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Beckett's patient was quiet, for now. She was sedated and her eyes were closed, but her hands made little fists on the bedclothes, as if she had acquiesced unwillingly into the stupor of the drug-induced sleep and still fought to give some part of herself a way to remain in the conscious world.
Moving silently, Varnerin took the folder from the pocket at the foot of the bed and flicked open the cover, letting his eyes leave Doctor Keller at last, and run over the printed and written text he now held in his hands. He searched the file for clues; anything that would give him knowledge of the truth, of another strand in the complex and twisted lives of the people of the Atlantis Expedition.
If he could find just one more instance of questionable actions on the part of its personnel…
"Patient files are confidential, Professor," the raw, broken tones of Keller's voice made him jump – sounding just enough like the hissing tones with which the Wraith queen had addressed him that his eyes snapped up to ensure himself that it was in fact Doctor Keller that had spoken.
In an attempt to cover his own discomfiture he smiled tightly and said, "I didn't mean to disturb you, Doctor Keller. How are you feeling?"
"Like you care," Keller rasped, coughing slightly. "Whatever you're trying to do here, Varnerin, whatever you're looking for—"
"I'm not trying to do anything, Doctor," he answered mildly and set the file down on the edge of her bed. He stepped closer as she began trying to pull herself into a sitting position. "Though I will confess, I find it more than a little disconcerting that the actions of many on this base are strongly suggestive of … how shall I put it?"
"Get to the point," Keller hissed, reaching for the call switch on the bed's hand controls.
"Highly questionable morals," he answered closing his hand around her wrist and squeezing hard to paralyse her fingers. "First Ms Emmagan, now you… what's the cliché – sleeping with the enemy?"
"Fuck you!" Keller struggled against his grasp.
"Just what is your relationship with that particular Wraith, Doctor Keller?" he pressed, glancing at the file, "scheduling a rather personal surgical procedure, repeated testing – genetic profiling and Doctor Beckett's—"
"Carson!" Keller began to call out. She abandoned her efforts to reach the call button and drowned out his words with her cries. "Carson…! Anybody!"
"Just how close are you? What did you do aboard his Hive?" He leaned closer, leaning over her as she shrank away from him, pinned both wrists to the bed, forcing her to look at him. "Sooner or later someone is going to figure it out, Ms Keller…"
"Let me go!" she snarled into his face, and then turning her head aside cried out for help again.
"…and when they do—"
In their struggles, she managed to slip free of the grasp he had on her right hand, as he leaned across from her left side. He had underestimated her desperation, and certainly did not anticipate the speed with which she struck.
At first he thought she had somehow managed to get a hand to some kind of medical equipment – a scalpel or other metal object, as stinging pain descended from where her fingernails connected with his cheek and raked painfully down the side of his neck. The shock of her sudden attack made him pull away, let go of her completely, and for a moment she flailed in the bed as though falling, her right hand coming away from his neck wet with his blood where she had scratched him.
Before he could move away, she made a growling cry as if in some great pain, and he felt as though she had punched him. The breath left him as her hand connected with his chest, pushing at him for just a moment, before she dug in her fingers and grasped hold of skin and shirt alike. She tried to pull him closer, as her back stiffened, her head fell back, and her eyes began to roll back into her head. Her breathing became suddenly laboured.
At the same time the shrill cry of alarms began to fill the infirmary, and the sound of running attendant feet heralded the arrival of the medical team. He felt himself pushed aside, and barely heard Doctor Beckett.
"Thank you, Professor, we'll take it from here," as he stumbled back, withdrew; turning amid the chaos, he wanted nothing more than to be away from there… and began wondering what in the hell had just happened.
"Easy now, Jennifer," Carson closed a firm but gentle hand around her flailing wrist, and with Marie on the other side began to lower Keller back to the bed, "It's Carson, you're gonnae be just fine."
Even as he spoke her rigid body began shaking in his grasp, a low, guttural groan coming from Keller's throat. She fought them, though he knew she had no conscious control over what she was doing.
"She's fitting. Let's get her secure, please," he said far more calmly than he felt, continuing almost without a breath to order the treatment regime he intended to follow, and added, without turning his head, trusting his medical team to follow instructions, "Someone please see to the Professor's injuries."
"Doctor Beckett," Marie's concerned tones as she called his name made him look up from the canula into which he was administering the additional drugs he'd ordered. He saw, with growing concern, the run of blood-flecked tears coming from Keller's eyes, and the blood that seemed to seep from beneath her fingernails.
"Can't be helped, Marie," he told her softly, "and the blood on her hands may not be her own. We're going to have to trust her to hang in there, just now. One thing at a—"
Beckett blinked as Doctor Haddad eased into place beside Marie, who smiled and gave way to the other doctor. He hadn't expected to see Ayatesha, but had to admit her presence was not unwelcome. The Egyptian doctor reached across to offer him a small, capped syringe. The fluid inside was a green tinged, straw-like colour.
"What is it?" he asked, taking the syringe, and uncapping it with his teeth.
"I modified your original retrovirus to target the Wraith cells with a simulated HiP action. It is rough, and has a rapid half-life, but it may just work for long enough to give the other drugs a chance to stabilise her condition," she said.
With just a moment's thought, and trusting the other woman, he began to inject the serum into the canula, watching the monitors as Keller's readings began to slowly – painfully slowly – creep toward a more stable output, her muscles relaxing as the fitting stopped. His eyes widened, and he looked across into the concerned brown eyes of his friend.
"Ayatesha…" he breathed, then frowned as she shook her head.
"I do not believe that the introduction of Human Inhibiting Proteins is the answer, Carson. In fact, in the long run, I think it may be very dangerous to do so, but as a short term stop-gap, to allow your treatments to reach her, and not become swallowed up in the interactions happening within her modified cells, it was the only thing I could think of… unless of course you have Wraith somewhere, whom you can persuade to visit upon her a reverse of the feeding process."
"What?" he hissed, moving away from the other medical technicians, and trusting them to care for Keller now that she had begun to stabilise again. He stepped away to speak with Ayatesha. "What are you talking about?"
"Wraith enzyme, Carson," she stepped closer to speak with him quietly, urgently. "The blood sample I took from her earlier was full of it, or at least a close approximation of it. Given that the Wraith produce this enzyme to facilitate the exchange of energies during their feeding process, I can only draw one conclusion. She is quite literally feeding on herself – her Wraith cells upon the human ones."
"Dear God, Ayatesha!" Carson swallowed hard and ran a hand through his hair. "How do we stop this?"
"I do. Not. Know," she told him, and reached out to put a hand onto his arm, "and we are out of time to experiment and find out."
"No," Carson turned his head away, and closed his eyes. "I can't, Y'tesha. There has to be another way."
Sheppard ducked aside as a trio of hybrids rushed from his right, where he had missed yet another small opening into the cave. The surrounding rocks must have been a honeycomb of passageways, and he knew that did not bode well for the defensiveness of his position.
He turned full circle and brought his P90 to bear just in time to cut down the nearest of the three hybrids, then threw himself into a quick shoulder roll to avoid falling victim to the blast of the Wraith stunners carried by the hybrids two companions.
Madness had erupted around him, in the repeated flash of stunners, and the percussive rattle of answering automatic weaponry, his own included, as the team followed him in. They were outnumbered; barely holding their own as more hybrids appeared to take the place of their fallen companions. What the hell were they protecting?
The sound went through him; stunned him as surely as if he had been hit by the blast of an enemy weapon.
"Teyla," he breathed, uncomprehending… disbelieving. His eyes blurred with unbidden tears, obscuring the rushing attack of another hybrid. The impact of the other's body against his own freed him from his paralysis, and on instinct he swung the side of his P90 into the oncoming path of the knife, deflecting the strike and then, following through the momentum of the swing, twisted the butt of the weapon around to catch the unprotected hybrid a blow to the side of the head. The hybrid fell away, enough to allow Sheppard to regain his feet, and his breath. Fighting to make himself heard over the rising cacophony he called out, "Teyla… TEYLA!"
He brought his weapon to bear once more against the enemy that kept on coming from all sides. In short, controlled bursts he pushed slowly forward, further into the cave, listening again for the sound of her voice, determined to reach Teyla. Now that he had found her, he had to keep her safe.
The sound of gunfire and the shouts of voices increased to an almost deafening crescendo. One voice, raised in increasing desperation, answered Teyla's cry, calling her name – Sheppard's voice – and Teyla seemed to redouble the struggles she made, attempting to rise against his restraining hold.
"Remain where you are," he told her, curtly. He tried to contain his anger, but the tone he used should have left her little doubt that he expected to be obeyed, then turning his head he called out to those of his forces that were not hybrids, "Take them alive… and quickly!"
He added the last as tendrils of mist began to slowly rise from the floor of the cave, signs of an added danger that he had never intended to be released. As Teyla's struggles subsided, he began to ease the tightness of his grip, rising away from her, and preparing to join the melee; to neutralise the threat. He trusted his soldiers to do the rest.
Movement brought a rush of pain from his side. He pushed it away. He didn't have time to acknowledge it until he was certain the situation was secure, and he could return Teyla to safety at the heart of the facility. Even the run of blood he felt tracking slowly down over his hip did nothing to divert his purpose. The rising mist was thickening. He had little time.
Teyla's hand closed around his wrist, a tight and desperate grasp. He could feel her fear through their bond, and it brought his anger again, as he could tell it was not fear for herself.
"Michael, no," she said urgently, "Please, do not—"
"I said, stay where you are," he snapped, and pulled his wrist out of her grasp. He reached with his other hand to ensure her compliance, almost tucking her into the side of the nearest console. Still attempting to temper his ire, he added, more gently, "I will not allow anyone to harm you."
She persisted and snatched at the cuff of his coat as he began to move away.
"Please, Michael, if you go out there, they will kill you," she implored.
He rounded on her, the sight of her, as circumstance had placed them, he knew – her on her knees, clasping at him, her face naught but a frightened plea – was too much for his control to stifle; pushed him to a physical response.
He grasped her wrist to pull her hand away from his sleeve, at the same time he virtually lifted her to her feet, to catch her closer, all other threats forgotten, and all but snarled into her face, "I am not afraid of them, Teyla."
Teyla gasped and pressed her hands to his chest. His fingers, an uncompromising vice around her wrist, left little doubt that his anger, which she thought had begun to subside, had never really left him.
Did he not understand that her fear was for him? If Sheppard saw him, she knew that John's feelings would not allow clemency for Michael. They would fight, and neither would stop, and it would not end until one or other of them was dead.
Her stomach churned at the thought, and her mind floundered in need of something to say, some reassurance, some words with which she could reach through Michael's anger, make him open to her once more.
"I did not suggest it," she told him, her voice earnest, "but they are soldiers, just as your men. They do not—"
She felt it in the same moment that his head jerked up, alert, almost as though he were sniffing the air. His hold on her shifted, becoming no weaker, but once more protective, rather than punishing. He lowered their joined hands, and moved them back, until she once more felt the solid mass of the console behind her. Then he half turned, keeping his body between her and the room.
"What is it?" she hissed, experiencing a resurgence of fear, her own, and his, as his mental presence flooded her again. She felt, rather than heard, an empty, hollow knocking that passed through the air as if it were some kind of beacon, like radar, or sonar. Outside of the madness of sound that was the continued weapons' fire, it penetrated the depth of her, like the vibrations of some enormous bass drum. She pressed a hand to the middle of Michael's back, stepping closer. "Michael?"
He offered no answer, merely let go of her, and instructed again, "Stay here."
"No, wait, I—"
He turned to her again, pushed his hand against her shoulder to move her back into the lea of the equipment that sheltered her.
"We do not have time for this," he said.
-stay- -stay- -stay- -stay- -stay-
She wrapped her arms around herself as he stepped away from her, into the noise and the flashes of gunfire that flared against a mist that she had not noticed before, but which now swirled on unseen breezes in the confines of the cave.
He should have followed Sheppard.
The thought didn't occur to him until he unfolded from where he had curled up, hands over his head, rattling off his distress call, barely pausing for breath. It didn't occur to him until he realised that he was no longer twitching and jumping with each blast from a Wraith stunner or rattle of P90 fire, that the barn had fallen strangely quiet around him.
Slowly, McKay raised his head.
"Sheppard?" he called, though his voice was little more than a timid croak. Clearing his throat he called out more loudly, "Sheppard?"
No answer came to him, and somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered a call on the radio telling him where to go – what the team was doing. He stood up cautiously and looked around, his mind clearing as the fear withdrew.
"Exit at the rear of the barn," he said to himself, the beginnings of a relieved smile coming to his face as he began to pick his way through the debris of the battle. He'd crossed half way toward the dark opening he could see before another thought occurred to him and he came to a stop almost as if he had collided with an unseen obstacle. He murmured, "Practise what you preach, McKay."
He quickly fished the life signs detector from his jacket pocket and turned it toward the opening, stabbing at its interface with urgent strokes that became increasingly more rapid as the equipment failed to yield the usable data he had expected. Some short way along the passageway all readings just… stopped.
"Oh, now this can't be good," he whined, shaking the handheld box as if it would make a difference. It didn't. Swallowing he reached up to his earpiece and keyed the radio. "Sheppard, this is McKay, do you read?"
Static hissed into his ear as if angry at the disturbance. Undeterred, he adjusted the frequency and tried again. "Sheppard, McKay, what's going on?"
Consulting the life signs detector again as the sibilant denial continued to fill his ear, McKay's frown deepened. He'd seen this before, and might have expected it as one aspect of Michael's modus operandi if he had given it more than a fleeting second of his thought – some kind of electromagnetic shielding that would interfere with sensors and radio waves alike. He was hiding something.
"Had been," McKay reminded himself. "Had been hiding something, but now he's gone, and whatever it is doesn't need to be hidden any more."
He snapped his fingers and turned, his steps bringing him back to the central console in the barn. He gave a moment's pause, remembering also what had happened the last time he'd tried to tamper with Michael's systems; shuddered a little and clutched at his arm as though the memory of the explosion made it ache.
Had he been operating the console, he might not have heard it, faint as it was. The sound came not from the void in the back of the barn, but from outside, faint but growing louder… coming closer.
"Ah, crap!" he spat, and ran to the barn door, peering into the sky to try and get a visual confirmation of what his ears were telling him. The sound increased – an angry buzzing, familiar and hated. He didn't bother waiting to see, just hurried back to the console. He had to get the radio working again. He had to warn Sheppard.
Sheppard couldn't be sure, but the steady flow of hybrids seemed to have been slowing. The last two figures that fell to the onslaught of his gunfire had been mercenaries, and the hope began to stir that maybe the influx of enemies had reached its peak.
He felt an easing in the hopelessness of the situation and began trying to make an assessment of the best strategy. Even though there were fewer enemies arriving, he and his team were still outnumbered, and surrounded. He decided that, no matter how much he might want to, regrouping was not an option. Fire from all around made gathering near impossible, and they would all have to clear their way from their current positions, because many of his people were pinned down.
As if to remind him of the continuing danger, the shattered remains of some kind of glass tank crackled red with the discharge from a stunner. The bolt spread like lightening over the jagged fragments of glass and he spun away barely in time to avoid the second shot. The sergeant behind him was not so fortunate. The man's body stiffened and, still convulsing, pitched to the side, sending up a spiral of the mist that had been gathering as the battle progressed.
That added another thread of concern to Sheppard's repertoire of 'this-was-a-really-messed-up-operation.' God alone knew what Michael had been cooking up in those tanks, or what manner of toxic chemicals it was that had combined to precipitate the fog throughout the lower half of the cave. The problem was: it was rising. Perhaps it would be better to withdraw before it rose higher – affected, or infected them all.
"Take them alive… and quickly!"
As if thoughts of his experiments had conjured the Wraith-Human hybrid out from the depth of the unfolding nightmare, Michael's voice rang out through the cave. Sheppard growled, his blood suddenly superheated with rage, drew him toward the source of the sound even before conscious thought could warn him it was probably not the best of strategies.
"Son-of-a—!" How could he have survived? What kind of twisted universe allowed a creature like that to survive when so many good men died? Had Teyla really got him off the Hive? His thoughts darkened still further when he realised, unwillingly, that it was just as likely that it had been the other way around. Answering the thought he raised his weapon, and fired blindly into the thickest area of mist, into which his angry strides were carrying him.
Pain blossomed along his left bicep, a burning that sped up toward his shoulder as the impact of a body took him sideways, to trap him between itself and the floor. He coughed as he breathed in a huge lungful of the bitter mist, fought to see the attacker that now crawled over him, and felt the rhythmic knock of some bass beat stirring in his belly. Adrenaline surged within him as fear responded to the call of the unknown as, out of the mist, a grotesque face came at his own: wrinkled, scarred and sightless eyes and an open mouth filled to overflowing with razor sharp teeth.
Caldwell grabbed the arm of the command chair as the ship bucked sideways, and off to his right, one of the panels exploded in a flash of sparks and fire.
"Wraith cruiser, Sir," Marks answered. "Shadowing our course: she's firing."
"Damn it!" Caldwell gripped his chair again. "Evasive manoeuvres! Get us within range to launch the 302s."
"Already on it," Marks said, and lurched in his seat as the bolts from the cruiser collided with their aft hull plating.
"Major Marks!" Caldwell barked.
"Sorry, Sir, it's the best I can do," he gasped.
Caldwell half turned in his seat to see his con. officer fighting with the ship's controls, while all around them bridge personnel scrambled to provide what support they could.
"Shields?" he snapped, swinging to face forwards again and turning his head to the tactical console on his other side.
"37 percent, Sir." The officer tapped her screen as the ship lurched again, and then said, "Correction, 32 percent."
Swearing softly, Caldwell punched the button in the arm of his chair, and ordered, "Evanston, you have a go. Launch your fighters and proceed with ground support." Then barely pausing for breath he turned his attention to Marks and his tactical officer. "Major Marks, bring us about, please. Standby forward cannons."
Sheppard barely managed to get the P90 up as a shield between his head and the rapidly descending teeth, struggling as he was to free himself from beneath the terrifying thing that attacked him, and the claw-like hands that tore at his body.
Despite having the feeling that he was fighting off a rabid dog, the creature atop Sheppard uttered no sound, save a low hissing, and the sub-aural pulse that still flowed through the contact between their bodies. It made Sheppard's chest ache – hurting as his heart fought against the adrenaline surge to fall into time with the almost hypnotic rhythm.
The creature lunged again, once more colliding with the P90 that Sheppard brought up to halt its forward momentum. Instead of recoil, the creature turned aside and in the next second, the razor-like incisors sank through the flesh of Sheppard's left arm. Sheppard howled, unable to imagine a time when such a searing sting – almost as if acid coated the Wraith-like teeth – burned through his body from a single hurt. Without thinking he swung upward with his right hand, bringing the butt of the P90 to connect hard with the creature, tearing it away from the bite, and then had to duck to the right to avoid another incoming assault.
Faster than he had anticipated, the creature struck again, and the P90 was out of position to provide defence, his only option was to move, ducking this time to the left, then straining upwards, forcing his elbows beneath his back to give himself some leverage, he pulled back his own neck, and thrust forward, bringing the side of his head to collide with the creature's chin.
Michael tipped back his head, pausing in his advance to watch as his creature struggled with the figure on the ground. He had to admit a certain admiration for Sheppard that he had survived so long. Deadly and relentless, once they had their prey downed, the creatures usually had their kill within seconds, driven by maddening hunger that he had been unable to suppress enough to make them controllable. Their creation had been an experiment that had been an almost complete failure.
The creature's hiss turned to a snarl as Sheppard managed to launch an attack of his own. It was a mistake, Michael knew. When hurt, the creatures attacked with twice the fury of their natural state. He almost smiled in amusement as the creature proved true to type, and leaped at Sheppard from where it had been driven back by the blow from Sheppard's head.
Michael began to raise his stunner; paused. He should wait, allow the creature to finish off his foe; remove this obstacle, this rival, once and for all without even a drop of Sheppard's blood falling – more than circumstantially – on his hands.
The breath flew out of Sheppard's lungs as the creature impacted his chest, leaping at him, its face aiming for his head. He was out of time, and it seemed, luck. He raised his uninjured arm, the P90 was now trapped between them and useless. Sheppard braced himself, knowing that his actions would provide little defence.
The creature jerked back, suddenly and inexplicably flailing. In the following second, a sticky wetness sprayed against the side of his face, and Sheppard brought his right arm closer to himself, as the iron smell of blood assaulted every sensibility and sent his already roiling stomach churning toward nausea.
The weight on him fell away, and scrambling to put some distance between him, and whatever had been the cause of his salvation, Sheppard shuffled backwards, struggling to regain a hold on his now slick P90.
He opened his eyes and gasped, redoubling his efforts as he looked up and found himself face to face with Michael. The Wraith-Human hybrid stood with his face fixed in a snarl of half triumph, half anger, and the knife he still held in his hand dripped with the blood of the creature – his creature that he had so obviously killed.
Sheppard's blood froze, and half in fear, half in a surge of protective jealousy, he began to force himself to his feet, wrapping his hands around the weapon as securely as he could to raise it; aim it at Michael's head. The movement brought the dull ache from the bite on his injured arm to scream through him again, and it sharpened his anger and his desire to make Michael accountable for everything.
"You bastard!" John cried, finding the trigger with his finger and beginning to squeeze.
Faster than Sheppard would have thought possible, even knowing Michael's abilities, he slapped the P90 aside and grabbing the straps, swung the knife up to slice through them as if they were tissue. Michael's pull on the straps wrenched the weapon from Sheppard's hands and the momentum pulled Sheppard closer, until Michael half turned and pitched him further into the mass of equipment behind him.
Even as he stumbled, trying to keep his newly found feet under him, Sheppard knew that Michael would come after him. He had seen it in the almost human expression on the hybrid's face.
"Always name calling, Colonel," Michael hissed. The words were mild, but the tone held more menace than Sheppard had ever heard. "Always names."
Sheppard had almost been able to straighten to a standing position when Michael's first swing came towards his face. His balled fist still held the knife, but Sheppard could tell by the angle of it that Michael did not intend to cut him. He managed to duck aside, and tried to sweep his leg into Michael's path; to take his feet from under him. He could clearly see Michael's feelings in the hybrid's eyes.
The madness of the fight swirled around her as surely as the mist around her ankles, and for too long a time, Teyla remained huddled in the lea of the laboratory equipment, wrapped in the embrace of her own protective arms. When had it come to this? Terrified to act in case she hurt those most dear to her, how could she bring this conflict to an end? On which side did she stand?
She pushed away from the console, blinking away tears, and uncoiled herself, her eyes searching, ears alert for any sound. Either way she could do nothing without a weapon and if she entered the melee unprepared, carelessly, she would be just as likely to end up a casualty of the battle as she feared Michael and Sheppard would be.
Michael and Sheppard… Michael or Sheppard… the thought taunted her as she moved, trying not to stumble against the fallen, still obscured by the low lying mist. Tentatively she reached out with her senses. If she could find Michael…
Unprepared as she was, the searing cold of the contact flooded through her mind, and drew a sharp gasp to her lips. It could not be possible. They had left… lured away by the sacrifices Michael had made, by his sending his ships to lead them, tempt them… and she trusted his word. Yet there could be no mistaking the feeling she had known her whole life, and stronger since her bond with Michael.
She reached out further… how long do we have…? More frantically searched for a weapon to defend herself, and finding none, sharpened her attempts to reach the others.
They were all in great danger. They were already here.
Michael sidestepped the sweeping leg and lashed out as he turned. He connected solidly with Sheppard's shoulder and pushed, meaning to take the human down. He heard as well as felt Sheppard wince, but the human continued in the fight, lashing out toward him with a balled fist that connected with his right eye, driving pain through his skull and calling up the rage that blinded him as surely as the blow to his face.
Sheppard's next swing connected with his stomach, and Michael let out a sound as the impact knocked the breath from him. He ducked aside as Sheppard threw another angry punch his way, then stepped in to block the fourth, catching the man's arm under his own, grabbing hold to force the arm backwards, and sharply brought his elbow down on Sheppard's extended joint. As he used the continued pressure to force the man to his knees, Sheppard cried out. He had him at his mercy.
"Stop!" Teyla's voice rang out, urgent and coloured by a tone he knew was of fear. "Michael, please… let him go."
"Teyla," Sheppard gasped, and the simple act of answering her made Michael's anger flare again. Instead of releasing him, he moved closer, tightening the grasp that forced the human's joint to an unnatural angle, and moving his free hand to bring the knife in quickly toward Sheppard's undefended body.
…they are here…
…there is no more time…
Cursing himself, Michael widened his senses, felt, as he knew Teyla must, the increasing number of Wraith, ground troops, drones and their commanders.
Abruptly he released Sheppard, pushing the man away, but paid little heed to his falling. Already he had stepped toward Teyla. Already he had commanded his hybrids to abandon the fight against the humans and to defend their retreat. Humans were easy prey, but the Wraith…
Sheppard impacted the ground hard, tried to roll with the fall to reduce the pain of the impact on his abused body. It made no sense. Michael had had him; had him cold, and then to just stop… it made no sense to him.
"Teyla," he called out for her again.
"John, go!" Her voice was urgent, but still he didn't understand, and he certainly wasn't about to abandon her to Michael. He rolled to his feet, watching as the Wraith-Human hybrid moved toward his friend.
"No!" he called out, and his heart twisted in a confused anguish of pain as Michael turned back toward him, and he saw Teyla seeming to reach for Michael's hand.
"If you wish to survive," Michael's voice rumbled across the pain, stirring it to a near maddening jealousy, "you will listen to her."
"Leave her alo—"
"You don't understand," Teyla interrupted. "There are Wr—"
A shot rang out, echoing around the confines of the cave, and it was not from the weapons of either of their forces. It was a staff weapon blast, and that could mean only one thing: Wraith.
As if to confirm the escalating nightmare, the blast was followed by a single gurgling cry, and turning toward the sound, Sheppard couldn't help but watch in horror as, across the distance, the air force sergeant, partly suspended against the cave wall, aged and withered before his eyes as the Wraith commander fed. Behind the commander, and from the many other tunnels that Sheppard knew led through the surrounding mountain, many forms began to swarm into the laboratory.
Barely stifling a cry of horror, one of Sheppard's team turned from the standoff with Michael's hybrids, and began to fire, uncontrolled bursts, into the oncoming Wraith, and after a second of thought the hybrid did the same, though in a more controlled manner, but alone they were little more than the proverbial drop, and this particular inundation was growing larger by the moment.
As if inertia was broken on the edge of that moment in time, the air around Sheppard erupted into heat and light. Cries and the hissing snarls of falling Wraith, mercenary and hybrid alike filled the echoing dome, descended like something out of nightmare into a singular realisation in Sheppard's mind: there was no way they were going to make it alone.
Even with the fact that most of his men had already been pinned in cover by Michael's hybrids, so were not falling victim to the incoming Wraith the way others were, or perhaps because of it, there would be little chance of them making it out easily if at all.
"Target the Wraith!" Michael called out. "Take them out!"
Sheppard didn't understand why Michael's voice cut so clearly across the chaos until he started to turn, meaning to see that Teyla was safe, more than that, intent on getting to her side. Turning, he almost collided with the Wraith-Human hybrid, and fumbled to catch a hold of the P90 that Michael slapped against his chest.
"Always by circumstance, Colonel Sheppard," Michael hissed, his voice low and dangerous. "If either of us is to survive this, we have no choice but to fight them as allies."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, hardened as he met Michael's… a silent promise that their personal conflict wasn't over. That only by such circumstances would they ever be anything other than enemies. Then he hefted the weapon, stepping away from Michael and firing into the incoming Wraith, at the same time calling out his own orders, "Coordinate your fire with Michael's forces. Take out the Wraith!"
The upper atmosphere was streaked red with the superheated trails of incoming craft, as Darts and 302s danced around each other in aerial confusion, each seeking advantage over the other, like pairs of fighting hawks cast by their masters in deadly competition.
McKay barely rolled aside in time to avoid the distorted air that heralded the Wraith materialiser's beam as another unit of Wraith resolved into existence and started toward the smoking ruins of what had been the barn a few terrible moments ago…
There was little left to provide him with cover, but he knew if the Wraith saw him, they would leave little of him behind, and even with the 302s firing to take out as many of the life-sucking bastards as they could, he was surrounded, and terrified.
He pushed away from the ground, where the roll had deposited him into a slight depression and sprinted for what looked like the remaining wall of a ruined building. As endangered by 'friendly fire' as he was by the Wraith, the threw himself past the splintered wood, stifling the cry he wanted to shriek to the heavens as the jagged material caught at his open jacket and ripped the fabric; tore against his skin. Instead he scrambled backward until his back found the solid remains, until he could reach around him and pull debris to cover him. He drew up his knees, adopting a foetal position and clutched his P90 tightly against his shins.
His terrified breathing came in snatches, which became sobs that wracked him to the core of everything he was. Damn Sheppard for his stupid grief. Damn Todd for everything he'd done to all of them in his power hungry machinations. Damn the Wraith and Damn Michael worst of all.
Damn Michael to hell.
Michael pushed urgently at Teyla's shoulder, moving her further along the wall and into the smaller antechamber that led toward the heart of his compound. His course was clear. There was no choice, he would have to make the launch and take the cloning facility to the safety of one of his outer world bases. He had already silently ordered the majority of his hybrids to retreat and prepare the launch.
Covering Teyla's entry to the room he fired blind into the darkness, turning first one way and then the other, following the pull of his senses as he backed up into the anteroom, their last defensive position. Even with the hybrid soldiers he had kept with them, and what few remained of Sheppard's forces, they would be hard pressed to maintain the small advantage they would gain in achieving that position.
Dread flowed through him at the alarm in Teyla's call, and he turned from the corridor to find her spinning in combat against a trio of Wraith drones, who may well have been lying in wait.
She lashed out at the nearest of the drones, catching his face-plate with the side of her arm, it shattered, and allowing her free hand to jab at the vulnerable flesh beneath. The drone stumbled away, and she caught the staff weapon it released as it did, spinning the weapon in her hands and using it like a quarterstaff, bringing the blunt firing end to impact the second of the drones in the chest before sweeping its feet from under it with the bottom of the staff.
She was magnificent. Poised, fast and deadly she gave ground only to provide herself with room to use the staff. She leaped over a similar gambit meant to trip her aimed her way and turned in the air, her feet momentarily spinning over her, to come down against the upper side of a slanted console. She lashed out at the drone, forcing it back, and giving herself space to find solid ground. She was magnificent, but she was outnumbered.
Flooded with the nausea of indecisive fear, Michael pressed his back to the wall and fired against the Wraith still following them along the corridor toward the antechamber. They could not be allowed to reach it. All chance would be gone if they did.
Sheppard's breath was an audible rush as the man threw himself at the opposite wall from Michael, and the rattle of his P90 echoed loudly.
"Go," the man called over the sound, "I've got this!"
Michael needed no second bidding. Leaving Sheppard to the fate he had accepted, he turned and launched himself into the room, into the knot of drones surrounding Teyla, firing as he went to free her from the menace. He wrapped a solid forearm around the neck of the one that, in the second before he reached Teyla's side to assist her, had landed its armoured fist a solid blow against her face.
Her head snapped back, and she stumbled backwards. Her blood splashed against Michael's cheek, and still holding the drone he savagely bent it back over the steel side of an experimentation bench, twisting savagely until he felt its arrhythmic twitch in his arms – its spine snapped and its spinal chord severed.
He dropped the drone and in a single second crossed the narrow space to wrap his arm around Teyla's waist, even as she pushed at him still slightly stunned from the force of the blow.
"It is nothing," she told him breathlessly, but even so did not fight him as he eased her to cover behind one of the consoles.
"Remain here," he told her, turning to activate the computer, somewhat comforted to see that for now, hybrid and human soldiers were holding back the remaining Wraith.
"What the hell are you doing?" Sheppard yelled from the doorway, only just audible above the repeated rattle of his weapon.
"Closing the door," he snapped back, not without irony in his tone of voice.
"What are you—?" He knew that Sheppard had understood his meaning from the expression he could see growing on the man's face. "You'll bring the entire mountain down on our heads!"
"That's the idea," he answered calmly, keying the final sequence to detonate the charges.
"You're insane!" Sheppard spat.
It should have angered him. Instead, he chuckled, and almost inaudibly answered, "Quite possibly."
Beckett didn't even lift his head from his hands when the soft touch fell on the back of his neck. Her hands caressed him gently, and were cool and welcome as a balm against the fevered fire that ached in his brain.
"Y'tesha," he sighed softly as her caress became a guiding touch that brought his head to rest against her sparrow-like shoulder.
"Sssh, Carson," she whispered, nuzzling with her cheek against the top of his head. "You have struggled with this long enough. You have known for a long time that this, ultimately, is all that you have left."
"I'm not that man, Ayatesha," he lifted his head from her shoulder then, but didn't pull away from her. He needed the familiarity, the comfort, but even then, tried to deny himself his needs. "Not who you think I am."
"You are a clone, created by a man that you made from a Wraith," she told him, "I know who you are, but question if you do."
"What do you mean?" he asked, frowning softly.
Gently she ran her fingertips across his brow and down the side of his face, speaking as she did. Her voice was as soft and gentle as her touch.
"You carry with you all the memories and life experiences of your former self. The joys, the sorrows, the successes and the mistakes that you have always carried, they are still with you. You are as much Carson Beckett as you have ever been, you cannot deny yourself." She met his eyes then, "but you have a uniqueness, a gift that few of the rest of us have. You have stood within the howling wilderness, looked into the bleakness of the dark at the heart of all of us and you. Have. Survived."
Her eyes filled to overflowing as she spoke, and frowning he lifted a hand to brush away her tears, turned his head to kiss the scars at her wrist as her thumb shifted over his cheek.
"But to go back to it," he murmured against her skin, nuzzling the rough evidence of her mistreatment, "even for this…"
"You," she breathed, "will go back because you, as I, know that it is bigger than just this. You knew… from the minute you created Michael that it is bigger than just this. And they will not understand because they do not understand."
He lifted his face away from her arm then, looked into her eyes again, cold with the fearful knowledge that she did understand… that she too had knowledge of the howling darkness of which she spoke.
"What did they do to you, Ayatesha?" he whispered.
"No, Carson," she denied him. "Now is not the time. It begins in Jennifer, not with me."
"Tell me," he implored her, moving closer so she had no choice but to look up to see him.
"Listen," she murmured, "sometimes, by complete accident, we see… more than we are meant to see and… when we try to follow our conscience and do what we know is right but not easy, others who have not seen as we have… try to force conformity to their will."
"You're not making any sense, sweetheart," Carson said softly, daring the word that had been on his lips since he saw her again, but hardly daring to breathe.
"Yes, hayati, I am," she whispered, her face creasing with pain, "Just that you are not hearing."
"What do I need to hear?" he moved closer, sharing almost breath with her.
"They gave me your original research, your results. The ones you purged from your computers," she told him, then meeting his eyes with the heavy weight of shared understanding, confessed, "And I deconstructed it."
"Oh God," he said. "Y'tesha, I'm s—"
"Sssh, Carson," she whispered, closing the distance between them. "You have struggled with this long enough."
Her lips brushed against his, and sobbing into the kiss, he drew her closer still, surrendering to the emotions, and to the knowledge that she was right. Ultimately, there was only one course of action that he had left.
Sheppard ducked aside as the rain of debris fell from the roof of the tunnel and fought to keep his feet as the ground lurched beneath him. One after another, Michael's charges fired, cutting off the incursion of the Wraith, but effectively trapping them all inside.
Safe from the Wraith, Sheppard, still burned with anger, and with nowhere left on which to turn it back, save on the architect of all of the trouble and anguish and pain, he turned on Michael, ready to fulfil his unspoken promise. For what he had done to Teyla, Sheppard would give no quarter.
He pushed the pain away from his elbow, damaged in the beginning of their interrupted fight, and before he'd managed to move away from the console, charged at Michael.
Teyla's anguished cry did nothing to stop him, only the satisfaction of Michael's pained snarl as his shoulder connected heavily with the Wraith-Human hybrid's side gave Sheppard a moment's pause as Michael stumbled away, barely a step, two…
Michael recovered quickly, seeming more than willing to meet Sheppard in their unfinished conflagration, and tried to swing a savage punch into Sheppard's face. He stepped up to grab a hold of him at the same time, but it appeared to Sheppard that he'd caught Michael off guard and off balance. Michael slipped to one knee and was forced to release him.
"John," Teyla called out again, and then cried more urgently, "Michael!"
It was more than Sheppard could bear to hear, an urgent, panicked cry for a murderous bastard like Michael assaulted Sheppard's every sensibility, and blinded with rage, he ignored Teyla's cries to desist.
Focussed on destroying Michael, something he knew he should have done a long time ago, Sheppard pulled his 9mm from his leg holster and pointed it at Michael's head. All activity in the small, sealed in antechamber came grinding to a halt at that single moment in time, as hybrid faced off against human, poised on the knife edge of danger.
"Tell me why you should live?" Sheppard growled.
Teyla had never heard Sheppard speak in such a tone, and terrified for Michael, hearing the words and without a conscious thought to press upon her the stupidity of the action, she all but threw herself between the 9mm and Michael.
"Teyla, no!" Sheppard called, and in the same moment, Michael too forbade her act in his salvation.
"Teyla, move aside!" Why was he still on his knees?
Arms wrapped around her waist, and she felt her feet lifted from the floor as she was spun aside, pushed hard against a bank of computers. The bulk of a hybrid held her in place and she fought with him like a wounded hellcat. Her eyes filled with tears and her blood both burned and froze to a halt as she saw John's finger tightening on the trigger.
"No… John!" she cried, and then clawing again at the hybrid demanded of him, "Let me go…! Michael!"
Sheppard barely noticed that it was a hybrid that had pulled Teyla out of his way, only that he once again had a clear shot at Michael's head.
"Do it, Colonel!" one of his men called, and the encouragement was almost painful as everything in him screamed to pull the trigger, but as tight as the cold metal was against his index finger, he couldn't; was still waiting, almost desperate for Michael to respond to his question.
"John, no…" Teyla's pleading tone almost drove him to madness. What had this bastard done to his friend that she would want such a thing?
He stepped forward, fury in every line of his body as he dug the weapon into Michael's forehead.
"Fucking answer me," he yelled. "NOW!"
The pain in his side had increased exponentially as the adrenaline of danger from the battle with the Wraith faded. Sheppard's attack had taken him by surprise – carelessness. He couldn't allow it to continue… sooner or later the equilibrium would break, would snap like a frozen twig under the pressure of a heavy boot. He had to be ready.
He took in a breath that he made every effort to ensure was not in any way as laboured as it felt, and shifting his eyes up to meet Sheppard's, ignoring the discomfort of the weapon's barrel digging into his flesh, spoke as calmly and quietly as he could.
"All these years, Colonel Sheppard," he said, tilting his head in spite of the weapon, "and you have been pursuing me – your mistake – like a ghost. I know that you're blaming me for what has happened, but... if you truly believed that, you would have pulled the trigger on the P90 the moment you saw me."
He watched as Sheppard's eyes flickered with painful admittance of the truth of his words, and took a breath. The moment was coming. He felt his heart beat almost painfully in his chest and fought against the instinctive need to flick his eyes to where he heard the hybrid release his hold on Teyla. He took another breath.
"If you were going to kill me, you wouldn't be standing here now," he continued, trusting Teyla to hold her place as he sent another soft but barbed taunt Sheppard's way. "You won't kill me, John Sheppard, because you know that if you do, you will break Teyla's heart."
For a moment, the truth in Michael's words sapped every ounce of will from him, and utterly defeated Sheppard frowned, and began to lower his weapon. He could hear his soldiers, telling him to just shoot the bastard, but… what about Teyla?
All the anger began to seep away from him too. Without Teyla, what was there? What had Michael done to her, and how in the name of both galaxies could he ever hope to save her from it if he gave her that pain?
"And that is your weakness," Michael snarled.
Too slow, as Michael made a grab for him, Sheppard tried to raise the 9mm to finish what he had, in cold blood, been unable to do, but rising quickly, Michael caught him a glancing blow, driving him to the side, and the round went hopelessly wide, before the gun became trapped between them, and the pressure of Michael's fingers at his wrist began to numb his hand.
He fought to squeeze the trigger again.
Hope crumpled in Teyla as the fight resumed, as Michael and Sheppard grappled with the instrument of their destruction. Desperate, she snatched for the stunner at the hybrid's waist, took it into her shaking hands.
They were moving so quickly, turning first one way and then another and she couldn't get a clear shot. She could see from his face that all John's mercy for Michael had flown – knew that he would kill him if he could. She would have a single chance…
In an agony of desperation, she cried out, "Michael!"
…Michael… …Michael… …Michael…
At her cry, he turned her way, dragging Sheppard around with him. It gave her the shot she needed and she squeezed the trigger.
Sheppard stiffened in his arms as the stunner blast went through him. Michael pushed back the residual tingling of it that nipped at his own consciousness. The gun clattered to the floor at their feet.
Turning his head her way as he lowered Sheppard to the ground, he saw Teyla throw the stunner from her as though it scalded her to touch it, her eyes were awash with pain. He had sworn never to hurt her, and yet in defending himself, in pushing Sheppard to break a deadly equilibrium that held them all at a time when there could be no delay afforded, he had done so. He closed his eyes and breathed out.
"I am sorry, Teyla. I—" When she did not answer, he opened his eyes, looked into the frustrated, terrified tears he saw there, and took a step toward her. She backed away, wrapping her arms around herself as she did. He froze, his own pain clenching in his gut. "Teyla?"
"He would have given you clemency," she whispered, "but every time you taunt him, and you push and push until he cannot bear it. Why, Michael?"
"Bear it, Teyla?" he questioned softly. "What is it that he cannot bear – to hear the truth? To know that he was instrumental in doing to me as no compassionate human would, and that in giving me a choice that was no choice, and then forcing that end upon me time and again he has created the very thing that he now so despises?"
"But you never gave him the chance to—"
"I gave him every chance!" Michael raised his voice, taking another step her way and once more freezing with the fearful conflict that flowed through him as she backed away again. More softly he said, "Every chance, Teyla. I would have helped Atlantis, but was instead rejected; came to you for help, and was denied. At every turn he has hunted me."
"Wouldn't you?" She took a step his way then, unwrapped the defensive shield she had made of her arms. "In his place, if admitting everything you had done had brought about the terrors that you had sworn to defend against, that you would lose everything you were, everything you had ever hoped for, and the one thing that you… love. Wouldn't you?"
Michael looked down and swallowed, not wanting Teyla to see the conflict in his eyes, the understanding and identifying compassion that her words kindled, uncomfortably, in him; not wanting her to know that she was so very right, but… he could see little choice. She wanted his honesty now, needed it, and to deny her would only push her away.
Finally he looked up at her, swallowed again and said, "I would."
-I have- -have- -have- -have- -have-
Teyla was prepared for almost any answer from Michael in that moment: anger, denial, a reminder that he only did what he must to survive… anything except his understanding – his empathy… the one thing that prevented her from pushing aside the love she felt for him; that held it up to her as the true and right feeling in her heart. She'd wanted to hate him, to prove that he was the monster that everyone else, that did not understand him, said he was. Instead he proved them all wrong.
She let out the sob she had been holding inside and closed the distance between them, slapping her hand against his chest.
"Why, Michael? Why now?" Her other fist came up to beat against him, and he allowed her the ineffectual slaps that punctuated her words. "All this time… all these years I have tried to reach you. Over and over I have tried and tried to tell you, but you didn't listen. You just continued… ignored compassion, and for what, Michael - for what?"
Emotionally exhausted, she grabbed the front of his coat, the strength beginning to seep from her legs as she admitted to herself the full force of her fear of losing him. His arms came around her, and she leaned against him, knowing how he would answer and that his words would be nothing more than the bitter truth that the universe had delivered them.
"We both know the answer to that, Teyla," he said softly. She felt him give a humourless laugh that left his breathing unsteady and laboured. "It is such a truth that it has become a cliché – the constant wedge that we drive between us."
He paused then, and she looked up at him, into his eyes – noticing the haze of pain that had begun to colour the edges of the golden irises.
"Would you rather I had given up?" he asked her, almost afraid.
"I would rather it had not brought so much pain," she told him, her answer both honest and a lie of omission at the same time, "that you did not."
He swallowed again, and nodded once. She knew that he was attempting to use the movement to mask the hurt she had caused him in not admitting to her feelings. She wanted to, but could not bring herself to say that one, simple word.
He took a breath then, and stepped away from her, turning to his hybrids.
"Take Colonel Sheppard and his men to the auxiliary Dart Bay, see to it that they are flown to the safety of their Jumper," he ordered.
Teyla brushed a touch against his arm as he finished speaking.
"Thank you, Michael," she said softly.
"Time to go," he said, with another nod, gesturing to the one tunnel that remained open.
Caldwell winced as another explosion of sparks and fire erupted behind the command chair. Marks was trying his best, he knew, but with the Wraith cruiser having little other than Daedalus to occupy it as a target…
"Hard to port, Major Marks," he ordered, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of all of the alarms. "We have to keep that cruiser off us for—"
Even without glancing at the HUD he knew the change. The constant thump of the barrage of weapons' fire against the ship's hull ceased, and what few Darts were weaving between the two ships seemed to be pulling away.
"What just happened?" he demanded, then for the sake of his aching head thought to add, "And someone shut off that alarm?"
"Not sure, Sir," Marks said.
He turned to his con. officer and saw the frown of confusion on the man's face as he studied his screen, and then looked up at the HUD.
"Something just… happened," Marks answered at last. "On the planet's surface, Sir. The Wraith cruiser has broken off its attack. Shifting position, she—"
Feeling suddenly chilled with dread, Caldwell stood up from the command chair, and walked through the HUD to get an unobscured view of the forward screen.
Directly below them the planet's atmosphere was glowing in a sickly orange-red colour, as if fire was spreading around the planet, and for a long time – too long – Caldwell couldn't work out what he was seeing.
"More incoming Darts, Sir," the tactical officer said, shaking her head, "from the planet. They're heading—"
"Evasive manoeuvres, Marks!" Caldwell turned and almost threw himself back into his chair. In a flush of momentary clarity he had suddenly realised what had set the atmosphere aflame, and why the Wraith cruiser had changed her orbit away from her current position. "Those are energy bolts… something firing!"
As soon as he heard the overhead whine of the Dart, McKay dived for cover, dropping the remote signalling device from his hand which was numb with fear. He watched in horror as the Jumper decloaked, but his own instinct for self preservation prevented him from scrambling the few feet to retrieve it.
He was sure they'd all left… it had been like something out of his worst nightmare. Earthquakes, volcanoes… fire…
McKay's horror at revealing the Jumper increased when the Dart turned in the next moment and began to retrace its path over the now revealed Jumper. The trauma of the recent hours had led him to completely forget the P90 he still cradled like a comfort blanket. In the moments that followed, that lapse became a comfort to him, as the Dart activated its materialiser beam and deposited some very familiar figures in the relative safety of the lea of the Jumper before powering away.
Without a second thought he scrambled out of the tangled briars he'd thrown himself into, ignorant of the scratches to his already tortured body, and snatching up the remote signalling device, started toward the small group.
The two men on their feet turned his way, moving defensively in front of the prone figure of his friend.
"Whoa," he did not immediately see that they were unarmed. "It's me… McKay. What the hell—"
"Michael," one of the men snapped.
McKay blinked, and for a moment felt as though he was going to vomit, his response was so visceral.
"Excuse me?" he asked, coming to a shaking halt, gesturing wildly with his hands as he spoke. "Because I thought for a minute you said Michael, and of course that's not possible because when that Superhive got disintegrated he was still aboard and that would mean he was blown apart and— really? He's still alive?"
From the ground, Sheppard moaned, "Michael's alive."
"Colonel Sheppard," the one that had spoken before turned to Sheppard and started to help him up.
"I'm fine," Sheppard said, grunting a little as he hauled himself, unsteadily, to his feet. "What the hell happened?"
"Michael's alive?" McKay questioned again. Unable to fully comprehend the full impact of that statement with everything he knew as rapidly as his genius brain would have liked, he replayed the last several minutes over and over in his head, beginning to pace back and forth. "Michael's alive. Oh, this is bad. Very bad. This is so not good."
"McKay!" Sheppard called, and McKay stopped pacing and turned to face him. "What are you talking about? What happened?"
"There was a… a ship, a…" he gestured again, unable to describe what he had seen. "It took off, the Darts followed. It's how I managed to get back here. I—"
"What? When?" Sheppard demanded, immediately shaking off most of the rest of the effects of his grogginess.
"Just a few minutes ago, I—" he winced as Sheppard snatched the remote from his fingers. "Hey!"
"We gotta get after him." Sheppard started to lower the rear of the Jumper. "Stop him."
"Look, Sheppard," McKay started, still reeling from the news, but he'd had more than a belly full of Sheppard running off half cocked, getting them deeper and deeper into trouble. "If Michael's still alive—"
"—we're not in a position to tangle with him right now. Look at you, you can barely stand, you've lost… most of your team, and he already—"
"He still has Teyla," Sheppard interrupted, rounding on him. The expression on Sheppard's face was as ugly as he'd ever seen and he started to feel more than a little afraid.
"She's alive too?" he said mildly, attempting to defuse his friend's temper. "Well that's good, isn't it? Very good, I mean—"
"And Michael still has her," Sheppard said, stopping right in front of McKay, and explaining as if to a child, "and we need to rescue her."
"Of course we do," McKay agreed, then frowned at the look that passed fleetingly across Sheppard's face. "I just think we'd be more likely to do that if we had… you know… reinforcements."
"We don't have time for this, Rodney!" Sheppard snapped. "Daedalus is out there, and Michael is out there. We have to get this Jumper in the air, and stop Michael before he can get away."
Without another word, he turned and boarded the Jumper, beginning to power up the small craft.
McKay looked quizzically at the two remaining soldiers, but if either of them knew what was going on, loyal to Sheppard, clearly neither of them was going to tell him.
He had given thought to recalling his cruisers, even his Hive, but in the end decided there was no time, that he would have to adopt a more direct strategy. There would be no time for finesse or clever trickery. If he were going to get the facility safely away from the system, he would have to be ready to punch through whatever lay in wait, and make the jump to hyperspace at the first possible moment.
Without even a moment to see to the wound in his side, though in truth that had receded to a dull ache, so long as he didn't try to move too much, he strode onto the facility's bridge, and grasped a hold of the controls at the console.
Proximity sensors screamed at him as he lifted the craft sluggishly from its hollow mountain resting place – a place that should have been safe for months to come, perhaps even years, without the interference of the humans. He sighed, and pushed back the thought. There would be time enough to confront his feelings on that later, when he was safe… when the facility was safe, and more importantly: when Teyla could be given more than just adequate care.
"Two ships," his current lieutenant interrupted his thoughts. "One's a Wraith cruiser."
"Fire all forward weapons," he tilted his head, his eyes narrowing, "Let's see if we can't… encourage them that discretion may be the better part of valour after all."
"Sir?" the lieutenant questioned.
Michael shook his head, "Never mind."
He knew the hybrid would obey the command, even if not understanding the sentiment that went with it. He was too tired to explain, too concerned to spare the time and what energy he had he reserved for the piloting of the facility.
Taking a breath, he closed his eyes, falling into rapport with the facility's systems, and increased their speed to give them a good escape velocity. He was gratified when, in the next moment, the audible sound of the facility's weapons firing rapidly along their forward trajectory. He didn't expect it would solve all of the problems, but at least it might give them a fighting chance.
"Commander!" The Wraith second in command merely gestured to the forward screen and immediately the commander could see the danger.
"Take us out of the immediate trajectory, prepare to return fire," he ordered.
"Leave them," the commander snarled. "We will deal with them later, if there remains a need." He rounded on his second in command in the next moment, when the cruiser still lay in the path of the oncoming fire from the ship that was launching from the surface. "Do as I command!"
The cruiser lurched clumsily, but at least it was moving. The commander shouldered his way onto the tactical controls, the Wraith there stepping aside. As quickly as he could, the commander retasked the cruiser's weapons, preparing for the moment when the craft broke the atmosphere. One well placed shot would be all that was needed…
"My God," Caldwell breathed as the forward section of the ship became visible from out of the planet's atmosphere. "What the hell is that?"
The ship was as unlike a Wraith Hive or cruiser as Caldwell had ever seen, and yet was clearly Wraith in origin. The pointed forward section was sharper than a Hive, and the sides of the ship more rounded. Along the rounded sides, more pointed, spiny protuberances jutted in a downward angle, as though they were meant to anchor the ship into place, like a burr or some kind of strange interstellar seed.
This particular seed prickled with weapons that were obviously charged and still firing in random directions, clearly in an attempt to deter would be attackers.
"Wraith cruiser is firing, Sir," Marks said.
Caldwell held his breath. The ship was going to be blindsided. Climbing from the atmosphere straight into incoming fire… what chance did they have?
Even as he watched, countless Darts swarmed from the belly of the gargantuan pocket-like ship like wasps from a nest, each moving toward the incoming fire, intercepting it and blossoming into spinning incendiaries that scattered throughout the vicinity. Some even continued on toward the cruiser itself.
"Son-of-a-bitch," Caldwell breathed. "They're going to make it."
Michael winced as the impact from the fire that made it through his cordon of sacrificial Darts tossed the facility sideways, and slammed him against the slightly curved console.
"Damage report," he hissed.
"Minor damage to the secondary hull – all critical systems still intact," a hybrid reported.
"Return fire, all batteries. Target the cruiser's weapons," Michael ordered.
The facility lurched again, and Michael tensed his arms to keep him in place and to keep the facility flying an even course.
"Time until we can open a hyperspace window?" he asked, glancing urgently at the forward display.
"Two minutes and twenty seconds," another hybrid answered.
"Too long," Michael answered, watching as the Wraith's Darts began to move to intercept them. If they got caught up in dodging the small fighter craft it would leave them open to attack from the cruiser on the facility's vulnerable underside.
He pushed his mind, trying to think of another way, another solution, but he was tiring. The wound was open again, and bleeding. The pain was a distraction, weakening his resolve – his connection with the facility's consciousness.
A cry of alarm refocused his attention on the forward viewer just in time to see the human fighter craft careening toward them. Concentrating hard, he forced the nearest weapon turret to take aim and fired. The craft disintegrated barely far enough away from the facility to avoid causing serious damage, and even then the deck lurched dangerously beneath Michael's feet from the shockwave of the explosion.
Adrenaline surged as the answer became clear.
"We're changing course," he snapped, and taking a deep breath once more closed his eyes to fall into a deeper connection with the facility.
"Colonel Caldwell," Marks yelped in horror as he realised the other ship's intentions. "They're changing course, heading straight for us!"
"Get us out of here!" Caldwell ordered, and Marks shifted his hands on the controls, trying to follow orders. His stomach knotted as he realised there was no way it was humanly possible.
"They're too close, Sir," he answered, barely restraining the panic in his voice.
"Take evasive action, Major," Caldwell repeated firmly, and his superior officer's apparent calm lent him the clarity of thought to see the one remaining answer.
Caldwell held his breath, watching the massive bulk of the ship closing on them fast.
In spite of the panic he'd heard in his con. officer's voice, he trusted the major to find them a way out of the apparently inescapable destruction toward which they were heading… or more accurately, which was heading their way.
The deck trembled, buffeted by the shockwaves of the explosions that were still being visited on the other craft by the Wraith cruiser. He had to admit to holding a great deal of admiration for Marks' skill, and not for the first time thought to put the other man in for a commendation, if not promotion.
The ship filled the forward view screen and Caldwell couldn't hold back his own nervousness any longer. He opened his mouth to remind the major that he'd been given an order, just as the deck of the Daedalus suddenly pitched beneath him, the inertial dampeners straining, and failing to keep the ship on an entirely even keel as Marks flipped her on her side, just as the other craft would have collided with her, effectively rolling beneath the other ship.
"Daedalus, this is Sheppard; come in! "
Caldwell visibly jumped as Sheppard's communication broke the tense silence. He quickly keyed the switch in the arm of his chair and tried to sound composed.
"Go ahead, Sheppard."
"The ship that just left the planet… whatever you do, don't let them leave." He couldn't help but shift his eyes to the massive craft that was lumbering over the top of the comparatively tiny form of the Daedalus.
"What are you talking about, Sheppard? What's going on?"
"It's Michael, and he has Teyla on board. Whatever you do, don't—"
Sheppard's voice dissolved into static and Daedalus wobbled on her axis, torn into by multiple strikes from the Wraith cruiser that had been meant for Michael's ship.
"Damage report," he snapped.
"Hull breech in engineering – we're venting atmosphere," the tactical officer reported. "Shields down to ten percent."
"Damn it, we've been played," Caldwell snarled. "Bring us about, Major. Disable that ship!"
He turned his eyes to the screen as they peeled away from beneath Michael's ship, watched the other craft starting to pull away toward open space. Sighing heavily, he shook his head, even as their weapons' fire began to reach its target and impact Michael's vessel, having no idea where to aim, it was not going to be easy for them to stop the inevitable.
"Pursue them!" the Wraith commander roared, then grabbing the one he had displaced from the tactical controls and dragging him back into his place ordered, "Target their hyperdrive generators!"
He snarled, cursing the pilot of the other vessel and cursing himself. He'd been so stupid. How could he not have seen the ruse for what it was? Using the human ship as a shield for their retreat was the most obvious gambit and if he lost the Abomination's ship now, after he had summoned the fleet…
Desperation settled over him, as the familiar spider web pattern of light began to form in the open space ahead of the ship.
"No!" he roared in denial. "Stop them!"
Desperation became defeat, a yawning, heavy chasm into which he fell as the bulk of the Abomination's craft, and with it, what remained of his people, appeared to elongate slightly as it was pulled quickly into the closing jaws of hyperspace.
She stood by the full length viewing port staring out into the swirling blues, and purples, and the pinpoint diamond sparkle of the dust that reflected the light from the nearby stars, so long in the beauty of it that she did not hear his entry into her chambers.
Michael took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. She too had bathed, and was dressed in the sleeping clothes that he had provided for her, soft Athosian linens that draped around her in a style more ancient still than her people's history. Her hair fell softly against her shoulders and the gold of her skin peeked delicately from between the falls of it. He swallowed hard in the face of her beauty.
"I told you we would see it again," he said at last, and he felt, rather than saw her smile, and felt her mind in his, whispering an invitation to join her. Slowly he crossed the room toward her, letting the door fall closed behind him.
"The cloning facility?" she asked him as he came.
"Safely away to the outer worlds. We will remain here while the Hive regenerates," he said, coming to a halt behind her. She turned to him, the smile still on her face, but tempered with something else… a need, a… longing.
Frowning softly he lifted a hand to brush his fingertips against the cut on her cheek, but she caught his hand, and brought the palm of it to her lips.
"It is nothing," she told him, kissing the palm of his hand.
"Teyla," he sighed, and took her into his arms. "It has been a long day. You should rest."
She leaned against him then, releasing his hand, to press her head against his chest, moving the linen of the shirt he had put on against his skin. He felt her breath through it, and his breathing quickened. In spite of his own tiredness, he began to feel the stirrings of desire.
"You could have been killed," she said, barely audible against him as her hand brushed down his back, and settled carefully over the top of the area where the dressing that covered his wound lay concealed beneath his clothes.
He reached for her hand, his fingers barely brushing her own as he lifted it away, held her arm in such a way that their skin barely touched – her hand against his linen clad wrist, his fingers around her own.
"Come," he said, and drew her across the few short steps to her bed, guiding her to sit, and then lie down. "Rest."
"Michael, don't," she whispered, and caught his shirt as he began to move away.
"I'm not going far," he told her, and squeezed her fingers softly as he removed her grip from his shirt.
Taking another breath, he stood once more and crossed the room to where the lantern still burned, and carefully snuffed out the flame on the wick, leaving the room lit only by the glow of lights from the nebula outside the ship.
"Dying for your protection would be… no real sacrifice," he began softly as he started to return to her, preparing to join her on the bed as he did. She reached for him as he lay down beside her, and he gathered her against his side, his hand coming to rest against her belly as she caressed his upper arm. "But it is not something that I intend."
She swallowed hard as she looked up at him, and he tilted his head, part in query and part in worry at her apparent fear. She lifted her hand from his arm and tenderly caressed the side of his face, over the bruise that had formed beneath his eye, before brushing softly over his lips.
"Death is never something we intend, Michael," she said, "but if we invite it, it will surely find us."
"I will care for you, Teyla," he said. "Keep you safe. I will allow no harm to come to you. I have told you that."
She slipped her fingers into his hair, guiding him closer, inviting the brush of his lips against her own, and he responded as tenderly as he had ever been, breathing out slowly into the sharing of the kiss.
"No more talk of death and harm," she whispered as he pulled away from the kiss. "Not any more."
A/N Many thanks go to Michelle Turchiano for additional material used as an inspiration in this act.
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