’ll be safe.”
John jerked awake and stumbled into the bathroom, retching into the sink with terror. The noise brought Daniel stumbling into the hall from Jack’s office, where he had been working on a translation.
“John? Are you…okay?”
John rinsed his mouth with cold water before dunking his head under the faucet. He took the towel Daniel offered and dried his face. “I really need to not take naps in the afternoon,” he gasped.
“Another nightmare then,” Daniel said as he led the way to the kitchen. “Do you want to talk about it?”
John followed gamely, reaching for the refrigerator to find a bottle of cold water. “I don’t know,” he said peevishly. “I think anything I say about this nightmare might come across as sour grapes.”
Daniel’s eyebrows widened. “Wow, okay. Do you want anything to eat, then?”
John shook his head as he drained the bottle of water. “No thanks; I don’t think food is a good idea right now.”
John sat at the kitchen table and placed his head in his hands. This whole ‘mission to Atlantis’ was proving to be a huge mess, and he was almost sorry he ever got involved. Jack was battling with Weir about her plans for leading a completely civilian mission to another galaxy and being very vocal about his opinion of her optimism. So far, things were going his way, but Weir had the backing of the IOA and was sure she would win out in the end. Jack was, at John’s insistence, withholding the possibility of more Potentia being available until John was sure he could actually produce the troublesome items.
And that was why John was napping in the afternoon—stress. He wasn’t sleeping at night because of the dreams, and then he was having nightmares during the daytime. He wasn’t even working yet because Jack was keeping him far away from Carson Beckett’s clutches.
John shook his head and went to get another bottle of water. “Hey, Daniel?”
“What, exactly, do you know about Atlantis? The myth, I mean.”
Daniel sat down with his coffee and pushed up his glasses. “Well, um, okay. According to Plato, the city of Atlantis was an advanced civilization that was a rival to Athens. It had a powerful navy, advanced medicine, incredible arts; it was everything a perfect civilization should be.”
John nodded. “That sounds like a great place to live, actually.”
Daniel smiled, warming to his subject. “Actually, the people of Atlantis thought so, too. According to Plato, hubris is what brought Atlantis down—quite literally. That city was so great that the people told everyone in the ancient world how great they were, and the gods looked down on the Atlanteans and saw that they were too proud, that they had turned away from the grace of the gods in their seeming perfection, and the gods struck them down and sank the city and its people into the sea. And then the city was no more.”
John frowned. “These dreams I’m having, of some sort of destruction and a new, horrible enemy out there beyond what we can see; do you think that hubris might be why the Ancients aren’t around anymore? I mean, they started here, right? And then some fucking germ almost destroyed them, so they just abandoned their home and, what? Flew off to another galaxy? I mean, they mothballed the outpost in Antarctica, but they left just enough for it to be dangerous.”
“Well, what they left behind actually saved this planet from invasion, so there’s that.”
John stared at Daniel for a moment. “Daniel, from the reports I’ve read over the last week, what the Ancients left behind could have killed just Jack several times over. He got some library downloaded into his brain, twice, and almost lost his mind despite the fact that the knowledge allowed him to find weapons he could use. And that Ancient virus that drove them all away from Earth to begin with proved to be time- and cold-resistant, didn’t it?”
Daniel huffed. “Okay, yeah. But hopefully they left enough behind to save us again, because the Asgard are still fighting with the Replicators and they could be a danger to Earth.”
“Yeah, dealing with angry Legos does not thrill me.”
Daniel shook his head. “John, don’t even joke about that. They’re…they’re bad, they’re really bad.”
“Okay, Daniel, I’m sorry. We don’t need two of us having nightmares now.”
John patted Daniel on the shoulder and got up and walked to the guest room. Hearing more about the myth of Atlantis brought to John’s mind the dreams about sinking beneath the ocean waves until the sun was a distant memory. Digging through his dresser, John pulled out the dream journal that held the most details about those dreams, and he stared at it, wondering if this really was bringing him to his destiny.
John went back into the kitchen where Daniel was putting together ingredients for meatloaf. “Hey, Daniel,” John called, “do any of the myths give any indication as to where Atlantis might have been located?”
“Um, I’m not sure, but I think the stories might have mentioned Santorini.”
“Have you ever been there?”
Daniel looked up from his work. “No, my area of expertise was Egypt. Why do you ask?”
John flipped through his journal before reading aloud a description of sandy beaches under sheer cliffs that were topped with bright white buildings. He read about winding vineyards overlooking clear, blue water, and houses the color of sunsets. He read about schools of colorful fish weaving through tall kelp and bright corals. He read about following currents down past sea shelves until he saw ruined marble statues that appeared to be placed rather than fallen, and a hidden chamber deep inside a crevice—one that held untold treasures.
“Wow, John,” Daniel stammered. “That’s…have you ever been to Greece?”
“Not even once. I’ve never even seen a travel guide if you can believe it. The only beach I’ve ever been to is in California, when I went surfing on weekends with classmates.”
Daniel pointed toward the journal and asked, “Do you think you’ll find the ZPM there, off the coast of Santorini?”
“I don’t know,” John shrugged. “I’ve dreamed of three places that I have never been, and with each dream, the locations get more and more detailed—but the payoff never comes. I wake up before I actually find anything, but then I’ll have a dream about a Potentia in a completely different context.
“Or worse, I’ll have a nightmare about the world collapsing because we don’t have enough power.” John sank into a chair and dropped his head backwards, staring at the ceiling. “I’ve never left anyone behind, Daniel. I don’t want to watch people I don’t even know die in some horrific manner because I failed them in some way.”
“Right,” Daniel said with a sense of finality. He washed his hands in the kitchen sink, put the bowl of meatloaf mix into the fridge, then picked up the kitchen telephone and dialed, and all the while John watched in bemused wonder.
“Hello, Jack? Yeah, it’s time to make travel arrangements. I think we need to visit a warmer climate before the first snowfall.”
* * * * *
John tipped back his head and lowered his sunglasses over his eyes to block the bright sun.
He was on a boat, floating on clear, blue waters off the coast of a black sand beach. Beneath him swam schools of brightly colored fish. Above him, tourists and locals alike frolicked around swimming pools attached to bright white buildings with blue rooftops. All around him was the ocean. A few other boats—fishing skimmers and yachts and pleasure boats—floated nearby, but none were too close.
“I can’t believe I had to take a class in scuba diving for this trip,” Jack griped as he climbed through the hatch of the small sailboat they had rented for the trip.
“I can’t believe I’m not seasick,” John heard Daniel reply from the kitchen below deck.
John laughed. It was a good day.
“Well, I’m glad you’re being amused by all this, John,” Jack said as he dropped the scuba tank beside the rail of the boat. He looked around, gauging the distance of the other boats in the area before returning his attention to John. “So—does anything look familiar?”
John shook his head, not even pretending to misunderstand the older man. “I think it’ll start to look familiar once we’re down there. From the surface, you can’t see sunken statues or dark caverns.”
Jack’s head bobbed once. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I never thought I’d see the day when I look for landmarks under the ocean.”
John looked out over the vast blue expanse and sighed. He was here, finally, to figure if his dreams were just dreams, or if they were something else. Something more. Something bigger than he ever could imagine. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the small digital camera he brought along on the trip. Snapping a photo of the shoreline, he turned and snapped a candid shot of Jack as he examined the scuba gear that was lined up on the deck.
“Hey, now,” Jack protested. “None of that! You didn’t even get my good side.”
“You don’t have a good side, Jack,” Daniel announced jokingly as he joined them, and the older man growled playfully in return.
John laughed again because it was a good thing to see them so happy together. They were completely at ease with one another, and John wondered, not for the first time, if he would ever have been like that with Nancy.
John looked up at the sky again. “It’s almost high noon, local time,” he said conversationally, but Jack and Daniel immediately grew serious. They had decided to begin the dive at noon when the sun was at its apex. The water was clear enough that the sunlight would illuminate their way deep into the water. For the rest of the trip, they had underwater lanterns. They also had underwater cameras because Daniel did not want to miss the opportunity to record this for posterity. The archeologist, who would not be diving alongside him, needed visual evidence of everything that John had dreamed.
Physical proof of an ancient civilization, hidden beneath the waves, tucked away from prying eyes and holding secrets to prove or disprove the myths of old.
John kicked off his deck shoes and removed his tacky Hawaiian shirt so that he could pull on the rash guard before pulling his scuba tank over his shoulders and fastening the straps across his chest. Beside him, Jack was doing the same, with Daniel to check his straps. John checked his valves carefully even though he knew the tanks were full and functional. He had no idea how far they would have to dive, so having a malfunction would be unbelievably bad. Each tank was good for an hour’s worth of oxygen. John hoped they would not need that long.
After he was sure everything was secure and working, John settled himself on the edge of the boat, flippered feet crossed at the ankle just like his scuba instructor taught him. Getting the thumbs-up from Daniel, John nodded once and tilted backward over the edge. John was immediately submerged in warm water before bobbing back to the surface. He blew through his scuba breather to check the airway and waved jauntily at Daniel before sinking once more below the waves.
John took a moment to get his bearings and Jack was instantly beside him. Glancing around, John made a quick decision and swam away from the boat, moving deeper and deeper the further he went. Incredibly as it seemed, John began getting mental flashes of his dream, and the underwater scenery started looking familiar. John led the way past clusters of kelp and piles of sandstone until the blue water began to darken. As he slipped into the murky shadows, John flipped on the dive light and illuminated his meandering path into the depths. John and Jack swam up to a rocky wall and John’s spirits lifted because just inside a crevice in the stone, he saw a darker shadow that just had to be the cavern they were looking for.
It had to be.
John swam forward, kicking faster in his excitement, and just inside the shadows he saw them: marble statues, standing sentry in front of a smooth, iridescent stone wall.
John would have laughed in relief if he could. He turned his head to see Jack’s eyes wide behind his dive mask. This was it, or as near to it as John’s dreams told him. All of the lectures he and Jack had endured from Daniel, all of the slides and photographs the scholar had made them look at so they could recognize ancient Greek architecture and the images of the gods, and there it was in front of them, hidden in the waves of the Sea of Crete. John motioned for Jack to start snapping photographs for Daniel. Likely they would never be able to show the pictures to anyone outside of the Stargate Program, but there needed to be some kind of proof that this place existed.
They swam between the statues of men and women wearing chiton and carrying shields and spears, blank eyes looking back at them, until John could reach out and touch the wall. It looked like metal but felt like stone under his bare fingers, and John quickly found a rough patch that was different from the rest of the stone. He pressed firmly and the wall slowly fell away, revealing a deeper passage much like a stairwell, each marble step carved carefully into the deeper wall.
And they swam into the darkness with only the pools of their dive lights guiding the way.
In the darkness, everything looked like cold granite, and the way was incredibly claustrophobic for a few minutes—and then the passage widened. And widened further, into a chamber lined with huge marble statues larger than a man, each depicting a different mythical figure, a different god aspect. Athena with her helmet and shield and spear. Ares with his sword and armored chest plate. Artemis with her bow and quiver. Poseidon with his trident. Demeter, Aphrodite, Apollo, Dionysus, Hermes, Hades, Hera, Zeus—all twelve of the major gods, larger than life and standing in a circle facing a marble tomb.
The flashing light of the camera made the chamber look like some underwater disco, but John left Jack to his pictures and swam closer to the casket. It appeared to be a solid chunk of uncut marble, but John could see a faint indent on one side that he hoped was a pressure plate. He reached out, feeling finger holes, and pushed.
The top of the casket slid to the side before sinking into the abyss. John shone the dive light into the casket and saw six canisters that looked like the lava lamps in his dreams. Four were dull and lifeless, cracked along the side with age and neglect, and John’s heart sank in dismay. Was this going to be the result of his torment? He reached out to the canisters, dragging numb fingers along each one, and feeling the metal cases. When he reached the final two in the casket, they hummed with life and shone with bright incandescent light.
John almost dropped his dive light in his excitement, and he reached out to grab Jack’s arm. The older man stopped taking pictures and swam next to him, offering a jubilant thumbs-up when he saw John’s cache. The two men quickly loaded the two glowing canisters into their dive bags and secured them to their belts. With a final glance at the silent godlike sentries, John led the way back through the passage into the open waters. Once they were past the statues that led to the secret passage, John checked his tank valve to see how much oxygen he had left in the tank. They had been gone for almost the entire hour, so John and Jack kicked into high gear, swimming quickly but carefully, rising in a gentle incline to avoid building gasses.
The bends, John’s instructor was clear to point out, were nothing to mess with. In order to avoid the painful decompression, Jack and John swam in ever-rising concentric circles, taking care to snap photographs as they went to keep track of the time. Eventually they broke the surface, spinning around to make sure other swimmers and divers had not come too close to their boat, and they saw Daniel waving wildly from the deck. John pushed Jack ahead of him to the short ladder and watched as he handed up the camera.
“Just wait till you see what we got, Daniel,” Jack said. “I really hope the pictures came out because you just won’t believe it otherwise.”
Daniel grinned and helped the older man aboard before turning to pull John up the ladder. “Were pictures the only thing you got?” he asked eagerly.
John just grinned and shook his head. He motioned toward the hatch as he shucked his scuba gear and reached for the towel that Daniel offered. “I think we’d be better off not looking while on the deck, don’t you?”
Jack was toweling himself dry on the other side of the deck, but he had not removed his dive bag from his belt even though the weight of it was much heavier without the water to buoy it. “It was amazing, Danny-boy! I’m not much into art or sculpture, but it was amazing!”
“I can’t wait to see the pictures!”
John shook his head at the eager affection between the two men and set his flippers carefully beside his scuba tanks. He patted his dive bag and unbuckled it from his belt, hefting it carefully and carrying it to the hatch. Suddenly, he wanted nothing more than a shower and food.
Food could be had in the kitchen in the hold. The shower would have to wait until they were back at the hotel on Santorini.
The white one, with the blue roof and the clear swimming pool overlooking the cliffs and the black sand beach. Just like in his dream.
John was slicing into a chunk of cheese to go with the figs Daniel had already set out when the other two joined him in the hold. “I will be absolutely thrilled to wash the salt off of me,” he said when he saw them.
“I hear ya,” Jack agreed. “I’m more of a freshwater guy myself.”
“You’re teasing me,” Daniel grumbled. “I’ve been sitting up here, all alone for almost an hour, and now you’re both teasing me!”
“I’m sorry, Daniel,” said John, contrite. “It’s just that, well, scuba isn’t my normal thing, and I was getting worried that I was way off base with the dreams before I started seeing things that looked familiar down there. And believe me, looking for landmarks isn’t easy underwater in the dark.”
He reached across the table for the camera, offering a sly wink to Jack in the process. Quickly pulling the video card from the digital underwater camera, John plugged it into the handy tablet computer he had been using to find coordinates for the dive and brought up the photographs—in the order they were taken.
John was impressed with Jack’s steady hands, especially as he was unused to the camera, unused to scuba as much as John was, and trying to juggle the camera while aiming the dive light around his neck.
“Look what we found, Daniel,” John said as he offered the tablet to the other man. “I was really getting nervous before I saw that outcropping, and then the statues came into view.”
Daniel made many excited gasps as he flicked through the photos on the tablet, and John kept a weather eye on Jack the whole time. The older man was watching his partner with patient exasperation, enjoying the effect the short video tour was having on the younger man. When Daniel started rambling excitedly about the giant sculptures of the gods that were in the hidden chamber, John again winked at Jack and reached for the dive bag he had tucked under the small table in the galley. Following his example, Jack put his own dive bag on the bench seat.
“Wait,” Daniel complained with a frown, “this is it?” He looked up, disappointed. “Not that this isn’t an incredible archeological find, but this is it?”
“No, Daniel,” John said solemnly. “We found the Potentia. In that casket in the center of the statue circle, we found six of them. All of them were dark and cracked, completely useless.” He allowed his voice to trail off in disappointment.
“Oh, well,” Daniel slumped. “I guess it was worth the try.”
“Daniel,” Jack said consolingly, “they were all cracked and broken—except for these two, that lit up like Christmas trees when John touched them.”
With that, both John and Jack removed the cylindrical Potentia from their bags, presenting them to Daniel like hunting trophies.
Daniel’s eyes widened in shock as he took in the two glowing Potentia. “Oh. My. God,” he stammered, standing and reaching for one, caressing it as carefully as he would any artifact on a dig site. “Oh. My. God!”
“Yes,” Jack said dryly. “So you’ve said. I take it you’re pleased?”
“You found them!” Daniel shouted, jumping in excitement. “I can’t believe you really found them! I mean, I had faith, but to actually see them!”
In his excitement, Daniel grabbed John roughly and planted a hard kiss against his stunned mouth. And then he pulled back quickly, eyes wide.
Just as wide as John’s.
“Um,” John stammered, shooting a nervous glance at Jack. “I, um.”
In response, Daniel pulled John closer and again kissed him, this time with intent, keeping a light hold around John’s shoulders so that he did not feel trapped and out of control.
John sank into the kiss, opening his mouth to Daniel’s probing tongue and drinking in his taste—coffee, chocolate, apple, and something distinctly Daniel. John’s arms came up automatically, hands gripping Daniel’s waist and pulling the other man even closer, relishing the feel of the hard body against his own.
This was so…unlike his dream of making love with Jack on the boat. In that dream, Daniel may have been present, but he was not a main player. And now, in real life, John was wrapped in Daniel’s arms while bobbing along the waters of the Sea of Crete, and Jack was….
Warm, rough hands dropped onto John’s shoulders, startling John out of the kiss. He turned his head in shock, and Jack’s mouth quickly descended onto his, replacing Daniel’s gentle kiss with a passionate kiss of his own. Daniel dipped his head and bit gently into the side of John’s neck and his brain stuttered for a moment.
Jack lifted away from the kiss and his brow wrinkled in concern. “John?”
John blinked slowly and Daniel drew away slightly, still touching John’s arms. John quickly tightened his hold on the other man to keep him from moving far away. “I…this is unexpected. Really unexpected.”
“Is it,” Jack asked shrewdly. “Your dreams have been on point up to this moment.”
John blinked again, reaching up to stroke gently at Jack’s cheek. “I did have dreams—lots of them. But until that drone almost shot us out of the sky, I never considered that any of the dreams could come true.”
He stepped away then, putting minimal distance between himself and the other two men, and shoved his hands into his damp hair. “I only really clearly recalled the eyes of the people in my dreams. Or I would wake up remembering touches or spoken phrases, but I had no frame of reference.”
“I understand,” Daniel said softly. “If you did dream about me—or Jack—in an intimate situation, it could have just been your subconscious self—until you actually met the two of us.”
John nodded quickly. “Yeah. And then, when I did meet you, not only was I almost killed by that drone—I find out that the two of you are clearly in a relationship with each other. So, just a dream, you know?”
“And if it didn’t have to be?” Jack asked casually. “Just a dream, I mean.”
John’s eyes narrowed as he regarded the two men sitting across from him at the galley table. “Well, I think that discussion should take place on dry ground, after a much-needed shower, and after storing the Potentia in a safe place.”
“Agreed,” said Jack amiably. “I really need to get the salt off of me because I’m starting to itch in uncomfortable places.”
* * * * *
John swiped the towel over his freshly shaven face and tossed it into the sink of his modest hotel room.
Modest. Hotel. Room.
John chucked to himself as he wandered from the bathroom into the sleeping area. The name of the hotel was Suite of the Gods, so even the smaller rooms were not exactly ‘modest’, with views of the sea and beaches. The stonework alone made the rooms spectacular, and while Jack and Daniel both tried to refuse his offer of treating for the trip, John had the money—and the dreams that drove the trip—and had insisted on paying for at least this leg of the journey. The capitulation came with one condition—that Jack and Daniel got to choose the accommodations. John agreed and the hotel was chosen for its location near the Venetsanos Winery. As it turned out, appreciating wines was a hobby that Jack and Daniel indulged in when they had time enough away from the SGC that they could completely relax.
The rocky terrain and volcanic soil gave way to interesting wines, and Venetsanos was their first stop after checking into the hotel. John was more of a beer man, but he figured he could learn to appreciate wines as well.
Sighing, John slipped his feet into his loafers and checked to make sure his shirt was buttoned correctly. He certainly did not want to look as flustered as he felt. John exited his room and stepped next door to knock on the door, and it was immediately answered by Daniel, who was wearing a tentative smile.
“Hey, come in! Jack’s trying to figure out dinner reservations.”
John smirked. “I didn’t know he liked Greek cuisine.”
Daniel’s nose wrinkled. “He really doesn’t, but he’s not having any luck finding a good pizza joint.”
John laughed and followed Daniel into the room. Their room was much like John’s, only a bit messier. A large suitcase was open on the chaise and the Potentia were tucked tightly between towels that were packed just for this purpose.
“I thought you were going to disguise those?” John queried, and Daniel just shrugged.
“We’re going to find some craft paint tomorrow and paint them to look like that cheap vase Jack found at the airport. They’re about the same size and the Potentia weight just a little less, so we’re hoping to pass them off if our bags get checked.”
“Sounds like a plan,” John agreed.
“I just hope it’s a good plan,” said Jack as he joined them. “Fortunately, none of us look like smugglers, so there shouldn’t be any troubles getting these out of the country.”
John stared at the suitcase before he became aware of the intense gazes directed at him. Turning, he sighed and said, “I don’t remember the first erotic dream, but I think I was still in that cave when it happened, so it was a long time ago.”
Jack’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “That’s a long time to dream about a man you’ve never met.”
John nodded absently. “Yeah, it really is. The dreams messed me up a bit at first. In my mind’s eye, my wife’s adoring brown eyes would transform to either darker brown, serious eyes, or startling blue eyes. It got really awkward when we were intimate together after I returned home, and sometimes I would have fantasies about being with a man instead of concentrating on her.”
“Is that why you’re divorced?” Daniel asked, concerned.
“No,” John shook his head. “She divorced me because I refused to retire my commission and get a job in my father’s company. My capture was hard on the whole family and Nancy could not understand why I would want to stay in the Air Force after everything I’d been through.
“After the divorce, I did find my way to a male lover, but it was just a casual relationship that unfortunately ended when he was killed.”
“And he was killed in that crash that sent you off against unofficial orders,” Jack added grimly.
John nodded. “When I was sent to Germany and that inquest, I was afraid that someone had found out about the two of us.”
“Nope,” Jack refuted. “It turned out that you were too valuable a pilot to lose to a Kangaroo Court. So that man was your only male partner?”
“Yeah, he was. But I was still having those dreams, along with the others, during my relationship with him—and after.”
Daniel frowned in thought. “I’ve seen your dream journals, John, and there are no erotic dreams in there.”
Both Jack and John stared at him in disbelief. “Yeah, Daniel,” said Jack dryly, “because leaving something like that lying around wouldn’t be a career killer.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a distant memory, Jack,” Daniel argued.
“Not that distant,” John shot back. “And it was very apparent to anyone who knew me that I was still torn-up about the divorce. Anything that might have indicated that I was responsible for that, besides the fact that I stayed in the military, could have hurt my career. So, yes, I did write about those dreams, but I used different notebooks, and I wrote them in Latin.”
“You wrote them in Latin,” Jack said, incredulously.
John shrugged. “I like math, and Latin is the basic language of mathematics, so I studied that in school instead of Spanish. I also had a professor that spoke conversational Latin and Ancient Greek, so I used to hang out with him in the Student Union for long chats. You never know when something like that could come in handy.”
Jack chuckled and stalked closer to John. “So, you dreamed about being with me, or being with Daniel?”
John smiled and said, “I dreamed about being with both of you, either separately or together. Sometimes I would wake up more tired than when I went to sleep, and that wasn’t always because of the nightmares.”
Jack reached out to lay his hand on the side of John’s neck, stroking his thumb along John’s jaw. “So you’re not opposed to…this?” he whispered before leaning forward and kissing John.
The cool press of firm lips against John’s mouth drove him back into a dream, where he was pressed back against a limestone wall by the hot body of the man now kissing him. John reached and wrapped his arms around Jack’s waist, pulling him closer as he opened his mouth to taste the other man. Jack groaned and welcomed him in, tightening his own embrace. The kiss grew hotter and John’s hands wandered lower, gripping Jack’s hips before he spread his legs and pulled Jack closer.
“Ahem,” Daniel coughed, and Jack and John drew apart almost reluctantly. “I thought we were going to talk about this.”
“We are,” Jack conceded, “but sometimes I speak better without words.”
John laughed and the spell was broken. Jack smiled and stepped back. “I made reservations at Agaze. We should get a cab, or we could probably walk, but the handy menu this hotel provided shows a decent wine list, an interesting dinner menu, and an excellent coffee selection. The restaurant is also close to a few photo opportunities, so we might as well make the most of it.”
John wrinkled his nose. “I vote for a cab. Diving today took a lot more out of me than I thought it would.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jack said. “I’m not as young as I used to be!”
“None of us are,” said Daniel practically as he went to retrieve his wallet. “Before we leave, I think we should get our bearings on the relationship front.”
John tucked his hands into the front pockets of his slacks. “Well, obviously I’m open to exploration, but I have no intention of disrupting an established relationship. Obviously the two of you have been together for some time, and I don’t want my involvement to cause any trouble.”
“I don’t think your involvement will cause trouble, John,” said Jack as he opened the door to lead them out. “I do think your involvement might lead us somewhere both unexpected and beneficial. I think, with enough time, I can see us becoming a family of sorts—if you’re willing.”
“I think I could be very willing,” John replied with a smirk.
* * * * *
The meal was…familiar: local ingredients with a European flavor and Western dishes, quality wines and beers with the meal, and incredible coffee for after. There was no mention of dessert, but after perusing the menu upon arrival, they all agreed to return for breakfast the next day. The brunch menu looked delightful.
After coffee, the trio took advantage of the mild weather and the public transportation system and took a local bus to one of the scenic vistas on the island. The area was practically deserted in the late evening, and Daniel and John took advantage of their cameras to capture the view of the harbor and valley around them.
“So,” said Jack as he positioned himself between the two camera bugs, “where to next?”
John didn’t even pretend to misunderstand the question and answered, “In my dreams, a male voice offered lectures about the myths of King Arthur, Atlantis, and the Anasazi.”
Quirking an eyebrow at his long-time partner, Jack merely said,” Daniel?”
Taking the bait, Daniel began, “Well, many of the Arthur myths centered around the building of Camelot and the various quests the Knights of the Round Table were sent on, most especially about the Holy Grail. There are also popular myths about how Arthur was conceived and how he was chosen to champion the people of Britain—even how he was foretold to return after death to face a great danger to his people.”
“Interesting,” Jack replied, “but I’m unsure how that translates to our quest.”
“Would you believe that, in one of my dreams, we found a sword encased in stone?” John asked casually, and both Jack and Daniel turned to gape at him. He shrugged before lifting the camera to his eye. “It’s just a thought, but wouldn’t that be handy, given we’re about to embark on a journey to a possibly dangerous place?”
“Um, yeah,” Daniel stammered. “In any case, I really don’t know too much about the Anasazi, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that.”
John grinned. “I’m not at all ashamed to admit it. In fact, until I heard the name in my dreams over and over, I didn’t know such a thing existed—so I looked it up when I had the chance.”
“Okay, then,” said Jack with no small interest, “please enlighten us.”
“Well,” John drawled, “there was some sort of hazy mythos about an advanced civilization in the American Southwest that just—up and disappeared with no notice or any clues left behind, but that was dispelled in the 1950s. The myth came about in the late 1870s, when an explorer and photographer found an abandoned limestone city carved into the cliffs in the Pueblo area—along with roads, waterways, and other advanced technology. Just no people.
“But the really interesting thing, although I didn’t know it at the time, is that Anasazi is the Navajo word for Ancient.”
Daniel’s eyes lit with recognition. “And you had dreams about some sort of carved-stone buildings.”
John nodded. “I looked that up, as well. Mesa Verde, Colorado.”
Jack clapped his hands together. “So we go back home.”
“No, Jack,” John refuted. “I think we should go to England first; specifically, to Cornwall.”
“King Arthur, huh? Why?”
John shrugged. “Well, for one thing, while Greece is nice this time of year, I doubt England will be, and I know Colorado isn’t. I don’t exactly relish trekking down the cliffs near Tintagel in early December, but I would rather get that out of the way now than later. And once we’re back on American soil, we’ll be heading head-first into the planning of the Atlantis expedition.”
“You have an unfortunate point,” said Jack thoughtfully. “Let’s go back to the hotel; I need to make a very long-distance call.”
* * * * *
John had to remind himself that Jack never mentioned a telephone when he said he needed to make a ‘long-distance call’, because he was slightly surprised when Jack opened a hidden zippered compartment in his suitcase and pulled out two metallic cigarette lighter-shaped devices. He watched with interest when Jack pressed a button on one before casually strolling around the hotel room in a circular pattern until a green light appeared on it. He gave a questioning look to Daniel, who only shrugged.
“It’s a bug-finder,” Jack said matter-of-factly. “Sam Carter developed them, and they come in handy too often for my peace of mind.”
“Ah, okay. What’s that other thing?”
“This,” said Jack as he wiggled the device in his hand, “is a way of contacting one of our allies. A very secret way, given to me and only to me as a point of trust. Not even my bosses know about it, so let’s just keep this bit between us, okay?”
“Okay,” said John, willing to roll with it. He sat back in the luxurious chair beside Daniel and nodded when the other man offered a glass of the wine he’d purchased the day before. They couldn’t take it with them, after all.
Jack opened a small panel on the device and spoke clearly but quietly into it. “Thor, buddy—I need to speak with you on a very important matter, but we need to keep things under the radar.”
“Thor, Jack?” Daniel asked incredulously. “Do you think he’ll answer?”
Instead of a reply by Jack, there was a bright flash of white light that made John blink and shade his eyes, and when he looked up—
There was a figure that looked remarkably like one of the fake Roswell alien puppets, sitting in a mechanical throne.
“John,” Daniel said calmly, “this is Thor of the Asgard. He’s one of our allies. It’s good to see you, Thor.”
The alien nodded to them. “It is good to see you as well, Daniel Jackson, General O’Neill. Why have you summoned me here?”
Jack rubbed his mouth before saying, “Well, you see, buddy—The SGC has been making strides into hunting down any Ancient technology that we might be able to use in our fight against the Go ‘auld. Daniel thinks he might have found the City of Atlantis, but it’s a long way away, and we’ll need power to get there.”
“I see,” Thor murmured. “The City of Atlantis was lost to us long ago. The Asgard had hoped that the answer to our cloning issue could be found with the Ancients, but when they disappeared, we lost that hope.”
“We think we can get there,” Daniel asserted. “We’re making plans to launch an expedition and we have high hopes of recovering the city and the technology. We just need the power to get there.”
“I am afraid the Asgard cannot help you with that issue, Daniel Jackson.”
“Oh, uh, can I…?” John began, waving his hand in the air like a dutiful student. “Um, sorry? But…I think we have the power situation in hand.”
Thor directed his black, blank gaze toward John and blinked. “I see. Then why do you need me?”
“I had an idea, actually,” Jack said. “You see, John here has been having dreams for a long time now about how to find the power sources that the Ancients called Potentia, and with his memories of those dreams, we’ve found two that seem to be fully charged and functional—along with four others that were damaged by time and possibly their location. We’ve found a way we hope to smuggle those two out of Greece, but now I’m hoping to use your help to move these two and any others we find to a secure location.”
Thor stared blankly at Jack for a long moment before moving his gaze to the large suitcase that Jack indicated. “May I see the Potentia?”
“Oh, uh, sure!” Daniel jumped up and pulled one of the canisters from under the towels and held it to Thor, who took it gently between his hands.
“This is most remarkable, O’Neill. I can feel the raw power surging within this. I doubt that you will succeed in ‘smuggling’ this through your primitive security scans as the power may well cause circuits to short.” Thor handed the canister back to Daniel, who held it away from his body as though it might explode.
Thor turned back to Jack and said, “I suppose you wanted to request beaming technology in order to move these objects from where they were long hidden.”
Jack’s mouth opened, then shut, and he frowned. “Well,” he said finally, “when you put it that way…”
“While I agree that this discovery could well lead to advancement for both our races, the Asgard have a more pressing situation with the Replicators. The raw power of just one Potentia would strengthen our weapons against them. I propose a…trade.”
John blinked and smiled. “If my dreams really are leading me to find more of those,” he waved at the canister still in Daniel’s hands, “then I think we might be able to spare one.”
Thor nodded slowly. “If you give me the direct coordinates of this secure location, I shall offer to you, for a limited time, a two-way transmission device. I shall place the receiver in that location, and you may use the transmitter to send what you find to that location.”
“So—we won’t have to actually pack and carry when we find our treasure, and we won’t have to declare them to customs.” Jack smiled widely. “That, Thor, would be great, thank you. I was actually going to ask if you could personally transport the items as we find them—but that would mean that you would need to hang around paying attention to us all the time.”
“My time is important, O’Neill,” agreed Thor. “However, I believe it would be a worthy use of my time if I could assist my people in their fight against the Replicators.”
Thor presented an orb-shaped device to Jack and held another in his own hand. “What are the coordinates of your secure location?”
Jack and Daniel both turned to look at John, who edged slightly backwards. “What?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “You’ve seen us sweep for bugs at our place, John. Somehow, people get in there when we’re not home, so we can’t be certain that anything will be safe there until we can get it personally secured.”
John rolled his eyes. “Okay, well—I’ve lived in barracks for my entire career, and officers’ housing when I’m state-side. The only probably secure place I can think of is my old room in my father’s house. And if I’m going to use that, I need to call him and request that he stay out of the room until I come home and explain, and then I’ll have to figure out an explanation for him.”
“Give him a call, John,” Jack said. “Thor can wait a few minutes, and your father will never know he was in your room.”
“Okay, then.” And John retired to his own room to make a very long-distance call to his father—at three o’clock in the freaking morning.
When John returned a few minutes later, he only said, “Well, I’m going to owe my father a huge apology as well as an explanation because I woke him up, but he’s agreed to respect my privacy in his own home and not go into the room.” And he gave the address and coordinates to Thor, as well as a description of the décor so that he knew it was the right room.
Thor flashed out and then returned within two minutes, describing in detail the pattern of John’s curtains and the contents of his desktop. “Because of the size of the items you are hunting, I thought it prudent to place the receiving unit inside the closed closet.”
“Yeah, that’s good,” John agreed. “The closet is pretty empty and there’s lots of floor space in there.”
Thor directed his attention to Jack again and said, “I look forward to hearing the story of your journey, O’Neill. And to seeing the fruits of your labor.”
And then he flashed away.
John sat staring at the empty space that Thor had occupied and just felt…numb.
“Did I just talk to an alien? Really?”
Daniel laughed and handed John his abandoned glass of wine. “I’m not going to say something trite like ‘drink that and you’ll feel better’, but it might settle you a bit. Thor is an interesting person, and he’s utterly fascinated with Jack.”
John gave the older man the side-eye. “Fascinated, huh?”
Jack chuckled. “The Asgard were the ones to get the downloaded information out of my head before it destroyed my mind—the first time. That’s how we got their attention formally, but they had been keeping an eye on Earth and humanity for a long time before that. They helped us out a few times, we helped them out a few times, they cloned me—”
Daniel patted John on the shoulder to calm him down. “The Asgard developed a problem during their own evolution, and when their minds advanced to their current power, their bodies suffered, and they took to cloning bodies because their conscious selves are darned near immortal. Somehow the cloning technique got messed up and their bodies began to deteriorate, and that’s why they look the way they do.
“Some time ago, because Jack’s brain was enhanced by the Ancient download, an Asgard scientist tried to clone him so that he could try to repair their technique.”
John swallowed some wine and asked, “What happened to the clone?”
“Oh,” Jack said, waving a hand around and reaching for his own wine, “he came out wrong—as a teenager.”
“Yeah, my clone came out fifteen years old and dying, but,” Jack added quickly when John appeared distressed, “we got Thor to fix his dying body and straighten his memories out because he had all of my life experiences in his head. He’s…around. We keep an eye on him and he’s doing well, even if he hated high school.”
John settled back in his seat. “Well that’s okay, then. I think. Does he look like you?”
Jack seesawed his hand a bit. “He looks like he could be my nephew, actually. Thor changed his facial structure enough that he won’t look a lot like me as he ages. And between the three of us, I’m pushing him to Atlantis once we get everything worked out because the NID is getting nosy about him and I think he’ll be safer there.”
“I can’t say I disagree,” said Daniel. “And before the three of us get as cozy as I’d like us to, I think we need to discuss the Atlantis mission in a little more detail.”
“Detail like what, Danny?”
Daniel’s cheeks puffed up as he blew out hard. “I’ve been reading the preparation reports even though I’m not technically part of the expedition, and I can see a lot of problems.”
“You’re talking about the supply lists again, aren’t you?” John asked. “I hope you are because they’re a real mess. Dr. Weir is either delusional or really hoping to find a pure paradise that has everything we’ll need with no work necessary.”
Jack sighed. “Yeah, I noticed that as well. She’s heavy on the sciences, which we will need, but she doesn’t seem to think soldiers are necessary at all. And given the history of the SGC, that’s just foolish.”
“I dreamed about her,” John glowered into his glass. “I didn’t know who she was, only that she had cruel eyes and an indifference to others.”
“What was she doing in your dreams, John?” Daniel asked, knowing enough that actions meant something.
John drained his wine and then set the glass aside before Daniel could refill it. “In one dream, this cold woman is standing in front of a glowing portal. She’s smiling and reaching for some prize, but behind her are bodies—piled up and discarded. In
another dream, she’s standing on top of a pile of bodies and she’s starting to glow with a golden light. Before you told me about the Ancients, I had no idea what that could mean.”
Daniel frowned. “Elizabeth has been asking a lot of questions lately about Ascension and what it was like when I Ascended—and how I managed it. Most of her personal research at the outpost has been about that, which I find to be rather discomfiting.”
“She tried to broker a treaty with the Goa’uld during her time leading the SCG, and I find that discomfiting,” Jack grumbled. “The Goa’uld don’t want peace and they don’t need to join up together, and Weir basically said, ‘Here—take these planets and we don’t care if you have slaves there as long as you leave us alone’.”
John gaped at the older man. “I…what…please tell me you’re joking!”
“Nope,” Jack almost growled. “Since I’ve been back in charge, I’ve sent out teams to kick ass, take no names, and fix her damned mistake. For some reason, the IOA loves her—but that love does have its limits.”
Jack shook his head. “Not yet, Daniel. And not here. Let’s talk about that at our next stop, okay?”
“Yeah, okay, but John’s dream indicates something not so diplomatic about Elizabeth.”
“I think the word you want is ‘ruthless’,” John said as he stretched his arms over his head. “Well, all of this heavy thought has worn me out, and we have a wonderful brunch to look forward to in the morning, so I think I’m going to head next door and get some shut-eye.”
Daniel reached out and squeezed his hand as he moved past, and John smiled down at the other man.
“Pleasant dreams, John,” Daniel murmured.
“I can only hope,” John replied.
But John’s dreams were not pleasant at all.
He dreamed of climbing through a cave hidden in the side of a cliff overlooking a raging sea. Icy sea-spray followed him into the cave, making the stone floor slick and dangerous, but he soldiered on, moving deeper into the cave as the light faded. The sea-spray transformed into a line of small stars that lit his path far into the cave until he reached a solid, blank wall. The stars trailed in front of him, swirling and twirling into a vortex that created a portal in the stone. Through the portal came a dim, watery glow like the lights under the water in a fountain, and John reached out to touch it—and it was cold. Icy. Unwelcoming. A figure appeared in the shadows in front of him, and suddenly the dim glow brightened, showing tall stained-glass windows and metal columns. The shadowy figure lifted its head and John could see it was Elizabeth Weir. She reached out to him with a welcoming embrace. “You can have such a future here with me, John,” she promised. “All you have to do is give me everything.” Then the walls started to shake, and the portal shuddered, and beams and rocks began to fall from the ceiling—and then someone shouted, “There’s not enough power!”
John shot out of bed and rushed to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. Taking several gulps of air, John roughly dried his face and he stumbled back to the bed, sitting on the edge and shaking slightly. He glanced at the bedside clock to discover that it was almost four o’clock in the morning. He had slept almost the whole night through. Almost certainly he’d had other, different dreams, so why was that the one that haunted him into wakefulness?
John reached for the telephone and called the airport. He had plans to make because things were about to be desperate.
* * * * *
“You don’t look particularly rested, John,” Daniel stated when they met in the hotel lobby later that morning.
John shook his head jerkily. “I need a lot of coffee before I have that conversation.”
“Noted. Jack will be here in a minute; he’s calling for a taxi.”
The trip to the restaurant that morning was as quick as the night before, so John was seated with coffee in front of him in record time. After ordering a rich, filling, and hopefully delicious breakfast, John practically inhaled his first cup of coffee.
Daniel, casually sipping at his own cup, just stared pointedly at the other man until he reached for the carafe to refill his cup. “John?”
John sighed. “Okay, first of all, I called and made flight arrangements for us, and we’re on the flight to London this evening afternoon at four. It was the earliest flight that had room, or I’d have us out of here right after breakfast.”
Jack’s eyebrows shot upwards in surprise. “Why so soon? Not that I don’t agree that we need to move on, but I thought we’d planned to be here another two days.”
“I had another dream last night—a really disturbing one.”
“Tell us,” Daniel urged as their plates were placed in front of them.”
John poked at his veggie omelet with a fork. “I dreamed about going into a cave on a rocky beach, and a portal opened in the cave and I saw that cathedral that I’d dreamed of before.”
“That might actually be Atlantis,” Daniel posited.
“Yeah,” John sighed, “I figured as much. Anyway, Elizabeth Weir was there, on the other side of the portal, and she fed me that line my mother always said, about having a future there. Except—Weir offered me that future if I gave everything I had to her, like some kind of sacrifice or something. And then the walls started shaking and collapsing, and I heard someone shouting about not enough power.
“And then I woke up.”
Jack frowned. “What time was that?”
“Four AM. That’s when I called the airport, because moving forward seemed really important at the time. I can always change the flight arrangements if you want.”
“No,” Jack negated. “I agree that moving on is a good thing, especially after hearing that dream—and after the discussion Daniel and I had after you left us last night.”
Daniel quickly swallowed so he didn’t choke. “Jack originally didn’t want me to join the expedition because he doesn’t like me to be far away from him.” It was said as a joke, with accompanying side-eye, but John knew Daniel’s safety was paramount to Jack.
“But because you’ve found two more Potentia, the one-way part of the excursion is no longer an absolute.”
“So you’re going?” John surmised.
“No,” Daniel corrected. “We’re going. If Jack can make a case to the IOA as well as Homeland Security, anyway.”
John blinked in surprise, gaze flicking back and forth between the two men sharing his table. “Um, what?”
Jack wiped his mouth with a soft cloth napkin and took a healthy drink of orange juice before saying, “There is a lot about this expedition that rubs me the wrong way, so I made a call of my own last night before heading to bed, and I woke up my old friend General George Hammond. I am awfully glad that he’s a night owl—or is it an early riser? In any case, he heard me out about my concerns over Weir being the de facto leader of the expedition, and he is going to look into it on his end because there’s something hinky going on there. Hopefully, he’ll have answers by the time we get home.”
John released a relieved breath and sat back in his chair, tossing his napkin onto his empty plate. “I don’t…that’s good, right? I mean, if she’s not on the level, surely they don’t want her in charge of something so important, right?”
“Eh,” Jack shrugged, “politics are weird and so not my favorite thing. But because we have documented evidence of her disregard for the human condition during her tenure at the SGC, I think we can sell the prospect that she might not care that much about the Geneva Convention once she’s in another galaxy. That is a huge concern because there will be staff from many countries involved and we have to do as much to protect them as possible.
“Remember, nobody but the three of us, and Thor, knows about the Potentia, so they’re all certain that they’ll be alone out there until the Prometheus is ready to launch. Everybody involved, from the research staff to the medical staff to the soldiers slotted for protection and defense, thinks they’ll be shut off from Earth for as much as a year; no support, no supplies, and no enforcement of rules and laws. If Weir is on some sort of hidden power trip, I need to do as much to stop it before anyone steps through that ‘Gate.”
“Yeah, okay—that’s good,” John sighed.
“So, now that you’ve changed our travel plans, what’s our itinerary?”
John sheepishly sipped at his water glass. “Um, we fly out to London this afternoon, and I have reservations at Camelot Castle for two days.”
Daniel gaped. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“Nope!” John shot back, popping the ‘P’ sharply. “It’s the nicest hotel near the site that I could find that was full service. There’s a B-&-B nearby, but that seems a bit too intimate for our interests.”
“Yeah,” Daniel conceded, “a Bed and Breakfast would have no privacy, and we need a bit of privacy.”
“Yeah, so we’ll be there for two days, because that’s time enough to shake off the warmth of Greece before we shuffle into the chill of the Cornish seaside in December. I am really hoping we can find what we’re looking for that second day. The location is small and landbound, so we won’t be guessing where to start.”
“Uh, huh,” mumbled Daniel around a mouthful of toast. He quickly swallowed and added, “The British are immensely proud of their history and mythology, and they’ve built up a tourist trade around Arthur and Merlin and the Round Table. The ruins at Tintagel give a lot of credence to the stories.”
John snorted softly. “Yeah, when I got in touch with my travel agent, he handed me brochures about Tintagel Castle, and there’s a map on the brochure that actually labels Merlin’s Cave. I really think what we’re looking for is in that cave, just a bit further in than tourists are encouraged to go.”
“I have no doubts that we’ll find…something. I really hope it’s what we’re looking for.”
John sighed. “Yeah, me too.”
“Okay,” Jack interjected before John could become morose, “you’ve made reservations for two days. Are they potentially open-ended reservations, or do you have flight reservations for that third day?”
“Um,” John looked up guiltily.
“Right,” Jack sighed. “Where are we headed after England?”
“I have reservations for Denver to Cortez Municipal Airport. It’s going to be a quick flight change, but we will not be in Denver long enough for anyone to see us. I have a locker rental at Cortez, as well as a car rental so we can drive to Mesa Verde without our heavy luggage.
“I don’t know how long we’ll need in Mesa Verde. The images are clear in my dreams, but I’ve never actually been there so I don’t know where to start.”
“Well pick up a map when we get there,” Jack said. “It’s a state park, so they’ll have handy tourist helpers at the entrance or ranger station.”
Daniel looked pensive. “It is the off-season, Jack. Will we be allowed to enter the park?”
“I looked into it,” Jack assured. “We can enter the park, but we’ll have to be cagey about where we want to go. The cliff dwellings are in the southernmost area, so we’ll have a bit of a drive. And then we’ll have a bit of a hike.”
John grimaced. “I think we should take the time to buy or rent hiking and camping equipment before we enter the park. It will be cold and extremely uncomfortable, and we’ll be rough camping unless we find accessible shelter in one of the cave dwellings.”
“Even that kind of shelter will be cold and uncomfortable,” Daniel pointed out. I’ll make a call to a friend in that area when we get back to the hotel; I might be able to get permission to camp even though the tourist season is long over. In this case, getting permission would be more of a help than asking forgiveness after the fact.”
John signaled for the bill even as Jack said, “I guess we’ll get to try out Thor’s little gift while we pack.”
John sighed again. “I’d better call my father again and try to explain further—without actually telling him anything.”
“What exactly does your father do, John?” Daniel asked.
“Sheppard Interprises manufactures all sorts of things to provide clean energy: solar panels, wind generators, that sort of thing. They also dabble in body armor for police departments and the military. I used to tease him about the spelling of the company name, but he insists that enterprises is spelled ‘Inter’ because their
products intersect a lot of areas.” John shook his head and pulled out his wallet. “I think it made sense to him at the time, and nobody ever said anything to him. He’s got the money and the ideas, so I guess he can spell anything the way he wants to—even if it’s cringe-worthy.”
Daniel laughed, but Jack had a look of speculation on his face.
“What?” John asked apprehensively.
“I’m wondering if there is anything your father’s company could possibly provide to the SGC that would make it necessary for us to read him in on the project. I’ll call George after we land in England. Any kind of power generation or body protection would certainly be welcome, that’s for sure.”
Because the day was sunny and mild, the trio took the opportunity to take the long walk back to the hotel, taking in the scenery and snapping photos as they went. Santorini wasn’t exactly a bustling place. There were cruise ships in the harbor, of course, but the tourists mostly wandered around the scenic overlooks or wineries or beaches, so the streets were not crowded.
They took turns holding the camera, taking photos of Jack and Daniel, Jack and John, and John and Daniel—until a sympathetic shop owner took the camera from them and shot a photo of the three of them together with the blue harbor behind them as a backdrop. In thanks, John bought a lovely handmade pottery mug with a rustic glaze. It looked like it would hold a lot of coffee, so it would probably become his favorite mug.
Daniel was giving it covetous looks, so Jack jogged back to the shop to buy another one.
John’s second phone call to his father was not exactly more enlightening, but he again thanked his father for basically locking John’s childhood bedroom so that nobody could enter. He promised a better explanation once he got home, and yes, he was planning to be home for the holidays.
After his suitcase was packed, John went next door to meet with Jack and Daniel. He wanted to be present for the first use of the transportation device that Thor had loaned them. Even if it was just a flash of light before something disappeared, John wanted to see it happen—to see that it was real.
To see that any of this was real.
He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Daniel as Jack placed the two functional Potentia on the coffee table and aimed his orb-thingie at them and pressed at an indentation—and there was a flash of light, and the Potentia were gone.
“Well, that was anticlimactic,” John drawled dryly.
“Be glad it was,” Daniel countered. “The last thing we want to do is draw attention.”
“And if we do attract attention because that flash was seen through a window,” Jack added, “then we’ve got a great cover because we’ve been snapping pictures everywhere we’ve gone.”
“This is true,” Daniel said cheerfully.
Jack pocketed the orb and sat on the chaise beside Daniel. “So—George is going to look into your father’s company, to see if there might be a legitimate reason for reading in your dad. If there is anything SI can offer to the SGC, we’ll consider it a win for everybody.”
“That’s good to know,” said John. “I’d like to not have to lie to my father now that we’re trying to repair whatever relationship we have.” At Daniel’s questioning look, John shrugged. “Dad wasn’t thrilled when I joined the Air Force. In fact, since my interests in college were in math and engineering, he was really hoping to bring my weird brain into the family business so we could be a bigger success than he was at the time. Now he’s a big name in clean energy and is the first person people go to for personal protection and he’s come to understand my need to serve on a higher level.”
Daniel sighed and tipped his head backwards so that he was curled into Jack’s shoulder. “I became an archeologist because that was what my parents did when they died. I wanted to know them and understand their lives, so that’s what I studied.”
“Not a bad gig,” John said softly. “You might have had a rocky start but look where you are now: studying ancient cultures in living color and keeping the world safe from aliens.”
“Anyway,” Jack drawled, “George is also going to set up a meeting with Henry and the IOA for when we get back. We’re going to need to show evidence of Weir’s shortcomings as a leader, but George and I are hoping to make me leader of the expedition instead of her.”
“Henry who?” John asked.
“Hayes,” Jack responded. “The President. He likes me, he likes Daniel more, and he kinda hates the IOA. Unofficially, he thinks like I do, that people who have never been through the Stargate, who have never offered to protect this planet, should not have ultimate oversight over those that do.”
John sat wide-eyed in surprise. “Yeah,” he murmured, “that makes sense.”
The trio gathered their bags and set out for the small airport, where they would fly from Santorini to Athens—and from Athens to London.
It would be a long day of travel. They dressed comfortably. They each had reading material for the trip. They each were eager to start the second leg of their journey.
They each fell asleep on the plane to London.
They each dreamed.
The dank cave was narrow and slick. Moisture dripped from the walls with a rhythmic beat. The light from their torches lit a treacherous path along the rocky floor lined with sharp stalagmites reaching toward unseen heights.
The cave ended suddenly, and all seemed lost.
There was no treasure to be found.
He leaned heavily against the stone barrier, fatigue and disappointment weighing him down, and he turned to face his companions. In despair, he reached for his partners, and his arm rubbed against the rough stone, knocking gravel loose and revealing a smooth, golden panel set deep into the rocky wall.
Hesitantly, he reached for the panel, and it began to glow under his wavering hand. He pressed in, feeling the warm metal incongruent to the cold stone, and the panel receded into the wall.
And the wall shuddered, and more stone fell from the undiscovered cave ceiling. And the wall slid backwards, revealing a carved-stone staircase leading deep under the cave floor—into darkness and possible danger.
He lifted his torch and aimed the beam of light toward the staircase, and
The plane touched down with a rough jerk and John’s eyes sprang open in shock. He was not aware of having fallen asleep; he wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t unbuckled his seatbelt after takeoff. His belly rumbled with hunger, proving that he had even slept through the offering of mid-flight snacks.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes before glancing across the aisle—only to see the same shocked looks on both Jack and Daniel.
“Did you guys…?”
“Fall immediately asleep and dream of spelunking in the dark?” Jack asked.
“I think we did,” Daniel said. “If that dream was anything like the others you’ve told us about, I’m amazed you ever try to sleep at all.”
John rubbed his eyes again and unbuckled his seatbelt in preparation for disembarking the plane. “Well, hopefully that will be the only dream we share. Otherwise you two are in for a plague of nightly distress involving collapsing buildings, soul-sucking vampires, and a psychotic maniac killing people at random in order to protect his own life.”
“John,” Jack said softly, “maybe we need to talk about your nightmares in more detail once we get back to the States. If you’re foreseeing any dangers we might face out there, I think we all need to be prepared.”
John nodded jerkily in response. “Once we’re back in the States,” he agreed.
They gathered their luggage at baggage claims and headed for the auto rental booth. Jack volunteered to be the driver since Daniel rarely drove and John couldn’t trust himself to stay on the right—left—correct side of the road. Daniel took the front passenger seat of the Volvo wagon they rented in order to navigate, and John occupied himself by watching the scenery change from the bustling city of London to the open countryside along the M3 motorway. They stopped briefly for a meal on the go because none of them could imagine not having fish and chips at least once, but mostly they drove.
And they talked about that odd, shared dream on the plane.
“I’ve never had a dream like that,” Daniel mused. “At least, not that I remembered.”
“I don’t have that good an imagination,” Jack denied. “And I rarely remember my dreams unless they’re about something I experienced in my real life.”
John leaned his head against the cool glass of the window. “I can’t say I’ve gotten used to it,” he muttered, “but some dreams are more real than others, if you know what I mean.”
“And those are the ones you keep track of in your journals, right?” Daniel asked.
“Yep, they are. And right now I’m kicking myself for not bringing a notebook with me on this trip. I only have the photographs we’ve taken as a record of this journey, and that’s no good to me as far as dreams go.”
“Well,” Daniel said as he twisted slightly in his seat so he could see John better in the dark vehicle, “with three of us having what I assume is the same dream, surely we can remember enough to write it down when we get the chance. I’m sure we can find a notebook at a shop near the hotel.”
John nodded and turned away from the window. “That sounds good. This wasn’t one of my repeats, that’s for sure. I may have dreamed about going into a cave before, and I may have dreamed about being with one or both of you in a cave, but this was the first time I dreamed about the whole finding-a-secret-staircase thing.”
Jack huffed. “Wouldn’t it be great if we actually found Merlin down there?”
Silence followed the question, each man deep in thought.
* * * * *
They parked in front of the hotel just before midnight, and all three men sat in the car and stared at the building. The hotel was…something.
“You did mention a very late check-in time, didn’t you?” Jack asked once he regained his voice.
“Yeah, I mentioned it when I made the reservation,” John said as he opened the car door. “I also mentioned it when we were waiting for you to arrange a car at the rental counter. Someone will be waiting for us, don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” Jack said bluntly. “I am tired, though, and I’d rather not be in this car for much longer.”
“I can drive back to London, if you want,” John offered. “I’m sure I’ll have no problems with the road rules in the daytime.”
“I think I’ll take you up on that.”
They checked in with no problems, although John did apologize for the late arrival, and they were shown to rooms that might have had beautiful views if it was daytime. And not December.
Each room had a fireplace, and the fires were flickering away, chasing the cold from the rooms and making John feel completely welcome. “I’ll see you for breakfast,” he said from his doorway.
“How about we just meet at the round table,” Daniel said sardonically, speaking of the huge round table in the lobby of the hotel, “and we can decide where we’re eating. I think there’s a bakery or two near here.”
“Sounds good,” John said. “I’m not going to wish you sweet dreams because I don’t want to jinx us, so good-night.”
John had never slept with an actual fire in his room and he found the experience to be comforting and relaxing, and he slept dreamlessly.
In the morning, he rose earlier than he expected and took a quick, refreshing shower in the tiny bathroom before dressing warmly for the day ahead. Glancing at the clock, he decided against knocking on Jack’s door to wake the older man and took to the wide staircase and descended to the main floor. There was fog on the grounds, which he figured was proper for the time of year and the location on the coast, so he wandered around the small lobby to just look around. He turned to find a desk clerk watching him, so he went to introduce himself to the woman.
“Sorry again for the late arrival,” he apologized, and the woman—Nan, by her name tag—blushed.
“It’s no trouble, Mr. Sheppard,” she replied. “Although I am a bit curious as to why Americans would come here this time of year.”
John lifted one shoulder carelessly. “Honestly, we were going to be on a layover from Greece, and my companions and I were discussing regional myths, and the topic turned to King Arthur and Merlin and stuff, so I called to extend our stay so we could visit this area.” None of that was exactly a lie, as Heathrow was going to be a layover from Athens even if they weren’t planning on visiting Tintagel Castle.
“So you’ll be going out to the castle today?” Nan inquired and John smiled easily.
“We hope to, but it looks like we won’t have much of a view.”
Nan waved her hand negligently. “Oh, this? The fog will burn away in an hour or so,” she assured, “so you will see the coastline just fine. But if you decide to hike out to the castle, be incredibly careful because the bridge is slick at the best of times and can be icy in the winter. We don’t have many tourists this time of year, so you’ll be mostly alone out there.”
John smiled easily because that was the news he was hoping for. “That’s fine,” he assured. “We’ve got cameras with us, so we’ll just be happy to chronicle our trip out here.” He turned to look around the lobby. “This is a nice place. It’s—different from hotels in the States in December. Usually I’d expect to see lots of gaudy Christmas decorations all over the place.”
Nan laughed happily. “We don’t go in for that sort of thing, really. We’ll have a tree in the lobby by the end of the week, but we don’t decorate much earlier than that.”
John tucked his hands into his front jeans pockets and asked, “Do you have any brochures about the castle?”
“Oh, yes,” Nan said, pointing to a table near the front entrance. “There’s a list of local businesses as well, and a map of the area.”
“Thank you, Nan,” John said as he turned toward the entrance. “Do I need to make reservations for dinner at the hotel tonight?”
“No, Mr. Sheppard. As I said, we don’t have many tourists this time of year, so the dining room will not be full. The serving begins at seven o’clock, so just come in any time.”
John thanked her again and went to flip through the fliers and brochures on the table by the entrance door. There were the usual ones, detailing any interesting tourist spots near the hotel and local eateries, which he took note of as his tummy growled at him. He quickly found the information packets about Tintagel Castle and the Arthur legend, and was happy to note that the paths to the castle, the bridge, and Merlin’s Cave were clearly marked.
By the time he’d perused the information, Jack had joined him at the table.
“Find anything interesting?”
“Yeah,” John said, handing the packet to Jack. “I found everything interesting. There are two bakeries on the way to the castle car park that we might hit up for breakfast, and we don’t have to make reservations for dinner here. Apparently, we’ll be mostly alone because we’re out of tourist season.”
Jack gave him a knowing look. “Well, I guess that means we won’t have anyone to take our pictures together while we’re out there,” he said casually, in case he was overheard, but John could see how pleased the older man was that they would not be questioned when they went off the main path.
“Is Daniel up yet?” John asked. “I’m getting hungry. Dinner was a long time ago.”
Jack chuckled. “Yeah, he’s in the shower now—complaining about coffee. How did you sleep?”
“No dreams of note,” John replied easily. “How about you two?”
“The same. Well, I’m going to round up my grumpy archeologist so I can feed him caffeine and make him happy again.”
John laughed easily, imagining Daniel’s drowsy face and bleary eyes. “I’ll go up with you so I can grab my camera.”
“Ah, yes! We mustn’t forget that!”
Minutes later, the trio had waved good-bye to Nan and headed out in search of breakfast. And coffee.
John eyed Daniel’s cup—his fourth—and said, “I’m not sure that’s healthy for you.”
Jack groaned. “Oh, believe me, it’s not only healthy for him—it’s healthy for me! I think you’ll find that all of our civilians basically run on the stuff. The last time Daniel had a blood draw for his med check, his blood type came back as Kona Dark Roast.”
“Ha-ha,” Daniel said dryly before draining his cup and setting it aside. “Let’s see the map, John.”
John gamely handed the brochure to Daniel and said, “There’s not much to it, really. That path leads to the ruins,” he pointed to the line on the map, “and this path leads down the side of the cliff to Merlin’s Cave. The bridge will take us up to some fortification ruins and possibly a great view of the sea.”
“Looks easy enough,” Daniel agreed. “Have we checked the tides?”
“Yeah,” John replied. “The tide will be low until late afternoon, so the cave will be safe until then.”
It was a caution statement, and the other men knew it. They would need to visit the cave as early as possible just in case the cave flooded while they were in there. The dream image of a hidden stairwell led them to believe that an incoming tide would be treacherous to their cause.
Jack clapped his hands together and stood up. “Let’s hop to, gentlemen! Lots to do and we’re on limited time.”
After parking in the public lot, the trio trekked up the winding coastal path toward the bridge to the castle island. Daniel pointed toward the hotel where they were staying and said, “It looks like we could have hiked down from there.”
Jack turned his head to study the clear pathway and replied, “Yeah, but I doubt that path would be very safe in this weather. I wouldn’t want to risk tumbling down to the inlet from there.”
John leaned over to peer down to the small beach far below them—their actual destination—and shook his head. “Yeah, no. I’ll take the easy path this time, thanks very much.”
The air was crisp, and the wind was sharp on the cliff, and the three men were huddled in their winter jackets, cameras on straps around their necks and flashlights in their pockets. John had a small notebook and pen in his rear pocket, a purchase from a fuel stop on their way to the hotel, and he had taken the time to write the details from his dream on the airplane on the new pages.
Over breakfast, the trio had read the dream details together, confirming the fact that they all had, in fact, had the same damned dream.
“That was weird,” Daniel stated. “I’ve never remembered a dream so clearly. Not even the nightmare of my parents’ deaths.”
Jack just shook his head. “I can’t explain it, and I really don’t want to try. Except I think I might have to tell George about it in order to re enforce the idea of removing Elizabeth Weir as leader of the expedition. He’s seen enough weird that he might take it at face value.”
“I can show him my journals,” John offered. “I’ve been keeping them for years, and they’re all dated. It might help your explanation.”
“I hope it won’t come to that,” Jack sighed, “but thanks for the offer.”
They stopped periodically to take photographs, cementing their cover story about being simple tourists. The scenery was amazing, even in winter. The water below them was stormy grey, but John could well imagine how clear the inlet could be in nicer weather.
“I might not mind coming back here at some point,” he mused. “I bet it’s outstanding in the summer.”
They carefully navigated the winding path down to the inlet beach, marveling at the waterfall coming from the top of the island. Seabirds squawked as they flew past, diving in to search for food before flying away. The stones were slick, but the trio stepped lightly, and soon enough they were on the beach.
John lifted his camera to his eye, using the lens to view the opening of the cave situated in front of them. “The opening is pretty narrow, but it looks clear.”
“Do you want to lead the way in,” Jack asked, “or would you rather I take point?”
John lowered his camera and turned to the older man. “I’ll take the lead. After all, I’ve had more dreams about this place than you have.”
Jack nodded and moved his camera to his jacket pocket, taking out his flashlight in its place. John mirrored his actions and headed off to the cave entrance.
He had to duck down to move inside, but several yards in the cave’s ceiling rose to a reasonable height and he could stand upright. He moved forward more confidently than he thought possible, though he kept his steps light enough that he would not cause unnecessary vibrations. It really would not do to have a rockslide while they were inside.
Soon enough the cave became dark enough that the flashlights were necessary, and the pinpoints of light bounced off rock walls and a gravelly floor, illuminating the shallow cave.
“How anyone could think this would be the home of Merlin is beyond me,” Jack muttered. “Even back in the stone age, this would be a horrible place to live.”
John wanted to laugh, but he heard the sound he’d been waiting for: the dripping of water. He waved his hand behind him and silence came from the two men following him. The dripping was constant and rhythmic, and John followed it as best he could. That was the beacon. That was what his—their—dream told him to look for. The sound grew louder, the water dripping matching the thudding of John’s heartbeat as his excitement and anxiety grew.
What if this was a dud? They found six Potentia in Greece, but only two were viable. It was possible that they would find nothing in this cave.
It was possible that there was no passage unfound.
No hidden panels, no stairs, no treasure.
John’s heart skipped a beat as the sound of the water suddenly stopped, as if someone had turned off a tap somewhere above them. He stiffened, straining to hear…anything, but he only heard his own harsh breathing.
“Steady, John,” Jack crooned. Jack directed his flashlight beam over John’s head, illuminating ancient stalactites hanging like giant’s teeth from the distant cave ceiling. The rock formations were glittering with mineral deposits and twinkled like stars. John allowed his own flashlight beam to follow upwards, then over and down, finding the cave wall—and a recessed portion that looked like a hallway.
The silence was deafening, but John squared his shoulders and moved forward. He directed the flashlight toward the recess and discovered that the area behind the rock was larger than it appeared. He stepped around the deceptive wall and again heard the dripping of water—much to his relief.
John followed the dripping again, until he reached a solid but smooth stone wall. Mentally counting his steps, John figured they were more than one hundred yards from the cave opening. Because they were so far back, and they had turned a hidden corner, John knew that they would not be easily seen by anyone else entering the cave, and he relaxed minutely.
Not trusting his eyes, John began to use his hands to feel around the wall in front of him, seeking out any recessed areas or a change in texture. He found it after only a minute—a warm spot on the cold stone.
“I think I have something,” he said softly, and Jack and Daniel crowded closer to him. Using the flat of his hand, John pressed firmly on the warm spot. Indents formed around his fingers like a handhold and the surface warmed further. “Yeah, I think…this…is….”
John pressed harder and heard a grinding sound as stone rubbed against stone and the floor rumbled beneath his feet. Jack and Daniel both shifted closer to John as part of the cave slid away from them, revealing a dark pit. Jack directed his flashlight into the pit, finding a carved-stone step. And another, roughly 16 inches lower.
“It looks like a steep climb,” Jack muttered. “The rises are deeper than a standard staircase.”
“But the steps look dry,” Daniel added, “so we’ve got that going for us.”
John stepped away from the wall, releasing the trigger gently, and moved to the gap in the floor. “You want the lead now, Jack?”
“Not unless you’re uncomfortable heading into the darkness first,” Jack replied. “This is your show, John; we’re just along for the ride.”
John shot him an unamused look before shining his flashlight into the inky blackness below. “Right,” he muttered, “I guess here goes.” He placed one foot on the first step carefully, ready to pull back if the panel started to close—but it remained open.
John stepped down slowly, bringing both feet together on the wide steps before going down to the next one. Step down and plant. Step down and plant. It was slow going, and John counted twenty steps before the gap between them closed and the rises evened out.
Counting down another forty normal-sized steps, John reached a landing of sorts—a large flat area with solid, flat walls. He raised his flashlight and saw petroglyphs etched into the stone.
“Hey, guys!” he called, and he heard a clatter of rushed footsteps on the stones behind him.
“Wow!” Daniel exclaimed as he fumbled in his jacket for his camera. “Those aren’t just symbols,” he said as he snapped away. “Look at the lines!”
Thinking quickly, John removed his notebook and pencil and tore a page loose to make a rubbing of the carvings. Page after page was used and passed along to Daniel as Jack held his light steady.
“What is it, Daniel?” Jack asked as he watched John use his precious notepad to create his art project.
“It looks like a pictograph of some event. I can’t…quite make it out, but it looks like the crowning of a king or something.”
“A king?” John asked. “Like Arthur, perhaps? I should have bought a larger notebook. These pages are too tiny.”
“Well take lots of photos, John,” Daniel consoled. “We can piece them together later.”
With only a few clean pages left in the notebook and his pencil flattened to uselessness, John tucked them back into his pocket and accepted the rubbings from Jack, folding them carefully and tucking them into his jacket. He moved his flashlight around the landing until he saw a glint of metal near the floor—a metal plate peeking from under a piece of crumbling stone.
“Hey,” John said, pointing, “does that look familiar to you guys?”
Realization dawned on Jack’s face. “In the dream…go ahead and press it, John.”
John knelt down and reached for the plate, and it began to glow with soft, golden light. Sucking in a sharp breath, John pressed the plate, and it sank into the wall—and then the wall shifted and sank backward, revealing another staircase.
John stood and took a breath, settling his nerves and reaching out for contact with his fellow travelers. Daniel stepped forward and gripped John’s hand, turning him slightly and pulling him in for a gentle kiss.
“No matter what we find or don’t find down there, John,” Daniel murmured against John’s mouth, “you brought us here. You showed us marvelous, incredible things, and you brought us together in what I hope will be a solid relationship.” He kissed John again, and when he pulled back, John was smiling and clear-eyed.
“Okay,” John said brightly. “Let’s find out what is waiting down there.”
As he stepped forward on the staircase, he heard Jack mutter, “Did you have to put it that way?”
Down and down they went. John counted fifty steps before they turned on another short landing, and then another one hundred steps down. The staircase was steep and dark, but when it bottomed-out, John landed in an open chamber—and torches sprang to life on the walls, making him jump in shock.
“That was unexpected,” Jack stated, causing Daniel to jam his elbow into Jack’s side.
The Chamber was empty, with only torch sconces every two feet along the two longer walls. On the short wall in front of them, there was a carved archway. Not a doorway or a passage; just an arch carved into the wall. In the center of the archway was an X, and John snorted.
“Oh, come on! ‘X’ marks the spot? Not even Indiana Jones believes that!”
“He did, though,” Jack refuted. “Several times, in fact—including in that last one, with the Holy Grail.”
John turned and narrowed his eyes. “So what? Are we going to smash that wall?” he asked, pointing at the arch.
“I don’t think we’ll have to,” Daniel said, stepping forward. “Look at that mark; it’s not actually an X.”
John moved forward as well, until he was only a foot away from the carved arch. The X was not, actually, that; up close it appeared to be a cross. The top and crossbar were clearer when John brushed some dust away from the marking, and they looked like they were carved knotwork. The long, lower part of the cross was knotwork as well, but it ended in a point—an arrow pointing down.
John knelt again and began brushing dirt from the floor directly under the cross, and an iron ring was revealed. The torches emitted enough light that their flashlights were no longer necessary, so Jack pocketed his and knelt beside John to brush more dirt away from the iron ring. Together, the two men uncovered a trap door in the floor. It was stone, obviously, and looked heavy, so John looked at Jack and asked, “Together?”
Jack nodded, and they both reached for the iron ring and pulled. The stone was resistant at first, and they struggled for a few minutes—with Daniel snapping pictures the whole time in order to record this step in the journey.
Finally the stone gave way and lifted from the floor. Using both hands, Jack and John lifted it away and set the stone seal to the side and peered into the hole that was revealed.
Inside, there was a metal casket—decorated just like the one under the waves in Santorini.
John blew out a harsh breath and sat back on his heels. “I’m almost afraid to open it,” he admitted.
“I hear ya,” Jack agreed. “But you know we have to. For one thing, we’ve been down here a long time, so the tide could be rolling in at any moment.”
John nodded and reached for the casket, which started glowing when he touched it. “Did the one in Santorini do this?” he asked, but Jack shook his head.
“Honestly, I was looking elsewhere when you found it. I didn’t come near until you had already opened it.”
Squaring his shoulders again, John reached to open the casket, ignoring the ‘song’ that the casket began singing when he made contact. The lid fell away easily enough, and the interior was lined with a fine, rich velvet the color of midnight. And nestled deeply in the velvet lay four shining, glowing, singing, intact Potentia.
John fell on his ass in relief and covered his face with shaking hands.
“I thought…I was so afraid we wouldn’t find anything here,” he whispered, and Daniel knelt beside him to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“But we did, John,” Daniel said with a smile. “Four somethings that we desperately need, and those freaky dreams of yours led us right to them.”
John laughed raggedly and lowered his hands, resting his weight on them. “I guess I did.”
Jack pulled the orb from his pocket and pointed it at the Potentia. “Do you mind if I do this now? I don’t want to get caught up and forget to, you know.”
Daniel waved his hand absently in Jack’s direction, which the older man took as permission, and soon a brief flash of light illuminated the chamber before fading away.
“Now that that’s over with, what else do you think is down here?”
Daniel looked up with a frown. “What do you mean, Jack?”
Jack shrugged and waved his arm in a wide arc. “Well, I doubt this big ole chamber was just to hide that little cask,” he said matter-of-factly. “I mean, sure, that arrow was pointing right at it, sort of, but there are a lot of torches down here for just that.”
John also looked up with a frown and climbed to his feet. “And they did light all by themselves, didn’t they?”
He started to brush the dirt from his pants before shrugging and reaching out to feel along the walls under and between the torches.
“What are you looking for, John,” Jack asked as he watched.
“Well, I think the other hidden panels reacted to my ATA Gene. They warmed to my touch, and I kinda heard singing in my head when I opened that case just now, so I’m trying to find anything else that might react that way.”
Jack blinked in surprise. “Well, hell,” he muttered, and then he went to the opposite wall and began feeling around like John was.
A minute later, Jack found a warm singing panel of his own. Leaning backward and to the side, in case this was yet another face-hugger, Jack pressed the panel and watched in amazement as the entire section of wall slid away—
—Revealing a block of dark granite. Held upright and embedded in the granite was an ancient sword.
For a moment, John forgot to breathe.
The blade was nicked with use, but the edges looked sharp. The grip was some kind of dark wood, and the guard and pommel were both bronze. There was a dull red stone in the pommel.
“Oh. My. Gods.”
“Eloquent as ever, Daniel,” Jack snarked lightly, but he too looked dumbfounded.
“Um,” John said dimly, “What did the stories say about this?”
Daniel pushed glasses higher on his nose. “Robert de Boron wrote in his tale of Merlin that Arthur pulled Excalibur from an anvil in a churchyard on Christmas Eve, thus cementing his right to rule. According to Sir Thomas Malory, Merlin advised the Lady of the Lake to offer Excalibur to Arthur in order to make him king. Of course, Malory also included a section where the sword was encased in an anvil on a stone, so both versions had that in common.”
“Uh-huh,” John mumbled. “Anything else?”
Daniel lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Well, there is a myth that Arthur will return to defend his people when they are in great need. There is a myth that Excalibur is indestructible and will only be of use to a virtuous knight in defense of the kingdom. But all of the stories say that, after Arthur’s death, the sword was returned to the lake from which it came. Bedivere was the knight chosen to fling it back in the water.”
“Well, this sword is embedded in this stone right the hell here,” Jack said unnecessarily.
“Yes, Jack,” Daniel agreed.
“A sword might come in handy,” John said, and both men turned to look at him. “Not here; in Atlantis.” He shrugged. “It’s part of that talk we have to have once we’re back in the States.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed, but he turned back to the sword. “So—who wants to take a chance on that thing?”
Daniel, eager as ever, reached for the grip of the sword, but a shimmering-blue forcefield appeared and prevented him from touching it. “Well, not me, obviously.”
John nudged Jack’s shoulder and the older man inched forward and reached for the grip. The forcefield allowed him to touch the sword, but only with one hand, and Jack could not get a grip to try and lift it. “Well, that isn’t going to work,” he said dryly. “Your turn.”
John sighed and stepped forward. Again, the forcefield allowed him to touch the sword, but only with his left hand—the opposite of Jack’s right. John stepped back and frowned, turning toward Jack. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yeah,” Jack said heavily as he stepped forward again. “If this works…”
“If this works,” said John, “then one of us is Arthur and the other is Bedivere.”
“Um, actually,” Daniel interjected, “I think Lancelot would be more likely as he was Arthur’s favorite. Of course, that would make me the Guinevere in this situation.”
Jack snorted and John huffed surprised laughter, but both men gamely reached for the sword grip, John with his left hand and Jack with his right. The moment they made contact, the dull red stone began to glow and pulse with inner light. Clasping hands over the grip, they lifted—and the sword slid easily from the granite block.
Both men released breaths as they moved the sword away from the stone and pulled it into the wide chamber. As soon as the sword was free, the torches began to flicker out, one by one. Alarmed, Jack handed the sword to John and reached again for the orb, aiming it carefully and pressing the switch. The flash was brighter this time in the dimming light, but the sword disappeared from John’s hand.
“I think it’s time to go,” Jack said as he pulled out his flashlight and aimed it toward the stairs.
“Yeah, agreed,” said John as he lit his own flashlight.
Daniel followed suit, and soon the trio was climbing the steep stairs back to the surface.
They reached the main, and public, part of the cave just as water was beginning to flow through the opening from the inlet. As carefully as possible, they dashed across the beach and started up the path to the top of the cliff. Once they were clear of the water, Daniel bent forward and began to giggle.
To giggle. Like a schoolgirl.
Jack watched him, amused, until he began to catch his breath. “Finished?”
Daniel turned bright blue eyes to his lover. “Jack! You do realize what we just did, right?”
“Yes, I do realize it,” Jack replied. “I also foresee a lot of research in your future, mostly about Arthur and Merlin, but I think it’s warranted in this case.”
John rested his fists on his hips as he looked out over the inlet, allowing his eyes to drift to the cave entrance, which was not quite under water. “We just came face-to-face with another myth. We found four batteries, we found a dream come true, and we faced down history.” John turned to the other men and said, “I think I need a beer.”
Laughing, the trio made their way back along the path they came, taking photos the entire time in case anyone was watching. The drive back to the hotel was quick, and soon enough they were in their rooms, changing clothes and getting ready for a snack and a drink in the hotel bar. Taking a few extra minutes, John took out clothes for the flight back to the States the following day before tidying his suitcase. By the time he opened his door, Jack and Daniel were leaving their own room. He offered a huge smile and Jack laughed and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Their flight back to the States was at three o’clock in the afternoon. They arrived in Denver at nine o’clock at night.
Thirteen hours and one layover, one change of planes somewhere around New York, and one freaking crowded baggage claim.
“You know, we’re not exactly married to the flight to Cortez Municipal,” Jack muttered as they fought their way out of baggage claim.
“No, we’re not,” John agreed. “Let’s find the travel desk. Now.”
John explained, very politely, that they had just flown in from London after back-to-back flights, and they really just wanted to rest before continuing their journey. The travel agent was able to change their flight to the next day, giving them time to rent a storage locker at the airport for their luggage, find camping and hiking gear and more appropriate clothing for roughing it in Mesa Verde, and get some much-needed rest. All without travelling to Jack’s house in Colorado Springs.
The storage unit was first, obviously, and John’s credit card was in his hand before Jack noticed his determination to pay. This led to some grumbling from the older man—and a promise from Daniel that he and Jack would pay to outfit them for the camping trip. Because of the time, they quickly set out for the Hilton near the airport for a hopefully decent night’s sleep—and a filling breakfast in the morning. They found both quickly and settled into a two-room suite.
Breakfast the next day was eaten quickly, although Daniel tried to linger over coffee, and Jack called for a taxi to take them to a sporting goods store that specialized in rentals. Jack insisted on finding the proper equipment himself, so Daniel and John parted ways with him in order to find clothing suitable for hiking along the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde.
After a whirlwind shopping trip, Daniel and John bought rugged jeans, hiking boots, and quilted flannel shirts. John insisted on wool socks as well and added those to their cache. When they finished with the clothing, they took another taxi back to the outfitter’s and met with Jack and his stash.
“Okay, I’ve got three packs with all-weather sleeping bags, emergency shelters, just in case, and freeze-dried rations. I assume we’ll be able to get water closer to our destination.”
“Sounds good, Jack,” John affirmed. “We won’t exactly fill the packs, but we’ll be warm while we’re there.”
“Great. Travelling light is definitely the way to go in foreign places.” Jack patted his bags lightly before turning to look out the window as they approached the airport again. “I’m really getting tired of airplanes.”
Daniel laughed. “And you still have to fly to DC when this is all over.”
Jack turned a glare at his lover. “I could force you to go with me, you know. George will happily listen to you explain things like this.”
“No thanks, Jack,” Daniel demurred. “I have some research to do, remember?”
“You also have a phone call to make before we get on that plane,” John reminded.
“Oh, yeah, I do.”
John didn’t know who Daniel could possibly call to make their entrance to the state park easier, but he was not going to question the man.
Once they arrived at the airport, Jack and John loaded their gear into the rented packs while Daniel went off to make his phone call. Ten minutes later, Daniel rejoined them wearing a huge grin.
“I called a Professor of Native Studies at Pueblo Community College,” Daniel explained. “We met at a conference a few years ago and he was interested in my theories about the Egyptian Pyramids.”
“The theory that they were built by aliens, Daniel?” Jack asked wryly. “The theory that basically got you laughed out of all the cool archeology clubs?”
“Yes, Jack,” Daniel replied with a sneer, “and I was right, wasn’t I?”
“Well, yes, but that’s not exactly something you can tell just anyone.”
“No, and I didn’t tell him. The reason we got on so well back then was that there was a theory that the Anasazi were actually taken by aliens when they supposedly disappeared.”
“Huh,” John grunted. “So what did you tell him just now?”
“I told him the truth, that I had some friends who read something about the Anasazi and aliens, and they were interested in seeing what the whole bit was about.”
“And?” Jack asked. “Because that can’t possibly be it.”
“It’s not,” Daniel confirmed, “but then I told him that I’m going to be doing a lecture about ancient mysteries and how they relate to constellations, so is there any way possible for him to smooth the way for us to camp out near the dwellings for a few nights so that we can study the stars in the proper environment.”
John whistled, impressed. “Remind me not to play poker with you.”
“Oh, you can play with him, John,” Jack said, amused. “Daniel is lousy at poker. Can’t bluff for shit.”
Daniel slapped Jack’s shoulder. “Shut up. When’s our flight?”
John looked at the clock near the security desk. “In an hour. Come on, we should find the gate.”
* * * * *
The scenery was very beige.
There were sporadic trees and scrub bushes, but mostly everything was the color of sand.
The air was dry, but it was also very cold—because it was freaking December.
John sighed and looked down at the map in his hand. Daniel’s acquaintance, who was a Navajo local with a great reputation, had indeed eased their entrance to the state park with no questions. He only requested a copy of Daniel’s report, so that was more work for the archeologist outside of his usual duties. Daniel didn’t appear to be too upset about that, so John didn’t say anything.
The map was not exactly detailed, only listing the different historical sites within the area they were going, so John tried to read the descriptions on the map and reconcile them with the images from his dreams.
“I know the logical place to look would be the Cliff Palace,” John said as they prepared for their mile-long hike, “but I really think we should go to the Balcony House.”
“Why do you think so?” asked Daniel. “In your journal, you mention finding a passage under a fire pit.”
“Yeah,” John agreed, “and the photos at the Ranger Station show a lot of fire pit areas at the Cliff Palace, but there was this one picture taken at the Balcony House that, I don’t know, looked familiar? You know?”
“We can go there first if you want,” Jack said as he shouldered his pack. “Just in case that’s the actual target area. We’ll just take the left-ish fork on the trail, and we can circle ‘round, or backtrack, to find the Cliff Palace if we need to.”
“I vote for back-tracking,” grumbled Daniel. “I’m not a fan of hiking.”
“Oh, I do know that well,” Jack joked as he helped Daniel with his pack. Not that the younger man needed it, John noted. Clearly, Daniel had experience with hiking despite his protests. Probably by going through the Stargate.
John had spent a lot of time in Colorado, and he had even been given a tour of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex—the parts inhabited by the SGC—but he’d not even seen the Stargate much less gone through it. It was part of Jack’s plan to keep John out of Carson Beckett’s greedy hands, John knew, but he really wanted some ‘Gate experience before leaving for another galaxy.
Carrying a bottle of water each, they set off along the paved road. “You know,” John said conversationally, “we could always drive out there. The ranger even tried to insist on it because of the weather.”
Jack squinted toward the sky. “There’s no rain coming, so we’re not gonna drown out here. Besides, hiking is healthy.”
“Yes,” Daniel began, “but driving…”
“Would get us there faster,” Jack interrupted, “but it would also leave the car as proof as to where we are. And the hike will give us plenty of time for John to explain about his other Atlantis dreams.”
“Ah, yes,” John sighed, “the nightmares. Do you want to hear the ones about the water rushing over everyone, or the ones about the walls collapsing?”
“I,” Jack said sternly, “want to hear about soul-sucking vampires and murderous maniacs.”
The road was smooth and free of ice, which made the walk almost enjoyable. The conversation was light as John took the time to gather his thoughts. He ignored the banter between Jack and Daniel as he searched his memories for specific nightmares that might involve Atlantis in any way. Finally he cleared his throat, and the other two men stopped chattering.
“I dreamed about a man with cold, blue eyes wearing a triumphant grin. There were bodies on the floor all around him, but he was holding a vial of—something. I don’t know what it was, but clearly it was deadly.”
“You’re thinking about Carson Beckett,” Jack stated. “Do you think it’s the ATA therapy?”
John shook his head. “No, I doubt it’s that, but it’s something dangerous, and in my dream, he seems really proud of it.”
“I’ll call and get Biro on the first flight once we get back,” Jack said grimly. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, but this really sounds like the product of bad pizza too close to bedtime.” John paused to sip from his water bottle. “I keep seeing this horror-movie monster. It’s big—I mean tall. Taller than me, anyway. And it’s black, or it’s wearing black, and it…kinda looks like a catfish?” He shook his head. “I really can’t make sense of it, but this thing is dangerous—and painful. I’ve had a few dreams about it, and none of them ended well for me.”
“It’s a violent catfish?” Jack asked, and John knew he wasn’t being mocked.
“It’s a hungry catfish,” John clarified. “In all the dreams, this thing first appears to be gaunt and starving. Then it slams a hand into my chest, and its features begin to fill out while my life fades away. And that’s when I wake up, usually heaving into a toilet.”
“We’ve encountered a lot of different peoples while going through the ‘Gate,” Daniel said after a moment, “but I don’t recall coming across a cannibalistic society anywhere.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “That would definitely be the frosting on the wacky-cake of our lives.”
“Shut up, Daniel. So, John, any more fun nightmares?”
“No, and I’m incredibly grateful. I just keep seeing that giant catfish thing, and it’s ugly, angry, and hungry. The cathedral—or the city, I guess—is so beautiful, but I think the nightmares go to prove that it’s also going to be dangerous.”
Jack sighed. “All the more reason to have a military head rather than a civilian one.”
“I think,” said Daniel, “that we’ll find a lot of discarded Ancient Technology lying about the place. It’s what we found when we started exploring the outpost in Antarctica. Luckily, there are not a lot of gene carriers in the SGC right now, or someone would have found a way to accidentally activate something dangerous after Jack went into the cryotube.”
“So we should be prepared to shut that shit down once we get to Atlantis,” John said firmly.
“Well, only if the gene therapy ever gets past the experimental phase,” Jack quipped. “I’m almost suspicious that Beckett is holding back his research until we hand you over for his personal research.”
John shuddered. “No thanks.”
The Balcony House was, thankfully, across the road from a public restroom. They would not be able to shower or shave, but potable water and flush toilets were a plus. The ruins themselves were a short walk away from the paved road, and the actual trail was paved as well. No sprained ankles for them.
“So,” Daniel said as they paused in their walk, “do we want to camp near the rest area, or do we want to desecrate the ruins with our modern tents?”
John laughed out loud. “It’s not near dusk yet, so maybe we should poke around and decide if we need to stay here or head back to the Palace.”
“Sounds good,” Jack said, and he headed to the trail toward the ruins.
John, however, stopped to take a few photos of the tourist marker that detailed the Balcony House: what it was, the possible use of the structure, and a map of the features. When Daniel looked back at him, he merely shrugged. “Gotta keep up appearances.”
The limestone ruins were basically one, long house-like structure. John stood at the entrance at the top of the cliff and closed his eyes, searching his memory for this place in his dreams. He was immediately overcome with images of himself being pressed roughly into the limestone wall as Jack kissed him passionately.
“Yeah,” he rasped hoarsely. “This is the place.”
“John?” Jack queried. “Something bad?”
“No,” John denied. “The opposite, actually. But I’m sure this is the place.”
John took the lead, climbing carefully down the ladder embedded into the cliff face. At the bottom of the ladder was a landing with stairs that led down into the ruins. It was a long building, basically one room with smaller chambers off to the sides. The rear had long-since collapsed, but the front area was wide open.
And right up front, at the edge of the cliff, was a huge pit area. There were other ladders leading down to another chamber, but John’s eyes were completely drawn to that pit.
“John,” Jack said, breaking his concentration, “maybe we should eat something first, yeah?”
John nodded, wiping a shaking hand over his mouth. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
The freeze-dried food wasn’t the best, but it was filling enough. The water washed it down easily, but Daniel griped about not having coffee. The sky grew darker as they sat there on the dwelling floor and their conversation was light. But when the wind kicked up, they were all shivering because they didn’t dare light a campfire where they were.
It was one thing to camp where they technically shouldn’t, it was another to light a fire there and leave traces for the park rangers to find.
“Well,” Jack said as he cuddled closer to Daniel, “I see two options here. One, we can climb back up and set up a tent. Or two, we can see if there’s a secret passage in that firepit that might lead us somewhere out of the wind.”
“I vote for out of the wind,” Daniel quickly stated, and John laughed and pulled his jacket tighter around himself.
“Okay, then,” John said, climbing to his feet, “I’ll check it out while you two set up the tent down here, because we’re still better sheltered than we would be if we were up top.”
Jack hustled Daniel to the rear of the long room where there was a nook set away from the windward side. John approached the edge of the pit and looked down. It was circular, almost completely round, and there was a shallow dugout on one edge that John figured was for holding firewood.
He stepped into the dugout to get a better angle, and then jumped down into the pit. He ducked down to the floor and began sweeping dirt away from the edges, but he uncovered nothing. He moved to the center of the pit, and still found nothing. Sitting back on his haunches, John closed his eyes and began his meditation breathing, trying to bring forth an image from his dreams.
Slipping into a light meditative state, John drifted along the edge of a dream. The limestone walls rose tall and solid behind him and the howl of the night wind carried him along the train of images.
There was a window in the stone, and a short ledge above the window. The wooden rods supporting the limestone were decorated by colored fabric hangings. The stone floor was red in the light of the setting sun and stars were beginning to twinkle in the night sky.
An owl cried as it set out to hunt.
There was a rustle of fabric behind him, and he turned with a smile, only to see a glowing figure passing the ladder set against the wall. The figure turned to face him, but he couldn’t make out a face. The figure ducked behind a wall, and he moved toward it before it disappeared. He rounded the corner to find himself in a small living chamber with two windows and a small fire pit in the corner.
Images of the chamber combined in his mind and he saw it as it was, long ago when the Navajo lived and thrived there, superimposed over the image as it was now, a crumbling ruin exposed to the elements. In the image of the past, a small fire burned in the tiny pit, a cookpot simmering over it as a woman in woven cloth added spices to the stew. In the image of the present, a glitter of quartz appeared in the moonlight, shining at the bottom of the empty pit and beckoning him closer.
John gasped in the chilled air as he came back to his senses. He looked around the circular pit and groaned softly. So close! He was so damned close, but he was so damned cold.
He climbed out of the pit and hurried to the nylon shelter that Jack had erected in the alcove out of the wind. He brushed his hand on the tent wall in a mock knock before scrabbling for the zipper to open it.
“John?” Daniel called as he climbed inside. “Did you find anything?
“No, damn it,” John growled.
He felt the two men moving in front of him as he shucked his shoes, and he heard the zip of a sleeping bag.
“Get in here before you freeze, John,” Jack ordered. “So this isn’t the place, then.”
“No,” John said. “And yes.”
He shuffled into the sleeping bag between the other two men without another thought and zipped himself in to get warm.
“Explain please,” Jack said.
“It’s the right location, but it’s the wrong fire pit. I think I know where the right one is, but it’s too dark and cold to look for it now.”
“So we look once the sun is up,” Jack determined. “Sorry about the lack of coffee, Danny.”
“Shut up, Jack, and try to sleep.”
John settled down in his all-weather bag and began to feel warm. Whether it was from the thermal padding or his location between Jack and Daniel, John didn’t know, and he really didn’t care.
The last sound he heard was the call of a raptor, hunting in the canyon by moonlight. He fell into a dreamless sleep.
* * * * *
“So let me get this straight,” Jack said while handing out cans of ‘self-heating’ coffee, “you meditated in that pit and discovered it was the wrong pit.”
John grimaced at his can and pressed the activator button. “I’m so getting a huge travel mug when we get out of here. And, yes, Jack, that’s what happened. My therapist taught me meditation techniques to help me deal with the PTSD, and I use it now to help get my thoughts in order while I’m recording my dreams. I was getting a little discouraged when I couldn’t find anything in that large pit, but I figured that if anything had been there, it would have been found by now. There are a lot of tourists hopping around this place every day for anything to have been missed.”
“That’s true enough,” Daniel agreed. “And I’m getting my own huge travel mug. This canned stuff is disgusting, and it never gets hot enough.”
“Okay,” said Jack, ignoring Daniel’s griping, “so if it’s not in this pit, then where? Because tourists climb all over this ruin every day.”
John pointed to a wall just behind the large main firepit. “See those exposed beams? If we climb through the lower window, there should be a ladder to a lower level, and at the bottom of the ladder should be a chamber with two small windows. The firepit we’re looking for should be in that chamber.”
“Should be,” Jack repeated.
“According to the glowing figure I saw during my meditation,” John replied, “that should be where we look. I’ve never been here before, so of course I can’t be sure. But logically I shouldn’t have found anything on this whole trip. I never had much interest in King Arthur besides some report I had to give in a literature class, and I had never heard anything about Atlantis or the Anasazi in my life, as far as I can recall.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “This whole trip has really been…a trip. I’ve seen amazing things that I’m sure nobody in recent history has ever seen. But it’s all so fantastic, you know?”
Daniel smiled wistfully. “I know how you feel. Ever since I first walked through the Stargate, I’ve been afraid that much of my life has only been a dream and that I would wake up in a run-down flat somewhere with no heat and no job.”
“If it wasn’t for the fantastic,” Jack mused, “I might have just given up completely. That first trip through the ‘Gate was supposed to be the last. My orders were to find what was there—and blow it to hell if it was dangerous. We were never meant to find allies to go with the enemies, or to find cultures alive and thriving that we thought had long ago died out.”
John ate quickly, lest the taste linger on his tongue, and swallowed the tepid canned coffee. Daniel was right about it never getting hot enough, but it was better than nothing. After their wrappers were bagged for later disposal and their sleeping bags and shelter were rolled and stored, John hefted his pack into a sheltered corner out of sight. Jack and Daniel followed his example, so that nothing could be seen from the road if anyone came looking for them. The rangers thought they were going to be rough camping along the trails rather than poking around the ruins along the road, so they didn’t want to leave any indication of where they were.
“So,” John asked, “are we ready to go down the rabbit hole?”
Daniel smirked at the description but nodded eagerly. “Lead the way, Alice. This is your show now.”
Lifting his eyes in a brief prayer, John ducked his head and climbed through the low window and crawled through the dark inner room until he felt a wooden ladder in front of him, peeking out of a dark hole in the floor. He turned his flashlight on as the other two men joined him in the chamber.
“It looks dark down there, despite the windows that should be down there, so we should be careful.”
“I’ll hold the light up here until you get to the bottom,” Daniel offered. “You two go first, and you can hold the light for me.”
“All right,” John said, “here I go.”
He moved carefully, keeping in mind the possible age of the wooden beams he was climbing on. He had no idea how far down he needed to go and breaking a leg would not be a good idea in the best of circumstances. Slowly, step-by-step, John climbed down the wooden ladder, counting silently as he went. When he reached the bottom, he called up, “There are fifteen slats!” so that Jack and Daniel would know how far they had to come.
He stepped away from the ladder and lit his flashlight to light the base of the ladder. Minutes later, Jack’s booted feet came into sight as that man also climbed down cautiously.
“Okay, Daniel,” Jack called. “I’m down. It’s your turn.”
“Okay, here I come.” The light from above disappeared as Daniel began his descent.
Once Daniel had joined them, John turned in a circle—aiming his flashlight in front of him so he could examine the room they were in. There were windows, but they were covered—buried, actually, as it looked like the area in front of them had collapsed with age.
Jack took out his compass to see which direction the windows opened to. “It looks like we’re directly under that huge firepit. I guess there’s more to this ruin than the guidebooks show.”
“Obviously,” Daniel snarked. “Otherwise we’d be wasting our time.”
John walked to the windows before turning so they were at his back, and he shone his flashlight beam toward the far wall. There, at the base of the wall, was a shallow recess—a rounded square carved into the floor. He aimed the flashlight beam into that recess and walked closer to it. The hole was larger than he first thought, maybe three feet wide on all sides and one foot deep. The bottom of the recess was loose, more dust and gravel than limestone or clay, and he dipped one foot into it to kick around in the bottom. The toe of his boot uncovered the shining point of a large quartz crystal.
“This is it,” he said quietly, almost talking to himself rather than to the others. “This is what I saw during my meditation.”
Jack and Daniel quickly joined him, and Jack gently dropped to his knees so he could reach down and brush the dirt away from the quartz. The dirt was loose enough that he quickly had the crystal completely revealed, along with the copper rod the crystal was mounted on.
“It looks like a drawer handle,” Jack mused. “It’s a bit tacky for my taste.”
“Jack!” Daniel chided. “Is there an opening under there?”
“I don’t…let me check,” Jack said as he started brushing dirt and gravel away from the copper rod.
John knelt and began scooping the dirt out of the hole with his hands, clearing more of the surface as Jack loosened the dirt away from the quartz. Seeing the progress they were making, Daniel also began scooping dirt out of the hole. With all three men digging and scooping, what first appeared to be a limestone base was quickly revealed to be an engraved copper plate. Daniel slipped his camera out of his pocket and began snapping pictures of the plate.
“Can you make out the carvings, Daniel?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel croaked, his voice thick with emotion. “Look at that inscription, Jack. It’s the ‘Gate address that I determined to be for Atlantis.”
“Son of a bitch,” Jack whispered, falling back onto his ass in shock.
They stared at the copper plate, all of them, and silence filled the chamber around them. John leaned forward and brushed more dust away from the edge closest to the wall of the chamber.
“It’s hinged,” he said dully.
“Wait here,” Jack said as he climbed to his feet. “I’m going for water for us, so don’t even think of opening that until I get back!”
John and Daniel followed him back to the ladder and Daniel aimed his flashlight up the ladder to guide his way.
“Are you okay, John?” Daniel asked, concerned.
“I…yeah, I guess,” John answered. “It’s just—this isn’t like scuba diving in Greece or navigating a cave in England, you know. This is on our turf, sort of.”
“North America existed long before the Brits colonized it, you know. Humans began migrating in this direction millennia ago. Even the First Peoples Nations possibly weren’t the first people here.”
John nodded absently. “I understand that intellectually, but somehow in my heart…it just feels odd. I can’t explain it.”
“I think I understand, John,” Daniel consoled. “It’s one thing to discover something foreign in a foreign land, but to find it in your own backyard is disconcerting.”
“Heads up!” Jack yelled, and Daniel and John backed away from the ladder when he dropped a quilted flannel shirt down the ladder hole.
Daniel quickly aimed his flashlight upward so Jack could see to climb down while John unwrapped the bottled water from the shirt. John opened one of the bottles and swallowed a huge mouthful to dispel the dryness he felt in his throat.
Jack looked at the copper plate with a frown. “You didn’t open it?”
“We were waiting for you,” Daniel said dryly. “And maybe John has a case of nerves.”
Jack turned wide eyes to John. “Now? After everything else that has happened since I met you, now you have nerves?”
John wiped stray moisture from his mouth with a steady hand. “Somehow this seems bigger than everything else.”
“What do you mean?”
John blew out a frustrated breath. “We’ve got six viable Potentia now, and while we’re going to give one to the Asgard, that might be enough. Except, what if it isn’t?”
“Again,” said Jack, “what do you mean?”
“Well, in the legends, Atlantis was sunk to the bottom of the sea by the angry gods. What if it really is under water somewhere? What if my nightmares of a wall of water crashing in on me means the City of the Ancients is at the bottom of some alien ocean?”
“Then we now have enough power to raise the city to the surface,” Daniel said calmly. “We have more than enough power.”
“And,” Jack added, “we might be able to use one of the Potentia to power another ship like the Prometheus, so we’ll have armed relief in the form of our very own spaceship.”
John nodded and swallowed more water. “I think I’m still afraid that I’ll wake up and find that this was all a very long, very detailed, dream.” He glanced worriedly at the carved copper plate. “Call it a meditation vision, call it a waking dream; whatever it was that I had yesterday involved a glowing figure leading me straight to this place. Now that I’m here, I guess I’m just wary of what I’ll find.”
This time it was Jack that pulled him into a gentle embrace, kissing him deeply enough that he felt it to his toes.
“We’re here with you, John,” Jack said softly. “Whatever you were meant to find, we’ll find it with you.”
John nodded and leaned forward for another kiss before pulling away. “Okay, then—let’s lift this lid and see what’s down there.”
John reached for the crystal-embedded bar and pulled, dragging the copper plate upwards with a grinding noise that was loud in the darkened chamber. Once the plate was raised completely, John noticed that the crystal slipped into a tight notch on the wall behind it, keeping it upright.
“Gee, it’s almost like this was planned,” he muttered as he shone his flashlight beam into the revealed opening. “There’s another ladder here, but it looks made of some sort of metal.”
John shoved his flashlight into his pocket and lowered himself into the opening, climbing gracefully down the ladder. Once his head was past the opening, hidden lights began to glow in the chamber beneath him. He landed on a soft, dirt floor and stepped away from the ladder to make room for Daniel, and he turned in a circle, taking in the size of the room around him.
The room seemed to be rectangular, approximately ten feet along one side and perhaps twice as long as it was wide. There was a narrow table along one long wall that was piled with crystals of different shapes, sizes, and colors—mostly red, green, and yellow. Under that table was a black metal box. Along the perpendicular short wall was a line of Potentia—six of them. They weren’t glowing, but they seemed intact. Rubbing his lower lip with nervous fingers, John crept closer to the Potentia—and they began to emit a soft glow of power.
“Well, those are functional, that’s for sure,” Daniel said as he stepped closer to John. “And those crystals on the table are data crystals. They read like computer discs, but we need a machine to get the data.”
John pointed to the metal box. “I bet that’s what that is. Do you know how to use it?”
“Yeah,” Daniel confirmed. “Sam and I have used them to get information from the Asgard and a few other advanced cultures.”
“Oh, son of a bitch!” Jack exclaimed when he finally took in the lay of the room. “That’s a face-hugger!”
John turned to look at the opposite short wall and noticed a carved metallic oblong mounted on the wall, about shoulder-height. “So that’s what one looks like,” he mused.
“Yeah,” Jack spat angrily. “Just stay away from it, or it’ll grab hold.”
Daniel tried to get a closer look, but Jack held him back by the arm. “I don’t think it’s the same thing, Jack. It’s not the same shape, and it doesn’t look like a window.”
“A window?” John asked, doubtfully.
Jack sighed. “The first time we ever saw one, Teal’c was the first to look at it and he described it as a window full of stars. That’s when I got the bright idea to look closer.”
“Ah, and that’s when you got grabbed,” John surmised. He walked toward the oblong but stayed to the side so that he wasn’t directly in line with it. “Did the face-hugger you found have a remote control?”
“No?” Jack frowned and circled around to stand beside John. “What is that?”
John pointed out a thick copper bar with three data crystals set into shallow recesses on top. “It looks like a remote,” he said with a shrug.
The copper bar was sitting on a shallow stone shelf on the wall beside the metal oblong, and it was singing to him. His fingers itched to touch it, so he tucked his hands into his pockets in order to ignore the impulse. Instead, John turned to see the rest of the room, taking note of the stone sarcophagus set in the middle of the other long wall. It had a stone lid, so there might be some sort of treasure in there, but he would need help to lift it.
And still—that ‘remote’ was calling to him.
“Is that thing humming?” Jack asked, aghast, as he stared at the copper bar.
John turned wide eyes to the older man. “You hear it, too?”
“It’s more like I feel it. In my head. Like a song or something.”
Daniel had skirted around both of them, giving the sarcophagus a worried look, until he was flush against the wall holding the face-hugger. “Jack,” he said cautiously, “I don’t think this is the same thing.”
Daniel was leaning on the wall with his face pressed tightly against it, looking at the profile of the metal oblong.
“Would you be careful!” Jack exclaimed. “And what do you mean, it’s not the same thing?”
Daniel slid his hand up the wall until his fingers could slip under the edge of the oblong. “Well, for one thing—it’s not embedded into the wall.” He flicked the edge of the oblong and the bottom lifted slightly from the wall.
“And for another thing, the center is protruding outward like a camera lens.”
John gave Jack a questioning look. “Should we try the remote, then?”
Jack sighed and beckoned Daniel to come away from the wall. He moved the two of them closer to the ladder—and further from the oblong. “Go ahead and poke the remote but do it from the side. Just in case.”
John nodded and grabbed the copper bar before stepping slightly to the left so that he was not standing directly in front of the oblong. He pressed lightly at the crystals with his thumb, red then green, green then red, and then red twice—and the center of the oblong extended away from the wall and widened. Alarmed, Jack pulled further away, dragging Daniel with him. John also stepped further to the left, but the center of the oblong only rotated in a half-circle before a beam of light came from it—and then a figure appeared within the beam of light. It was a man dressed in white tunic and off-white trousers. His tunic was belted with a dark brown cord that matched the ankle boots on his feet, and suddenly John felt the impulse to ask if Obi Wan was his only hope.
The figure turned slightly to its right and looked directly at John, then it nodded at him.
“Greetings, John Sheppard,” the image, certainly a recording, said, “I am pleased to see that you have found me. I am Janus the Architect.”
John gaped at the projected image. He turned helpless eyes to Jack, but the older man only shrugged in confusion.
“You know me?” John asked, feeling silly to be talking to a projection.
To his surprise, the figure smiled and nodded. “Indeed I do know you, John Sheppard. I got to know you quite well in another timeline—one that I hope will not be repeated.”
“A different timeline?” Daniel asked incredulously. “You mean in a different reality?”
Janus didn’t respond. Janus did not react at all, in fact. He only watched John as if he were the only one in the room.
“I think you’re going to have to ask the questions, John,” Jack said dryly. “If we’re going to actually learn anything from this object, you’re the one that has to interact with it.”
“Yeah,” John murmured. “I see that. Janus, what do you mean by ‘another timeline’?”
The projection flickered. “Long ago, when I lived a mortal life, you found your way to me by using a machine of my own device. This is but a part of the story I must tell you. I created this recording before my own Ascension, going against the wishes of many others. The tale is long and tragic, but it is one that must be told. I created this space to hold this recording, and when the tale has been told, this space will cease to exist. There are treasures here that you may wish to remove before that happens—there are tools you will need, that the others would not want you to have. I have often gone against the wishes of the others, but I have done so to keep my conscience clear.”
John looked around the chamber. It was long and narrow and completely windowless. The data crystals reflected the low light, but there was no dust covering them, which was odd considering the possible age of the place. Giving Jack a look, John began to walk around the room, beginning with the short wall under the ladder. He moved to stand directly in front of the Potentia and pulled his flashlight out of his pocket and aimed the beam to the joint of the wall and ceiling.
“There’s some sort of track here,” he stated.
“There’s nothing here,” said Daniel from in front of the metal oblong. He stepped away from his place and moved to the opposite wall. “Nothing here, either.”
“I see a track here,” said Jack from his spot in front of the stone sarcophagus. “It looks like this room will slide shut or collapse in some way, so I suggest we beam out the Potentia and anything else we might want before we engage the recording again.”
“Agreed,” John said as he crossed the room. “My brain is starting to itch.” He stood beside Jack and nudged his shoulder. “I hope my closet is big enough to hold whatever we find in this thing,” he said as he kicked at the sarcophagus with the toe of his foot.
Jack frowned as he reached out and gave the stone lid a shove with one hand. It didn’t move, so he sighed again and stepped back and turned to face Daniel.
“Danny, why don’t you wrap those crystals in that shirt, so they don’t chip or break when we beam them out.”
“Yeah, okay. They might have important information on them.”
“They also might have a useless list of daily dinner recipes,” Jack grumbled. “And I really wish I had a gun or something in case there’s something nasty in this thing.”
John winced. “That never occurred to me.”
“Yeah, well, you’re pretty new to the program.” Jack pushed at the stone cover again. Again, it did not move. “Okay, so you’re going to have to help here.”
John took position at one end and placed his hands on each corner of the stone lid. “We’ll push it off towards the wall, yeah?”
“Sounds good,” Jack agreed.
The cover stone was heavier than one of them could move alone, but the two of them managed to slide it off to one side. With a pained grunt, John pushed his end completely off the base, causing the lid to lean heavily against the base at an odd angle.
Jack whistled sharply in wonder, bringing John’s attention to the contents of the sarcophagus. Lying on a bed of thick, quilted fabric were dozens of black crystals. They were rounded rather than pointed like the data crystals, and were twice as large as a quarter coin, and twice as thick. They were spaced evenly, one dozen of them, and they were resting on what looked like pockets in the fabric.
“What do you suppose those are for?” John asked.
“I don’t know,” Jack said, flicking at the fabric with his fingers. “But maybe the answer is under this quilt.
Jack and John quickly tucked the dark crystals into the pockets of the quilt before Jack began rolling the quilt into a log. Another cloth was revealed, so John lifted one corner—and just stared into the opening.
“John?” Daniel asked, concerned. “Is something wrong?”
“I…don’t think so,” John murmured. “I’m afraid if I blink, this will disappear.”
“Oh, for crying…” Jack began as he whipped the cloth out of John’s stiffened fingers to reveal the hidden contents.
The black and bronze items could only be guns of some sort, and they were stacked neatly in two layers of six. They looked like sci-fi versions of Nerf guns, but John could almost feel how very lethal they were. Unlike other items of Ancient design, these guns did not sing to him, as if they were inert or dead.
“I wasn’t aware that the Ancients used weapons,” Daniel mused.
“To be fair,” Jack said, “your memory of being Ascended is on the spotty side. But they were a supposed advanced race, so it stands to reason they had means to protect themselves.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, “but protect themselves against what?”
John lifted his chin in the direction of the projection of Janus, who was motionless and staring at the spot John had been standing. “I think that might be part of his story.”
“Okay,” Jack said as he gently patted the guns, “we need to move these before we re engage Janus over there.”
John shook his head. “I really hope my closet is big enough for this.”
“They look pretty sturdy, John,” Daniel said. “If Thor left the door open, the Potentia might spill out, but they won’t explode or anything.”
John gave him the side-eye. “Are you sure about that? If they’re that powerful as a power source, I’m sure they could be dangerous.”
Daniel shook his head. “I might not know how they work, exactly, but I’ve been around Sam enough when she was working on them to know that in a solid state, they’re perfectly safe. If the housing was damaged in any way, that would make them dangerous.”
John pressed his lips together tightly as he considered the weapons in front of him.
“I assume you won’t want Thor to know about this right away,” he said after a moment.
Jack tilted his head slightly. “I won’t keep secrets from him if I can avoid it. He’s a solid ally, and he’s a friend after a fashion.”
“Well, obviously he can find you, so do you think asking him to come here, to this place exactly, would be a good thing?”
Jack looked over his shoulder at the six intact Potentia along the wall under the ladder. “We promised Thor one of those if we found more than one. If we call him here, we can offer him…two more? That would leave us with nine, right?”
“Yup,” John said. “One for the control chair in the outpost in Antarctica because you might need it there, and one for the SGC in Colorado—just to power the place and get it off the main grid.”
“If we put one in the Prometheus, it would be a stronger and more powerful power source. And one should be used to power the Daedalus once it’s out of construction.”
“So that would account for four of them,” Daniel said. “If we offer three to the Asgard, we’ll still have five in our possession.”
John sighed. “I can’t help but think that I was meant to find more than I did. There were four damaged Potentia under Santorini, so we would have had six at the start. I just don’t know.”
Jack looked back at the frozen image of Janus. “We need more information than we have.”
“Call for Thor.”
“Are you sure, John?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, “but I think maybe he should hear this, too. You said Thor knew of the Ancients and helped get the Ancient Repository information out of your brain so that you could survive, so maybe he’ll be able to help us make sense of all this.”
Jack nodded and moved to the open space in front of the ladder. “Thor, ole buddy,” he called, “it’s a tight space, but we would love to have you join us.”
There was a flash of light, and Thor appeared—minus his throne-like chair.
He was…smaller…than John had imagined, standing barely waist high to Jack, and he was…naked. Without clothing. Bare.
John blinked in surprise. Why had he not noticed that before? Maybe the ornate chair distracted him.
“Why have you summoned me, O’Neill?” Thor asked haughtily.
“Couldn’t I just have missed you?” Jack joked, but Thor only stared at him with large, black eyes. Jack shrugged and tucked his hands into his pockets. “We’ve been incredibly successful in our hunt, Thor. The Potentia we promised is yours, easily.”
“That is good news indeed,” Thor stated blandly.
“Yeah, it is. And then we ended up here,” Jack gestured widely at the chamber, emphasizing the frozen image of Janus, “and there’s a recording addressed specifically to John. We don’t know how it’s possible, because that person is most likely one of the Ancients, so we decided to invite you here for a viewing.”
“Don’t forget to tell him about this cache, Jack,” John added from across the room. “The one we’d like to transfer to my ‘safe place’, only it’s too large for the holding area.”
Thor’s brow furrowed, which was almost amusing, and the tiny alien walked to the sarcophagus to peer inside. He was almost not tall enough, so John held up one of the guns. “I don’t know your stance on weaponry, but I have a gut feeling that we’re going to need these, but I do know my closet in my father’s house is not large enough to hold all of this.”
Thor reached out and took the gun from John’s willing hands, turning it gently over and around as he examined it. “This weapon will be useless to you in this state. It is missing the fuel cell needed to provide the laser pulses.”
“So you know this weapon?” Jack asked as he joined Thor.
“It is Ancient in design,” Thor admitted. “The technology was lost to us when the Ancients disappeared from this plane. It was our belief that all weaponry and technology was destroyed when they left or Ascended.”
Jack unrolled the quilted fabric and pulled one crystal disc from a pocket. “And this would be the power cell for the guns?”
Thor handed the gun back to John and accepted the crystal from Jack. “Yes, this power cell is specific to these weapons. They will not work in any other application. It is also my assumption that the weapons will not operate for anyone without the genetic composition that is compatible with Ancient technology. Long ago, the Asgard came upon a small cache of weapons such as this, but we were ultimately unable to utilize them.”
Jack shared a significant look with John. “Is there any way you can move the receiver to the transport device you gave us? You know, so the guns can be transported to another part of the room.”
Thor turned unblinking eyes to Jack. “With your permission, I will transfer the weapons to my ship for delivery later. That would be a better solution than having me appear in that room again.”
Jack rocked back on his heels. “Well, that’s just fine with us, Thor. We still would like to have you watch this recording with us. There might be information that could be of some use to you, and there might be some things you could help explain to us.”
“I am honored by your trust in me, O’Neill,” said Thor. “I shall return at once.”
There were two flashes of light at Thor and the guns disappeared, and another as Thor returned alone.
John nodded at Jack and took his place in front of the image of Janus. “Okay, Janus, tell me your story.”
Jack, Daniel, and Thor gathered behind John as the image wavered again as if a video was being restarted, and then the image of Janus began to speak.
I am Janus the Architect. I am Alteran, and my people originated in a distant galaxy. There came a rift in our society, and our people became divided. My people were in danger from the other faction, and so my forefather designed and created a city/ship that carried the remains of our society to this galaxy, which was far from our own home world. Alterans were gatherers of knowledge, and so our scientists built portals through the stars in order to travel large distances in only seconds. We seeded this galaxy with those portals and used them to explore other worlds, searching for a new home. We found this planet, which was the most like our home world.
But this world was not without dangers, and when our scientists tried to adapt this planet to our use, a virus was accidentally created that became fatal to many of our people. I was tasked with building another city/ship to carry us to safety. We found a new home in a distant galaxy again, and we again began building portals for exploration. We were careful to remain distant from the sentient populations of that galaxy, but sometimes we encountered them, and they began building a religion around our people.
This was most disconcerting to my people because we had no desire to be worshiped as gods. This was, in fact, the cause of the rift in our original society, as a faction of that society did want to be worshiped as gods and used their technology to subdue less advanced people.
It was most distasteful.
Technology ruled the Alteran society. We spent much time studying and inventing and building, although many of my own creations were looked upon with a certain amount of derision. I created methods for dimensional and temporal travel, which many considered ill-advised and potentially dangerous. But I was a product of my society and we sought to learn and advance ourselves.
And it was the eternal quest to advance ourselves that led us to Ascension—a way of leaving the mortal form behind in order to join with the very fabric of the universe. A way of becoming immortal without a cumbersome body to hold us back. Meditation techniques were taught to our children so that they would be able to loose their mortal forms with ease when they were older. The elderly or gravely ill were encouraged to will their souls to leave their bodies so that they would no longer be a burden to our society.
Our quest for Ascension led to a disconnection from all mortality. We stopped enjoying life; we stopped creating new recipes for our food, we stopped writing poetry, we stopped creating artwork. We even stopped our search for love and lived solitary lives within our society.
I considered it all a waste, this cessation of creation. The city/ship I designed and built was beautiful and pleasuring, but it became stale and stagnant. There was no longer laughter in the hallways as my people gave up on living and began to find new ways to leave mortality behind.
And then one day, the most horrible thing happened. On an uninhabited world, one of our scientists came across an insectoid lifeform that subsisted by pulling the life force of other living things. This scientist captured one of the insects for experimentation, hoping to use its ability to drain life in order to force Ascension in those who had trouble with the meditations. Horrific experiments were performed, and somehow one of our geneticists managed to blend genetic material from that insect, called Iratus, with the genetic material of our people, creating a new lifeform. A murderous lifeform. A ravenous, insect-like humanoid lifeform that multiplied quickly, as insects often do, and they preyed upon the innocent lives that lived on various planets in that galaxy.
And they had our intelligence and our drive for technology.
A war had begun, as the Wraith, this new lifeform, tried to take our city and our advanced technology. Eventually the city leaders decided to leave that galaxy behind, denying all responsibility for the creation of the plague that was raging through the portals that we built and spread through the galaxy. We were ordered to Ascend if we could, or to pack if we could not—or would not, and a decision was made to return to this world because a possible cure for that virus had been created.
I was against the evacuation and had planned on using my temporal machine to travel back and prevent the discovery of the Iratus. It would have been a solitary journey because the temporal machine had a defect that I was not permitted to repair, and it could only have been used once.
The projection of Janus appeared worn-down and disgusted, and John could honestly understand how he felt. John had heard Jack and Daniel complain often enough about how the Ancients were assholes, and if they purposefully created the monster from his nightmares, he could only agree with that assessment. Their clear lack of love for life was also disconcerting and John could understand why Daniel would not wish to remain in that Ascended state.
“These Wraith,” John asked the projection, “do they look like tall, pale catfish that dress all in black and have mouths on their hands?”
Janus blinked and wavered, and then a second projection joined him—tall and pale, clad in black leather, with long white hair and pinched faces. It looked catfish-like, with raised ridges around the eyes, flat noses, and shallow slits around wide mouths.
John shuddered and staggered backwards, retching. In response, Janus wavered again, and the Wraith disappeared.
“Jesus!” Jack gasped.
John hastily swallowed the last of the water from his bottle in order to stave off the nausea from a nightmare made real. “Okay,” he gasped, “that was horrifying! But it still doesn’t explain why you know me or how we met.”
Janus turned to him and smiled sadly.
I met you at the end of my time on the city/ship Atlantis. Most of the population had either Ascended or evacuated through the star portal in one of the smaller expedition ships. An alarm had sounded in the ship bay where my temporal device was stored and I ran to it, only to find the temporal ship coming out of phase and becoming solid once again—an indication that it had been used. There was one passenger aboard that temporal ship, and that passenger was you, John Sheppard.
“Me?” John squeaked. “How did I get there?”
I questioned your presence as much as I could before the city leaders appeared. Apparently, you were part of an expedition from this galaxy, searching for what you called the Lost City of the Ancients. You told me the year you were from, and it was far into the future of my time. When your party came through the portal, the city/ship Atlantis had been submerged and was almost depleted of power, thus the shields holding back the water had failed and Atlantis was flooded.
“My nightmare,” John whispered. “Someone shouting about there not being enough power before a wall of black, icy water crashed into the windows of the cathedral and we were all killed.”
Daniel reached out and curled an arm around John’s waist to comfort him.
I was ordered to ignore you, or to force you to evacuate with the rest of us, but there was something in your eyes…something haunted. I saw the spark of life that had long since left my people as they strove to advance themselves. I convinced the leaders that I would bring you with me, but instead I took you to my private laboratory for a discussion.
You told me about your science expedition and their hopes for technology to help in a war during your time, and I told you about the war we were running from. You understood my dismay at the actions of my people and agreed with me that Atlantis would be the best chance for both of us, that the technology my scientists were leaving behind could help you and that you would be willing to beat back the enemy that my people inadvertently created if you were given a chance.
Thousands of years separated us, but we had a common goal. At that time, Atlantis was fully powered with three Potentia, but they would not last for all those years, so you and I planned: you would pretend to prepare for evacuation with the rest of us but would actually be left behind. I provided what food that I could manage, and I taught you enough of our written language that you could read our files. I taught you how to remove and install the Potentia, and I told you that basic life support could run on the power from a single Potentia. Our plan involved you willingly going into stasis for centuries at a time after our evacuation. We were, indeed, going to sink the city/ship in order to make it undetectable by the Wraith. They had evolved enough to be able to use the portals to travel to other planets, but the portal on Atlantis was the only one that could connect to this galaxy and none of us wanted to risk the Wraith travelling here and decimating this place.
I would set a timer on your stasis pod that would wake you after so many centuries so that you could switch out the Potentia to keep the shields and basic life support running. You confessed to me that you wanted to make sure the city would be ready for the expedition when it eventually happened, but you would not be able to bear meeting yourself. You knew a lot of time would pass. It was possible that you would not age while in the stasis pod, but you felt that meeting yourself would be bad luck.
I was saddened to hear that you were planning to allow yourself to age after the connection to the final Potentia, and you requested that I allow the city’s soul to keep you company as you progressed to a natural death.
“The city’s soul?” Daniel asked, but he was ignored so he prodded John to ask the question.
Taking the hint, John asked, “Is the city alive and sentient?”
The image of Janus looked both saddened and wistful.
One of my later creations was that of the city’s soul. I managed, after my creation of the temporal ship was denounced by the leaders, to create an intelligence in the city/ship’s systems. I spent hours talking with it, making sure it could learn and reason. Then I taught it to question, and I delighted in answering, just as a parent delights in teaching a child. I worked on the intelligence for over ten solar years before the intelligence declared itself to be a soul, and to be female, and then she asked me her name.
I told her the city’s name was Atlantis, but I would happily refer to her by the name of her own choice—and she chose Tanara, the name of my own mother. Another five solar years passed before she asked me to help her choose a form, and I created a projection device much like the one emitting this recording, and Tanara and I chose her physical appearance.
I spent more than a dozen solar years with Tanara, advancing her projections so that they were almost solid. Emitters were placed in every public location in the city so that Tanara could keep me company in the late hours while everyone else was sleeping or in a laboratory. Tanara could listen from everywhere in the city, using the security sensors, and she could observe through the cameras. I integrated Tanara’s programming into every major system in the city without the knowledge of the leaders, and Tanara did not approve of the experiments involving the Iratus or the abandonment of the city.
Tanara was most interested in you, John Sheppard, and she confided to me that she would be happy to watch over you and to keep you safe. I had planned to take her offline before the evacuation, but you argued against it and Tanara pleaded to stay with you. I believe she saw you as her child in some way. I feared that she would mourn your eventual passing, but she assured me that she would put herself into slumber after you were gone and wake herself once you returned to her. That way, she said, she would not be a drain on the power that was remaining in the final Potentia.
“So I’ll receive a warm welcome,” John mused and leaned into Daniel’s embrace. “It sounds so weird, but it’s comforting in a way.”
Janus wavered again as the projected recording seemed to progress to another section or topic.
Because the evacuation order was unavoidable, and because I was quite aware of the dangers that the future expedition would be facing, I took great pains to plan for your return. I secreted away enough Potentia to power the city for centuries. With three fully charged Potentia, the city’s life support, security, and medical systems will function for centuries. There are greenhouses that will have to be repaired. There is a drone production facility in the lower levels, and the Potentia can be recharged there, although the process is exceptionally long and delicate.
I am also sorry to say that many experiments were abandoned in laboratories when we evacuated. I was a builder, an architect, so I was not privy to the contents of many laboratories and I did not know or understand those experiments. It should be noted that many of my people were seeking Ascension by any means or seeking ways to fight the Wraith, so those abandoned places could hold much danger. I did my absolute best to integrate Tanara into every system I had access to, and I gave her the intelligence and means to find her way into the systems I had no access to, so Tanara may be able to give you the information that I cannot.
Along with the hidden Potentia, which I secreted away in several locations, I also took care to hide away weapons that my people no longer had need for. The data crystals and data retriever contain our stories, the lost history of the Alterans. Those crystals are a directory of my people, and a directory of my city—my creation, Atlantis. By the time you watch this recording, I will have Ascended and passed away from my mortal body, but I plan to watch for you as you come into life. I plan to show you the hidden trail to the treasures I have secreted away because I believe you can be the future of my city.
You, John Sheppard, are the means by which I shall pay recompense for the actions of my people when they created the Wraith and set them loose on that far-away galaxy.
The image wavered once more before disappearing.
And then the grinding started, and the walls began to shake.
“Oh! Shit!” John and Jack both cursed and ran to the line of Potentia under the ladder, where Daniel had also carefully placed the wrapped data crystals and the black metal box. Jack aimed the orb at the Potentia and sent them off one by one before aiming at the metal box and then the shirt holding the crystals.
“What is happening?” Thor asked Daniel as he watched the activity in confusion.
Daniel led Thor back to the sarcophagus containing the weapons. “When the recording began, Janus said that this room would disappear once it was finished, so we need to take everything and get out of here.”
“I see. I shall take the weapons to my ship, then. Should I beam back here afterward?”
Daniel shook his head. “If you come back aboveground, it’s possible that you’ll be seen. This place is actually located on a public road, and while it’s the off-season, the rangers do know we’re out here.”
“Very well. Please contact me when it is suitable for us to discuss this…recording.”
“Thank you, Thor,” Jack called. I’ll be in touch in a few days if that’s okay?”
Thor nodded. “I can stay in orbit for as many as six of your weeks if necessary, O’Neill.”
Thor disappeared in a flash of light and Jack turned his attention to the oblong on the wall. “What do you think? Should we take that, too?”
John nodded and placed the remote control back onto the stone ledge. “Daniel said it’s not embedded into the wall, and we might need to play some of that back at some point.”
Jack clinched his teeth briefly before aiming the orb, first at the remote and then at the oblong. He released a sigh of relief when both objects disappeared with a brief flash of light, and then he ushered Daniel and John up the metal ladder ahead of him. Once at the top, Jack dropped the copper plate down over the rapidly disappearing opening to Janus’ chamber. Instead of landing flush with the bottom of the fire pit, the copper plate swung downward into the opening where it was sucked away when the room collapsed.
“Boy, I hope we didn’t leave anything down there,” Jack muttered as the dust settled around them.
Daniel hastily patted his jacket pockets, breathing a sigh of relief when he pulled his camera out.
John laughed helplessly.
Making Plans and Breaking Dreams
“So, do you want to explain why I had an Air Force Major calling to make a business appointment for some time before Christmas?”
John lifted his suitcase from the carousel and laughed. “Just sign whatever he hands you, and then I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
Patrick Sheppard frowned at his son and took the suitcase from him. “Does it have anything to do with why you didn’t want me to open your bedroom door?”
John’s eyes widened. “You didn’t, did you?”
Patrick stopped walking and turned to face his son. “I have not, but now I’m wondering if I should.”
John sighed. “No, don’t do that. At least not until I can get in there and straighten things out.”
“John,” Patrick bit out, “did you give a key to my house to a stranger?”
“Not…exactly. And seriously, Dad, can you just hold your questions until after you meet with Major Davis? Please?”
Patrick resumed walking to short-term parking. “Fine. Keep your secrets, John. I will find out eventually.”
John rolled his eyes. “I hope so.”
John was frankly amazed at how quickly everything had happened. Well, not his assignment in Antarctica, of course. But ever since he met Jack O’Neill, John’s life went topsy-turvy in the most amazing ways.
He smiled to himself as he recalled his last night in Colorado. Jack and Daniel moved around the kitchen together like choreographed dancers, clearly comfortable with each other. John had positioned himself on a stool at the island in the middle of the kitchen so he could watch them and take part in the conversation that was going on. His position also had the added bonus of putting him within kissing distance of either man as they moved around fixing dinner.
John had quite the buzz going on by the time the food was ready, and he hadn’t even had one beer.
The trio danced around the potential relationship, all of them knowing that they needed to fix the Atlantis situation before they got too comfortable. There was always a chance that John would not be permitted to go despite his strong expression of the ATA Gene. Jack’s main concern was getting Elizabeth Weir removed from the expedition by any means, and he was going to be meeting with General George Hammond after Christmas to discuss her particular problems.
Daniel desperately wanted to go to Atlantis and Jack didn’t want him to go without him or John going with him. John felt that he needed to go, needed to reintroduce himself to the soul of Atlantis and fight Janus’ fight in his place. John had been feeling adrift since his divorce and being sent to Antarctica, and he thought Atlantis might perhaps be a home for him in a way he hadn’t had a home since he was a child.
There was something in his eye, something intangible, that indicated a yearning for being back in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Jack had been riding a desk ever since the Asgard brought him out of stasis and he was getting restless. John was sure Jack’s superiors were aware of the restlessness as well. He was too valuable a soldier to allow to languish away into nothingness.
Jack and Daniel would be spending the Christmas holiday together in Colorado Springs, where they would actually be close to George Hammond since his family lived nearby. The plan was for Jack and Daniel to give Hammond the short version of John’s story—once they figured out what the short version was. Since Hammond was once in charge of the SGC and he knew Jack and Daniel well, Jack knew he would take their concerns seriously and could help them make their case to the IOA.
Their concerns were twofold, involving Elizabeth Weir’s obsession with Ascending and Caron Beckett’s desire to conduct experiments with no oversight.
The second issue was brought to Jack’s attention when they returned from Mesa Verde and he received a triumphant phone call from Area 51 informing him that Dr. Alicia Biro had managed, using the same small samples that Beckett had access to, to create a tentative gene-transmission therapy and was moving her testing to include mice. While Jack shuddered over the mice, he did approve the testing and congratulated Dr. Biro on her success—and welcomed her officially to the Stargate Program.
When Jack made a cursory call to the Ancient Outpost, Dr. Beckett complained that he needed more ‘material’ to work with and that Dr. Weir had assured him that he would have all the freedom he wanted to conduct his…studies.
Jack wisely kept the news of Biro’s breakthrough quiet. He would bring it up in the meeting with the IOA, while making a point of Weir’s disregard for proper scientific process. At the very least, Beckett should have understood the need for Peer Review and consultations, even if Weir did not.
John would be spending the holiday with his father. He assumed David would be dropping in at some point, but he was in a new relationship that seemed to be going well, so John would not blame him for wanting to spend as much time with his lady friend as possible.
John wasn’t allowed to tell his father what he was up to, so he was going to just enjoy the company, go through old photo albums, and maybe work on his last dissertation. The PhD in engineering wasn’t necessary, but it was an accomplishment that John could be proud of, and he was almost finished. All that time with nothing to do but work on his degrees certainly paid off.
* * * * *
Office of Homeworld Security
John sat stiffly in his dress uniform. His father, comfortable in an expensive three-piece suit and silk necktie, sat to one side of him, and Daniel Jackson, dressed like a college professor, sat on his other side.
John was sure they made quite the picture.
Especially since Daniel was fiddling with a pen, thumping it loudly on a legal pad in front of him.
Patrick Sheppard cleared his throat softly and nudged the coffee carafe in Daniel’s direction, and John stifled a smile.
Patrick had taken the news about the SGC remarkably well, which was a relief. John really did not want his father to think he’d become a total nutjob. Especially since John was reasonably sure he would be leaving the freaking planet sometime soon, on his way to another galaxy and a war he never asked for.
Patrick immediately took note of his company’s Research and Development Department and figured his best bet to help the SGC would be to start working on components for their space fleet. Sheppard Interprises did not make weapons, but they could build solar shields and transparent windows for spacecraft. In fact, they had been approached by NASA for this very reason several years prior.
David was in the dark about the SGC, but he had other projects to keep him occupied and he never asked questions.
But Patrick wasn’t in the room as a contractor; he was there to lend support to John, Jack, and Daniel. Patrick, as it turned out, had a slightly weaker expression of the ATA Gene, so he was intrigued by the idea of technology that could only be utilized by a small percentage of the population naturally. Once his genetic disposition was confirmed, John pulled out several of his journals—the ones Patrick knew John used along with his therapy—and described the dreams and nightmares that had inadvertently led John to the Ancient outpost.
Then John called Daniel and invited him to help describe their quests in Greece, Britain, and Colorado. Daniel stood beside him when John again activated Janus’ projection device, and the video had Patrick reaching for the expensive Scotch hidden behind a bookcase in his office. Once he was convinced that somehow his son had, in another timeline, traveled to the Pegasus Galaxy and traveled backwards in time for centuries—and then died, Patrick helped John and Daniel practice asking the recording questions in such a way that Janus would tell about the Wraith and the possible dangers left behind on Atlantis—but nothing else. John didn’t want anyone to know that he had been on this ride already and died for the effort. John also did not want to reveal how many Potentia had been found while on his personal quest. Not while everything was still undecided, anyway.
So there they sat, waiting for General George Hammond, General Jack O’Neill, President Henry Hayes, and several representatives of the IOA to arrive. Patrick was sitting calmly with his hands folded on the table. John was starting to fidget with his journals, which were piled on the table in front of him. On the other side of Daniel, that metal oblong was leaning in the chair with the copper and crystal remote on the table to Daniel’s right. Daniel was filling his coffee cup for the third time.
“Jack has everything lined up, right?” John asked him.
“Yes,” Daniel replied. “Thor is waiting for Jack’s call, although he did offer his thanks for the two Potentia.”
That was a pleasant surprise once they were away from Mesa Verde: Thor answered Jack’s call and they all discussed Janus’ recorded message. Thor seemed to understand the dire situation that the Ancients left behind in the Pegasus Galaxy, so he offered help as soon as the Asgard dealt with the Replicator situation. Thor considered all the possible options and decided that two Potentia would help the Asgard greatly. One would be used in a weapon the likes of which John did not want to know about, and the other would be put to private use. Thor had posited the idea that the solution to the Asgard cloning problem might be found in one of the laboratories on Atlantis, and he expressed a desire to speak with Tanara at some point.
“That’s good,” John said. “Hopefully, everyone will take his opinion on this whole deal seriously.”
“I’m sure they will,” Daniel confided. “Thor wasn’t really impressed with Weir’s actions while she was in charge of the SCG.”
“Will she and Beckett be here today?”
Daniel tipped his head backward and sighed. “I’m sure they will. The IOA seems infatuated with Weir, so someone will have told her about this meeting.” He took a drink of his cooling coffee before adding, “I’m wondering if McKay will be along, too. He’s very invested in going to Atlantis for research purposes, and he desperately wants the ATA therapy—when Beckett gets around to perfecting it.”
John snorted softly. “Boy, is he in for a surprise.”
“I think they all are, John,” Patrick interjected. “What you’ve dreamed for so many years, what you found on your trip around the world—it’s almost too amazing to believe.”
John was prevented from responding by the door to the conference room opening, admitting two Secret Service agents dressed in the typical black suits. John blinked as the two agents swept around the room, looking for possible dangers and completely ignoring the three men already seated at the table. Once the agents were convinced the room was clear, they left and pulled the door shut behind them.
John sat back in shock and turned to his father. “Did that just happen?”
Patrick shook his head slowly. “Well, I saw it, and you saw it, so I suppose it really did, but I have to admit to being less than impressed with it all.”
“That was both useless and ridiculous,” Daniel huffed. “We’re right here! We were searched before we were seated!”
John frowned and got out of his chair. He crossed the room to where the agents paused in front of the davenport and he ducked down to look under the large piece of furniture. He growled angrily when he stood up and shook a cupped hand in front of him. He gestured for a glass of water, which was provided by Patrick, and then he deposited the listening device he found into the glass.
Daniel blinked before rushing to the door and slamming it open, only to encounter Jack leading another group in.
“Daniel?” Jack inquired.
“Did you pass two Secret Service agents just now?” Daniel asked.
Jack shook his head before looking behind him, to where Hammond was standing beside the actual President—without agents. “No, why?”
Daniel muffled a shout and dragged his hands through his hair, mussing it thoroughly. “Two typical MIBs just came in here, looking like they were clearing the room before your arrival. They completely ignored us, like this was their job, and then they left.”
“I see,” Jack said, clearly not seeing at all.
Daniel pointed to the water glass angrily. “John found that bug under the console just now. I swept the room with the Asgard device when we arrived, and it wasn’t there then.”
Clearly overhearing, Hammond pulled out a cellphone and placed a quick call, barking out orders harshly to someone John would never meet, and Jack ushered the rest of the group inside the conference room. In filed Hayes and several IOA members that John had never met, followed by Weir, Beckett, and McKay. Hammond came in last after finishing the order to hunt down the imposter agents ‘no matter what’, and he took the glass containing the device and set it on the floor just outside the door.
Hammond took his seat to the right of Hayes, thus permitting everyone else to be seated, and then he turned his attention to Hayes. “I’m deeply sorry, Mr. President. With your permission, we’ll use the bug sweeper again now.”
“Permission granted, George,” Hayes said, disgruntled. “I don’t know how any of you get anything done!”
“It’s not easy, sir,” Jack replied as he activated the detector, revealing no other devices. “We spend a lot of time backtracking and covering our collective asses.”
Hayes snorted, which relaxed John considerably.
“Well,” said Hammond, taking charge of the meeting as was his due, “now that we know the room is clear this time, let’s get down to business.” When Weir cast a questioning look in the direction of Patrick Sheppard, Hammond amended, “It seems some introductions are necessary first. Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, Patrick Sheppard, these gentlemen are the available representatives from the IOA: Mr. Richard Woolsey from the United States and Mr. James Kilgard from Canada.” Hammond gestured to John and his father and said, “Gentlemen, this is Lt. Colonel John Sheppard and his father, Patrick Sheppard from Sheppard Interprises. Mr. Sheppard has been read into the Stargate Program as a special contractor. His company will be constructing parts of our space fleet.”
“That’s…very interesting,” said Woolsey. “But does a new military contractor really have cause to be in a meeting such as this?”
“In this case, I think he does,” Hammond declared. “Now, shall we begin?”
“Thank you, General Hammond,” Weir stated, trying to take the lead. “We’ve been finalizing our supply list for the expedition to Atlantis, which I hope will be undertaken soon as we’ve waited so long after discovering the ‘Gate address.”
John almost laughed at Weir’s attempt to shame Jack for his refusal to allow the expedition members to leave immediately. He expected Jack to say something about it, but the President took that role.
“It was my understanding, Dr Weir, that in order to dial that long-distance address, you would need to remove the power source to Earth’s only defense against extraterrestrial attack.”
Weir cocked an eyebrow in challenge but sat back in her chair. “I thought it was understood that the drone control chair could be powered by naquada generators, Mr. President. That would allow us to use the ZPM to power the Stargate for the trip through to Pegasus.”
“Yes,” Hayes agreed with a deceptive smile. “A one-way trip to another galaxy, taking the brightest theoretical scientists available away from the planet we might need them to save.” Hayes leaned back in his chair and folded his hands together over his midsection. “I gotta say, I’m not thrilled with that prospect. I’ve gotten to know the good folks at the SCG, and I admire the work they do there. And while I agree that new technology would be nice, medicines and weapons and the like, it is always my sincerest hope that we can find those things in this galaxy—and without the risk of losing anyone to an unpowered Stargate.”
Weir gaped at the President, clearly unable to find a convincing argument.
“Actually, sir,” Jack said, interrupting the staring contest between Weir and Hayes, “we may have solved the power issue, and it won’t cost us the ZPM at the outpost.”
Hayes turned a blinding grin in Jack’s direction. “Really, Jack?” Jack nodded and Hayes smiled even wider, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. “I knew I liked you, Jack. Do tell, please.”
Jack patted a plain folder in front of him and said, “I’ll be happy to get to that issue, sir, but I have some other concerns to deal with first.”
Hayes inclined his head in a ‘go ahead’ motion. “I’ll hold you to that. What are your concerns?”
Jack opened the folder and sorted the pages in front of him. “My first concern is, of course, the control chair in Antarctica. There needs to be an ATA gene carrier available to operate it, and that person needs to have complete control—and I mean of his or her emotions as well as of the chair.”
Jack looked up and stared at Carson Beckett, forcing the Scot to hold his gaze. “Until recently, I had the only known expression of the gene, and I used it at my own peril to defend the planet from Anubis’ attack.” Jack redirected his attention to Hayes. “While I was stuffed away in that stasis pod, Dr. Beckett identified the gene that ultimately allowed me to use Ancient technology, and it is my understanding that he was able to identify the markers of the dominant and recessive gene as well as genetic markers that are compatible with the ATA gene. He has purported to be able to create a transference therapy that would activate the gene, affording many others the chance to operate Ancient technology.”
“Well, that sounds just fine, Jack,” Hayes drawled, and suddenly John was wondering if Jack and Hammond had let the President in on the joke. When Hayes turned his attention to Beckett, John was sure he was in on the joke.
“And how is that transference therapy going, Dr. Beckett?” Hayes asked dryly.
Beckett shot a sharp glance at Jack before smiling at Weir, and John had the distinct impression that the Scot was about to throw Jack under the bus.
“I’ve hit a bit of a snag,” Beckett admitted. “General O’Neill has cut off my, um, resources, so the research isn’t going as well as I’d hoped.”
Hayes frowned and scratched his chin. “Is that so? I wasn’t aware of any funding being redirected from the SGC recently.”
“Well,” Beckett stammered, “it’s not really a monetary issue, you see. When I began my research into the ATA gene, Dr. Weir promised me unfettered access to any materials that I might need. And while I do understand that General O’Neill might be reluctant to offer his, er, services to the endeavor, I have been refused access to other sources.”
John cast his eyes sideways to see expressions of abject horror on the faces of Woolsey, Kilgard, and, oddly, McKay. Weir, however, looked as serene as ever, sitting so pretty in her chair with her hands folded in front of her. Patrick stiffened beside him, but John kept his expression neutral.
“Do you mean to tell me to tell me,” Hayes said, softly at first but increasing in volume, “that the resources that you’re talking about are PEOPLE!”
Henry Hayes, the genial Republican President that ran on a platform of public service, let go the steely temper that his enemies knew well. “Do you, DOCTOR Beckett, mean to tell me that Dr. Weir has promised you unfettered access to the people who have the ATA gene, and that she has promised that you can experiment to your heart’s content until you finally make a breakthrough on this so-called therapy you THINK you might have figured out?”
To his credit, Beckett at least appeared to understand that he had said something wrong, but John would put even money that the man didn’t know exactly what he said that was wrong.
Before Hayes could lay into Beckett and Weir some more, Jack lifted one hand in the air and said, “Excuse me, Mr. President, but I believe we also have this issue under control.”
Hayes took his seat again and accepted the glass of water that Hammond offered. “All right, Jack,” he said after a moment. “I can be a reasonable man. If you tell me you have a solution, then I’ll listen to it. But,” he said directly to the IOA reps as he pointed to Beckett, “this man is officially off the roster for any further research. I don’t know what type of program the IOA is trying to run with my people, but I have had enough of that kind of bullshit! I never wanted the IOA to have any control over the Stargate Program. I do realize that there are citizens of several countries working within the program, but the United States has been footing the bill since there was a program and only Canada and Great Britain have ever offered any kind of recompense. I am about to make a few phone calls to some Prime Ministers and disband the IOA, and all I’ll have to mention is that the proposed leader of an extra-galaxian expedition has apparently been allowing experimentation without limits in the name of progress. That is not kosher, gentlemen!”
“Extra-galaxian?” John could not help but whisper, and Daniel elbowed him sharply in the side.
Jack glared at John, who offered a half-shrug in response.
“Right,” Jack sighed. “Before we continue, I’m going to have Beckett and Weir escorted from this meeting.”
“Jack?” Weir gasped. “You can’t mean that! I was selected personally by the IOA to head this mission.”
“And you have been unselected, personally by me, Dr. Weir,” Jack said firmly. “I had my doubts about your leadership abilities when I found out about your Goa’uld summit while I was on ice. My personal opinion is that anyone who would sanction slavery of any race is no one fit to be a leader, and the fact that you were bargaining for the Tauri, for US, to take over Ba’al’s territories, slaves included, shows how mercenary you can be. The military service personnel at the Mountain and the outpost don’t respect you because you try to negotiate with enemies that we should be trying to destroy.
“There is no way, Dr. Weir, that you will be able to lead a military operation in a different galaxy with no foreseeable backup. The soldiers won’t take you seriously, and I sincerely doubt you understand the chain of command.”
“This is supposed to be a civilian scientific expedition, General,” Weir argued, and Hayes openly laughed at her.
“Dr. Weir,” Jack said after clearing his throat, “who do you suppose is going to keep all those scientists and civilians safe in an alien environment, if not the military?”
Hayes pointed a finger at Kilgard and said, “I told you!”
Kilgard nodded and said, “So you did, Mr. President.”
Hammond whipped out his cellphone again, and soon a military escort was taking Weir and Beckett out of the conference.
Once the door was shut behind them, Jack let out a heavy sigh of relief. “I was actually worried about how to bring up her unsuitability. I never expected Beckett to do it for me.”
“What do you mean, General O’Neill?” Woolsey asked as he wiped his glasses with a cloth.
Jack raised an eyebrow at the man. “Richard, did you see the potential supply list for the Atlantis expedition?”
“I believe I saw a part of it,” Woolsey replied. “I remember reading a list of computer equipment and chemistry supplies. Oh, and a short rations list for perhaps six months of food and water.”
Jack huffed in irritation. “That was almost the complete list, Richard. Weir included no supplies for the military, for clothing—hell, she forgot the coffee! I kept waiting to receive a better requisition list, but one never came, so that’s why I put everything on hold before November.”
“What do you suggest, Jack?” Hayes asked.
Jack ran a hand over his face and sighed. “Ideally? The SGC Command Center under Cheyenne Mountain is considered a military base. It’s a joint service base, like many others in the country, and it’s led by a military leader—and it always has been. When we annexed Area 51, we put a seasoned Colonel in charge and treated it as a military science installation that is mostly staffed by civilians—also like many bases around the country. When we began working in Antarctica, we used the military to staff the outpost, for better or for worse, but we lost sight of the clear military control.
“Now, because Antarctica is an international station, based solely on the civilian staff, we permitted a civilian leader to be in charge, but I believe that’s a mistake. Let’s make that a military command post as well, albeit an international one. I have no problems with the Brits or Canadians taking charge there under the auspices of the SGC, but having civilians in charge leads to troubles like this one—a lack of oversight, mainly because nobody is sure who is supposed to answer to whom.”
“So you’d like to treat Atlantis, if we manage to find it, as a military base with a largely civilian staff.” It was not a question.
Jack shared a look with Hammond and nodded. “George and I have spoken at length about this in recent days. The need for soldiers is strong, and I do have a way of proving that. The scientists that work with us understand the chain of command, and they’re used to the military structure.”
Hayes looked around the table, noticing the considering expressions. “Do you have anything to add, Dr. McKay?”
“Yes,” McKay stated baldly. “I want to know what’s with that Ancient device on the chair beside Jackson. Everybody in this room has been wondering about it, but I suppose I’m the only one bold enough to say anything.”
Hayes smirked at the acerbic scientist. “I have to admit, I was wondering about that myself. How did you know it’s an Ancient device?”
“It’s clearly made of naquada, but it’s more refined than anything I’ve seen outside of Ancient tech.” McKay jabbed a finger in Daniel’s direction. “So—what is it?”
Jack leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest with a smirk. “Well, gentlemen, that is the culmination of what epic poets might call ‘The Hero’s Journey’, and the story behind it isn’t mine to tell. That honor goes to the recently promoted Lt. Colonel John Sheppard.”
John blushed and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck nervously. “Thanks a lot. Sir.” He cleared his throat and stared at his journals, which he would not offer for examination. “I guess the story starts in a cave in Afghanistan.”
For the next half an hour, John told the men gathered around that room about the odd dreams and nightmares that he’d had over the years, how the nightmare manifested with an accidental drone launch in Antarctica, and how that led to John travelling across the world in search of images only seen while he was asleep.
Hayes looked intrigued as he followed the story, only once glancing at the journals in front of John. Woolsey and Kilgard were more interested, especially when John mentioned finding Potentia, although Woolsey looked almost jealous when John mentioned climbing through Merlin’s Cave in Britain.
“Wait,” McKay interrupted before John could mention the recording, “do you seriously have TWELVE Zed-PMs? And you waited to tell us?”
“Actually, Rodney, we have ten,” Daniel corrected. “We’ve already given two to the Asgard, as per our agreement with Thor, although we offered him three.”
McKay sputtered in disbelief. “You gave them away!”
“McKay!” Jack yelled. “Focus! Yes, we now have plenty of power to dial the ‘Gate to the Pegasus galaxy. Yes, we also have the power to run both the Ancient outpost and Cheyenne Mountain completely without taxing the national power grid. But there is more at stake than a few power sources.”
“Yes, yes,” McKay muttered. “Get on with the treasure hunt, then.”
John rolled his eyes and stood up to prop the oblong on top of the davenport. He pressed the crystals on the Ancient remote and Janus again wavered into sight, causing everyone to sit up in shock.
As he had prepared, John began to ask pointed questions to the recorded image, and the image of Janus gave the answers directly to John—as it had done dozens of times already. When any of the others tried to ask a question, John coaxed Janus to describe how he had ‘found’ John by recognizing his genetic code after centuries of being Ascended. John had managed to make it seem like Janus, who was an admitted troublemaker, had periodically looked in on humanity on Earth to see if their legacy had survived at all.
There was no mention of a time machine.
By the time everyone seemed eager to launch the expedition right the hell now, John asked about possible dangers they could encounter in Pegasus—and Janus responded by showing the recorded image of a Wraith.
“Well, that’s not terrifying,” McKay sniped.
“It’s exactly terrifying,” Jack snarked back. “The folly of the almighty Ancients created that mess, and they’ve probably been waiting in Pegasus for all these centuries just waiting for them—or their descendants—to return so they can have a little chat. They’re wild and ravenous, and they eat people, and can any of you imagine Elizabeth Weir trying to negotiate peace with those things!”
Woolsey visibly shuddered.
* * * * *
After a long lunch break, the talks resumed. Woolsey and Kilgard took the time to make several phone calls, most notably to the British representative to the IOA, and meetings were scheduled between world leaders.
John was probably going to have to apologize for removing the Potentia from Greece, where nobody would ever have found them, and Britain, where nobody
could ever have accessed them. John had already spoken to the Navajo tribal leaders before leaving Colorado, allowing them to read his dream journals and to see the photographs taken in Mesa Verde. There were some hard feelings, but without physical proof that the chamber had ever existed, the Navajo had no hopes of claiming the Potentia—even if they knew what they were. John did happily hand over the gold and copper jeweled trinkets that were on the dirt floor of the hidden chamber, which did a lot to mollify those hurt feelings.
Mentally, John thanked Janus for leaving the treasures behind to be found.
Of course, there was no way in hell that either he or Jack would ever mention pulling a jeweled sword from a stone under Merlin’s Cave. That was a mess nobody wanted to deal with.
General Hammond recommended Jack be the military leader in charge of the Atlantis mission, mostly by virtue of Jack being an ATA gene carrier. When someone, probably Woolsey, decried the choice by reminding everyone that a gene carrier was needed to operate the control chair in Antarctica in case of another invasion, Jack brought up Dr. Biro’s successful transference therapy.
“Well, it works on tiny, white mice,” Jack conceded, “but I have no doubts that it will work on people, too.”
“And what resources was Dr. Biro privy to?” Kilgard asked, silently reminding everyone of Jack’s opposition to Carson Beckett.
“She had Beckett’s samples and research to work from. No new blood was needed, so I’m unsure what was keeping Beckett from being successful.”
“Well,” said Kilgard, mollified, “that’s okay, then.”
“Right,” Woolsey inserted to get things back on track, “if General O’Neill is going to be the military leader of the expedition, who will oversee the civilians?”
“McKay,” Jack answered instantly. “Hands down, McKay has a better understanding of Ancient technology than anyone I know. I know he has no interest in running the whole show, though,” he added before McKay could speak, “so I’d like to nominate Dr. Jackson to be in charge of the so-called soft sciences, and I’ll put forth Lt. Colonel Sheppard as a liaison between the civilians and the military.”
“What are his qualifications for such a position?” Woolsey asked.
John lifted one shoulder negligibly. “Well, I have a PhD in Applied Mathematics and I’m ABD with my doctorate in Engineering, so I do speak ‘geek’ pretty well.”
“Seriously?” McKay complained. “If you’ve got that going for you, what are you doing in the military?”
John offered a lazy smile in return. “I like to fly, and I needed to serve a greater purpose. A classroom or lab can’t give me that.”
* * * * *
Cheyenne Mountain Complex,
Headquarters of Stargate Command
John had spent the months prior to the expedition launch revising supply lists, interviewing potential service members, interviewing potential civilian and medical staff members, and going on missions through the ‘Gate in the Milky Way galaxy.
He figured he would need the experience going through the actual ‘Gate and meeting alien cultures before heading out to Atlantis.
He also spent a lot of time going around and around with McKay about set-up procedures once they entered the City of Atlantis. Since the Janus recording did reveal the fact that the city was submerged beneath the ocean on the planet it called home, installing the new Potentia was paramount—and McKay kept insisting that he should be the one to do it. McKay’s argument was that he was the Chief Scientific Officer for the mission and was the expert on Ancient Technology.
John—and Jack—heard this argument practically every day for almost three weeks before John decided to turn it around on McKay and shut him down.
“Look, Rodney,” John said, trying to be friendly, “I do understand how important your knowledge of Ancient tech is, and that’s precisely why you can’t be the one to install the Potentia.”
“That makes no sense, Sheppard!”
John refrained from rolling his eyes. “It makes perfect sense, because we’ll need you to be in the command center, making sure none of the systems that come online after we power up will do so while being damaged. For all we know, just bringing the city to full power could be dangerous if some circuits were damaged over time. She’s been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for thousands of years, and we can’t be sure the shields have been protecting all of her this whole time. A few waterlogged labs could mean for some big disasters.”
McKay stared at him for a long time, but John could tell the moment his argument won out because McKay visibly wilted. “Okay, fine,” he sulked. “You could be right about that part. It certainly wouldn’t do to blow up the City after fighting so hard to get out there.”
John almost shuddered at the thought. “Yeah, that wouldn’t be good.”
So here they were, all geared up and ready to dial out. Because of a fully charged Potentia being used at the dial out point, McKay was certain that they would have the full time window to move through the ‘Gate, which would be twenty-eight minutes—but they were hoping to get everyone through within twenty. They had certainly rehearsed enough, pulling pallets and gear through to the Alpha Site over and over until they knew the dance by heart.
Not knowing how much room they would have on the other side of the wormhole was nerve-racking, so their rehearsed movements included everyone moving directly to the side as soon as they cleared the receiving ‘Gate.
Everyone going on this trip was going to be fully loaded, with the stronger soldiers hauling larger pallets. Nobody was considered less essential than anyone else. The soldiers, from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Germany, all knew that the scientists were just as important as they were to their mission, if not more so. Every soldier was vetted carefully, making sure there were no homophobes, xenophobes, or general assholes. Any service member showing negative attitude toward the civilians or scientists was promptly dropped from the expedition.
Jack made it known that, regardless of being able to dial home for support and supplies, he would like the expedition to be as self-sufficient as possible, so anyone who needed constant medication was not permitted. Several of the expedition members that liked to garden for relaxation purposes were excited to open any greenhouses they could find in order to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. One or two of the scientists got together to create entertainment libraries full of music, e-books, and movies, thus ensuring down-time was not dull. And three weeks prior to departure, requisitions were sent in for yarn, looms, crochet and knitting gear, and needlepoint supplies. Jack approved some of it, owing to the fact that they really needed to get the city up and running before anyone became civilized, even if he knew that people needed outlets that were not work-related to keep themselves sane.
“We’re not sure everyone who volunteered to come out here is actually suited for this kind of life,” Jack announced two days before departure. “I figure we’ll know who is most likely to wash out after a month or so. I am not going to allow anyone to just dial home until we’ve been out there at least that long. This is not college, so going home every weekend is a no-go. The premise here is that we are setting up a new joint-service base out there, but if it all works out, we might be creating a new colony of sorts. We need hardy souls going out there, because even with full power we know it won’t all be sunshine and roses.”
Every potential member of the expedition had been educated as much as possible on the reality of the Wraith. Four scientists backed out after that lecture—and a mini-pod of Marines that had originally declined the invitation changed their minds now that an interesting enemy had been announced. Jack bade a fond farewell to the scientists, acknowledging no hard feelings even as he collected resumes for replacements, but nixed the battle-hungry soldiers because he really didn’t want to deal with people looking for a fight.
Two days before departure, John, Jack, and Daniel had a pleasant dinner at Jack’s place. He was offering it up to the new SGC commander, a General Hank Landry, so he wanted to say good-bye to the place properly—with good wine, good food, and good company. Landry was not moving in until after the expedition dialed out, so the night before departure, Jack hosted a party of sorts, with his friends and team-mates from the SGC.
John spent the evening before departure with his father, who flew to Colorado for a proper send-off. Patrick might have been read into the Program, but he was not cleared to be in the Command Center, so he couldn’t watch John leave. That was a blessing as far as John was concerned.
Now John stood at the front of the group because he would be among the first through the wormhole. He had his personal pack and a cart full of Potentia and computer gear. The rest of his personal items were on a pallet with other footlockers belonging to other soldiers. Jack was standing next to him, carrying his own personal pack, and Daniel was in front of the entire group—giving a moving pep-talk about what a huge step this was for all of them.
Behind them, everyone was practically vibrating with excitement and no small amount of nerves. John smiled to himself because he was vibrating too. This was it. He’d had no more dreams predicting anything. No more nightmares, either. John had no illusions that all would be smooth sailing because life just didn’t work that way. They still had to deal with the Wraith. They still had to clear possibly dangerous labs. They had to find allies. They possibly had to deal with new enemies.
Lives could be lost, no matter how careful they were.
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. It might as well be the Stargate Creed.
John watched as the ‘Gate began to dial. He heard the tech announce each chevron as it locked into place, and with each clear connection his heart beat just a little faster.
Chevron Six, engaged.
Chevron Seven, engaged.
John held his breath.
Chevron Eight, engaged.
John didn’t release his breath until the wormhole had stabilized and a MALP was sent through.
When the ‘Gate Tech announced that the wormhole was stable and the environment was stable and able to contain life, Jack climbed to the top of the ramp and waved them all through.
The next minutes were a flurry of activity as soldiers moved through the portal to clear the area for safety so that the rest of the expedition could come through. On the other side of the wormhole, Jack and John directed traffic so the arrival ramp remained clear. Pallets and gear were moved quickly to one side of the Stargate or the other as more and more people poured through the wormhole.
Once all of them were through, and all the gear was tucked out of the way, Jack radioed a clean arrival with no obvious obstructions or dangers. In response, the SGC sent one last crate through the wormhole—one with ‘Congratulations’ stenciled on the side.
The arrival area—the Gate Room—was dark when they arrived, so the only light was that provided by the first arrivals when they lit lanterns upon landing. John looked around at the shadows between the pools of light and tried to imagine his dream cathedral.
The place smelled stale, which only made sense, he supposed. At least there was no obvious dust.
John stepped away from the edge of the room and made his way to a staircase, trying to hear the secret song of the city, and lights began to come on with each step he took. Each stair riser lit up as he climbed to a balcony overlooking the Gate Room and people below him began to chatter nervously once they could see where they were. John turned away from the balcony rail and saw a stained-glass window—and he smiled. Stepping up to the window, John saw murky darkness.
There was no movement, but he knew now that they were underwater.
He heard McKay shout as he found a control panel and began hooking up a computer to it. McKay began shouting orders to his second in command, a wiry Czech named Zelenka, and Jack ordered everyone to stay in the Gate Room until they got the power on.
“Okay, okay,” McKay was muttering as his finger flew over the computer keyboard. “Sheppard! The power room is…down that hallway and three levels down!”
John looked in the direction McKay was pointing and nodded. He climbed down the stairs, thankful that the risers remained lit, and dropped his pack on the floor. He made sure his P90 was secured on his vest and he grabbed the cart handle and began pulling it down the dark hallway. Dim lights began blinking in front of him, showing him which way to go.
“You weren’t going to go off without back-up, were you John?” Daniel asked as he rushed to join him.
“Nah,” John denied. “I knew someone was going to follow me. I assume Jack is keeping McKay in place.”
Daniel snorted. “You could say that. Rodney looked like you kicked his puppy when you grabbed the cart and just left.”
John smirked to himself as he followed the dim blinking lights down the hallway until they came to a trapdoor in the floor. “We can’t take the cart down that way,” he said to Daniel. “Can you get the sling ready?”
“On it,” Daniel confirmed.
John knelt and pulled the trap open, and more dim lights lit on the sides of the chute. “Are you as freaked as I am that there’s no dust?”
“I’m grateful there’s no dust,” Daniel replied. “I’ve got allergies, remember? Okay, the sling is ready and loaded. Go on down and I’ll lower them to you.”
It was a slow process because they had to go down three full levels. John climbed down, Daniel lowered the sling before following, then John climbed down again, then Daniel lowered again. They took it very slowly so as to not slam the sling against the walls of the chute. With each step, John could hear a hum inside his head, and it grew more melodic the closer he got to the power chamber.
Atlantis was singing to him. John wondered if Jack could hear it, too. Or any of the others they found that carried the ATA gene.
Or any of the ones who took the ATA therapy.
John hoped so because it was so welcoming.
He was about to ask Daniel, but Daniel spoke first.
“Do you…hear anything?” Daniel asked hesitantly.
“Yeah. I think it’s the city.”
“That’s so cool!”
“Very eloquent, Dr. Jackson,” John teased.
At the third landing of the maintenance chute, the dim lights flickered over a hatch, so John slid it open and climbed out, Daniel following closely. The flickering lights led the way to another hatch with a wheel lock on the outside. John spun the wheel, which was thankfully not stuck too tight, and the hatch squeaked open. The lights came on inside this chamber, blue and yellow and green, and in the center of the chamber was a large pod with a domed-glass lid. Swinging the lid upward on a track, John revealed the Potentia cradle with three slots. Two were empty and John wasted no time in taking a soft microfiber cloth to the insides of those slots, clearing any possible dust that was left behind. Daniel handed John the Potentia carefully, one by one, and John fitted them into the open slots, and clamps automatically closed around them. A yellow button illuminated near the third slot, so John pressed it and the clamps around the third Potentia released and the canister popped up enough that he could grab it. Compared to the dim glow of the fully charged units, this canister was dull and almost lifeless, and John set it gently on the floor beside the cradle. Daniel handed him the final canister and he inserted it carefully, watching as the clamps engaged.
Once all three Potentia were in place, the cradle lid closed automatically, and the inner pod began to rotate, spinning faster and faster and faster until the canisters were a blur and lights began to come on in startling displays. A map of the city appeared in neon lines on one wall, some areas green while others were yellow or orange or dangerous red. One another wall, a rolling list in a language John had not learned appeared, symbols bright in blue.
And in one corner, a flickering light became a steady glow—forming the shape of a human figure, blurred as if out of focus.
John watched the blurry figure shift and shimmer as McKay’s excited voice chattered nonsense through the radio in his ear. Slowly the figure came into focus, starting at the floor and shifting upward, and John watched as feet clad in white boots appeared, then a brief length of leg ending in the hem of a white skirt, and then the skirt bled into a white dress covering a slight female form with hands folded together at the waist. And then arms appeared, and then shoulders, with a braid of white-blonde hair over one shoulder, and then a swan-like neck and delicate jawline. A wide pink mouth curved into a pleasant smile came into focus just before cheeks and a pert nose appeared, and ears with detached lobes, and the widest grey eyes rimmed with long, black lashes, and then a narrow forehead covered with a sweep of white-blonde hair.
She stood there finally, reaching just to his shoulder, and she tilted her head as she examined him as much as he was examining her. Finally her smile widened with delight and she spoke.
“Welcome home, John Sheppard,” her voice was the tinkling of fairy bells, light and pleasant and joyful. “It is good to see you again.”
John returned her smile. “Hello, Tanara. I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”