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Act 3

She moved with a graceful sway through darkened, red lit corridors. The drones of the Hive and the faced commanders fell to their knees as she approached; averted their eyes as if from some terrible visage. In her wake, which she could see without a turn of her head, Wraith withered and died, becoming little more than dry husks, as though fed upon by some invisible enemy all at once. The atmosphere was one of awe; of terror.

Achieving her goal, she turned full circle in the centre of the throne room and all in the Queen's Chamber basked in her presence – then he came.

Looming out of the mists surrounding her, he approached confidently, proprietorially – claiming ownership over all present, her included, until she turned his way.

Todd froze.

His scheming expression faded to one of undeniable awe and he sank to his knees in front of her, his arms open in supplication, his breast bared for her touch.

"Magnificent," he rumbled softly. His tone matched the attitude seen in his actions.

"All shall kneel before me," she snarled, and she did not recognise the sound of her own voice. Something was wrong with it. It sounded less and more than her, both at the same time. "I bring despair!"

"My Queen," Todd prostrated himself in front of her, completely and totally in her thrall.

She raised her hands before her face. Their bone white, elongated digits almost shone in the half light, sharp talons reflected back the blood red illumination in their dark surface.

~*this will be*~ ~*will be*~ ~*be*~ ~*be*~ ~*be*~ ~*be*~ ~*be*~

Jennifer Keller woke screaming.

**

"Easy, Jennifer, easy," Ayatesha pressed a soft, but solidly present touch against the other woman's shoulder to try and stop her from thrashing. "It was just a dream."

"No," Keller moaned.

"Look at me," she said, the strong hint of an order in her voice. She was gratified when, at last, Jennifer raised her eyes to hers. "It was just a dream."

"Sit with me," Keller said, "please."

Ayatesha pulled up a stool and sat beside her bed.

"If you want to talk about it—"

"I was a Wraith," Keller cut her off.

Ayatesha sucked in a deep breath, and let it out slowly, controlling her reaction to the confession Keller had just thrown her way. When she spoke, it was with a slight exaggeration in calm.

"Under the circumstances, Jennifer, it is understandable that you should dream such a thing," she said, trying to be reassuring, though she couldn’t help but shiver at the thought of it.

"No, it… I—" Keller covered her face with her hands. "Ayatesha, I'm scared. You have no idea."

Ayatesha sighed, wishing it were true.

"I understand fear," she said softly.

"Not like this," Keller countered.

**

She was drowning… drowning and cold… and burning all at the same time. She could feel them close and they were warmth to her, they were life… She could see little but a single giant blur, but she could sense them… feel them… hear them searching the nearby rooms.

"Closer… closer…" the words came from her as a barely recognisable, fevered growl.

"Clear!"

"Clear…" She crouched as a dark-clad soldier entered the room – he hadn't seen her, moving to make herself smaller, coil like a spring; waiting.

Her balance shifted, another dizzying wave of pain, cramping through every nerve in her body as the spasms always did, assaulted her and she tipped, and rattled the chains attached to the cuffs around her wrists.

"Wait," the soldier's voice sounded fearful, she smelled his fear, recognised it from her own shrouding stench. Then suddenly he cried out, surprise and horror mingling in his single vocal tones. "In here, Doctor… I found—"

She leaped at him, snarling – but fell short, pulled back by the chains as a smaller, slight woman skirted the stronger soldier, and shamed him by her actions.

"Oh my God… Ayatesha? Ayatesha… it's all right!" The warm of arms, and a body close by wrapped around her and she instinctively sought the heat, "It's all right… you're safe now."

But something about the voice was familiar in a way that was uncomfortable… a half forgotten memory, and she panicked – she could hurt her… the woman mustn't stay near. Ayatesha began to fight, throwing her limbs against the restraining metal, welcoming the pain… snarling as the soldier backed away, allowing another figure close.

"Daniel," the woman holding her would not let go. "Help me. Hold her. She's tearing herself to pieces with these cuffs."

A new set of arms closed around her and she fought all the harder, but he was stronger, physically, though his voice much softer – almost gentle.

"It's all right," he wrapped his arms more tightly around her, confining… her arms pinned at her sides. "Ayatesha, please, you're safe… it's Daniel, you know me… Daniel… Daniel Jackson."

"Sergeant," the woman's voice, cutting across the memory she tried to reach, banishing the recognition, "find a way to free her… please."

"No!" Ayatesha was finally able to form the word in the front of her mind, and twisted harder in the one called Daniel's grasp. She felt his hold begin to slacken as fatigue set in. She turned in his arms, grabbed with the clawed, right hand against the fabric of his shirt, tearing it… finding flesh beneath.

"Carolyn!" Daniel called in warning, grasping her wrist, trying to pull her hand away.

"Hang on, Daniel," Carolyn hurried over, carrying a small syringe in her hand. "I'm going to sedate her. Sergeant, the cuffs – whenever you're ready!"

"Is that even going to work?" Daniel's voice was urgent, but not shrill.

"I don't know," Carolyn answered, "But we have to try something. We can't leave her like this."

Ayatesha shrank away as the needle came close, pressing the side of her cheek against Daniel's shoulder; cried out at the sharp sting of the syringe; a contradiction against her apparent attack of a moment ago.

"Easy…" Daniel smoothed her hair, wispy, foreign to her, away from her face. "It's all right." She felt the drug sweeping through her, like a wave of cotton, her muscles relaxed in its wake. "That's it… we're not going to hurt you."

"So far so good," the one called Carolyn smiled, and reached out toward her. She felt the warmth of the woman's hand against her chilled brow. "She's like ice! We have to get her core temperature up. See if you can find some—"

"We can't stay here," Daniel said, "We have to get her out. It's only going to be a matter of time before they figure out where we've gone and—"

"We can't move her," she countered, "not like this."

Ayatesha blinked, the blurred scene around her resolving, becoming clearer, she felt a momentary pressure at her wrists and then the weight of metal lifted away, blood beginning to flow to her fingers, making them ache.

Embarrassed, she pushed away from the arms that surrounded her, overbalanced, her arm flailing. Daniel caught her flailing hand and steadied her.

"What… happened?" she forced the words around an unfamiliar throat, her mouth thick and swollen.

"You don't remember?" Carolyn asked.

"Research…" Ayatesha struggled to speak the word, accentuate the memory. "…soldiers…"

A sudden rush of panic pushed aside the rationality as the sedation faded, far too quickly. She tried to pull her hand away from Daniel's, press it to her belly, where a deep, gnawing pain began to spread, engulfing her, radiating out until even her arms ached with it.

"Daniel…"

"This isn't helping, Carolyn!" Daniel looked in alarm at the other woman.

"Daniel… Carolyn… Daniel…" Ayatesha recited the names with each snatched breath. Her mind raced. Why were they so familiar to her? Why did Daniel say she knew him?

Struggling once more, she pulled her hand free of his grasp, but immediately reached for him again, as before, fingers leading.

"Daniel!" Carolyn's voice was like a gunshot in Ayatesha's ear as she pushed her away from Daniel, knelt on her arm and pinned her down.

"Let go of me!" Ayatesha snarled, fighting both the impulse and the yawning, burning pain inside of her, memory sweeping in as the fire seared away the dull confusion. She hated everything they stood for, everything they'd done. "You're SGC! You did this! I will ki—"

"The people that did this don't know we're here," Daniel tried to explain, raising his voice over hers, "This wasn't Stargate Command. We're not—"

"Forget it. She's not hearing you." Carolyn pointed to a blue tinted vial in her nearby medical kit as Ayatesha struggled with her. "Hand me that vial!"

However, Ayatesha was hearing them, and did understand. She screamed as Daniel picked up the vial, as inhuman a sound as ever she'd made; shrank from it as though it were poison and he too. Her gaze snapped to Carolyn.

"Please don—"

"The original?" Daniel's head came up, incredulousness mingled with horror on his face. "Carolyn, you can't. Even Cars—"

"It's all we have left, Daniel," Carolyn said, "kill or cure."

Shaking off the memory, Ayatesha reached for one of Keller's hands and took it into her own.

"Yes, even like this," she said softly. "There was a time—"

"Cancer," Keller interrupted. "I remember they said you had cancer; a survivor."

Ayatesha looked at Keller for a long time, her mind turning over and over. She wanted to be truthful – was inherently an honest woman, but she just couldn't. The risk was far too great and beyond Varnerin's obvious suspicions – and Evan Lorne's intuitive knowledge – only three people remained alive that knew the truth, and Ayatesha herself was one of them. It was simply too dangerous for it to be otherwise. That didn't mean she couldn't bend the truth a little, if she could use it to bring Keller any comfort.

"A genetically engineered organism – an incident at the lab," she sighed softly and squeezed Keller's hand again. "I was in fear for my life, Jennifer. It was aggressive and I was so sick, did some... terrible things."

"Is that why you went into voluntary exile afterwards?" Keller asked, "because of what you'd done?"

"It is complicated, but... in essence, yes," she confessed. "I feared what I had become."

She realised as the words left her lips that she had slipped and watched the frown begin its slow march across Keller's face.

"What you had become?" Keller asked.

"Yes," she took a breath to compose herself, to retrieve the mask. "Through all that I had done and of which I perceived myself guilty, I feared the kind of person I had become; feared what I might be capable of. Much as you, now, are feeling – right?"

"But, Ayatesha, what happened—You said there was an incident at the lab, so.... what happened wasn't your fault."

"And neither is this yours, Jennifer," she countered. "Todd manipulated you and now you bear this burden, and the fear that comes with it, of what you might become." She sighed softly once more. "I just want you to know that I do understand. More than that, in many ways, I share your burden."

She closed her eyes and felt Keller cover her hand with the other of hers, squeezing the digits softly in gratitude. Ayatesha opened her eyes and smiled at her.

"Thank you," Keller murmured, then closed her eyes apparently in thought before she asked, "Ayatesha, is there any medical reason I need to be confined to bed any more. Prevented from working?"

Ayatesha considered that, knowing that Carson would likely prefer it if she were. She also knew from her own experience that there was nothing worse than sitting around, feeling useless when you could be doing something to help – either yourself or others.

"No," she said at length.

"Then please, for the love of God, authorise me for duty. I feel fine," Keller implored her.

Ayatesha looked up from their joined hands to meet her eyes. She saw in Keller a kind of kindred hopelessness and matching resolve. She also knew, as if she had heard Keller's thoughts, that without a doubt, Jennifer Keller would betray her trust.

"Aiwa, all right," she said softly, and to hell with the consequences. To hell with everything.

**

She knows...

Keller shivered as Ayatesha's soft words reached her. The look of compassion and resignation she saw in the other woman's eyes kindled a pang of conscience that was almost painful. She also knew, however, that neither Carson nor Ayatesha – the two most brilliant geneticists and medical practitioners that she knew – would be able to help her now.

There was only one person who could help her, the one who had begun it all and from that moment on, the only hope she had was to find a way to reach him...

...and that she would do so by any means necessary.

"I feared the kind of person I had become... what I was capable of... as you now must..."

**

"What kind of trick is this?" the Raven Queen all but screeched as the drones forced the hybrid to his knees in space at the centre of the conclave. Malcolm almost felt sorry for him, glancing around to take in the horrified expressions on the faces of almost all of the queens and their commanders.

Only one appeared unmoved, and she met his eyes with a slightly amused expression signalled in the tilt of her head. He sighed softly.

Little do they know...

He thought he had kept his reflections to himself, until he felt the touch of the Shadow Queen's mind in his once more. He was slipping; he would have to be more careful.

'They knew... once... but have forgotten over time.'

{nothing is forgotten – except by choice}

He could not keep the sarcasm from his inner voice, nor the bitterness from entering his expression as his eyes narrowed.

{but the time is coming when they must remember or perish} {perish} {perish} {perish} {perish}

'control your anger, First Consort... and you remember: wheels within wheels are turning – always' 'always' 'always' 'always' 'always'

As the Shadow Queen's voice faded, almost as a physical pain, within his mind, the Raven Queen's angry challenge split the night air.

"How do we know it isn't a lie?" she snarled.

"A ruse, planted to manipulate us into doing your bidding..." The Red Queen took up the challenge, looking over at the small cabal now huddled around the hybrid. "A thought that you implanted in his mind for us to find."

Malcolm saw a look flash between the Red Queen and her son. What was she hiding? What did they know? He focused his attention on the son – knowing he had encountered the Old Ones... what had they told him?

Why do you serve...?

"Doing such a thing would prove counterproductive," the Elder Queen said dismissively, releasing the hybrid to the not-so-tender ministrations of the Raven Queen. "Entirely a waste of time, since you would see through it in an instant."

"All the more reason to plant the thought, knowing we would make this challenge and—"

"Enough!" The Shadow Queen's hissed word was like a blade, slicing the air, and every queen and Wraith commander present stiffened in the wake of it. "Once again, you allow yourselves to become distracted by pointless questions. That one will always survive. It is what. He. Is. Move on. Must I remind you that we are each of us... vulnerable here?"

Malcolm turned his head to watch as the Raven Queen continued to toy with the hybrid in their midst like a cat at a rodent... and like a rodent, Malcolm knew, that one would fight – albeit unconsciously – if backed into a corner. He almost warned the Raven Queen of the poison the hybrid carried in its veins as her feeding hand mantled as the hybrid tried to pull away from her, but her own commander stepped forward just enough to be within her line of sight, an unspoken signal passing between the two. The moment passed and the hybrid slumped dejected between his two drone guards.

"Perhaps a more pertinent question," The Red Queen's voice broke the tense silence that had descended over the convocation, and turning toward the Elder Queen with a sneer on her face, continued, "would still be to ask you, Sister, just what it was that you were doing with The Abomination for all of that time you had him aboard your Hive?"

"Such suspicion, dear sister," the Elder Queen snapped, ladling on the sarcasm like a thick sauce. "If you know as much as you claim of that one and his habits you will concede that it is not easy to... extract information from him, by any means."

"Granted," the Red Queen allowed with a slight nod of her head, "As far as it goes."

"And what does that mean?" the Elder Queen snapped, bristling so much that Malcolm could feel her fraying temper all too well. He shifted his weight slightly to give himself a better balance should anything begin, pointedly ignoring the Shadow Queen's gaze.

"There are questions, that is all," the Red Queen shrugged as if dismissively, but Malcolm wasn't fooled for a moment. Nothing had been dismissed, and the mention of questions so casually expressed would arouse the suspicions of the other queens.

'what does she know? What did happen aboard our sister's Hive?'

The Shadow Queen's presence in his mind was as unwelcome as it was surprising. Had he allowed himself to become so distracted by the others that he had neglected the one sister that truly posed any real threat? He pushed at the mental contact, strengthening his defences, refused to acknowledge the older Queen against all protocol.

'oh come now, First Consort, dispense with this false loyalty – you no more approve than I, of her methods or the attitudes held by this Queen.'

{my approval or otherwise is beside the point, Old One.}

'hardly. I believe they are precisely the point... at this moment in time. Otherwise... why are you here?'

Malcolm chuckled mentally as the question resonated on several different levels within his mind.

{why do you serve...?}

The Shadow Queen's answering chuckle was like the rasp of dry leaves blowing across a barren winter wasteland.

"If you have something to say, Sister, please..." the Elder Queen spread her arms, stepping forward suddenly and startled Malcolm into following, "...by all means, let us lay bare all accusations."

He almost overstepped himself... almost spoke out as the atmosphere among the members of the convocation became more and more tense. Something stayed his hand. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a movement of white against the darkness of the rocks, a small, slender figure slipping into conclave like the negative image of a shadow... Isla.

Her gaze was fixed across the void in the centre of the open space to where the Blood Queen sat motionless and listening on her throne, and behind her, a newly arrived handmaiden leaned down to speak softly to her Queen.

Warning prickled along his spine.

{Isla?}

She did not answer him as he reached out to her... and nor did he have the chance to reach for her more fully, as the Red Queen's accusation rang out over the gathering in full force.

"What vital discovery did It reveal to you that you should send one of your cruisers away toward the Wraith Home Territory with such urgency?" She turned an accusing stare toward the Elder Queen. "What was aboard that cruiser?"

At this, as close to an open challenge as any queen had so far given, Malcolm did step forward, his hand flashed to cover the hilt of the blade he carried. His movement was mirrored by the tall figure of the Red Queen's son.

"The movement of ships under my command; under the command of my Queen," Malcolm snarled, unable to hold his peace any longer, and knowing full well what the ship had contained, "is of no concern to any other Hive."

The Red Queen's son stepped forward in challenge at his words, and with heavy sarcasm, demanded, "Also, do enlighten us – how could this Abomination have survived such a devastating attack from such a powerful weapon that it could destroy your Hive... Otherwise?"

Malcolm caught his implied meaning immediately and laughed mid-growl at the other Wraith's assumptions. He took another step closer to the Red Queen's son. The Elder Queen made no move to stop him, and neither, he noticed, did the Red Queen or any other attempt to stop the younger Wraith commander when he answered in kind.

"You would be fool enough to suggest that we spirited him away? That even now, my Queen keeps him in some secret place?" He did nothing to try and hide the mocking incredulity in his voice. "Do you hear how ridiculous you sound – how foolish you present your Queen?"

A rumbling snarl, leonine in warning, punctuated the air between the Red Queen's son and Malcolm. Malcolm remained unintimidated, however – though not entirely unconcerned.

"Your Queen went to such lengths to secure his capture—"

"Yes," Malcolm locked bitter gaze with the other Wraith, silently daring him to first draw steel. "In order to extract information; to find a way to undo the harm he has done; to restore to Wraith a means to survive against the insidious poison with which he would weaken us."

It was not true, at least not to know knowledge – The Elder Queen's intent had been far removed, except by incidental happenstance, in what she had tried to do, but he made the lie nonetheless convincing from his lips.

The Red Queen's son growled, hot-headed at the contempt Malcolm was showing to him, the ridicule and scorn he heaped upon him took yet another step forward, bringing him almost nose to nose with Malcolm. He all but began his verbal counterattack with the word liar springing from his lips.

"You meant to use his knowledge to advance the position of your own Hive; to manipulate the destiny of the Wraith to your design... that of your Queen; for evolution..."

"Speak no further, youngling," Malcolm warned.

"Why? Because I approach the truth? Because your Queen sought to—"

"To what?" Malcolm snarled, tightening his hand on the hilt of his blade. "Ensure the continuation of Wraith? Or perhaps you fuss and whine to divert attention from the rumour of your family's twisted manipulation of our genome – the truth of what your Dam's progeny has done!"

"—or that you would do the same? Create some... kind of... "

::precious beyond the understanding of most, heshamae hensuus:: :: heshamae hensuus:: ::hensuus:: ::hensuus::

The sudden presence of the Revered Matron deep in his psyche dizzied Malcolm with its almost desperate intensity to reach him. There was pain in her touch – need... deep and primal.

We are dying...

The thought came to him as an echo of Her pain... so terrifying that he could not but act against it.

Reflex for survival, and against the one most threatening the continuance of Wraith in that moment, penetrated his entire being, and before he realised what he was doing he pulled the blade from its sheath, and angled it along his forearm as he moved toward the younger Wraith Commander, the sharp edge of the blade at the other's throat.

(($-hold-$))

The strength of a queen's mind wrapped around his trembling senses... and the white heat of it drained his anger. His muscles locked as he instinctively obeyed, and his mind cleared rapidly as he stood, trembling, his blade millimetres away from cleaving the Red Queen's son's head from his shoulders.

He felt a soft, slow buzzing of a contact against his chest, and drew in a breath as the Blood Queen pressed her almost flattened feeding hand against his pounding heart, beginning to ease him away from the other. To his other side, at his shoulder he felt the presence of the Shadow Queen, as if she too had been ready to intervene where neither his own Queen, nor the other's had sought to end the posturing that would have ended in the death of one or other of the two. His blood chilled at the thought. To have shed blood at such a conclave was an ill omen.

(($-stand at peace, Commander, he knows not what or how he speaks-$))

"Forgive me..." Malcolm said softly, and swallowing added, "Madam."

"There is naught to forgive, Commander," The Blood Queen answered, and as she pushed almost gently at his chest, he felt the buzz of her energy increase in the contact against him.

{You support me... why?}

(($-I would see Wraith survive-$))

{but—}

::look to your Queen... guide her... guard her... guide them all::

He turned his head to face the Blood Queen, managing to keep the expression of shocked surprise from his face.

{you hear}

(($-I hear-$))

"But we must remember that we need to maintain calm, and not fight among ourselves over matters speculative or otherwise – if we are to wisely choose from among us, a Primary to lead us forth."

"To what end?" the Shadow Queen's rasping voice punctuated the descending silence with a question that had Malcolm look once more across the darkened space of the convocation toward where the white shadow of Isla still watched, and seemingly... waited.

**

If he had not been so tired, Michael might have felt admiration for the way the Captain fought him, even after all of his warnings against it.

"Leave me alone," she snarled the words at him through clenched teeth as he moved back toward the biogenetic bed to which he had fixed her... opened to his scopes and instruments that would allow him to harvest the genetic material that he had begun quickening within her. He did not have time for her objections, or for the niceties of sedation. His arrival was late, and if the ova were not extracted within hours then he risked losing them... and losing the host which would not scuttle his plans, to lose the captain, but she did possess almost the strongest Chimera Radical he had ever seen in a human subject. Ignoring her protest completely, he activated the suppression field, immobilising her, and matter-of-factly moved the microsurgical array toward her.

"Don't you—" The snarling words became a cry as he inserted the array. As the cry faded, gasping, she continued to fight him in the only way that remained. "You fucker! You are so dead when I—"

He paused, looking up from the scope, completely unphased by her outburst, and calmly answered, "This will progress more quickly, and with far less discomfort if—" "Get it out of me!" she gasped. "What gives you the right to do this to me... to experiment... invade my body like—"

She gave another shrill cry as he activated the instrumentation. The internal probe immediately began to send back the real-time scan in order to guide his harvesting of the Chimera rich genetic material. As he prepared to do so, he selected a long needled syringe filled with a deep almost luminous blue-white fluid, and pressing a careful touch low on her belly, slipped the needle in alongside his fingers.

"Like the test subject that you are," Michael snapped his voice mingling with her cry. "You provide me with the genetic material I require, and I ensure that you survive. It is that simple."

Vega found her voice again though it remained shrill with obvious fear and the discomfort of the procedure. "I swear to God, when my people find you—"

Michael tilted his head, moving to reach the scissor like handles that would allow him to manipulate the microsurgical instruments inside his subject's body, and frowning asked, "Which god would that be, Captain?" He did not try to hide the sarcasm in his voice as he continued, slowly manoeuvring the slim needle through the tissue of her body toward one of her hyperstimulated ovaries. "It seems to me that whatever gods your people worship deserted you long ago."

"Michael, please...!" she gasped.

"Or perhaps because so many of you are so fond of believing that you, yourselves are gods..." he paused, concentrating as he aspirated the many ripe follicles, leaving none unprobed, before continuing, "...that you have forgotten that with such power comes obligation... responsibility..."

"You lecture me?" she growled momentarily in fight, then cried out once more as he withdrew the needle and repeated the process on the opposite side. "Michael!"

He looked up then, and in a voice that was cold and harsh as he harvested what genetic material was left to collect, told her comfortlessly, "Believe me, Captain Alicia Vega, this is a far gentler fate to which I deliver you than that which awaits the rest of humanity."

He moved away from her then, taking the aspirated ova to begin the process of cloning the next phase of his army of hybrids, timing was critical, and while it meant he couldn't yet see to the captain's comfort or dignity, for that matter, there was still the matter of the further experimentation he intended for her. With the strongest activated radical, he could not afford to risk the trial on any other.

"Michael?" Vega's voice followed him fearfully across the laboratory. "Wait... you can't—you can't leave me like this... Michael? Michael!"

**

To what end indeed?

Malcolm's thoughts were troubled as he drew his gaze away from Isla and back to the conversation that was progressing – or more accurately – devolving in front of him. Though his own actions had done little to alleviate the mistrust between the five sisters, the queens themselves managed admirably when it came to mutual antagonism.

"Tell us then, Sister," the Red Queen stepped up to her son's side, glaring at Malcolm, whose hand was slowly pressed back toward the sheath at his waist by the touch of the Blood Queen's hand. "What valuable information did you win through your interrogation of the Abomination?"

Malcolm couldn't help but cringe as he finally sheathed the blade, and with an obedient bow to the Blood Queen, stepped back to the Elder Queen's side. She cast him a glance, and he knew she felt his disquiet at their continued obstinacy in continuing to denigrate one of the most brilliant scientific minds; one of the most true-seeing of their kind – and he is Wraith, whether we like it or not – to something out of human tales designed to frighten errant young to their beds at night.

"He was hard to break, that one," the Elder Queen stepped past Malcolm, taking a position of strength among the others, her stature relegating her diminutive sister back to the shadows. She turned a pointedly cold stare on the Red Queen, the tension building once more in the wake of it.

"But you did," the Blood Queen stated rather than asking.

"Of course she did," the Red Queen snapped and gestured impatiently to her son. The young commander stepped back and only then did Malcolm do the same. "Otherwise we would not be here at her behest, seeking alliance and with a Primary to lead it."

Malcolm stiffened at the accusatory, sarcastic tones in the Red Queen's voice. She would clearly not give up her efforts to discredit his Queen.

"We need alliance, yes," the Elder Queen agreed, feigning calm, almost boredom. "And one of us must guide such an alliance, but our priority must be to ensure the survival and continued supremacy of the Wraith, and not…" She paced along the edge of her dais and back, before pointing an accusing talon at the Red Queen. The blade at the tip of her finger flashed with reflected light.

"Not," she repeated, "the pursuit of personal power as our dear sister would have you believe of me. She, of all of us, would do well to heed what I have learned from the many days my best interrogators worked on loosening that one's tongue."

The flash of a burning lake pushed suddenly into Malcolm's mind and while he had to admit to his own surprise at the strategy, one glance at the unguarded expressions on the faces of the other Queens told him it had been well played. To remind them all of their enemy's Wraith heritage had suddenly brought the conversation to a level above the cheap innuendos and hints of betrayal with which the Red Queen sought to taint the Elder.

"Meaning?" the Raven Queen paused in toying with the captive hybrid, snapping her gaze to the two other queens who still faced off across the dais. The Elder Queen waved her hand dismissively.

"Merely that we – and our progeny – must remember now, more than ever, the importance of maintaining the good health of our queens," she said. She shrugged then, turning her back pointedly, but not, Malcolm knew unguardedly, on the Red Queen. In the ensuing silence she stalked back to her throne and settled herself gracefully into it.

Malcolm could have applauded her veiled attack. She had not quite accused the Red Queen of breeding a line of Queen Killers, but everyone present knew the reputation of some in her line.

It remained to be seen if the Red Queen would rise to the bait; try to attack or counter the Elder Queen's gambit. Malcolm was torn between disappointment and satisfaction when she did neither, merely returned to her own throne, before she tilted her head in query.

"What did you learn?" she asked.

"That we must find a way to halt the stagnation of our race." The Elder Queen's face was harsh in the seriousness as she dropped all attempts at obfuscation. "That the key to our future lies in evolution and not in the maintenance of the status quo."

Her proclamation hung in the air between the five sisters – palpable, almost visible. Malcolm felt the slow fracturing of all of the remaining posturing and games, like glass falling to sharper, deadlier shards for one misstep to bring the errant one to fall upon. As if to underline his impression, the Raven Queen stalked petulantly back to her throne as if the Elder Queen's words had spoiled the fun she was having with the hybrid.

Malcolm returned to his place at the shoulder of his Queen, realising far too late that he could no longer see Isla and the fact of it lodged like a thorn to nag at his mind. He might have predicted that it would be the Red Queen who would be the first to voice objection.

"What nonsense is this?" she growled. "What we need is an alternate feeding ground. We must find our way to overtake the Lanteans and take this world of theirs, this Earth."

"Need I remind you," the Blood Queen grumbled, "of the lack of success in our last attempt."

"Because of the Abomination," the Red Queen snapped.

"Not so," the Raven Queen cawed. "The blame for that failure lies with the subordinate queen who chose to betray our kind and embrace the insidious retrovirus that the humans had created."

"Then what are you saying, Sister," the Blood Queen asked. "That we must first take Atlantis to prevent them from protecting their world?"

The Raven Queen waved a hand in the negative. "We haven't the numbers," she said. "And we have been reduced to so few queens and cloning facilities that—"

"Cloning is a dead end," the Elder Queen interrupted harshly. "Fatal to the Wraith. It is a step toward our extinction. We must find a way to diversify our genome. We must continue with our evolution before we attempt further cloning."

**

Her consciousness was lodged in one agonising blur of pain and fear, and Captain Vega let out another snarling sob in expression of it. She twisted her body against the restraints, and tears and spittle combined and flew as she reflexively twisted her head away from Michael as he came in closer, another instrument tray in hand.

"Michael, don't… please! You don't need this, you—" she couldn’t help the supplication or the tone from escaping her, even though she wanted to cover her fear with bravado… desperate not to appear weak before the maniac that was visiting such abuse and violation on every fibre of her being.

Michael ignored her pleas, picked up a syringe from the tray and pushed the long needle deep before depressing the plunger. An acid burn exploded inside her and everything in her lower belly cramped tightly.

Forcing herself to speak past her sudden breathlessness, she grabbed the renewed sob of pain and turning it into a ragged growl said, "What good does this do you, genius…?" He did not answer, and the terror she felt drove her anger, and twisting her hips away from his steadying grasp she snarled, "Fucker… you can't make me do this! I won't do this… I won't carry it, I—"

**

"The point is moot, Sister," the Blood Queen snapped, irritation sizzled in the air around the five queens and Malcolm shifted uncomfortably, responding to the inherent threat by expanding his senses outward. "Even if it were possible – if we found a way to evolve beyond the flaws we are perpetuating in Wraith, we have too few facilities and within the necessary frame of time it is simply not possible to clone an army large enough to take Atlantis, as we once had done. It would take too long."

"There are… rumours," rasped the Shadow Queen, coming forward once more, supported, physically, by her commander. "That he has such facilities…"

Malcolm stiffened, his hand flashing toward the knife at his belt as he sensed a presence behind him. Even as his hand closed over the hilt of the blade, another hand, slender and chilled closed over his own, fingers sliding almost sensually against and between his, to fold her own grasp around the blade's bone handle.

He twitched his head in a sideways tilt, his glance going behind him to find the soft green obedience in a familiar set of eyes, tempered with urgent demand.

"You must come with me, my Lord," Isla's imperative whisper caressed his ears, before she, and the sound of her breath were lost to the night.

Malcolm stepped back, nodding once to his second who came to stand in his place as he melted into the shadows behind the dais and from there followed the cloaked figure back toward the Hive.

**

"You will be powerless to do otherwise!"

Captain Vega let out a shrill, stifled cry as Michael's hands slammed against the platform beside her head, one on each side, and he fixed her with the terrible, burning anger in his amber eyes.

"Once activated, this device will ensure both your full cooperation and your survival until I deem otherwise, but you will," he growled softly, moving closer, as he repeated uncompromisingly, "you will provide me with the data I need to predict the possible development of the Wraith genome should they have the ability to take what steps are necessary in order to halt the attrition of the Wraith."

"What does it matter?" Vega sobbed, imploring him for release with her eyes. "Why do you care? Didn't they reject you?"

She realised her mistake only when the burning anger she saw in his became cold fury, and closed her eyes as he flashed one hand to claw at her throat, choking off her air… expecting at any moment that his crushing strength would steal her life once and for all.

The killing stoke did not come.

Instead she felt the pressure against her neck ease, and knew that Michael had straightened up and moved away from her. When she opened her eyes he was standing, regarding her, as if waiting – his head tilted to one side.

Calmly, almost softly his voice seeped around the edges of her terror, serving not to soothe her, but to tighten the grip of her fear and hopelessness.

"I told Teyla that my dissemination of the Hoffan protein was the opening salvo in a broader assault I would make against the Wraith," he said evenly. "This," he gestured toward her body, restrained as she was against the bio-matter that made the surface and inner working of the device. She looked away from herself, her stomach clenching in dread as she realised the movement of Wraithlike tendrils towards her from within the device, and tubules which ended in semi-transparent, fluid filled tanks.

"Michael, no…" she whispered. "Oh, God!"

"This," he repeated, as if she had not spoken at all, "will be the next. What I learn here will provide me with the means to crush whatever the Wraith will become – however they might… evolve."

**

Sheppard struggled against the almost gentle, and yet immovable hold the Wraith at his side had on his upper arm, the forced-march pace subduing his ability to breathe properly and doing little to alleviate the churning of worry in his belly. The deep, membranous red of the Hive walls sped past his eyes as Todd dragged him deeper and deeper into the huge ship.

"You know, Todd," he said, trying to sound cheerful and unconcerned, but failing even to his own ears. "When I got up this morning this wasn't quite what I had in mind for the rest of my day."

"I warned you," Todd rumbled, "not to interfere in the affairs of Wraith."

Todd brought them to a jarring halt at the cross-junction of a number of corridors, and Sheppard almost tripped with the sudden nature of the stop. Only Todd's grip on his arm kept him upright, and that wasn't quite the comfort it should have been.

"Oh, come on," Sheppard countered flippantly, "with an invitation like that you expect me to—"

"It was not an invitation!" Todd roared, and releasing Sheppard's arm, came at him as he stumbled away, his feeding hand mantling before digging with clawed fingers against the centre of his chest to slam him hard and fast against the nearest wall. He snarled again, wordlessly, and the churning worry knotted to fear in Sheppard's gut. He couldn't recall a time when he had seen Todd react out of true anger, as he was now.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" he said urgently, hoping to breech the fog of emotion he almost felt from the Wraith, and raised his hand to either side in an honest gesture of surrender. "Todd, stop."

He felt the pressure begin to ease, the contact of Todd's hand against his chest withdrew as the twisted expression on the Wraith's face relaxed toward the usually impassive mask, his powerful chest rose and fell in a deep breath as he finally released his hold altogether. Sheppard all but fell forward to support himself on his thighs as he leaned against the wall, breathing hard and trying to calm the suddenly frantic beating of his heart.

"Look, maybe," he snatched between breaths, as close to an apology as he intended to make as he continued, "maybe I was wrong in coming here, but you gotta understand—"

He broke off as Todd tipped his head slightly to the side, regarding him without expression, or explanation for his anger.

Starting again, the knots in his stomach whirling in nervous caution, causing him to shift his balance to a more preparatory stance, he said, "We spotted this party even from Atlantis, I couldn't—"

Still, Todd gave him nothing, merely stared, unerringly, as if he were a specimen butterfly to be pinned to the cushioned pad of the wall. The continued silence, unnerving as it was, brushed against Sheppard's own anger, and pushing away from the wall he stepped up to the Wraith, as faced-off as he could get against his greater height.

"Damn it, Todd," he spat, "why won't you tell me what the hell is going on?"

Todd took another long, slow breath and let it out in a rumbling sigh, curling his fingers around Sheppard's upper arm once more. He tipped his head back toward the corridor behind them.

"This way," he rumbled softly, before beginning to move through the Hive again.

**

Isla tightened the dark cloak around her shoulders as she hurried toward the entrance of the Hive, knowing the risk she was taking, but numb to the danger in it; feeling only the lingering pain of separation from her One Lord.

She drew in a sharp breath as his long fingered hand closed around her arm once they stepped inside the Hive, drawing her first to a halt, and then into the shadows of an alcove, before he turned her to face him and reached out to push back her hood.

"Isla?" he tipped his head in query, and she trembled at the softness she heard in the sound of her name.

"Please, my Lord, there isn't much time," she said, and unknowingly lifted her cold hands to rest them against the warmed leather of his chest. She wanted so much to linger with him, to savour this stolen moment, but her loyalty to the Wraith and to her duty denied her own needs. She closed her eyes as his fingers curled beneath her chin, tipping her head back. If she met his gaze she knew she would be lost, was almost lost already. It was only in the knowledge that discharging her duty might bring her closer yet to redemption.

"Time enough for anything you must say to me that is important enough that you would draw me from our Queen's side," he purred softly. "Isla, look at me."

"I cannot," she breathed, turning her head away from his touch, no matter the burning, no matter how much she wanted to simply open her eyes; to obey his softly spoken command, forget the taboos and interdictions placed on her in the wake of her accidental breech of faith. "You must come with me… please."

She slipped out of his grasp and hurried past him, wiping away the tears that forced their way from between her still closed lids, refusing even to weep for the moment lost.

**

They had passed beyond several turns in the twisting corridors of the Hive before Todd spoke again, as the passageway they were following opened out into a wider, darkened space. Warning pricked along Sheppard's spine as they stepped out into the open – as if some clue, some lingering scent should give him greater knowledge of what was to come.

"You put us both at great risk in coming here," Todd rumbled, still at his side as Sheppard fought to adjust his eyes to the chamber's greater darkness. The more his eyes adjusted to the low levels of light, and the more Todd spoke to him, his tones no longer holding the familiar, light amusement that Sheppard associated with Todd, even in the worst of moments, the greater the uncomfortable sense of warning that screamed at him from all sides. "And there comes a time when it is necessary to… err on the side of caution."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Sheppard hissed.

"It means, John Sheppard, that no matter what you saw from Atlantis, there you should have stayed." The level of light slowly began to rise, and Sheppard became aware of footfalls, sure and confident, conveying a sense of proprietary familiarity. His chest tightened as he looked in Todd's direction.

"Todd?"

Without meeting his eyes, Todd said, "For now you have forced me to take sides." The Wraith lowered his head, and inclined the top half of his body slightly in what looked to be a respectful bow before speaking again – a single word this time. "Commander…"

Sheppard slowly twisted his head to face the direction of obeisance and the tightness in his chest became a mere inconvenience against the chill in his blood.

"Crap," he breathed, his eyes meeting those of a Wraith he remembered in aches he had been left with in their last encounter. Then straightening up, trying to bury his rising panic in his all-too-often-used sarcasm, he nodded in greeting and added, "Malcolm."

"Lantean," the Wraith commander returned his greeting with about the same amount of warmth as an Antarctic winter.

**

She had tried resting, bathing, even eating, but everything she tried to eat increased the feeling of nausea inside of her, and nothing would curb the restlessness that was like an almost painful itch in every limb. Alicia finally stopped pacing the confines of the Hive's central chambers, and turned her path towards the door.

She was somewhat surprised to find the doorway unguarded, but with a moment's thought realised that Todd had never once forbidden her from leaving the suite of rooms into which he had installed her on their return… besides, the thought of exploring brought a temporary respite to the gnawing agitation that otherwise filled her, though it did little to calm the tinnitus-like susurrations that still filled her head with a hollow ache.

Having little clue as to where she might walk, but suspecting that the inside of most Hive ships would be similar, if not the same as others, she continued on. She had learned the geography of at least one other Hive while in service to the Elder Queen, so she felt confident in her ability to navigate the maze of corridors that made up Todd's Hive.

Reaching the junction of one such passageway, she felt the strange internal pressure within the empty echo that her restlessness suffered upon her, and unconsciously she turned her steps in the direction of the strange allure. No matter in which direction she tried to set her path, turn upon turn she found herself drawn by the inextricable pull of the mystery drawing her on.

Curiosity and trepidation mingled somewhere within as she found herself unable to prevent answering the unheard siren call until she found herself walking a corridor a level above the descent to the lower station, and there stopped outside of a closed doorway that she could see, from the lighted panel beside the portal, was locked.

Frowning, and looking first one way and then another she checked the corridor for the presence of any Wraith that might try to prevent her ingress. Somewhere inside the restlessness ran a trickle of anger and she was uncertain as to whether it was because of the fact of the locked door or for some other, as yet unknown, reason. That alone should have been warning enough, but as unsettled as the feeling left her, and ignored by the Wraith around her, with a head tilted in an attitude of curiosity, she raised her hand to the panel beside the door.

A sensible, small spiral of fear began spinning in her belly when, in answer to her touch, the door hissed aside.

**

The Red Queen's son frowned as he saw the Elder Queen's Commander step away, replaced by his second. He was unable to follow his progress, however, because the present argument in conclave continued, and he had little choice than to give it his full attention, but he resolved to find out what the Elder Queen and her cabal were up to, in permitting the absence of her commander.

"Even if we had sufficient facilities," the Elder Queen argued, "it would be of little use in our using them – I have told you! All we would do is to breed in weakness; fatal flaws which—"

"Wraith are not weak," the Blood Queen snapped, cutting off the Elder Queen's words.

"Sisters," his Queen sat straighter, almost rigid in her throne, and he found himself disturbed by the feelings he felt from her as she spoke. "Why do we persist in this pointless talk of evolution when what we need is to crush what remain of the Abomination's forces that hunt us. Anything else is almost certain to end in disaster."

The Raven Queen climbed to her feet, pulling her cloak around herself as she turned to face the two most vocal of her sisters. "The disaster here is not in what we would do, but in what we must. We need to feed – we have sufficient numbers to more than defend against our enemies, but where are they?" She threw back her arms, her hands upraised as if in supplication – as if petitioning the darkened, overhead sky to answer. Then turning to look at each of the others in turn she answered her own question slowly, "In enforced hibernation. With sufficient food, we could—"

"And what of the poison that flows in their blood – this Hoffan protein disseminated by our enemy?" The Blood Queen demanded.

"Exactly the point," The Elder Queen seemed to the Red Queen's Son to be delighted at the turn of the argument; revelling in it, indeed. "But hope is not lost if we can develop an immunity."

"How?" the Red Queen snapped, and her son found himself wondering at the wisdom of her failure to mask her contempt.

"Through evolution." The Elder Queen gestured toward their captive hybrid, "If any of you doubt it possible, there is the living proof. He has found a way to instil immunity within his hybrids, so such a thing must be compatible with Wraith—"

"Through evolution?" the Red Queen interrupted, "You would have us return to infecting our genome with hybrid DNA as our ancestors—"

"She cannot – the hosts never survived," the Blood Queen's whip-like tongue spat the words across the conclave's space. "Breeding through hybrids has less success than—"

"She does not mean for us to breed through hybrid hosts," the Raven Queen turned once more to face the Blood Queen, and the Red Queen's Son's heart sank as he realised the rapid devolution of the argument into chaos.

"And this is what she has learned from the Abomin—"

"She means to use the huma—?"

"Prey?"

"She would have us as abominations ourse—"

"I will not debase myself with even the thought—"

The voices came at once thick and fast, each shouting louder than the last, drowning each other from the voices of the others and the air burned with the clash of warring psychic energy as the queens abandoned all pretence at the interdiction of such an act during convocation. The commanders each stepped closer to their queens and all hands flashed to the hilts of weapons, visible and otherwise.

…and the Red Queen's son noticed that only the Shadow Queen did not participate in the verbal and mental melee.

**

Doorways opened well ahead of Beckett's rapid steps, born swiftly on the twin energies of anger and frustration.

"Honestly, Carson, and I'm sorry, but I'd rather you speak to Doctor Haddad herself. Don't make me quote doctor-patient confidentiality on you."

He'd tried to reason with Carolyn, blindside her with a true-in-basis-of-fact that he needed to know in case anything ever happened to Ayatesha while she was serving on Atlantis, but even against such a gambit, Doctor Lamb refused to play ball.

"If it's urgent enough for her to need treatment, Carson, they you'd already know, and nothing I could say would make the slightest difference."

He wasn't going to be put off. He'd heard Varnerin's interpretation of the official version; had read the official version as presented in the SGC files, and knew that both were about as accurate and truthful as the biblical apocrypha, or the existence of Santa Claus. In spite of the nagging feeling that warned him not to ask questions he wasn't ready to have answered, he wanted the truth, and he wanted it now… and not when it was too late to save the woman he loved. He'd been down that road before, and it was too painful to even remember the look that had burned in Perna's dying eyes.

He stamped to a halt outside of Ayatesha's quarters, and without even chiming the door, waved a hand in front of the opener, relying on his natural gene to communicate his identity and medical clearance to the control crystal inside. He frowned deeply when the door failed to respond.

Reverting to good, old fashioned caveman tactics – and the irony did not escape him that he should use such force after the manipulation of the Ancients had failed him – he hammered on the sculpted metal of the door.

"Ayatesha," he called through the portal, "Open the door. It's Carson. We need to talk."

**

It did not take the image spiralling on the screen of her laptop to show Ayatesha that her DNA was developing a renewed immunity to the serum that kept the cells from reverting to their post-transcription state. She knew from the burning in her muscles and the pain in her bones, from the necessity for an increased dose and frequency of the serum. She knew from the hateful ache near the lymph node in her right arm, and all down the limb that she would need to adjust the serum – and soon, if she were going to halt the process this time.

She pressed the button on the auto-injector, holding the device in place for longer than usual, before pulling it away, and immediately curling up tightly around the pillows on her bed, burying her face in the soft material and sobbing the sublimated scream against its cloaking depths. She held the pillows and herself tightly once the trembling began, and meant to stay that way long into the night before getting up to shower away the evidence of her torment.

The hammering on her door made her jump, and she straightened just as another spasm of agony washed over her, the rush of blood in her ears drowning out the words that came in the wake of the pounding knock. She bit her lip hard to keep from crying out – drawing blood, and squinted with barely seeing eyes across the room to ensure that she had removed the crystal from its housing. The hammering only continued, becoming louder and with less frequent pauses between each insistent tattoo.

"Ayatesha!" Carson's voice, full of a tangle of emotions reached her. "Open this door right now, or I will send for McKay!"

Knowing that Carson would make good on his threat, she forced herself upright, and stumbled across the short space to the door. With her unsteady hands it took three attempts for her to fumble the crystal back into position, and by the time she turned her back to the wall beside the door, and slid down to her haunches, lowering her still-covered head into her hands, her muscles were knotted with the rage of frustration as well as the effects of the serum. She tried to stay quiet as the door slid open, but the stampede of light from the corridor outside drew a whimper from her none-the-less.

**

The last thing Carson expected was for the room to be virtually dark and as the door slid open at his almost frantic thought, it hit him almost like walking into a wall and every hackle on his back rose at the added sound of the whimper from beside the door.

"Y'tesha," he started, and dropped to one knee at her side, "talk to me, love. Tell me what's wrong."

"No," she rasped, flinching away as he reached for her, "It will pass."

"Damn it, woman," he snapped, exasperation getting the better of him, his anger having long since been derailed, "stop trying to shut me out."

Ayatesha laughed, but it was a sound of hopelessness, and ended in what sounded more to Carson like a desolate sob than any other sound he had ever heard from the Egyptian doctor. That, more than anything else, scared him, unseating him before he even finished mounting his high horse.

"Let me at least get you somewhere more comfortable than the floor, eh?" he said, and before she could protest, slipped his arms around her, pulling her near rigid form against his chest as he picked her up and began to carry her to the bed. When he set her down he spotted the injector case, open on the nightstand, sharpening his fear for her to a barbed point lodged somewhere in his belly. His breath came out of him in the rush of her name, "Y'tesha…"

She caught his arm as he started to reach for his earpiece. The fingers that closed around his arm trembled, and he could almost feel how cold they were through the fabric of his shirt.

"Do not," she whispered, "please."

He caught her hand as it fell away from his arm, and immediately pulled up her sleeve, running his fingers over the inside of her arm as he examined her… seeing nothing. He reached for the other arm, repeating the process, asking softly, but urgent, unable to hide his anguish.

"What have you done to yourself? What are you taking?"

His mind went racing around a dozen possibilities, each of them frightening him a little more as he slipped his touch to her wrist, to her almost immeasurably frenetic pulse.

"What I must," she said, and her answer stopped him cold.

"Please, Ayatesha," he cradled her hands between the two of his, as if he could warm her; heal her obvious pain simply by the force of his will. "I need you to tell me what's going on. I can't leave you like this, I can't… not… do something. You have to know, I love you."

"Carson…" she breathed his name, "…that… is why I have kept the truth of this from you."

"Kept what?" he asked, and as she freed one of her hands from his and sat up, he flinched, cursing himself for it, and for the shocked catch in his breathing as she waved on the light and in the same movement, slipped the hijab she wore from her head.

She met his eyes, the usual deep brown of hers was blanched to an amber yellow, in places, but like ink on water the two colours drifted in and out of each other, warring around pupils that were barely starting to revert from stretched, and catlike slits… feral… Wraithlike.

"Sweetheart," he reached for her then, resolute against her resistance as she fought being drawn into his arms for a moment before allowing the contact and almost nuzzling against his chin as he brought her temple to rest against his jaw. "You could ha' come to me with this…"

He drew her closer, spearing his fingers gently into the white wisps of her bound hair at the back of her neck, encouraging her to rest against his shoulder as he circled her with his other arm; holding her tightly as a shield against the desolation flowing through him at what he had done.

He wanted to weep… for the lost, for the sick and dying… for Lorne and Teyla… and for Ayatesha – and yet the small, strong woman in his arms denied him that self-indulgent egotism by the very fight she harboured in every living breath she took.

"How could I do that to you," she said, as if taking the words from his mind and laying them out before him, even as her tightly clasped hand let the hijab fall to the comforter, and she slipped her arms around him. "Ana ahebak, Carson. How?"

Yes – he wanted to weep for her, but he did not, instead he eased her head away from his shoulder and looked down into her tortured eyes and told her firmly, "We can get through this, Y'tesha. There is a way to reverse this, and we will find it… together."

Ayatesha took a breath, her whole body shaking with it… before she nodded, and tightened her fingers against his back so that he could almost feel the fear that was as obvious a part of her cells as the rogue Wraith DNA.

"Together," he repeated as her eyes glazed into distance, keeping her with him, keeping her focussed.

"Sawa," she whispered, "Aiwa… yes – together."

Slowly, against her hesitancy, he lowered his lips to hers, the gentle kiss lingering as her eyes fluttered closed, not shutting him out – but drawing him into her pain, to what her life had become since the last time they were together. Then breaking this kiss, he drew her closer again, cradling her against his chest, her head once more on his shoulder.

"There's my good girl," he murmured softly. It was many hours before he moved again.

**

"Closer even than he… or you."

"Ancient Ones," he gasped softly. "Forgive my trespass."

"It is your Queen that trespasses. It is why she will not sanction your destruction of these vipers in our nest, and why you will do nothing."

As a commander among the Conclave, it was not exactly forbidden for the Red Queen's son to set foot within the Hive of another queen than his own, and yet, in the wake of the sudden, unbidden memory he felt profoundly uncomfortable; unsafe.

Suspicion had driven his steps, driven him to leave the conclave as had the one he followed; suspicion that was sharpened by the radical – no… heretical – suggestions that the Elder Queen's insistence towards an evolutionary path had sharpened in his gut, like a churning nausea.

It wasn't that he was unaware of Wraith history – of the struggles they had faced in the time before, when hybrid hosts had been the vehicle by which their race had been saved when the queens' fertility – their ability to bring forth young – had been damaged by the radioactivity that had engulfed their world, but they had been hosts… nothing more. Such a measure had only been maintained until their scientists had developed the gestation pods, and cloning technology, and then rightfully the practise had been abandoned, reviled… outlawed.

… And yet… here was one among the Elder Queens who had lived through the Reclamation freely championing a return to the dark ages – worse, to use mere prey as a means of reaching for the future?

Why do you serve?

"To take back that which is already ours…" he breathed giving words to the strong feelings that were lodged painfully inside of him since his second encounter with the Sentinels.

For each new light that came, full half of the Parmhunii had faded into darkness to be replaced by their progeny while the mirrors of their yearning slept… But the One had no mirror save herself and so had seen.

Breaking away from the Parmhunii She ascended, looking down as she drew to herself the Mirrored Ones, one by another taking them to be a part of herself like some great devouring arachnid beast… leaving the Parmhunii bereft and seeking solace of the ones to come…

No. Somewhere aboard this Hive was the evidence he needed to discredit this Queen – to prove her complicity with the Abomination and he meant to find it. Snarling, he turned his steps toward the Hive's prison cells. He would begin his search there.

**

Walking of the necessity of protocol one step behind Malcolm's left shoulder – since it was his ally that would sponsor him to speak during the convocation, Todd fought to contain the ironic smirk bubbling just beneath the surface of his face. The five queens were already just where it would benefit him the most – namely all but at each others' throats.

No single voice could be distinguished from the other, and the air bristled with an almost fierce psionic whirlwind. To any other it would have been uncomfortable, and Todd could not help but tilt his head as he watched the stiffening back of the Wraith he followed – the commander that he had installed to supremacy aboard the Elder Queen's Hive to facilitate this very eventuality… a voice at Convocation.

"—is an outrage to suggest—"

"Madams!"

Todd had to admit, at least to himself, to a degree of admiration as the commander's voice, though barely raised, cut the queens to silence – a silence into which Malcolm swept a low, respectful obeisance.

"What is the meaning of this," the Elder Queen came to her feet, descending the steps toward them, and as she neared, Todd inclined his head, but that was all the recognition he was prepared to give to this queen, to any queen, at least until he had been given leave to speak. Arrogant, perhaps, and inwardly he chuckled at himself, but in order for him to clearly make his point he could not allow himself to be seen to acquiesce to any authority save his own.

"My Queen," Malcolm said softly, as the Elder reached for him, gesturing for him to rise. He did so, but only in so much as to straighten his body – his head and shoulders remained at an incline. Continuing, he added, "Honoured Matrons, I humbly petition you to hear This One in conclave, as I believe the information he brings may have great bearing on the debate currently before us."

=what does he bring? – tell me quickly before we are overheard=

~you are already overheard, Madam~

{but not of malice, my Queen… I have allowed him to—}

=silence… you, speak quickly now. Answer=

~proof, Madam… of true breeding from a human host~

Todd deepened his bow as the Elder Queen's eyes widened and the slightest of gasps escaped her lips. To the others, he knew, it would look only as if he had recognised her authority as she looked on him.

The first test of his sponsorship came in the form of challenge from his own dam… as he expected it would, and he had already in place an act of daring that would either shoot her down where she stood, of mean his end. As she spoke her challenge, he chuckled wryly to himself and to the other commander and queen he put forth a counter challenge of his own.

"How can this mere male bring anything of value?"

~she fears what I could expose of her own past~

He saw the elder cast a cynical look in his direction as he straightened from his stoop, and with a raised ridge, he moved – before any queen, commander or drone guard could reach to stop him.

It was a risk – a huge gamble based on nothing more than a hunch, and a little more than a passing familiarity of the Wraith – former Wraith, he reminded himself – that the humans called Michael, and his science. Snarling he hauled the captive hybrid to his feet by the back of his tunic, and pushed home his feeding hand against the half-breed's un-armoured chest. The barbs around the maw in his hand curled deep into the male's chest and Todd threw back his head, feeling the rush of energy surge from the creature beginning to mingle with his own.

Almost to the last Wraith, queens found their feet, and commanders stepped forward, as if each meant to intervene in warning at his action, but the smugness on the hybrid's face soon turned to alarm as his features began to age; his hair to grey… and for Todd to remain standing, true and strong.

"What trickery is this?" his bitch-dam demanded, and with another snarl, he pulled himself away from the weakened, but still living hybrid.

"It is no deception. This pawn of our enemy is as infected as every other creature in his army," he growled, turning fully to face her, "but if you believe it so, I dare you to try for yourself."

He knew full well she would do no such thing. At most she would send a drone, or lesser commander to sacrifice himself for the sake of verifying the immunity that Todd had now confirmed he possessed. He also knew that doing so would weaken her position before the others, and if – as he suspected – she wished to propose herself as Primary, that she could not afford to do… ah, but he knew his dam well.

"I believe," the Raven Queen, seated to his left, who had toyed with the now terrified hybrid for so long, leaned back lazily in her throne, "that in light of what we have seen, we should hear what this commander has to say."

"I concur," the Blood Queen added her voice to his approval, and Todd swept a low bow of gratitude in their direction, first one, and then the other.

"Honoured Elders," he began rising and turning a slow circle to include them all as he began to speak. "You are most gracious to recog— to recognise—"

He broke off, gasping suddenly for breath, and stumbled backwards, reaching both hands toward his own chest as if in great pain. His legs folded beneath him and he fell to the ground, his back arching and a terrible, guttural moan came from his throat.

"See, my sisters," his dam's voice cut across the terrible silence that fell in the wake of his collapse, "how desperate you are… how quick to believe any straw of hope held out before you."

Her tone was mocking… disparaging… perfect – and relaxing his body, Todd began to fill the Conclave space with a new sound, leaping almost gracefully to his feet as he put back his head and laughed… almost feeling her anger through the impenetrable shield of bravado he had wrapped around himself.

"How dare you," the Red Queen snarled across the space, and Todd rounded on her as if she were a mere drone, his laughter ceasing as though it were a recording that had just been silenced.

"I dare. That is all that matters," he snarled, then throwing wide his arms, facing perfectly toward the entrance through which he had followed Malcolm, he added, "and now that I have your full attention, allow me to show you the true sincerity of my commitment to ensuring the future of Wraith… with… or without the mandate of such progenitors as you."

"Clever," rasped the Raven Queen, "such threats…"

"Oh, no threats, Madam," Todd gave the Raven Queen the benefit of another exaggerated obeisance, "merely the opportunity to be the powers that lead Wraith into a future of continued supremacy, as you have always been."

He met Malcolm's eye, the other commander knew as well as Todd was certain did the queens that it was exactly as the Raven Queen suggested. The threat was real… they could either rally to his side, or fade into the oblivion of obscurity and extinction.

"How?" the Blood Queen demanded.

"I was just coming to that," Todd purred, and gestured toward the shadows at the entrance. A single figure stumbled in, propelled forward by the action of the long staff-stunner her drone guard had pushed her with, carrying in her arms a bundle concealed in dark rags. The woman trembled so hard it was visible to Todd from across the space still between them even as he started forward, and she almost skittered sideways away from the presence of the Elder Queen. Malcolm reached her first, taking the suddenly squirming bundle from her arms, and Todd smiled – he could not have orchestrated a more perfect moment of revelation – as the human woman found her knees in front of the imposing Wraith commander.

"Please, my Lord," her voice was shrill, but clear and infused with a human mother's desperation, "do not harm my son."

"Your son?" Malcolm looked up from the woman now clutching his thigh, and pulled the rags from the child's head and shoulders, revealing the unmistakeable form of an immature Wraith. "This child is Wraith."

"But my son, nonetheless," she said softly.

**

Not for the first time that day, Sheppard cursed Todd's ever-loving hide and slapped his hand against the unyielding web-like bars of the cell that stood between him and… what? Freedom? Hardly likely, but to Sheppard, the thought of being at large and relatively lost in the twisting hallways of the Hive was by far preferable to sitting on his backside waiting on some other Wraith to find him and decide his presence was an interesting co-incidence and present him before one of the five queens that the worshipper he'd sent back to Atlantis had said were here.

If locking him in the Hive's brig was Todd's plan to keep him safe – though he had to admit the presence of Malcolm may have forced Todd's hand – then the Wraith had finally lost it completely, and all bets really were off. Of course, Sheppard didn't put it past his Wraith brother to be lying about the whole keeping him safe part, in which case—

"Ah, me and my big mouth," Sheppard hissed, hearing the solid thump of booted feet and Sheppard shrank as far back into the cell as he could, hoping against hope that whatever was coming his way would somehow overlook the shape in the darkness.

The footsteps reached a stomach-churning crescendo, far more than Sheppard had hoped he would ever feel again while being locked in a Wraith cell. If he were honest, he had wanted never to see the inside of a Wraith cell again, yet here he found himself, watching and helpless as lighting somewhere behind the Wraith, reflected red from walls of the Hive, made the silhouetted figure seem like some kind of angel out of nightmare.

The light spilled like blood through the fine, long white hair that spread around the Wraith commander, wing-like above the spreading leather of his coat, as the bars spiralled open to admit him, and from the sheaths at his back he reached for twin blades that reflected enough of the ruddy light to illuminate the cruel, fine features of his face.

"So," he hissed, tilting his head but slightly to regard Sheppard as he climbed, reluctantly to his feet, realising his efforts to conceal himself with shadow had been futile. "This… is what they are hiding."

"Raphael," Sheppard answered obscurely, pulling together the image, and the feelings of menace and desire for vengeance from the Wraith in front of him. "Definitely a Raphael."

**

Every part of Alicia screamed at her to turn back, step back and allow the door to close behind her… and yet some inner burning pulled her onwards, inwards, forwards into the seemingly empty room. The door hissed closed behind her, like a closing maw, and the final click of its chitinous jaws halted her progress.

"Aaah… liiii… cia…"

The drawn out sound of her name seemed to come from the walls, from the very breath of air around her.

"Who… who's there?" she said, belying her confidence with the stutter-start demand.

"Who's there…?" The sibilant voice was mocking… close, "nervous little human? Afraid?"

"I'm not the one hiding in shadows."

The words tumbled from Alicia's mouth before she realised she had spoken, and it was all she could do to resist the urge to clap her hands over her mouth as if to stop herself from uttering any other terrible insult.

"No shadows between us now." Triple tones combined to stroke the hairs on Alicia's neck as the voice came from directly behind her. She spun around and gasped, almost voicing a scream but for the sudden rush of anger from deep inside as the Queen she now faced sneered, "worshipper… plaything… whore."

The anger turned protective, and a proud strength surged through her as she looked with opened eyes on the poor excuse for a Wraith queen that stood before her. She was young, barely grown and where Alicia expected a terrifying countenance, she saw only a sallow, dim reflection of the low illumination around them. Taking in a breath, she stood erect and towered over the Wraith female, in presence if not in stature.

"No plaything," she spat back, stepping forward barely enough to make the queen give half a step of ground. "Never whore… and it is he that worships."

"Liar," the Young Queen hissed.

"Beloved," Alicia rumbled. "Parmhuna."

"Liar!" The Wraith's screech of denial pre-empted the snarling and mantling of her barely clawed hand, and Alicia ducked aside enough that the incoming strike glanced against her shoulder, sending her spinning toward the bulkhead.

**

"You are absolutely certain of this child's genetic relationship with this… human?" the Raven Queen stalked around the terrified woman, who now clutched her son in her arms, their heads buried against each other's shoulders.

"I performed the tests myself," Todd answered calmly, "Twice."

He neglected to mention that the initial findings had come from his… extended dalliance with the human doctor Jennifer Keller. Somehow he did not believe that would strengthen his position with these narrow-minded queens.

"They were quite conclusive," he finished, moving to stand behind the human woman, his hands on her shoulders, causing the boy to look up at him, and snarl softly. "A radical in the composition of the human genome, present in this and many other men and women of this galaxy…" and beyond "renders them suitable—"

"Suitable?" the muttered challenge from his dam made Todd turn his head as she finished, "they are prey, and this one is no different. There is some lie hidden in all of this – some deception."

"I can assure you, Madam, there is no lie," Todd replied, surprisingly mildly, swatting at the young boy who, still snarling, tried to bite at his hand. "No deception… he's quite feral of course, but—"

"Tell me something, Scientist…" Todd stepped away from the woman as the Shadow Queen, who had so far held her silence since his arrival, rose to her feet with the aid of her commander, and began to descend the steps to the Conclave's floor, approaching him on feet that sounded like the flutter of ancient, fragile wings. He was not fool enough to believe his own senses, however, and swept a low bow as she reached him, and immediately raised him with the touch of her six-clawed hand. "…why the recent visit of your Hive Second to the home of the Sentinel Wraith – the deposition of your Queen's offspring there?"

Inwardly, Todd flinched. He might have guessed that This One would have some knowledge of her kindred's gestalt. With a breath he nodded again with respect, and answered as mildly as he could.

"Regrettably, Honoured Matron," he said, meeting her eyes with as steady gaze as he could muster, "when my Queen conceived she grew weak… sickly. It was for the safety of her young and for my Queen that I took such a… necessary step."

"Sickly, hmmm," the Shadow Queen rumbled, but she did not contradict him. Either she did not know, or she had an agenda of her own to follow, and it made Todd profoundly uncomfortable that he could not decide which was closer to the truth.

"A symptom of the attrition facing our race," he purred instead. "Facing all Wraith."

He felt the solid press of another's mind on his guarded psyche, and looking away from the Shadow Queen to try and find its source, met Malcolm's eyes. Curious, he admitted the other commander.

{now I know you are lying}

~but you will say nothing~

**

Unrest pinched his every nerve and Kenny vibrated as if he could hear the silent echo of the two-tone warbling alarm of a Hive in danger. He turned from his subordinate, and uncaring of the impression it gave, threw himself toward the nearest transporter – guided on instinct lower and deeper into the Hive.

The unbearable drumming of his heart, pulsing the threat through his blood, intensified as he materialised and quickened his steps to a sprint, reaching mentally to open the door that barred his way. He leaped into the darkness, snarling as he landed and flung his arm wide at full strength. The backs of his clawed fingers struck flesh, and adjusting peripheral vision told him of the temporary respite from danger as the Young Queen flew midway across the room, sliding to a halt as she landed partly on her side, screaming… enraged.

In the barest of seconds he had, he reached to haul the human from her back to her feet, pushing her behind him as he angled himself to be a shield between the two females. The Young Queen was already part way to her feet, and he could feel her intent – the menace she projected… it kindled his own, protective anger and he snarled across his shoulder at the smaller female human.

"Out!" She did not move. "Get out!"

:~go~: :~go~: :~go~: :~go~: :~go~:

He pushed at her, trying to send her on her way toward the door and safety, glancing behind only briefly as the blur of the Young Queen changed her course to come at the woman again, and he leaped to meet her, hooking his talons around the queen's waist and sending them both tumbling to the floor.

"Leave now!" he snarled, pushing the command with all the force of his mind while holding the spitting, snarling queen with his physical strength.

**

Alicia stumbled from the room, winded, bruised, and trembling – exhausted and confused, feeling as if she had been sleepwalking as she fell against the nearest bulkhead, and slid down to her haunches, wrapping her arms around herself.

She had no idea how long she remained unmoving there, time blurred, and her retrospective fears sharpened as her mind replayed what had just happened… how close she came to being fed upon by the captive Wraith queen.

"Captive," she breathed the word, frowning, and began to push herself to her feet as the door spiralled open again and the Hive's second in command moved toward her.

"Yes, Alicia Vega," he said, cupping her elbows to steady her as she rose, his chest still heaving with the remnant exertion. "A captive."

Alicia frowned, and reached toward where the leather of his coat was torn, and blood ran in ragged stripes from deep gouges. She said, "You're hurt," but her touch was turned aside by his hand closing around her wrist and pushing it away.

"What were you thinking?" he demanded softly, anger bubbling beneath the surface of the tones he used, and yet, Alicia couldn't help but notice what may have passed for a grudging underlying respect.

She shook her head, and had to confess, "I don't know. I just felt… drawn here."

It surprised her when he nodded, but he gave her no chance to express it, simply suggested with uncompromising strength. "Perhaps I should escort you back to your quarters."

Feeling more than a little shaken, she agreed, and did not object when he kept his closest hand cupped beneath her elbow for support. As they moved, however, a thought occurred to her, and another frown crossed her face.

"How did you—?" she began to ask, but talking over her he gave his answer before she even asked the question.

"I was summoned by the Hive's Queen."

**

The preparation room was swarming with combat engineers and marines, as well as the small medical team, and Carson nodded to Zelenka who was gearing up beside them, as he threaded his way through the milling personnel toward where Ayatesha wrestled with the required off-world gear, beside an equally determined Jennifer Keller.

With a smile to Keller, he hooked his fingers around Ayatesha's elbow and drew her a little away from the others, leaning closer to speak with her quietly.

"You're absolutely certain of this?" he questioned earnestly, worry colouring his voice.

"Aiwa, Carson," she answered, reaching up to place a gentle hand against where his heart hammered in his chest. "The people there need medical attention, and they cannot wait for others to bring them to it. We must bring it to them."

"I know that," he shook his head, knowing full well the damage such failsafe devices were designed to inflict, and the casualties that would have arisen… not to mention the risk of infection and— "Just… with all of everything—"

"Hayati," she shifted her hand to his cheek briefly, and drew him down to press her cheek to his, whispering, "I shall be fine."

"I know you will," he said, taking a deep breath, and pulling back to run a light caress around the edge of the uniform blue hijab with which she had covered herself. Then drawing back still further he reached to slip an auto-injector case into the pocket of her tac vest, before tugging on the vest and beginning to fasten it for her, from the bottom up, speaking urgently, but quietly as he did. "I've recalibrated the dosage, and adjusted the composition as best I can to compensate for the decreased half-life. There should be enough to see you through the next twenty-four hours, but then you're gonnae have to come back here, because I can't predict the effects of the latent toxicity, and there's nothing I can do about that I'm afraid."

"I understand," she told him, and he heard her swallow, before she said, "Thank you, Carson."

He wanted to answer, to tell her to be safe, to look after Jennifer… to come back to him… but even as he opened his mouth to speak, the mission commander called them all to order, and his words to her became lost to the briefing.

**

"No, no, no," McKay turned from the main screen in the Control Room to face Caldwell, and the faces of Colonels Ian Davidson and Ling Tsai on a secondary screen. "You're not listening…" He marched back to the main screen and with a stylus drew a highlighting circle around two of the Hive-blips on the display. "If we pull either of those two cruisers out of their current position the entire operation is blown. The planet will no longer mask your sub-light wake from their sensors and even cloaked, you'd be detected, and once one ship knows – so do the others. No… it has to be Cruiser Number Two."

He jabbed his stylus onto the screen… sending a ripple of pixels out from the point of impact – much as he intended his disturbance in the Wraith system to do… if only the imbecile Military commanders would pull their heads out of their collectively macho asses and pay attention for once.

"You're certain that you can mimic the bio-signature of one of Michael's Hives," Woolsey asked, sounding somewhat sceptical.

"P-lease," McKay turned a withering look toward the base commander. "As many times as we've faced that son-of-a-bitch in the last few months, you think I can't rewrite a simple piece of code to imitate his ass?"

"But… the minute the other cruisers sense the destruction of the decoy," Caldwell started, not taking his eyes off the screen, "the other ships will alter their position anyway – if nothing else than to… plug the gap – even supposing they recognise the transponder signal as one of Michael's – they're out of position and the Odyssey becomes vulnerable to detection by the other ships even before she gets within beam out range."

"Again with the not listening," McKay almost sang, his teeth vibrating with irritation.

"We are listening, Doctor McKay," Colonel Tsai answered, her features tight with concentration, "It just seems that your plan hinges on many elements of supposition and assumption. I'm uncertain whether I'm prepared to commit the Sun Tzu to such a—"

"Excuse me," Major Hollick unfolded his arms and stepped forward to be within view of all of the commanding officers present. "Maybe I'm missing the point here, but the bottom line, Colonel Tsai, is that we have men on the ground… and we don't—"

"I know what you're going to say, Major," Ling Tsai closed her eyes for a moment, and let out a long slow breath before opening them to address those assembled. "Unfortunately, the Wraith and this dangerous chimera that you have since created of our enemy may have forced a necessary and distasteful change in protocol. It may be that in this instance we are forced to consider—"

"No," Caldwell interrupted. "I won't accept that. Yes, Michael and the Wraith are dangerous enemies, but the minute we start talking acceptable losses we make ourselves no better than they are. McKay's plan has a good chance of succeeding, so we have a duty of care to bring our people home. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, Steven," Colonel Tsai nodded her head respectfully, and sat back in her seat.

"So let me get this clear, Doctor," Colonel Davidson sat forward in his own command chair, as if the two ships' commanders were somehow part of a push-me-pull-you toy, and McKay fought to keep the twitch of a smile from creasing his mouth. He really had to lay off the pain meds. "What we've got here is a decoy hit and run. Tsai takes her ship in to draw 'em out, I slip in through the back door, find our people, beam 'em out, and we all get the hell out of there – right?"

"Essentially," McKay said, nodding. "Yeah."

"You see – that right there," Woolsey cut in, pointing at McKay, and sharing a glance with Major Hollick. "It's this essentially that's the part that worries me."

**

Keller paused to push a strand of hair back behind her ear with a bloodstained hand before nodding to Haddad, the two of them heaving the injured marine – as stabilised as they could make him – from beneath the makeshift jig that had been erected by the combat engineers to lift the fallen masonry from on top of him. It was a sickening blanket of déjà vu for Keller, seemingly a lifetime ago that they were pulling bodies from the wreckage of another of Michael's compounds as they had searched for Teyla. In truth it was only about nine months.

"Over here!"

Another call, almost identical to the one that had summoned her and Ayatesha to the aid of the injured soldier they worked to stabilise, came out of the dust filled, suffocating darkness around them. She reached out to grab an elastic tourniquet to wrap above the man's crushed thigh.

"Go," she told Ayatesha. "I've got this."

Ayatesha nodded once, and then scrambled away to give what comfort she could to whomever the engineers had just discovered… turning to call to an orderly… to give instructions to the stretcher team as to where to take the soldier once she had him stabilised. It had become a bitter routine in the last fifteen hours or so that they had worked frantically, without ceasing… expecting at any time—

"Listen up, everybody!" Even as she thought it, Zelenka's urgent voice confirmed her worst fears. "The news is not good, I'm afraid. The pingback from the subspace carrier to warn Michael of what happened here shows that we have less than six hours to finish what we can and get to safety. We have no way of knowing if Michael will send people to investigate, so… we need to have everyone clear before the deadline. I'm sorry, doctors, but it means we're going to have to pick up the pace."

Keller looked up at Zelenka then, and saw that Ayatesha had done the same and she thought she saw a shiver of fear go through the other woman's small frame before she nodded to Zelenka and told him they would be ready.

Keller swallowed hard. Six more hours of safety… six more hours of doing what she could to save lives… six more hours of compassion… and it was compassion that made her force herself to look up and take in the sight of her companion – kindred.

**

Sheppard stumbled, his peripheral vision hampered by his already swelling eye, and the jarring step he took to try and catch himself split the gash to his cheek once more, and he felt the run of blood toward his chin. Between the darkness, and the beating he'd taken foolishly trying to get past Raphael as the Wraith had made him in the shadows of the brig, Sheppard knew there was little hope of his making a break for it now – even if he could have reached the ground, for the handful of loose gravel and stone chips that were promised underfoot.

The Wraith halted his downward motion by grabbing a handful of the back of his uniform jacket, and hauling him along.

"Watch the threads," he snapped, but Raphael took little notice, pulling him through the narrowing gap toward the nose of the Hive ship they walked beside, and toward the sinking feeling that bubbled up into his belly.

"And suppose we accept your claims for what they are, and one, or all of us patron your work…"

The voice of a Wraith queen, unmistakable in its tones came from the opening ahead, and with the hand that held his jacket, Raphael all but threw Sheppard to stumble and land on his hands and knees in the middle of a pit formed by the encircling raised daises.

"I would not be too quick to heed the words of This One just yet, My Queens," Raphael growled, following him into the arena. "Nor to those of the one who sponsored his involvement here… who harbours, it seems, not only the Abomination and his works, but also hide the presence of another enemy within their possession: Lanteans."

Sheppard swallowed, and looked up around him, into the harsh and cruel visages of the gathered Wraith queens. Remembering Jet's words, he couldn't help but count them in confirmation… Five… and he could not remember ever feeling such overwhelming menace in all of his encounters with the Wraith. A hundred possible next moves went through his head, each of them becoming bleaker by the second as none of the queens even bothered to verbalise a threat against him.

"All right," he murmured to himself, "Think, Johnny boy… what would Obi-Wan do now?"

First thing he'd do would be to face these bitches on his feet, he decided, and pushed himself to standing, as straight and as fearlessly as he could, and the remaining, rational part of his mind refused to allow him to even glance at Todd, though he could feel the Wraith standing nearby. He felt him take a step back too, and sensing movement around him, lifted his eyes off the ground. Four of the five queens had begun to descend the steps from their daises and were moving toward him, almost in step.

The crushing burn within his mind followed before he had even taken another breath, and he staggered, but refused to surrender to the unbearable crush of it… pushed back… his jaw tight – every muscle straining and veins on his temple engorging in the effort to resist their combined assault.

"I'm not…" he forced the words between clenched teeth, the pain of dragging each of them from the communications centre of his brain, and making his suddenly uncooperative voice comply with his demands… unbearable, "…the one… you're… looking… for…"

Spittle flew in a rush from his lips as he exhaled in effort, gasping to keep them from him… from forcing him to answer the sudden question that echoed in his mind.

why are you here...? here… here… here…here…

"I can…" he gasped, "…go… about my… business…"

why… why… why… why… why…

His trembling knees buckled as the shadows of the queens crept over him… his knees met the ground hard… but his eyes began rolling backwards in his head even as he fought to maintain his denial…

"Move… along…"

…but even as he congratulated himself in an ironic sense of dark amusement, a quotation from another source resounded in his head – echoing with more finality than even the combined crushing presence of the queens… and somehow, oh crap, just didn't make the grade… and the more he tried to ignore the words his own psyche had conjured against him, the louder they sounded in his mind.

Resistance is futile.











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