Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement
Fandemonium Press, March 2007.
When Dr. Rodney McKay unlocks an Ancient mystery on a distant moon, he discovers a terrifying threat to the Pegasus Galaxy. Determined to disable the device before it's discovered by the Wraith, Colonel John Sheppard and his team explore the treacherous ruins of an Ancient outpost. But attempts to destroy the technology are complicated by the arrival of a stranger -- a stranger who can't be trusted, who needs the device to return home. Cut off from backup, under attack by the Wraith, and with the future of the universe hanging in the balance, Sheppard's team must put aside their doubts and step into the unknown.
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John Sheppard lowered the binoculars. Even now that he had had a few days to get used to it, this view was still incredible.
They were on a moon that orbited a gas giant, and the shape of the huge planet was always visible in the sky, banded with the red-brown clouds of perpetual storms. It made a brilliant backdrop for the Ancient ruined city spread across the plateau.
The city went on for miles, a roofless maze of tumbled walls and pillars of indigo stone, with interconnected rooms, halls, dry fountains and pools, open courts. It stood above a barren desert plain, and the strong cool wind carried sheets of dust that washed up against the city's walls in continual waves. It was alien and exotic and beautiful; everything that made stepping through a Stargate worthwhile. John said wearily, "There's got to be something here besides rocks."
"No. No, there really doesn't." Rodney McKay climbed up the last few steps to join him on the terrace, looking over the acres of rubble-filled ruins with a grimace. "Rather like Charlie Brown at Halloween," he added sourly, folding his arms.
John let his breath out, resigned. "Did you figure out what--"
"Why the readings were--"
John stared at him, depending on his sunglasses to convey the full depth of the extent to which he really wasn't in the mood. Rodney, impervious to hints, demanded, "What?"
John tucked the binoculars back into the pocket of his tac vest deliberately, and did not push Rodney off the platform. It hadn't been a good day, or a good six days. One of the most promising Ancient sites they had found in the entire time the expedition had been in the Pegasus Galaxy was turning out to be a huge dud. Maybe the biggest dud since that intriguing room on the twentieth level of the southeast tower of Atlantis had turned out to be for making fruit ripen really fast and not recharging the Zero Point Modules. The only saving grace was that nothing here had tried to kill them yet.
The Stargate address had come out of the Ancient database in Atlantis, and the view of the ruined city on the MALP's fuzzy camera had made the entire science team dizzy with excitement. John's 'gate team had done a survey by jumper a week ago, and the extent of the ruins and the energy signatures Rodney had been able to pick up had seemed to confirm that this was a spectacular find. John had thought they had hit the jackpot here, that they were going to turn up more Ancient tech than they knew what to do with and maybe even a second ZPM. The first one that the relief mission from Earth had brought had saved their asses, allowing them to raise the city's shields and defend against a hiveship fleet, but it had to be used sparingly.
Since then, the team's enthusiasm level had dropped drastically. The energy readings that had seemed so encouraging at first just became scattered and erratic the further they got into the ruins. Even bringing in a team of archeologists and more Ancient technology experts from Rodney's lab hadn't helped. The extra personnel had come up with various ways to boost the sensors and made elaborate attempts to triangulate the source of the energy, all with no luck.
Rodney squinted up at the planet filling the sky, the big red swirling cloud of a storm dominating it now. "We're coming up on the eclipse," he pointed out.
John took a last look around at the empty city. "I know." He started down the battered stone steps that wound down through this square tower. Technically it was night right now; this side of the moon had a night phase when its orbit took it between the gas giant and the sun, but due to the reflected light from the planet, it wasn't so much dark as slightly overcast. The only time it actually got dark was when the moon's rotation took it around the far side of the planet, and John needed to finish his check of their security points and patrols before then.
The steps wound down a central column to the ground level, to the walkways between the crumbled structures. A ruined city of this size, with its narrow streets and overhanging structures, should have felt oppressive. But the gas giant provided a constant ever-changing show, and the translucent quality of the blue stone brought light down to even these lowest levels.
They hadn't found any signs of recent human habitation here, which at least meant that the Wraith were unlikely to visit this moon any time soon. That was important right now, and not just in the usual sense of not being eaten; the Wraith currently believed that Atlantis had destroyed itself in a nuclear blast and the expedition had to keep it that way.
In the open court at the bottom of the steps, they met Teyla, who was walking her patrol circuit. "Any trouble?" John asked dutifully.
Teyla tended to take most situations with trademark Athosian equanimity, but from the tired edge to her expression, John could tell she was bored out of her skull, too. She said wearily, "At lunch there was a small altercation over rations among Dr. Chandar's technical assistants."
Rodney snorted. "Spoiled bastards. I did without coffee for six months last year."
John gave him a look. "We know. We were there." He asked Teyla, "What rations?"
"The packages of snack cakes. Apparently there are only a small number left, and Petersen was accused of taking two. They would not stop arguing, so I took the disputed package and ate it myself. I confiscated the remainder from the supplies and concealed them under the emergency medical kit in Jumper One. Dr. Beckett assisted me so I gave him several." She frowned a little. "I fear now that extreme annoyance led me to overreact."
John regarded her solemnly. "Did you punch anybody?" He thought in her position he would possibly have punched somebody.
Teyla shook her head regretfully. "I did not."
"Then you're fine." And Jumper One was full of the confiscated goods, so he figured there wasn't a downside.
Teyla accepted that with a nod. She looked at Rodney, hesitated, and added, "I don't suppose you have found--"
"No, we haven't found a damn thing!" Rodney snarled, teeth gritted. He turned abruptly, heading up the street.
John lifted a brow, watching him stalk away. "I think he's starting to take this personally."
Teyla's mouth quirked. "And we are surprised by that?"
"Not really," John admitted.
Teyla continued her patrol. John didn't have anything better to do for the next few minutes since he had his security check routine timed to the last second by now, so he followed Rodney.
The big building at the end of the street was mostly intact, with a few soaring spires still stretching toward the sky. The entranceway with triple archways and heavy doors still in place had been a tempting distraction, until they discovered that there was nothing inside except dust. Pulling his sunglasses off, John caught up with Rodney at the little archway to one side and the steps that led down.
The stairs were wide and spiraled down around a central column, and were lit by an array of battery lamps. They led to a mostly open room, with empty corridors leading off from each wall. Like everything else here, it was made of the smooth blue stone, glossy and reflective where it wasn't marred by cracks or gouges where Ancient equipment had been removed when the city was abandoned. In the center was pretty much the only thing they had found so far: a circular bank of consoles set into stone pedestals. There were side panels that opened to reveal a confusing mass of crystal and clear conduit, the usual materials that the Ancients used. Right now it was hooked up to half a dozen laptops, and a large collection of portable and not-so-portable monitoring equipment.
On the third day of the mission, when they had tracked the intermittent power signatures to this room, Rodney and the other members of the Ancient Technology team had gone nuts, certain it was a major find. But the three members of the archeology team hadn't been enthusiastic. "It is either very, very dangerous or very, very useless," Dr. Baroukel had said, studying it grimly.
So far it was the second option all the way.
Now Radek Zelenka glanced up from an array of laptops spread out on a folding table, wiping sweat off his brow wearily. "Hello, Colonel, Rodney." He waved around at their equipment. "Still nothing."
Dr. Chandar, tinkering with the connections of one of the laptops, added, "There haven't been any new fluctuations in the signature, so we haven't been able to test the new triangulation method." He was one of the new scientists who had come out on the Daedalus, and this was his first offworld mission. Unlike the science team veterans who had come to Atlantis with the original expedition, the new people had never been through an attack by a hiveship fleet, never seen their friends turned into empty husks by Wraith, never lived for months with the fact that they were out here on their own and might never see Earth again. Even now that the Wraith thought Atlantis had self-destructed, and the Daedalus ran regular support and supply missions between galaxies every few months, this still wasn't a safe mission, and John preferred to go offworld with expedition veterans, people who knew that in their bones. Just because nothing had tried to kill them yet in this apparently empty city on this uninhabited moon, didn't mean it wouldn't happen.
"Yes, I actually didn't need the word 'nothing' translated." Rodney sourly eyed Chandar, the equipment, the chamber, and the scientists and techs studying the monitors. "I wasn't really expecting anything to have changed in the past half hour."
Miko Kusanagi, young, Asian, with most of her face dominated by coke-bottle glasses, looked up from her laptop, waving shyly at Rodney. "Dr. McKay, I have the new analysis of the readings--"
"Right, fine, yes." Rodney stamped over to peer at her screen. "Not that I suppose it's any different from the old analysis." This was Dr. Kusanagi's first time offworld, though John wasn't too worried about her survival skills. She had been with the expedition from the beginning, and had survived a year in Rodney's lab, so she had to be much tougher than she looked.
John wandered over to the Ancient consoles, looking at the crystals set in the smooth metal surfaces. The archeology team had pointed out the places where other devices had been attached, the spots on the floor where they thought other equipment, long since removed, had once stood. "So we still don't have a clue, huh?"
It was a rhetorical question, but Chandar said earnestly, "I still think it's a monitoring device of some sort." He threw Rodney a wary look. "McKay, I know you and Zelenka do not agree--"
Zelenka leaned back in his chair, and shrugged amiably. "We would agree perfectly, if we could find some hint of what it could be monitoring."
Rodney waved a hand in weary resignation. "Yes, if Archeology would get off their collective asses and find something -- anything."
John knew Archeology had to be bitching just as hard about Ancient Tech, but at least they had the courtesy to keep it among themselves. In the interest of fairness and not just to relieve boredom by messing with Rodney, he pointed out, "Archeology wants you to get off your ass and find the location of the power source, so they know where to dig."
"Yes, thank you, Colonel Obvious, I'm aware of that," Rodney said with acid emphasis, gesturing so sharply he nearly hit Miko in the head. With the ease of long practice, Miko leaned out of the danger zone. "If you have any other earth-shaking revelations--"
Zelenka interrupted, "But Dr. Corrigan has told me that he now believes most of this installation was dismantled at the same time as the city was abandoned. You would think that the Ancients would also have removed the power source, whatever it was, but--"
"But something keeps doing that!" Rodney shouted, stabbing an angry finger at the console.
There wasn't a big light show or anything else impressive, just a faint glow from the crystals and a low bass hum that John could feel in his back teeth. But every laptop in the room went crazy, beeping, flashing, displaying rapidly-scrolling screens of data. Rodney snapped, "Move." Miko scrambled out of the way, and Rodney sat down at her monitor as the others bolted frantically around the room.
Used to this by now, John smothered a yawn and checked his watch. During the eclipse they shut down operations everywhere but here, since the Mystery Power Source Room needed constant attention in case it did something explicable. "Rodney, you coming or staying?"
Rodney waved a hand vaguely, and John correctly interpreted that as a dismissal.
John finished his pre-eclipse security check, and in the wider passage that led to the Stargate platform, he ran into Carson Beckett and a couple of the Marines assigned to help him. All three men were covered with dust and blue smudges, and they smelled a little like rotting lettuce. The two Marines looked sour and Beckett looked blissfully happy. "How's it going?" John asked him. "Find some good fungi?"
"Aye, we've been very successful," Beckett said, contentedly patting the specimen case slung over his shoulder. "There's a lovely new species under that big slab Archeology is digging out."
Beckett was the only one happy with this moon. The Ancient database had hinted that there were some species of fungi here that had been used to make some of the medicines mentioned in the Ancient medical records, and apparently it had been right. Beckett checked his watch, adding, "They've found what might be a sewer entrance a couple of streets over. I'm going to take a look down there first thing after the eclipse."
"Great." The two Marines looked a little desperate, and John made a mental note to switch them out and let somebody else have a turn.
They parted ways and John headed up the passage, climbing the smooth steps to the Stargate platform.
The 'gate stood on a flat-topped pyramid in the exact center of the ruins. It had the best vantage point in the city, with a good view of the only open ground with enough space to land the puddlejumpers, a large roofless enclosure nearly the size of a football field that might once have been an arena or theater.
The naquadah ring of the Stargate gleamed faintly in the reflected light from the gas giant. Off to one side, out of the path of an initiating wormhole, was the MALP they had first used to test the address. Sitting on the platform and leaning back against the MALP was Ronon Dex.
"How's it going?" John said, and sat down on the sun-warmed stone.
Ronon shrugged slightly, apparently having learned by now that that was a question that didn't necessarily need an answer.
It was helpful that Ronon had volunteered for the most boring guard duty post, but after seven years of being hunted for sport by the Wraith, John got the idea that he found it restful. It wasn't a bad post; it was quiet, the gas giant and its satellites put on a continual show in the sky, people stopped by occasionally, and there were regular breaks for meals and sleep.
And an Ancient ruin, abandoned for ten thousand years, was a far cry from a human city destroyed by a Wraith culling, with burned ruins and bomb craters where science centers or weapons emplacements had once stood, desiccated corpses in the streets and recently orphaned children scrounging for food.
John leaned back, propping himself up on his elbows, tilting his head back to catch the last of the failing sun. "You want to be relieved?"
Ronon shook his head. It was too dark during the eclipse to make this post practical; they would depend on the life signs detectors and the instruments in the three jumpers for a warning of anything approaching. Instead of taking a break during the dark period, Ronon usually patrolled with the Marines on shift, making a circuit around the camp.
They sat there in silence for a time, then Ronon stirred a little and asked, "They find out why the Ancestors put this here yet?"
Ronon nodded, unsurprised. "Think they will?"
John started to give him the same answer, but he had a weird feeling, so he just said, "You never can tell."
John was used to scientists having conversations while he was trying to sleep. On missions that required long hours in the jumpers or camping on alien planets, it was impossible to avoid. Unfamiliar noises would wake him instantly and have him reaching for his pistol, but familiar voices didn't disturb him, and if they did, the conversations were usually easy to tune out. In this camp site, where the scientists were sleeping in the jumpers and John, Teyla, and the off-duty Marines had put their sleeping bags near the open ramps, it was unavoidable. This particular conversation seemed to be about energy signatures, and distances, and triangulation, but it also seemed to be taking place at very close range. Unusually close range. John opened his eyes to see Rodney and Zelenka in the faint light from the dimmed battery lamp. They were crouched over him on opposite sides of his sleeping bag.
Zelenka was saying intently, "--if the source is intermittent, and the calculations are correct--"
"Of course the calculations are correct!" Rodney broke in. "This could explain--"
"What the hell?" John asked evenly.
Rodney waved impatiently for him to shut up. "--all our anomalous readings--"
"--everything that has puzzled us, the consistency of the signal yet the inability to determine direction--" Zelenka waved his hands excitedly.
"Exactly!" Rodney finished. He looked down at John. "Now what did you want?"
"I want you to get off me," John said, and thought he sounded very reasonable under the circumstances.
"The jumper," Zelenka reminded Rodney. "We need you to take us up in the jumper," he explained to John. "Quickly, before we lose signal."
"Right, right, the jumper," Rodney agreed. He prodded John in the side impatiently. "What are you waiting for?"
"I'll give you a thirty-second head start," John promised him. "And I won't use the P-90."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Rodney demanded, outraged. "We've been looking for this energy source for days, and you want to--"
"Wait, what?" John pushed himself upright, fully awake now. "You found it?"
"The crystals beneath the central complex, the ones we thought were drained," Zelenka tried to explain, "they are a relay, the source is intermittent--"
"It's on the other moon," Rodney hissed, prodding John again. "Now will you get up and get the damn jumper ready?"
"Why didn't you say so?" John asked him, reaching for his tac vest and gun belt.
"I will come along as well," Teyla's voice said from the next sleeping bag over. "I am quite awake now."
"Immediately" wasn't possible, no matter how loud and imperative Rodney got. The jumpers only required a brief pre-flight, but there was a rule on all offworld missions that anything essential, or that could be identifiable as Atlantean if found by the Wraith, had to be stored onboard when not in use, so it wouldn't have to be abandoned in an emergency lift-off. Since that described pretty much everything they had here, that meant there were several cases of equipment and tools that had to be shifted out of Jumper One to Jumpers Two and Three, in case it was needed while they were gone. The five cranky scientists sleeping in Jumper One also had to be shifted to Jumpers Two and Three to join the equally cranky scientists sleeping there. It all took under twenty minutes, despite Rodney's insistence that this was an emergency and they should just take off with the equipment and extra passengers aboard.
Rodney had wanted Zelenka, Chandar, and Kusanagi to accompany them, but Chandar had volunteered to stay here and monitor the device on this end, rather than leave it to the techs. John felt compelled to point out, "Kusanagi and Zelenka don't have much offworld time. And it was hard enough to get him to come here." This was only Zelenka's second offworld mission, and he wasn't exactly a natural at it. The first one had been a brief foray to a culled planet, to try to get Rodney and Lieutenant Cadman out of the storage buffer of a downed Wraith dart. It hadn't exactly gone well.
Rodney waved the objection away. "Yes, I know. But he needs to get over it, and if Kusanagi's going to advance, she needs field experience." He hesitated uneasily, rubbing his hands together. "Are you thinking about Irina?"
And about every other scientist John had taken through a Stargate and not brought back. "You're not?"
"We all know what the risks are." Rodney looked away, grimacing. Just then, Ronon came walking down the ramp with a crate, and Rodney jerked his head toward him. "And speaking of which, why are we bringing him?"
"Because he needs more mission experience if he's going to be on the team." John knew Rodney was still holding the whole "hanging upside down from a tree" thing against Ronon. It was hardly surprising, since John had stolen a handful of Rodney's popcorn ration once last year, and Rodney was still holding that against him.
Rodney said pointedly, "Nobody thinks that's a good idea but you."
"I think it is a good idea," Teyla said, calmly sorting through her pack.
"We're not voting," Rodney told her. "We--"
"That's right, we're not," John cut him off. What they were really arguing about wasn't bringing in Ronon, but replacing Ford, and he didn't want to hear about it. It had been hard enough to make the decision; he wasn't going to reconsider it now.
John had put off adding a fourth member to their team, put off even thinking about it, about anything but getting Ford back. Until they had found him on P3M-736, out of his head from the enzyme, and John had watched him jump into a Wraith culling beam.
There hadn't been a lot of options to replace him at first; John had wanted to make certain that all the teams had at least one, preferably two, Atlantean veterans to go along with the new personnel, and now they were all assigned and working together comfortably. And he just hadn't wanted to put a shiny new Marine in Ford's place. Ford had been young, but he hadn't been inexperienced, and it still hadn't saved him. Ronon had survived seven years running from the Wraith with no support network whatsoever; he was ideal for a 'gate team, if they could just teach him how to work and play well with others again. "We're bringing Ronon," John said, and Rodney flung his arms in the air and stalked off.
John also took the time to arrange a check-in schedule with Major Lorne. "Think you can handle the excitement?" John asked.
"Yes, sir," Lorne said, his expression wry in the light from the battery lamps. Lorne was Air Force and John's newly assigned 2IC, and John had been a little surprised that he was fitting in so well on Atlantis. But then Lorne had been in the SGC for a few years, and was probably used to the crazier aspects of offplanet life. He also had the Ancient gene, so he could fly the puddlejumpers if necessary. Lorne added, "If the scientists start fighting again, I'll just use the Wraith stunners."
"Fire a warning shot first," John told him. After that, they were ready to leave.
"Finally!" Rodney snarled as the jumper lifted off. He was in the left hand jump seat, connecting his laptop into the jumper's systems. "If we lose this trace--"
"Did you lose it?" John asked, guiding the jumper rapidly up through the dark sky, the sensor image of the gas giant outlined by the holographic Heads Up Display.
"Then shut up."
"Everyone moved as quickly as possible," Teyla pointed out from the co-pilot's chair, her tone placating. She had called the shotgun seat before Rodney, which John suspected was also pissing him off.
"How long will it take to get there?" Zelenka asked warily from the other jump seat. Miko was sitting in the back with Ronon. She seemed more excited than nervous, while Zelenka seemed mostly nervous.
The HUD popped up a projected ETA in response to John's thought. John mentally converted the figures from Ancient. "About forty-five minutes, give or take."
Rodney nodded, his mouth set in a grim line. "I just hope the signatures are still traceable by then."
John rolled his eyes. "Why don't you get the cakes out from under the medical kit?"
Zelenka looked up, startled. "Is that where they are? I thought they had run out."
"Chandar's techs were eating them," Rodney explained darkly, standing up to head into the back.
"Bastards," Zelenka muttered.
The other moon looked red from orbit. When John took the jumper down toward the surface, following the energy signature, they skimmed over a wide open plain with pink and brown soil studded with patches of tall grass and scrubby bushes. The light had an odd quality; bright but tinted by the gas giant filling the sky, unchangeable and undimmed by the few wispy clouds.
"The jumper's detecting a low oxygen content in the atmosphere," Rodney said, sounding preoccupied. "The levels vary between twelve and fifteen percent. Being out on the surface unprotected would be like trying to jog around the top of Mount Everest." He looked up, his mouth twisted. "That's odd."
"Why is that odd?" Ronon asked, standing to look through the cabin doorway.
Miko, sitting on the floor between the two jump seats with her laptop, pushed back her glasses to look up at him. "We've never found an Ancient occupation site on a planet or moon that couldn't support human life."
"I think perhaps what atmosphere is there is artificial," Zelenka said, studying his own laptop.
Teyla twisted around in her seat, startled. "That is possible?"
"Very much so, with Ancients' level of technology," Zelenka assured her. "If it was done here, there was perhaps not enough plant life and bodies of water to sustain the atmosphere, without whatever mechanism that supplied or created it. Since this moon was abandoned, the atmosphere would have gradually leaked away, until it reached a stable level that the surface could support."
"It's a distinct possibility," Rodney added, studying his own data. "The jumper's orbital scan picked up few open bodies of water, minimal plant life, small amounts of ice at the poles, but no sizable life signs, which means no humans, no aliens, no large fauna--"
"No Wraith," John put in, though he wasn't sorry to hear about the lack of large fauna, either. Since the planet with the thing that looked a lot like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, he was sensitive on that point.
"No Wraith, always a plus," Rodney agreed. He looked up, wide-eyed. "Oh, oh, oh, here we go."
The jumper's HUD was picking up a group of man-made structures, standing out against the flat terrain. Despite the lack of life signs, John kept the jumper cloaked.
As they drew nearer, John slowed the jumper, bringing it down for a closer look. There were several large low buildings, with flattened domes, surrounded by stretches of pavement that were mostly covered by sand. One dome was partially open, showing that at some point it had been able to retract, allowing access to the building for air or space craft. "I think we found the spaceport," John said, and had to think, I love it when I get to say things like that.
Rodney was on his feet, gripping the back of John's seat and pointing over his shoulder. "Get closer!"
John lifted a brow. "You think that's a good idea? If that thing snaps shut--"
Rodney snorted. "Oh, right. This from the man whose last words were almost 'hey, I want to get a better look at the big thing with the tentacles down there.'" He waved a hand. "This dome must operate like the outer doors in Atlantis' jumper bay, and it's probably been stuck open for ten thousand years."
"Okay, fine. But I get to say 'I told you so' if the building eats us," John said, though he thought Rodney was probably right.
"I will make note of that," Teyla commented dryly.
"How comforting," Zelenka added, sounding uneasy.
John guided the jumper down toward the half-open dome. This close, it looked reassuringly stable; red lichen or moss had crept up the sides and was growing in cracks in the dark material. Still, he didn't intend to go all the way in. As he hovered over the dark opening, the jumper's outer lights came on, playing over the building's interior, illuminating a metallic floor and another set of bay doors leading to a lower level, also wedged partly open.
"Look," Teyla said softly, pointing. "The far wall."
John adjusted the angle, tilting the jumper downwards for a better view, and the lights swiveled to better illuminate the area. He saw the racks and walkways for a jumper bay, all empty. Now this was a cool find. "This is the spaceport, all right."
His voice tense with excitement, Rodney said, "We need to check those other domes. If they left even one jumper behind, or if there's a repair facility, or spare parts--"
"It would come in handy," John finished. They had lost a few jumpers over the past year. With the Daedalus making regular supply runs, it wasn't as desperate a situation as it would have been before resuming contact with Earth, but it wasn't like they could manufacture them yet. He thought this was a damn good day's work.
"But there is no city here, no Stargate as far as we know. Why would they put the jumper bays in the middle of nowhere?" Teyla wondered, her brow furrowed slightly.
"The city could be underground." Rodney stepped back to study his equipment again. "And actually that makes more sense. If this power source is shielded--"
"Rodney, I don't think it is here," Zelenka said, shaking his head at his laptop's screen. "These readings are almost identical to those on the other moon." He looked down to check Miko's screen, then turned his chair, watching Rodney intently. "I think this is also a relay."
Snarling under his breath, Rodney lunged over Miko to look at Zelenka's screen. Zelenka leaned sideways to avoid being shoved out of his seat and Miko smashed herself back into the doorway. John looked earnestly at Teyla and said, "It's like a scavenger hunt."
She lifted a brow and her lips quirked. "I hope that is not what it sounds like."
Rodney turned back, stabbing a finger at the port. "He's right. Keep going, that way!"
"What, you don't want to stop and explore the spaceport?" John protested. From the readings, they wouldn't even need to use the awkward environmental suits, just the SCBAs that were part of the jumper's standard equipment.
"You have a spaceport at home. Right now we need to find the energy source." Rodney leaned between the seats, nearly elbowing Teyla in the head as he pointed at the HUD. The jumper's longrange sensors were busily assembling a rough map display. "Now go that way, toward the mountains."
"We can always come back," Teyla pointed out practically, fending Rodney off. "The spaceport does not appear to be in any danger of vanishing."
John began, "Yeah, but--" Rodney was turning red and Zelenka was waving erratically toward the readings on his screen, and Miko was gazing up at him in mute appeal. Ronon stirred restlessly but didn't weigh in on either side. "Okay, fine." Disgruntled, John lifted the jumper out of the dome and guided them away toward the distant mountain range. "But next time we stop and look at the thing I want to stop and look at."
After about fifteen minutes of flight, the mountains were beginning to loom larger in the port.
"Dr. McKay, Dr. Zelenka!" Miko said suddenly. "These readings--"
"Rodney, Miko, do you see this?" Zelenka demanded.
Rodney snapped, "Yes, yes, shut up, I'm trying to--"
"It's spiking!" Zelenka yelped.
"Kids." John kept his voice calm. "Share with the rest of the class. I'd kind of like to know what I'm flying directly into."
"It's a power signature." Rodney, who was obviously in the midst of a science-gasm, laughed a little erratically. "It has to be something enormous. It's showing fluctuations, as though it's in use--"
"How enormous?" John could see something on the horizon, a shape too regular to be part of the low mountains. He squinted, trying to make it out. Then the jumper's sensors picked it up, creating a three-dimensional shape in the HUD. Teyla leaned forward, staring intently at the image. According to the sensors, it was a round structure, open in the middle, with a flat roof. It looked like nothing so much as a big stadium, at least a 100,000 seater. John said, "This enormous?"
Everybody was staring at the HUD now. The jumper wasn't finding any life signs, just the power signatures that were making the scientists frisky.
"Get closer," Rodney whispered.
John gained a little altitude and dropped a lot of speed, approaching cautiously. They could clearly see the dark stone walls now, indigo like the city on the other moon, streaked with the red dust. The building wasn't featureless, there were lines and squares embossed in it in abstract patterns that were probably just decoration, but there were no windows on this outside wall. Moving slower still, John took the jumper up over the roof.
The open well in the center of the building was big enough to accommodate at least two football fields. Inside it was a giant silver ring, framing...something. An energy field, John thought, baffled. It was black and oddly mottled as energy fluctuated across it. "What the hell?" he said aloud. There was pavement around the outer ring and a few other structures standing out from the main building. He knew what it looked like, but it couldn't be.
Startled, Teyla said, "Is that some sort of--"
"A giant Stargate," Rodney finished, sounding caught somewhere between awe and pure avarice. "It could be. That energy field--"
"If it's a 'gate, it's active." John looked from the energy readings the HUD was displaying to the dark fluid surface. How the hell can it be active?
"A ship nearly the size of the Daedalus could pass through it," Teyla said, fascinated. "Surely that must be its purpose, to transport large ships."
Zelenka waved a hand wildly. "Yes, yes, it has to be for large transports, probably without hyperdrives, to send them to--"
"Yeah, right, but why is it active?" John thought that was the important point right now. "Who the hell dialed it?" There were still no life signs, so whoever had activated it had to be on the other end of the wormhole.
Rodney shook his head. "It's been active intermittently for the past week, or we wouldn't have detected-- When we found the crystal relay chamber, that might have triggered some sort of automatic-- But the intermittent activity suggests--" He stared out the port, his expression turning fraught. "We're cloaked, right?"
"Yes," John said, drawing out the word and giving Rodney a look.
Rodney nodded to himself, his face uneasy. "Then we should be fine. Try to get down a little closer."
Keeping one eye on the HUD, and wondering at Rodney's definition of "fine," John brought the jumper in low over the roof, following the curve around. There was no way in hell he was going to take them over the giant wormhole, if that was what it was.
The ring itself was thick, maybe as wide as a boxcar, but it was bare of any symbols. "I do not see chevrons, or 'gate symbols along the rim. How does it dial?" Teyla wondered, echoing John's thought. "It must be completely different from--"
The field rippled as if a wave had crossed it, silver edging the black. Interference suddenly fuzzed out the HUD, leaving only an Ancient blinking error message. Rodney's fingers dug into John's shoulder, almost to the bone, and he gasped, "Go, go, go, now, get away from it--"
The jumper was already swerving up and away, responding to Rodney's urgency and John's startled thought, even before John could give it a new heading with the physical controls. Then John heard a rumble reverberate through the jumper's metal and the readouts went crazy. Suddenly an explosive concussion hit them like a giant hand; the jumper shivered and John fought the controls.
The jumper spun sideways then end over end. The inertial dampeners didn't go out, but the view flipped crazily in the port, the ground changing place with the sky. John heard the collective gasp, but the rumble was already dying away. He felt the yoke ease up and brought them smoothly out of the spin, taking them up and away into the upper atmosphere.
John let his breath out, feeling sweat break out all over his body. He looked back at the others. Teyla was gripping the arms of her chair, Rodney's hands had left permanent dents in John's shoulders, Zelenka looked faint and was holding hands with a very pale Miko. Ronon just looked impressed, but he was gripping the hatchway tightly. John said, "Everybody okay?"
"We were upside down," Zelenka said weakly. Miko patted his arm.
"I think we are well." Teyla looked up at Rodney, her brow furrowed in concern. "What was that?"
John twisted around to see that Rodney's face was white with shock. Rodney's throat worked and he said, "It's unstable. That sensor spike, right before the blast-- It's not a Stargate."
Miko stared at him blankly, then gasped in horror. Zelenka took a sharp breath, shaking his head, saying, "No, no, Rodney, it cannot be."
Teyla threw a bewildered look at John, and he shook his head. He didn't have a clue. His first impulse had been to make a "that's no moon, it's a space station" joke, but he didn't think anybody would appreciate it at the moment.
Rodney stepped back over to his seat, bringing up a screen on the laptop there. "Look at the readings," he grated out. "They're distorted because of the intermittent power source, the instability, the energy bursts-- That's why we couldn't find the damn power source, it doesn't need one! It's drawing it off subspace; it is the power source! That's why it's up here and the city and the 'gate are on the other moon, why the jumper port is kilometers away!"
"Okay," John said warily. "What is it?"
Rodney said, "It's a Quantum Mirror."
end chapter 1
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