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[personal profile] vain_glorious
Title: The Light of Compassion
Author:[livejournal.com profile] vain_glorious 
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Word Count: ~32,000 in total. In multiple posts due to length.
Rating: R for disturbing imagery and concepts. Gen. See Warnings.
Spoilers: Explicit for 5x01, more general for 5X08 and 5X09
Summary: A year after the events of 5X01 "Search and Rescue", tragedy strikes Atlantis.
Warnings: Character Death(s). Dark.
Disclaimer:  Not mine.
Author's notes: Please heed warnings. If you're out of order, here's part 1.


They had an executive meeting when Sheppard’s team got back to Atlantis. Woolsey didn’t reprimand them for disobeying protocol. After hearing their report, he might have been too distracted to care.

“The entire village?” he said, sounding horrified.

“Yeah,” Sheppard said.

“The last anthropology mission recorded five hundred and twelve residents,” Rosen piped up, softly.

For a second, Woolsey didn’t say anything. Sheppard didn’t blame him.

“No sign-” he began.

“No,” Sheppard interrupted.

“It’s just like the others,” McKay jumped in. “He must have darts or something with Wraith beaming technology.”

Woolsey frowned and looked at McKay. “Michael,” he said. Not because they all didn’t know who they were talking about, but probably because no one had yet spit his name out there. Ronon rolled his eyes, anyway.

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. He paused. “Teyla should be here.”

They paged her over the intercom and she arrived a few minutes later. Her face was hard and worried before she even sat down, and it got darker and tighter as she listened to their mission report.

“The Alethians,” she said, horror in her voice. Sheppard hadn’t known what the villagers called themselves. “All of them?”

Sheppard nodded. “There was another message, Teyla,” he said.

“Doesn’t help us find him,” Ronon muttered.

“At home,” Rosen said. For Woolsey’s benefit, she repeated the whole message. “Be my queen at home.”

Sheppard dug out his camera, slid it across the table to Teyla. She clicked through the photos, searching for the relevant ones.

“So,” Woolsey said, tiredly. “This tells us that Michael is doing more than trying to time his attacks with our missions.”

Sheppard shrugged. “We have no way of knowing when he was there. It was probably within a few days. That’s too close for my comfort.”

“He took five hundred people to turn into monsters,” Rodney snapped. “How is that comforting at all?”

Teyla interrupted before anyone could reply. She laid the camera down on the tabletop, pushed it back towards Sheppard. “That is not the glyph for ‘home,’” she said.

“What does it say?” Sheppard asked.

“It says ‘at the birthplace,’” Teyla said.

“My mistake,” Rosen whispered, looking embarrassed.

“Be my queen at the birthplace,” Rodney said. “Be my queen at the birthplace,” he repeated, like saying it again changed its meaning.

Woolsey looked confused. “Is that more meaningful?” he asked. Sheppard made eye contact with Teyla, didn’t answer him yet. When no one else said anything either, Woolsey spoke again. “You know what it means?”

“It is clearly a reference to my son,” Teyla said, switching her gaze from Sheppard to Woolsey. Her voice was steadier than Sheppard’s would have been.

Woolsey paused. “Where was your son born?” He genuinely didn’t know. Sheppard guessed that part of the last mission before his arrival hadn’t been the highlight for the IOA.

“Michael’s ship,” Teyla said, which was true.

“He was going to be born in one of Michael’s labs,” Rodney said. “You know, the one that fell down on top of us all.”

“The mission that killed two squads of Marines,” Woolsey said. “The trap.”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. He glanced at Ronon, who seemed to be scowling even more intensely.

“He wants us to go back there,” Teyla said. “Wants me to go back there.”

“Ah,” Woolsey said. “Now, I might not be an expert on military strategy, but I do believe this might be a second trap.”

“Yeah,” McKay said. “Duh.”

“I think we should go,” Ronon said, flatly. All eyes moved to him and he sat forward in his seat. “I’m sick of waiting. He wants to fight, let’s fight.”

“No,” Woolsey said. And then he said it louder, more emphatically. “No. We are all frustrated at being a step behind, Ronon, but I don’t believe the answer is to walk into a clearly marked trap.”

“What’s the answer?” Ronon asked, his scowl transitioning to a sneer. “Wait around while he kills more and more of our allies?”

There was silence for a moment.

“I’d kind of like an answer to that question, too,” Rodney said softly. “I know I’m normally a big fan of running and hiding.” He dipped his chin. “But he just killed five hundred people. And the Athosians.” He looked at Teyla.

“I know,” Woolsey said, sharply. He softened his voice. “I know, Dr. McKay. I’m not unsympathetic.” His face twisted awkwardly, as if he knew how callously bureaucratic that sounded. “But my job is to look out for the best interests of this mission. And every single time this city has engaged this man –”

“He’s not a man,” Ronon interrupted. “He’s Wraith. He’s always been Wraith, he’ll always be Wraith. Don’t forget it.”

Woolsey blinked at Ronon for a second, then went on, appropriately chastened. “This Wraith,” he said. “Every time this city has engaged him, we have lost. We have lost lives. I’m not willing to risk any more knowing it’s exactly what he wants.”

He barely stopped speaking when Teyla started. She leaned forward in her chair, arms on top of the table top, fingers intertwined.

“I am not willing to risk others’ lives,” she said. “He is murdering these people because of me.”

“Teyla –” Sheppard began.

“And you,” she continued. “He cannot touch this city, but he is destroying the lives of people we have interacted with. That is our fault. I cannot stand by while he ravages my galaxy, just because I am safe here.” She looked at Woolsey. “Just because you are afraid. We have the ability to fight him. We have the technology of the Ancestors. The people he is killing have nothing.”

Teyla didn’t give anyone a chance to reply. “If we have the ability to fight him, to find him, we must take it while we have the chance.” She paused for a moment, eyes sweeping around the table to land on Sheppard. “John?”

Sheppard didn’t answer immediately. Her face was so plaintive, it killed him to respond the way he had to. “I agree with Woolsey,” he said.

Betrayal sliced across Teyla’s expression, her mouth moving.

“Why?” she asked, and Ronon said it at the exact same time.

“This is our fault,” Sheppard said. “I know that, Teyla. I also know that if we go in unprepared and get ourselves killed, we aren’t helping anyone. We are going to kill him, but I want to be a step ahead of him. Every time we’ve moved in reaction – Woolsey’s right – we lose.”

Teyla blinked at him, clearly unsatisfied.

“The Daedalus is arriving in two weeks,” Sheppard continued. “I want that kind of backup in place, especially if he has a ship of his own.” He glanced across the table at Woolsey, hoping he would agree. “We will fight him when we have the upper hand.”

“Very well,” Teyla said, but her face was harshly blank and her tone was unconvinced.

~

Sheppard meant to find Teyla after the meeting, sit her down and let her know how sincere he was both about understanding the extent to which Atlantis was responsible for Michael and about finding and finally killing Michael. But she seemed to vanish, clearly uninterested in speaking to him. Ronon went after her, but not before glaring at Sheppard and letting him know that he totally agreed with Teyla. More awkwardly, McKay made a face at Sheppard and hurried after Ronon.

It probably wasn’t the first time Sheppard had had all three teammates angry at him, but it wasn’t something that had actually happened all that often. It felt weird and wrong, even if Sheppard stood by his opinion.

Rosen, at least, followed Sheppard out of the conference room.

“You agree with me?” He asked her.

She blinked at him. “I’m an anthropologist,” she said. “I have no idea. Michael scares me.” She paused. “Sorry I mistranslated the glyph.”

“It’s okay,” he said. Rosen dipped her head and slunk off.

Sheppard never managed to find time to have that conversation with Teyla. That day and the following one, other reconnaissance teams came back from their trade missions reporting exactly the same thing as Sheppard’s team had found on P3X-115. More empty villages, the ‘birthplace’ glyph burned in a conspicuous place.

It was awful.

Doing the math was worse. Calculations of the number of people Michael had either murdered or transformed into something grotesque and inhuman were reaching over a thousand, now.

Sheppard didn’t believe that Michael had knowledge of every mission leaving Atlantis. Not every trade mission had found the same situation. Some, thankfully, had nothing out of the ordinary. He guessed it might be somewhat arbitrary, based on understanding the general radius of Atlantis’ operations. Sheppard wondered if it included planets Atlantis teams hadn’t stepped foot on in years. It was impossible to know without launching investigations they didn’t have time for right now.

Still, it gnawed at him.

That night, he went looking for McKay. Ronon and Teyla, he figured, would just be more upset by the thought. He didn’t want to agitate them anymore than they already were. McKay – well McKay wouldn’t be happy about it, but Sheppard anticipated that he’d at least want to talk it out.

Sheppard couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in the lab. McKay wasn’t in his quarters. He wasn’t in the cafeteria. There was no answer of the intercom, either.

McKay was, generally, too mature to be avoiding Sheppard. He wasn’t good at ignoring people. Sheppard was always loudly informed when he’d done something to piss Rodney off. Hiding was not his style.

Sheppard went back to McKay’s lab, half-expecting that Rodney would be back there now. There really weren’t that many places Rodney would go on Atlantis.

He wasn’t there, but Zelenka was.

“You seen Rodney?” Sheppard asked, coming up to where Zelenka was bent over a tablet and a pile of what looked like microchips.

Zelenka glanced up. “He is not here,” he said, and went back to squinting at his work.

“I can see that,” Sheppard said, annoyed. “Do you know where he is?”

Making a face, Zelenka pulled his face back up to look at Sheppard. “He went off with Ronon and Teyla many hours ago. Maybe sparring?”

“Rodney?” asked Sheppard.

Zelenka shrugged. “Snacking? I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.”

“I can’t find him,” Sheppard said. Zelenka stared at him, confusion creeping over his face. “I don’t know where he is.”

Raising one hand to his earpiece, Zelenka rolled his eyes. “McKay?” he said. He waited, then looked back at Sheppard. “No answer.”

It was Sheppard’s turn to roll his eyes. “I did try that.”

Zelenka made a face and shrugged. When Sheppard didn’t make any move to leave, total confusion settled on his face. “You are serious?” he said. “You think he is not in city?”

“No,” Sheppard said, immediately. “No…but I would like to know where he is.”

“Okay,” Zelenka said. He pulled the tablet up, saved his work, and brought up a new screen that Sheppard had never seen before. His hands moved quickly across the screen. “I find him.”

“What is that thing?” Sheppard asked.

“Radio telemetry sensor search,” Zelenka said, which meant absolutely nothing to Sheppard. “I am searching for the receptor in his earpiece.”

“You can find people that way?”

“Yes,” Zelenka said. “Is not designed to ‘find people’ but this city has so many sensors, can be used in many ways.”

“So if I want not to be found,” Sheppard said, “I need to take my earpiece out?”

“Yes,” he said. “And your subcutaneous implant, too.”

“Well yeah,” Sheppard said.

Zelenka continued to work, but he was starting to make a face at the tablet.

“What is it?” Sheppard asked, when Zelenka started frowning.

“Rodney’s earpiece is not receiving within the city,” he said. “Is very strange.” He looked up at Sheppard. “You are sure he is in city?”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “There aren’t any trade missions scheduled tonight, and he wouldn’t have gone on any of them, anyway.”

“Maybe he broke it,” Zelenka decided. “I have broken three of mine. Stepped on one and fried the other two in the shower.”

Sheppard stared at him, waiting for him to come back around to helpful.

“I can locate the last place his earpiece received a broadcast,” Zelenka said, sensing Sheppard’s annoyance. “I do that.” He leaned back over the tablet and went to work. “Is more complicated…”

“You can’t just use his subcutaneous transmitter?” Sheppard asked, growing bored and impatient. And worried.

Zelenka stopped. “Yes. Of course.” He paused. “There will be many signals in the city, I will have to identify his frequency.” Zelenka opened up a new program on the tablet. “I have never searched for someone in the city before, actually.”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said. “Do it.”

Zelenka went to work again, but he almost immediately started making strange, confused faces. “Okay,” he said. “This is very odd. I cannot find him.”

“What?” asked Sheppard.

“His transmitter is not broadcasting,” Zelenka said.

“He’s not in the city?” Sheppard asked.

“No,” Zelenka said. “I mean, I don’t know. It is not broadcasting at all. If it were not in the city, the program would tell me. It does not detect him at all.” He looked up helplessly at Sheppard, confused.

Sheppard took a step backwards, cupping one hand over his ear as he switched to the team frequency on his earpiece. “Guys?” he said, his voice sharp. “Where the hell is Rodney?”

It took less than a second and  he got an answer.

“Sir?” Rosen’s voice came into his ear. “I haven’t seen Dr. McKay since this morning.” She sounded alarmed, maybe because of the way Sheppard had asked.

“Thanks,” Sheppard said. “Ronon? Teyla?”

And he was actually calling for them, but Rosen answered again. “Same,” she said. “I have not seen them since their mission this morning.”

“What?” He paused for a second, stunned. “What mission?”

“Um,” Rosen said. “I saw them at 0800 this morning in a transporter. I was going to breakfast and Dr. McKay said they were joining another team on a trade mission for backup.”

Teyla?” Sheppard demanded.

“Oh,” Rosen said after a second of silence. “That is weird. I didn’t think about it.”

“Sheppard out,” he said, rude but not caring. He stepped closer to Zelenka, who had only heard his half of the conversation and was staring at him with wide eyes.

“Ronon and Teyla,” he said, not bothering to fill him in. “Where are they?”

Without asking any questions, Zelenka turned back to the tablet and went to work again.

“Their signals are broadcasting,” he said, and Sheppard’s gut filled with relief. “They are both in Teyla’s quarters,” Zelenka said, a second later.

“Thanks,” Sheppard said, and then he turned around and ran.

~

No one answered at Teyla’s door. Sheppard wasn’t expecting that anyone would even as he really hoped to see Teyla’s face when the door slid open. He easily overrode the security system with a single thought.

Teyla’s quarters were dark and empty. He could tell that immediately. But something made him step inside, anyway, and turn on the lights.

He knew she hadn’t spent much time here, lately. She’d basically moved into the crèche in the infirmary. The bed was neatly made, but that didn’t mean anything since he didn’t think she’d spent the night here since Kanaan had died.

Sheppard’s eyes were drawn to something white folded into a point in the very center of Teyla’s bed. It was out of place and he moved towards it. It was just a napkin from the cafeteria. He reached for it, anyway. Something rectangular and heavy dropped out from inside the napkin and thumped on the bed spread.

But Sheppard didn’t look at it. His eyes were stuck to two red-brown splotches on the inside of the white napkin. Blood. And within each stain was a tiny, barely visible silver-flecked microchip.

The object the napkin had been wrapped around was a small tape recorder. It might have been McKay’s, or maybe they’d stolen it from Rosen. Automatically, Sheppard reached for it, found and hit the play button.

Static filled the room as the tape started, but there seemed to be nothing on it. Sheppard blinked at it for a second, and then hit the rewind button. The thing squealed and then clicked as it rolled back to the beginning. Sheppard hit play again.

There was a second of silence and then Teyla’s voice came out of the speaker.

“John, I am sorry to have deceived you but I feel I must do this. I cannot stay here. I cannot wait. I must go.”

“I’m going with her,” Ronon’s voice followed, a little muffled from his distance to the microphone. 

“They need me to fly the Jumper.” Rodney’s voice, also at a distance.

There was a click on the tape as the record button was released. Static resumed for a few seconds and then it clicked again.

“Please care for my son if I do not return,” Teyla said, softly, and then she was gone.

~

“Did you know about this?” Woolsey demanded. He looked angrier than Sheppard had ever seen him.

They were alone in the conference room, the bloody napkin and the tape recorder lying on the table where Sheppard had set them as he had told Woolsey the story. Zelenka, Lorne, and Keller were on their way.

“No,” Sheppard said. “I would have gone with them if I had,” he added, because it was the truth.

Woolsey looked a little taken aback at that, but before he could comment the summoned three arrived in the conference room.

“Rodney is really gone?” Zelenka asked, when he saw Sheppard.

“Yeah,” he said, as the three each found seats around the table opposite Woolsey. When they were sitting, he reached out and hit the play button on the device and let it tell the story.

“Oh my God,” Keller said, when the tape was done. Her eyes were huge. “I can’t believe this.”

“Neither can I,” muttered Woolsey, much less enthusiastically.

“I can’t believe Rodney went with them,” Zelenka volunteered. “Is unlike him.”

“I’d like it if the impulse to go rogue was unlike everyone on this mission,” Woolsey said, angrily.

The table fell silent.

“How did they get out of the city without authorization?” Woolsey asked. “With a Jumper?”

The question wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but Zelenka tried to answer it. 

“They must have cloaked the Jumper,” he said. “To start.”

“My team launched a Jumper this morning,” Lorne said, slowly. “Our trade mission was fifty kilometers from the ‘Gate, we took a Jumper to make it quick.” He paused. “I didn’t…I mean…I suppose it’s possible that Rodney used the window where the Jumper bay doors were open and the ‘Gate was open to either follow or get ahead of us.” Lorne made a face. “I didn’t know he was that good a pilot.”

Sheppard agreed. “I don’t think he is.”

Zelenka shrugged. “Would be easy to reprogram the length of time both are open to give him more time. Is what I would have done.” He looked awkward. “If I needed to sneak out of city, that is,”

“And no one would find anything unusual about seeing most of Sheppard’s team going to the Jumpers,” Woolsey continued, frowning.

“Why are there only two transmitters?” Keller asked. “Can’t we track the third?”

“Rodney wouldn’t let Ronon cut his subcutaneous implant out with a knife,” Sheppard guessed. Everyone looked at him. “That’s what he did.”

It was easy to picture. Neither Teyla nor Ronon were squeamish and Ronon had a very steady hand. But Rodney didn’t like being cut at hospitals.

“We cannot track the third,” Zelenka said. He tilted his head at Sheppard. “We tried earlier.”

“Why not?” asked Woolsey.

At the same time, Keller spoke up. “I thought these things could broadcast over light years.” She was poking at her own arm.

“They can,” said Lorne.

“How would Rodney disable it?” Sheppard asked Zelenka. “Without surgery?”

“Hmm,” Zelenka said. “There are some very dense metals that, if placed directly over the microchip, would block its signal."

“Are those materials available on Atlantis?” Woolsey asked.

Zelenka paused. “Some,” he said. And then he muttered, “And Rodney could make the ones that aren’t. He would have to work fast, though.”

Sheppard said nothing, thinking of just how motivated Rodney would be to avoid the surgery-by-Ronon option.

“Why would they remove those at all?” Lorne asked, pointing with his chin at the bloody napkin. “We know where they were going, right? The planet with Michael’s lab.” He made a face. “Where Teyla was supposed to give birth.”

“They didn’t want to be stopped,” Sheppard said, abruptly. “I don’t think they mind if we follow.” He cleared his throat and went for it. “Permission to –”

“Absolutely not,” Woolsey said, before he even finished his sentence. “Permission denied.”

Sheppard tried to protest, but Woolsey continued.

“The situation has not changed since yesterday,” Woolsey said. “When you agreed with me that we needed to have the Daedalus at our disposal before moving against Michael.”

“My team is out there,” Sheppard retorted.

Woolsey leaned forward. “I know,” he said, and his voice was rising. “Without authorization and I’m not going to risk anyone else because of their recklessness!”

When Sheppard didn’t yell back, Woolsey sank backwards into his chair.

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice softening. “I assure you, I’m as worried as you are. But you know as well as I that they shouldn’t have gone on their own.”

Sheppard looked at the tabletop, at the bloody spots representing Teyla and Ronon.

“I’m going to contact the Daedalus,” Woolsey continued, voice returning to normal. “Ask them to increase their speed and get here as soon as possible. They can probably move up their arrival by a couple of days."

“Thanks,” Sheppard said, and it was sincere.

“If no one else has any suggestions,” said Woolsey, “you’re dismissed.”

~

Keller caught up to Sheppard as they all exited the conference room.

“I saw Teyla this morning,” she confessed. “Before she…before they left.”

Sheppard looked at her. “She say anything?”

“She asked me to keep an eye on the babies,” Keller said. “I didn’t think anything of it. She always says that when she leaves the infirmary. I mean…” She paused. “I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t know, either,” Sheppard said.

“They’ll be okay, right?” Keller asked softly, as they neared the transporter. “When the Daedalus gets here?”

“Yeah,” Sheppard said.

He went straight to his quarters after that. Undressed, shoved on some BDUs. Getting his P-90 and pack would be a little harder, but the supply sergeant on duty wouldn’t ask too many questions. He had his sidearm, the Wraith stunner they all carried these days, and his ankle holster. Sheppard didn’t want to have to stun the supply sergeant but he would if he had to.

Sheppard was halfway to the equipment lockup when he realized he was being followed. He noted it, took an abrupt corner. Used a transporter to go up three levels for no reason, crossed the tower, and then went back down.

But when he resumed his path to supply, Lorne was right there, waiting in the same corridor where Sheppard had ditched him.

He fell into step besides Sheppard, not looking at him, just matching his stride.

“It’s not a good idea, sir,” he said.

Sheppard said nothing. He walked faster. Lorne kept pace.

“Woolsey said to put you in a holding cell if I had to,” Lorne continued.

This made Sheppard slow. He raised his eyes from the floor and found Lorne’s gaze.

“C’mon,” Lorne said. “Wait for the Daedalus.”

~

Sheppard waited for the Daedalus. Mostly because Woolsey had Lorne, and then various airmen, follow him around so that there was no way he was getting out of the city without stunning a lot of people.

It was awful.

He spent a lot of time in the infirmary crèche with Torrin and the other babies. The little ones were getting bigger. Trying to sit up, now, and eating baby food. It’d been months, Sheppard realized, since Kanaan and the Athosians died. The kids were agitated, though, just like the rest of the city. They could tell, again, that something had changed.

Torrin was the only one old enough to verbalize it, though. He climbed into Sheppard’s lap, clutched his shirt in both fists and babbled: “Mamamamamamama…”

Keller and some of the medical staff were caring for the crèche, and sometimes a few of them would come sit with Sheppard, too. He preferred being alone in there, though, especially when Keller started babbling how she was sure his team was fine. Rodney was smart, Teyla and Ronon were good soldiers. She was convinced they’d snuck in wherever they needed to go, killed Michael, and were safely on their way back.

Sheppard didn’t bother to agree or disagree with her.

He knew that if they were done – if they’d succeeded – they’d have been back immediately. Sheppard refused to think about the alternatives, about why his team hadn’t yet returned.

It probably didn’t help his mental health, but Sheppard also spent a lot of time listening to the tape his team had left on Teyla’s bed.

He was struck by how strong and unwavering Teyla’s voice was. It didn’t sound like she was leaving to take on the fucking genocidal thing that had murdered her entire people. There was no fear or doubt in her words. Not until that final sentence about Torrin.

Ronon sounded like Ronon. “I’m going with her.” No apology, no explanation.

The only hesitancy he heard was in Rodney’s voice. Anxious and high-pitched, the way he sounded when he was uncertain or scared.

~

It took ten days for the Daedalus to arrive. That was nearly three days earlier than scheduled and Sheppard knew it meant the ship had probably reduced all non-essential functions and directed as much power as possible to the engines. It didn’t make him feel any better. Because ten fucking days.

Five squads of Marines plus Major Lorne joined Sheppard to be beamed on board. Zelenka and a pile of tracking equipment followed them. Keller insisted on coming, too.

“The Daedalus has doctors,” Sheppard had said, cinching up his boots. She’d come into the locker room after Woolsey had told her no, too.

“I’m their doctor,” Keller had protested.

Sheppard had just shaken his head.

“Sir,” Keller had said. “I’m familiar with…” she had paused, awkwardly. “Michael’s work,” she finally spat out. “You might need me.”

Another brick joined the heavy stack that felt like it had been piling on Sheppard’s chest for ten days.

“Gear up,” he had said, and Keller nodded at once and ran off.

Colonel Caldwell must have been briefed on the situation prior to the Daedalus’ arrival, and Sheppard knew he probably had strong opinions on going after three rogue mission members.

So he was surprised and instantly grateful when Caldwell had no comment on it.

“Welcome aboard,” Caldwell said when Sheppard and his teams beamed on to the Bridge.

Zelenka set up his equipment at one of the sensor stations. Lorne and the Marines scattered to meet up with the squads based on the Daedalus and Keller said she was going to Sickbay to brief the medical staff on what they’d need to be prepared for. Sheppard deliberately didn’t listen very closely to her.

Sheppard took a seat near Caldwell, greeting him with a gruff, “Colonel.”

“Colonel,” Caldwell replied, equally tersely. “Let’s go kill the bastard,” he said, then, softer.

He gave the order to the helm and the Daedalus shot into hyperspace.

~

“Well,” Caldwell said distastefully, when the ship dropped out of hyperspace over the planet. “We’ve all been here before.”

“Scan the surface,” Sheppard ordered.

But no one obeyed, of course, because this was Caldwell’s command. Zelenka reached for the controls like he was going to start and the crewman he’d displaced stopped his hand.

“Do it,” Caldwell said, a second later. “Colonel Sheppard’s in charge of this mission. Obey him unless I say otherwise.”

“I am not detecting any human life on planet surface,” Zelenka said, after a minute of staring at his console. “Only small wildlife.” He frowned.

“Put it up on screen,” Caldwell said.

A zoomed-in image of the surface popped on the viewscreen. Sheppard had never seen the rubble of Michael’s compound after it collapsed, having been under it at the time, but he still recognized it.

“Looks like it did last time I was here,” Caldwell observed, dryly. He looked at Zelenka for explanation.

“I think it is the same,” said Major Marks from his station. “It doesn’t look like anyone else has been here since we were.”

“I am not detecting a Jumper or any other vessel on the surface or in orbit,” Zelenka confirmed.

“They could be cloaked,” Sheppard said, because panic was bubbling up his lungs.

“I will scan for spatial anomalies,” Zelenka said, but Sheppard could tell from his face that he was probably mostly humoring him.

Caldwell cut straight to the point. “Any other ideas where else they would have gone, Colonel?”

“No,” he said.

“I see no sign of a cloaked ship,” Zelenka said, unhappily. He paused. “Wait a second.”

“You find something?” asked Caldwell.

“No,” Zelenka said, and Sheppard’s heart sank. “Not here.” He looked at Sheppard. “McKay’s subcutaneous implant is broadcasting again.”

“What?” Sheppard asked. “Where?”

“Not here,” Zelenka repeated. His hands flew across his console and a star chart opened on the viewscreen, covering the crater that had been Michael’s compound. “There.”

He highlighted a planet, made it pulse and glow.

“Lay in a course,” ordered Caldwell.

“Where is that?” asked Sheppard.

“M3X-310,” Zelenka said. “Is old Alpha site. We used it a long time ago.” He shrugged.

Sheppard nodded. “What’s our ETA?” he asked.

“Two hours,” said the helmsman.

Sheppard’s gut clenched.

“Make it fast,” Caldwell said, glancing at Sheppard.

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s the significance of that planet?” Caldwell asked Sheppard, his voice low and almost private.

“It’s where we took Michael,” Sheppard said, flatly. “After his birth.”

~

There wasn’t any question about the abandoned Alpha site. One glance at the surface showed a collection of massively armored buildings in a circular pattern close to the ‘Gate on the largest continent.

“What’s the plan?” Caldwell asked Sheppard. His tone was polite but official. His impulse was probably to nuke the place from orbit, but he was asking the guy who had three teammates down there for input.

“Find Rodney’s signal,” Sheppard said to Zelenka.

For a second, Zelenka didn’t move. “The density of those building will make it hard to pinpoint,” he warned.

“How hard?” Sheppard asked.

Zelenka fumbled with his hands on the controls. “I do not think we can isolate it and beam him up. That hard.”

“Does Michael have a ship?” Major Marks asked. “Are we going to have company?”

“We don’t know,” Sheppard said. “He shouldn’t have a Cruiser.”

“I took away his last one,” Caldwell said, with great satisfaction.

“But we think he’s been using dart beaming technology to abduct his victims,” Zelenka said.

“I’m more than willing to take away more of his toys,” declared Caldwell. “I hate those things.”

“Me too,” muttered Sheppard. “How’s it going, Radek?”

“I have isolated Rodney’s signal to the largest building,” Zelenka said. He sighed. “I cannot do any better. I am sorry.”

“What do you want to do?” Caldwell asked Sheppard.

“I want into that building,” Sheppard answered.

“We beam Sheppard in there, we going to be able to get him out?” Caldwell asked Zelenka.

Zelenka looked uncertain. He shrugged. “Not without stronger signal.” He fluttered one hand in there air. “I make some changes to your transmitter – will be fine.”

“Take Lorne and some Marines,” ordered Caldwell. Sheppard didn’t object, already rising. “And watch yourself,” Caldwell added as Sheppard called Lorne on his headset.

~

Sheppard, Lorne, and a squad of Marines beamed directly into the basement of the building where Rodney’s signal had been found. They’d been able to find a room with no lifesigns and this way they could systematically search the place bottom to top.

Caldwell had six X-302s flying low across the surface, doing cloaked surveillance. He was hesitant to commit ground troops until they know what the hell they were dealing with.

Sheppard could hear the X-302 pilots’ conversation in his earpiece.

“Holy shit,” one said. “There’s a fuckload of Wraith on the ground.”

“How many?” came Caldwell’s voice.

A lot.” The pilot made a disgusted noise. “In the hundreds.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” Caldwell said. “You get that, Sheppard?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do not engage,” Caldwell reminded the X-302s. “We have people on the ground.”

“Sir,” came the voice of another, female pilot. “I’m seeing weaponry. Some of it looks anti-aircraft.”

“Noted,” Caldwell said. “Fantastic.”

There were no Wraith in the basement of the building Sheppard and his team had entered. It was dark and dingy, despite almost certainly being a very recent construction. Lorne and the Marines fanned out behind him, Sheppard taking point.

They were very quiet, moving silently and efficiently forward.

There were four Wraith on the first floor. Sheppard killed one, Lorne got another, and the Marines took care of the rest. The gunfire echoed loudly in the metal architecture.

“Well,” Lorne muttered, “They know we’re here now.”

“X-302s,” Sheppard said. “If the Wraith where you are start converging towards my position, could you do something about that?”

“With pleasure, sir,” came the voice of the female pilot. “They’re on the move.”

Without bringing the building down on top of us?” Requested Lorne. “Once was enough.”

“Do my best,” the woman said, but she sounded distracted now. Sheppard couldn’t hear anything over the comm. line, but a second later the floor shook beneath their feet and he could hear blasting and explosions outside.

“Let’s move,” Sheppard said to his team. “It’s going to get messy.”

~

~please feed the author~

Part 4

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May 2015

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