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Stargate: Atlantis is the property of MGM. All characters and images remain the property of the original copyright holder. No infringement is intended. No revenue is being obtained from copyright material. WARNING: Act 1 contains a scene of non consensual relations and may be triggering for some people.


"It doesn't make any sense. There's no way a single Queen could provide enough genetic material to fertilise all those pods."

"Maybe there's more than one."

"Queens don't work together – at least not as far as we know."

McKay and Ronon, Spoils of War

Previously On Stargate Atlantis:

Her heartbeat faltered, fluttering in her chest, and with a sudden snarling, Todd thrust hard against her, inside her, and she bucked her hips to meet with his, and for but a single moment, everything stopped… and then he burst inside her and she shattered for him… crying out again as all sensation sped to every nerve, every fibre that she was, consuming everything she was, or could ever hope to be…

The red star burst, a nova destroying those worlds close by, a bright flash in the sky of a darkening world… there was pain, shared, passed into the memory of the one that squeezed to life from between her thighs – her thighs? The cry of the birthing infant lost in the dying moan of its host.

Silence fell over the private quarters, punctuated only by the frantic gasping breaths she took in the aftermath of the shared climax that had shaken her to the core.

She felt the touch of his mind ease, loosen. He did not fully leave her, but wrapped the single word into her awareness.

~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~ ~parmhuna~

She closed her eyes, trying to control her breathing…

... and in her mind the clear image of a bright red flash in an otherwise dark sky…

…instead, Alicia Vega wept.

**

"Doctor Haddad, what do you think you're doing?" Varnerin's voice cut across hers. "This creature is a dangerous individual who—"

"This man," she stressed the word as she turned her back on Lorne to face the greater threat, "is a patient of the infirmary. He was never discharged, nor should he have been. He is suffering from the effects of a retrovirus, and as medical practitioners, it is our duty to see to his care, not simply to imprison him for something we do not understand."

"And that's why you saw fit to remove the restraints, hmm?" Varnerin pressed. "To understand him, not at all to make it easier for him to escape."

"Would you listen to yourself," Haddad said, her tone sarcastic. "You are as dismissive and as paranoid as any man I have ever met. By understanding the genetic manipulation that has occurred in him we may be able to help others, including Doctor Keller."

"Oh, I think you understand Doctor Keller far more than you would have us all believe," Varnerin said as he stepped closer to tower over her. "Given your… past history with such research."

"Do not seek to threaten me, Professor Varnerin," Haddad said, though she did step back to put some space between the two of them. "Other, far more frightening men than you have tried."

"Other men did not possess the knowledge that I do, my dear young woman," he said. "Your research – the things you would not share with the Military…"

Ayatesha swallowed. There was no way he could have got a hold of that information. It did not exist in any form accessible to anyone but herself. Even the notes she had made, while deconstructing Carson's original research she had destroyed, and even under the strongest of persuasive methods employed by the black ops team sent to oversee her exile, she had revealed nothing more than the means by which the retrovirus worked… knowledge already common since Michael's creation. Varnerin was bluffing.

"If you have nothing of clinical use to say to me," she told him, trying not to allow her voice to waver, "as the senior member of the duty staff, I strongly suggest you leave the infirmary, before I have you removed."

"Oh… play hard ball with me, little girl," Varnerin hissed and began to step closer. Ayatesha couldn't help but look away. He halted suddenly, as if he had collided with a brick wall. She turned her head back in time to see Lorne swing himself from the medical bed, his arm braced against the taller man's chest, to put himself between her and Varnerin.

"I believe the doctor… has asked you to leave," he said firmly.

**

Todd threw back his head and roared, matching the young Queen's feline snarl as he wrapped her hair around his fist, pulling back her head.

Subdued, she was at his mercy now, her feeding hand lay quiescent against his chest, and she was breathing hard as her snarl faded, as he looked down on her where she lay, supine beneath him; her life, his.

Finally lowering his head to her exposed throat, he breathed in deeply of the scent streaming from her, already changing in the aftermath of their mating. Slowly he closed his teeth on the side of her neck, both marking her and delivering, in his saliva, the hormone that would calm her, bring her Zenith to an end and prevent her body from rejecting the litter of sub-commanders that would be kindled from this union, until the Hive readied the pods for them.

**

"So, my Queen," Kenny said softly as he returned, looking down on where she lay, unable to move, completely at his mercy, and at the mercy of the orders given to him by his commander. There was no question of his loyalty, not in this matter. "You and your ignorant dam think you can bring to us the beginnings of all that is to come?"

The young Queen moaned and hissed as the genetic material of her young was excised from her swollen body by the action of the fluids and the enzymes secreted into the fluid, transported by the tendrils and tubules to the waiting generative pods. There they would complete their gestation, supported by the Hive, part of the Hive as much as its consciousness would be a part of them.

He did not care that she was watching him, Kenny pulled the cap from the first of the syringes his commander had given him, and inserted the needle carefully into the tendril supplying life support to one of the embryonic Wraith.

Slowly he injected the serum.

The young Queen breathed through her pain, finding the breath to answer his question, "No." and then found a way past the mental paralysis of her pain to reach his mind, she completed her answer.

))…That falls to another than I ((

**

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."

"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."

"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."

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.

**

The ache at the centre of him deepened to an almost-pain, demanding attention, demanding fulfilment, and he broke from another deep, sweet kiss he had not even consciously known when the cool softness of her hand closed around his risen length to give a cry of his own. Three times as deep, and as strong as he had ever given her… the tones winding around them both… his mind lost in the bliss of belonging only to her.

-parmhunaeterna-

She pushed him away, turned him to lie on his back and freeing him from the last of his clothing, rose over him; straddled him and cried out as she sheathed him. She threw back her head, and let the robe slip down her arms, revealing herself to him. The beads of perspiration over her breasts and stomach reflecting the light from the nebula in bright prisms against her – she glowed with it. Her muscles trembled around him; broke in climax even as she took him deep inside, and he moved a caress to the place of their joining, keeping her alive until her cries became soft moans and she sank against him…sobbing with it softly.

He ran his fingers through her hair, barely moving against her, inside her, lifted her head from his shoulder to find her lips with his and take another soft sweet kiss as he turned them again, drawing away from her as he brought her beneath him, supporting himself on his arms as he claimed her again, and she arched her back to take him deeper still and breathed against his shoulder, drawing him down to her, her fingers on his back like the touch of alternating heat and cold.

She moved against him with a rhythm and he fell into it, moving against her, within her, so aware of every part of the both of them, bonded in body and in mind that the hypersensitivity of opening inside of her, giving to her his innermost self brought a cry from the very heart of him.

Her cries became wordless as the moment took her and she trembled around him again. Sensation gripped him, fractured whatever remained to keep them apart and he voiced a cry of his own… shattered and emptied himself to the fount of her being; breathlessly flowed into her the waters of all of his life, all of his existence.

His words, almost a prayer, fell from his lips as he tumbled to cover her, unable to hold himself up any longer and she clasped him to her breast, pressed her cheek to his, and whispered his name over and over again – as she bathed him with the tears of their becoming.

**

Michael straightened up from the preparation of the sample and slipped the vial into the machine that would provide him the tools for analysis. He stood back, watching the screen as the image built, as the falling Wraith characters whispered the facts of the contents and composition of her blood; her DNA.

He had seen in her mind as they joined, that she had been through much since he had released her to Atlantis. They were supposed to keep her safe; protect her while he had been unable. They had failed. Worse than failure, their treatment of her… what they had done may well have caused her harm, at their hands, or at the hands of the Wraith, and now that she had returned to him, he had to be certain that this was not the case. He had to be sure that she was well.

A single character string falling to its place in the analysis caught his attention as he moved to step away. He froze. A tighter band than the one caused at her distress tightened around him and he all but threw himself at the console, isolating what he had seen, bringing into sharp relief the combined and complex amino acid chain.

"This isn't possible," he breathed in an awed tone, though with a greater fear than he wanted to admit.

**

"Anything!" he roared, "I could have forgiven anything but this!"

"I only pushed… and he fell," she gasped. "Survive…!"

His feeding hand descended in a rapid unerring line toward her sternum, each painful inch he moved stealing year upon year of darkening memory, replacing every one with a hot agony of regret.

"There was a voice!" she screamed.

::heshamae hensuus::

He froze as the words and the image; the impression of falling water, frothy with the white of life, filled his senses… rolling over him, an absentee caress, regretful and sorrowing, lonely. His hand halted barely a wisp away from Isla's beating heart.

"Survive, it said," Isla wept. "Survive."

Trembling he curled his feeding hand into a fist and closed his eyes.

"Get out," the words came from him in a whispered rush, as he let go of her again. "Get out of my sight!"

He heard her, amid her sobbing breaths, scrambling to obey, felt the air beside him move as she practically crawled away from him, before she found her feet and her footsteps rang across the deck as she traversed his quarters toward the door.

::heshamae hensuus::

"Isla," he called her name, his head still bowed, and he both heard and felt her stop.

Slowly, still trembling, he drew himself up from his kneeling, almost prayerful attitude, and wordlessly crossed to take his servant one last time into his arms. She leaned backwards into his embrace as he bowed forward to enfold her in himself; grazed the side of her jaw with the light nipping of his teeth and the almost tender brush of his lips. He closed his eyes as the regret and sorrow swept over him, overwhelming, until he was drowning in it.

"Find for me a servant worthy of my trust," he whispered against her ear. "Send her to me."

**

"My Queen," Isla pulled herself from Hanna's grasp, and came to the middle of the chamber, coming to her knees before the assembled Wraith. "The Hive Second dismissed me from his service – a mercy I do not deserve – because of an accident that befell me and one of his Wraith brothers as I sought to return to your service… and to his."

Almost over her, the Wraith mantled, drawing back his feeding hand, ready to slam it against her heaving chest. The moment between life and death hung heavy over Isla. Myriad thoughts and regrets and fears commingling into a single remembered command:

::survive::

As if guided by providence, Isla's bent knee came up off the dirt at her back and caught the Wraith a heavy blow that made him draw away, snarling with the pain of it. His hand still mantled back behind his head as he pulled back; his balance was fragile and failing. She bent both legs toward her belly and kicked out hard, connecting with the staggering Wraith's chest, tipping the balance and sending him tumbling backwards, growling… away.

Isla braced herself, ready to turn and continue her desperate scramble for the top of the slope. The snarling of the Wraith ceased abruptly in a sickening wet squelch. The lack of noise became as terrifying as the fight had been, and breathing hard, Isla grasped a root to tether her to the spot, and sat up, cautiously, to peek downward.

The Wraith lay still, his eyes open, staring… unseeing, and from his chest the dark blood dripping from its jagged, barbed edges, the broken branch stood, pointing toward the now almost purple sky.

::survive::

The Queen hissed suddenly, and drew back her hand, before snatching Isla up to her feet, the tips of her razor sharp finger-guards drawing sweeping lines across the girl's chest.

"You will live, girl!" she snapped, and without a moment's pause, launched Isla across the room, where she fell at the feet of the Hive's third in command. "The one you bested should not have shown such weakness."

=weakness= =weakness= =weakness= =weakness=

"But my Queen—!" the Hive commander protested.

The Queen rounded on him, hissing angrily, "You dare to question my decision?"

"N-no, my Queen, I only—"

"Take the girl," the Queen turned away from the commander then, and snapped the words, like a gunshot, at the Hive's third in command. "She is yours to do with as you will."

**

Isla stumbled back to the rough cot in the corner of the room to which she had been relegated, barely made it to sit, then all but fall sideways, drawing up her knees to shelter there in the middle of her bed. For many long hours she lay in a cramped foetal ball, her throat raw from the tears she had already shed, aching for more but unable to find a way to release them.

After a time… and slowly, closing her eyes on the bruises already visible on her arms and her wrist she reached beneath the thin mattress of her cot, and closed her fingers around the coldness of the metal she found there, drawing it forth. She opened her eyes and let the light from the Lower Station's main room – not so far from the quarters she had been given, if they could even be called that – glint off the blade of the small, but sharp knife she had concealed there.

It would not take much… and the pain would not be as much or as lasting as that she had already suffered at the pleasure of the Hive Third. Slowly, her hand trembling, she brought the cold metal to the side of her neck…

::survive:: ::survive:: ::survive:: ::survive:: ::survive::

Sobbing once more, she let the knife fall from her trembling hand.

**

{it is well done} {well done} {well done}

His words to her were no exaggeration. It was well done. Having the Queen's handmaiden serving as his also would allow him to maintain a closer vigilance of the Queen than his position would otherwise allow. He was concerned for her, or more accurately, he corrected himself wryly, for the Hive under her current condition. Her Zenith drew increasing unrest and near madness to some of the fertile males of the Hive, and yet the Hive commander, who should long since have brought his unstable Queen to the fulfilment of it, failed in his duties; his responsibilities.

{she will serve me well, Isla} {serve me well} {serve me well} {serve well}

"If… there is nothing more, my lord," he heard the tremor in Isla's voice and it threatened to crush his resolve; to draw him into his own lapse of duty. He shook his head to banish the thoughts of clemency for this one from his mind.

"There is nothing," he said, his triple toned voice flattened almost into a single tone. He closed his eyes, and listened to her walk away.

"Lord," Malcolm opened his eyes and blinked in surprise as the queen's handmaiden addressed him without invitation. "I beg you: do not judge your servant harshly. What befell her was a matter of circumstance. She—"

"What know you of the truth of it?" he snapped, unable to keep the emotion from his voice as he turned back to face the woman, spreading his arms in silent instruction for her to begin preparing him for rest.

"I am no blind fool," she told him. "I have seen the loyalty with which she serves you, and know its source must reach far beyond what passes for obedience among the shallow sycophants of her kind."

The bitterness in her voice startled him and he snapped his head back, to look at her, catching her wrist to prevent her for continuing with his disrobing.

"You admire her," he surmised, tilting his head as he looked on the young woman.

"I pity her," she corrected him, the bitterness still clear in her voice, albeit tainted with sadness. "She is one true voice in a chorus of liars and people like her are punished for what they are, and will always be so. Despised by their own kind who fear the honesty of their desire, loathed by outsiders for a betrayal they never even made, and their masters, even as they reward their service, visit the heartbreak of longing upon them – a longing that will never be fulfilled."

Malcolm swallowed, and had no choice but to turn away, feeling as though his soul had been laid bare by the small woman who stood like a blood-covered dagger in his hand.

"You…are very brave to speak so candidly," he said, and cleared his throat, lowering himself to sit on the side of his bed, suddenly weary. "You may leave. I have no need of your services at this time."

Instead she crossed the room to him, and kneeling on the ground before him, took his hands and brought them to her lips.

"Please, my Lord," she implored him, "the Hive suffers. Take your rightful place. Cover Our Queen and bring us order again out of the weakness of her commander's madness."

Her hands around his trembled, and tears filled her eyes as he looked down on her, rolled from her cheek to drip onto his hand as he freed himself from her touch and in deepening curiosity, began to unfasten the ties on her high collared shift. She made no move to stop him.

Between the swell of her breasts there was no scarring. Not even the hint that any hand had ever fed, or given life marred the smoothness of her skin. He brushed his fingertips against the softness there as if in touch he could read her heart.

"I cannot," he told her softly, his eyes still fixed on the point at which the green and cream of their skin met. "For all that your position affords you a greater knowledge of the Hive, there is still much that you do not understand of the Wraith, or of my place here. I must ask you to endure."

"But why?" she pleaded and almost whispered the words she spoke as she pushed against his touch, beginning to rise. "You have it within your power to save all of us; to bring relief to this Hive; to—"

He rose with her, towered over her and caught her wrist again to prevent her from moving away. She shook her head as she looked up at him and continued her impassioned pleas.

"—to save Isla," she said. "Why do your falter?"

"I. Must. Ask you. To. Endure," he repeated, allowing the hint of a fourth tone to touch her in the nuances of his carefully controlled voice.

{both of you} {both of you} {you} {you} {you} {you}

In the touch of his mind to hers, he let the fourth tone weave a thought, an image of a scorched sky, hanging over the spires of a ruined city wherein Wraith stalked broken prey that crawled over the jagged remnants of their own arrogant disregard.

He did not move as she turned and fled the room.

**

Slowly Michael unwound his fingers from Vega's hair as he took the component from her trembling hand. Then, without another word to her, he turned and started to the door.

"Wait," she called after him, "What… what are you going to do to me?"

He paused in the doorway and looked back at her over his shoulder. The cold amusement in his eyes withered what was left of her spirit.

"It is already done," he told her.

**

The stench of blood, both older and new, assaulted Todd more strongly as he pushed his way into the cabin… other scents too, strong and sickly – scents that brought a greater anger still upon his already wounded psyche.

Even in the half-light he spotted her immediately, lying on the blood-soaked hearth where the remnants of the fire barely smouldered. Her clothing was torn, and scratches, gouges stood livid against the white flesh of her belly, her thighs and shoulders, and bites descended from her all but torn throat – down over the front of her body, not sparing the soft mounds of her breasts.

"Alicia," he could not stop her name escaping from his lips, desperate and broken, and came to his knees at her side, reaching for her, to cradle her closer against him even as the scent of another Wraith's fulfilment strengthened – sensed even before he saw the viscous splash of clearing milky, enzyme filled fluid coating her hip and her belly.

She made no sound as he tried to wrap her in the remnants of her torn clothing, seeking to warm her, reaching for her neck to assure him that she yet lived. Desolation lodged within him, pulling him down, threatening to overwhelm him as her dangerously weak pulse fluttered against his fingers.

~parmhuna… I am here~

Nothing…

She was barely breathing. He raised his head from beside hers, where he held her tight against his chest. He was out of time, with only one possible course of action left to him in order to save her life.

Letting out a long, slow breath that trembled with unexpressed emotional pain, rage and something far greater than fear, he steeled himself for what he had to do, and slowly, pushed his feeding hand against her chest.

~I only hope that you will find some way to forgive me~

***

"To understand that, you must first understand the evolution of the Wraith."

Michael, In Truth Freedom

Act 1

The burnt sky hung heavy over low clouds that mingled with the writhing smoke and danced a testament to the arrogance that had been the source of their genesis. Debris flashed past on what little she could see of the surface of the world over which she flew at terrifying speed – the haste of dream, memory… perhaps both.

The city loomed on the nearing horizon, shattered and broken, its towers long since fallen, corroded. The former glory of such a place lost to centuries of exposure and abandonment to the world of its demise. They could not even then accept their role, their responsibility for the creation of the hell that abided there.

She spiralled down, melding with one of the group of individuals picking their way over the ruins of the city that they recognised as their own and stumbled, catching herself on a protruding metal support strut for the fallen wall at her side.

A rain of crumbling fragments tumbled from the contact between her gloved hand and the remains of the support beam on which she leaned. It sounded loud in the uneasy silence of the ruins around her and she jumped, and almost joined the sound with her own scream as a hand closed around her arm.

"Have a care. Clonmar said the sensors reported signs of life on this world before they malfunctioned."

She turned to look into the smoothly handsome face of the man at her side, and then shook her head.

"I find it hard to believe that anything could survive in this environment, Donniel. The sensors must already have been malfunctioning," she said, but even as she spoke she felt a prickling at the back of her neck, and couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched… overheard.

**

Unseen… from the depths of the shadows Malcolm watched the woman as she twisted and turned in dream, trying to resist the growing temptation to reach into her mind and draw out the truth of what it was that disturbed her rest.

Unable to rest himself, he had taken to stalking the Hive, checking on the function of lesser systems, trying to keep himself beneath the notice of the many Wraith still going about their duties. With an almost ironic inevitability, his steps had brought him to the area of the Lower Station that housed those women that served the Queen as handmaidens.

He had felt her restlessness like a beacon, calling to him…

**

"What are they?"

Back to back with several of her comrades, Donniel included, the woman that Jethera was in her dream raised her weapon and fired into the incoming swarm of humanoid figures. So many of them came – had almost literally detached themselves from the darkness of the land around the broken city as if they had been a part of it.

"What are they!" Donniel cried out in increasing desperation as the figures clambered over the growing pile of fallen bodies.

She shook her head, and fired late into the chest of an oncoming creature. It was tall, muscular, and half clad in leather of some kind. Its skin was a pale and sickly green, though in patches it looked hardened, almost akin to the chitinous outer shell of some of the more dangerous insects that made their home scattered around the galaxy. That resemblance was continued in the claw-like fingers, and the strangely alien shape of its humanoid facial features, devoid of brows, its eyes butterfly shaped and ridged, but it was its dripping mouth that was the most terrifying of all.

Beneath its truncated nose, lacking the cartilage of her own kind, and of those they seeded in their image, the upper jaw was lined with needle-like teeth, hidden behind two larger, sideway canines, which opened and closed back and forth, almost like pincers… back and forth quickly, as if it were searching – hungry.

Dying, the creature hissed at her, and toppled forward, revealing the almost leonine flow of bone white hair at the back of its head, and a chill of dread fell with him, this one to bathe her spine, leaching even the warmth of her companions from where there was contact between them.

"I… I do not know," she lied. "Keep firing."

"There are too many of them!" another of her companions, standing in a similar arrangement to her own, cried out, and in the next moment gave a terrifying cry as his defensive knot was overrun. She turned her head in time to watch him wither and die under the touch of the creature that had reached him.

It was enough.

"Run!" she ordered. "We cannot hold them! Get back to the shuttles, all of you, and leave this place. Do not return. Never return!"

**

"Take whatever knowledge we have gained from this place and warn our people," Malcolm whispered the words even as Jethera mumbled them from the depth of her nightmare. "Go. There is no more time."

A deepening frown crossed his face as he shifted barely a step toward the side of her cot, though he remained deep in shadow, his mind already reaching for hers, his head tilting as his memories became the echo of the dream the woman suffered.

::what is the meaning of this?::

The words were a painful, sibilant hiss that shook the very walls of the cavern they had named The Dome, a place where their cache of generative fluids began and ended in their Revered Queen – their Matron.

It was she that made the demand of him as he stepped from the pool, leading the two Wraith of the Warrior Clan. Between the warriors, half dragged, half carried – half drowned in the waters of the pool – the Lantean woman sagged, her struggles weakened. He smelled fear, expected it, but found it tinted with the acceptance of resignation.

{my Queen, this one… knows}

::knows?::

{of our inception… our origins. I felt the fear of her recognition as she and her kind fought at the Site of our Coming}

She hissed, and sought to rise, her heavy, gravid bulk causing such a hindrance to her movement that the Wraith at her side, massive in height and menace both, stepped forward and without invitation closed his fingers around her arms, his own passing behind her to provide her with leverage.

It was a possessive demonstration, and he knew it was. He ignored the male's posturing, and showing suitable obeisance to his Revered Matron Queen, he lowered himself to one knee, head bowed, awaiting the touch of her hand as permission to do otherwise. Her mind reached him first.

::I tire of him:: ::tire of him:: ::him:: ::him:: ::him:: ::soon:: ::soon:: ::soon:: ::soon:: ::soon::

Her fingers curled beneath his chin and raised his golden eyes to meet hers, burning as they were with the pain and generation of life inside of her. Without being told, he understood that the progeny the consort, who still hovered at her back, had kindled within her was female – a second Queen.

{the Maker, my Queen}

The reminder was a soft one, reverent yet none the less diverting from the discomfort and enormity of that which she asked of him. He was not yet ready to take up that mantle.

::bring it to me:: ::to me:: ::me:: ::me:: ::me:: ::me::

The Lantean was dragged forward, her struggles redoubling, until she was there in front of the Revered Matron Queen. As soon as she was closer, she jerked upright, as a puppet might that had its strings all pulled together.

::he tells me that you know:: ::you know:: ::you know:: ::know:: ::know:: ::that you understand:: ::understand:: ::understand::

"Who you are?" the Lantean woman stammered, "What you are?"

::where, and who we came from:: ::who we came from:: ::came from:: ::came from::

The Revered Matron Queen leaned closer to the trembling Lantean as her words of correction echoed around the silence in the chamber.

::how we came to be:: ::to be:: ::to be:: ::be:: ::be::

"I understand only what I saw," the Lantean answered, her voice snatching at the air, profaning the silence of the almost sacred place. The Revered Matron Queen leaned closer, stooping to bring her face closer to the Ancient before her, and breathed in deeply of the woman's fear as she continued, almost yelping, "In the database of my people – our computers!"

::then you will share with me what you understand, what you know:: ::you know:: ::you know:: ::know:: ::know::

"I will. I promise, I—"

**

"I will. I promise, I—"

Faster than she would have thought possible, the Wraith Queen's hand flashed forward, raked a painful slashing line down from her shoulder to her hip, diagonally across her torso, with a screeching cry as she pulled back her hand.

The Wraith male standing at the dreaming Jethera's side moved behind her, mentally flicking away the creatures that had dragged her there, she knew, for they cowered away from his influence, but she could not see him. His hands closed around her upper arms, and as the Queen's feeding hand flashed forward again, she stumbled back against the solidity of his bulk.

Then the pain of it began…

A rending, tearing fire that immolated every cell of her entire being, body, mind and spirit, and with a darkness gathering at the edges of her vision, helpless to do otherwise she felt herself flowing through the contact with this terrifying beast in front of her into the dark maelstrom that was the soul of the Queen.

Her failing heart pounded in her chest and—

Taking in a massive breath, unable even to cry out, Jethera woke and sat up, pressing a hand to the middle of her still aching chest. She took another laboured breath, her eyes darting this way and that, pulling at her nightshirt as if searching for evidence of blood.

"It was only a dream."

The triple-toned voice came from the dark shadows in the corner of the room, and even as she recognised it as belonging to the Hive Second, Jethera moaned softly and scurried backward, falling to the floor as she sought to put the cot between herself and the Wraith.

He let out a soft, growling sigh and stepped into the light at last. Jethera took a shuddering breath, but somehow seeing him helped to calm the turmoil the dream had left inside of her, the pain began to fade, and soon she was able to look up and find his eyes.

"Why would I dream such a thing?" she asked him softly.

He tilted his head to regard her steadily for a very long time, long enough that she began to feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, and reached for the blanket from the top of her bed to wrap it around herself in an attempt to cover her state of undress.

Finally he held out a steady, long fingered hand.

"Come. Walk with me," he said.

**

The life force flowed from Todd strongly at first, the barbs in his feeding hand anchoring deep as he gave Alicia the Gift, but what should have been a rapturous sharing became the sharp bite of pain in the gland at the head of his shoulder.

He snarled denial against it, continuing, the Gift of Life weaker now as he sought to heal her as much as he was able, until the pain became a paroxysmal agony, and he fell back, away from her, the fall breaking the contact between them, his body trembling – convulsing… dying.

Every faculty within him screamed at him to act; not to give up; never to give in to the fire spreading through his system on the wings of the very blood that gave him life. Trembling… fighting for every millimetre of movement, for every second of his existence, he forced his hand to move. He willed the claw of it to relax, to reach for the hidden pocket on the seam of his other arm, fumbling to reach the content within.

He did not have much time, and what little he had was fading fast, and his failing consciousness recognised that the serum he was about to inject was as yet untried… untested… unknown. Even amid the pain he let out a bitter, ironic laugh. What was the worst it could do to him – kill him?

Forcing his head to turn, he pressed the needle of the syringe he held into the vein at the side of his neck. His whole body trembled with the effort of depressing the plunger to deliver the serum – kill or cure – and his back arched at the added icy pain that flooded through him as the medicine took hold.

No turning back… he writhed and retched as pain and nausea, and a hunger so deep it threatened to tear him to mere shreds of his being, began to push through every cell, every atom… all of him burning and freezing at once as the two destructive elements warred within him, but slowly… the fire began to fade.

"And so…" he let out a long, slow breath as he felt the darkness rising up to claim him, "…my bitterest rival… becomes the instrument… of my salvation."

He would have laughed harder still, had not the darkness smothered him as reason surrendered to a more primordial state of being.

**

The unease Kenny had been feeling for the last several days solidified and was given form as he stepped into the antechamber of the commander's briefing room. There, several of the higher ranking Wraith of the Hive stood tense, and apparently waiting for him. They stood behind the smaller than average figure of the third in command.

Unwilling to show weakness, and with more than a few suspicions as to what might be the cause of this gathering he looked them over one by one, only speaking when he had given each of them a glare sufficient to assure them of his continued fitness to command in the absence of the Hive's rightful leader.

"I was not aware that I had called a meeting," he said, his bland tone underlining the sarcasm in his words.

"You did not," the third in command answered softly, his voice openly mirroring the sarcasm Kenny had used.

"Then go about your duties," he said, uncompromising in the order. He did not have time to play to petty posturing, nor to waste on Hive politics. He had the task that was set him by his commander before he left the Hive to search for his concubine, without mention of keeping the Hive's growing Queen from achieving more status than the commander would wish. "And leave me to mine."

"I observe my duties, Hive Second," the third said in the same soft voice, though Kenny noted that the words also held overtones of growing menace, "and my loyalty to our commander."

The end of the Third's thinly veiled accusation was accompanied by the ringing hiss of drawn steel which sang in the air to waver between the two most powerful Wraith aboard the Hive. Kenny sighed.

"This is unnecessary," he said on the end of the sigh.

"I think not," the Third answered without missing a beat and stepped toward Kenny, raising the blade between the two of them. "You moved the Hive away from the world on which our commander searched – a world which had clearly been visited by a rival Hive and—"

"I followed his orders," Kenny countered the accusation, still not drawing his own blade, "attending to matters far more pressing than the mere—"

"There is no matter more pressing than the survival of this Hive's commander!"

As he roared the challenge into the open chamber, the third in command launched himself at Kenny, his blade leading the way. Kenny had no choice but to defend against the attack, and dodging the blade nimbly, he slapped the flat of his hand against his rival's wrist, barely turning the Wraith, and allowing the momentum of the drive against him to carry the Third past him.

"You speak to matters about which you know little," Kenny said, maintaining what patience he could and turning to face the Hive's third in command. Under the circumstances, he did not wish to lose so capable a Wraith from the hierarchy of the Hive. "In preventing me from performing this duty, yours would be the betrayal."

:~stand down. I have no wish to harm you~: :~harm you~: :~harm you~: :~you~: :~you~:

"You have no proof of what you say," the Third argued. "I will not allow your words to sway those who also believe that you endanger this Hive and are no longer fit to serve."

He came at Kenny once more, harder and faster than the last attack and Kenny could feel the heat in the Third's blood, the desire for vindication drove that one. He truly believed the accusations he levelled against Kenny.

By far the more measured in temperament, he defended against the attack once again, this time grasping the wrist of the Hive Third and stepping into the Wraith's body, turned and sent the other sailing over him, to slide across the floor as he landed. The Third stopped only when he collided with the far bulkhead.

"End this madness," he demanded, his own temper rising. He did not want to have to truly betray his Hive commander by openly revealing the task that had been given to him, but it was beginning to look more and more likely that this would be the only way by which he could stop the challenge… other than engaging and besting his rival.

That, however, he suspected would prove futile, as the Third had come with a number of underlings, any one of which might take up the challenge once the Third was defeated. It was the way of the Hive, the way of the Wraith and had always been. His only choice, he realised, was to reveal to the Hive Third at least some of what he had been ordered to do.

Kenny did not wait until the Third had fully regained his feet before he flew across the chamber, taking the third in command by surprise, and wrapping a hand around the other Wraith's throat. The other once more grasped the wrist of the hand in which the Third wielded the knife and with little regard for the injuries it might cause, Kenny drove the other Wraith hard against the bulkhead. Once, twice and then again, until the knife clattered harmlessly to the floor and he could pin the struggling Wraith against the wall. Only then did he open his mind to the subordinate Wraith commander, allowing him to see… at least enough that he believed would convince the Third to abandon his challenge.

Todd paced back and forth as the Hive move into a stable, geostationary orbit around the world that housed their worshippers, his agitation and worry visible, even without the ability to feel his fear through the neural bond of the Hive. Kenny did, however, and hesitated to voice his reservations to his Hive commander.

"Once I am away, do not wait for me," Todd suddenly rounded on him, and as though he had read the concerns that Kenny felt – as though he knew that Kenny did not understand the attachment Todd had for the human woman, particularly not in light of his recent assignations with Doctor Keller – continued, "you will find the coordinates to a nursery facility buried deeply within my personal files. Take the Queen's young there."

"Surely a slight delay will not—"

"This Hive is not equipped to fully support their development and it is of great importance that they should survive," Todd interrupted, "and any delay may prove to undermine their viability. Return for me once that task is complete."

"I believe you err," Kenny answered candidly.

"But you will still do as I command," Todd said, and fixed him with an uncompromising and baleful stare.

After only a moment, Kenny bowed his head in acquiescence to the orders of his superior, then turned and left the room.

The third in command growled softly, but Kenny felt the fight draining from the other Wraith, and began, cautiously, to release the pressure by which he held him against the bulkhead wall.

"I yield," the Third announced after a moment longer, in which Kenny was certain he could feel the other Wraith pressing deeply within the neural interface of the Hive. "Our Second speaks truly. He follows orders given to him by the Hive commander."

Kenny let go, and stepped back, and gave the Third a respectful nod.

"It is good that you have seen, Hive Brother," he said softly.

:~but now that you know, you must assist me~: :~assist me~: :~assist me~: :~assist~: :~assist~:

**

Todd crouched, bloodied and filthy in the mass of leaves with which he camouflaged himself, his head jerked back as he sniffed the air, running the ambient senses not only through his human-like nostrils, but also tasting them through the satisfying completeness of his Wraith sensory pits.

There were two of them nearby – both male – both mature, and yet young. They would provide little resistance… easy prey. The madness of the hunger burning in his blood was nothing compared to the deeper instinct to protect; preserve… to allow her to live, regardless of the cost; regardless of his pain. To do that, first, he must feed.

These two would barely be enough, but the fading notion of time, the overwhelming sense of urgency that subsumed him, told him that there could be no delay. She must not die.

Without another conscious thought he launched himself from what scant cover he had, his shirt – the coat long since abandoned as impractical – ripping on the broken ends of low hanging branches. With a roar he came on the clearing where his prey abided, and bore down on them without mercy.

One cried out in alarm, drawing Todd's attention first his way, and the Wraith grabbed the youth by the throat and lifting him from his feet, brought him down hard against the uneven ground, ignoring the second while he disabled the first, rendering the first of his prey stunned, but still conscious.

A deep, penetrating pain rushed over his awareness, and Todd turned his head to look at the source of the hurt. A slender, feathered stick protruded from his shoulder. He looked past it, to the other youth, who held a second, longer stick that curved under the pull of some kind of sinew stretched between its two ends – a weapon.

Abandoning the first of his prey, Todd leaped at the second, swatting aside the weapon as he caught the youth by the front of his shirt and carried him by sheer momentum of the leap, against the nearby tree. He pinned him there with the bulk of his own body, but the impact with the tree trunk drove the wood embedded in his shoulder deeper still. Roaring with the pain of it, Todd pulled away and snatched at the arrow to pull it from his body, neither noticing nor caring that the youth slipped from before him.

Blood sprayed hot and wet against his hand, but the relief as he tossed the wooden projectile aside was palpable, and only redoubled the instinctual understanding of the necessity to feed, to satiate the hunger that drove him part way to the madness he suffered.

Turning, he took rapid walking steps after the fleeing youth, ignoring the one still downed from his initial assault. He had erred – the one he now pursued was clearly the superior of the two males – the alpha among them… yet he was prey, and as prey he fled. Todd's walking steps quickened, until he was jogging, and then running after the fleeing youth. It did not take him long to catch up.

"No!" the youth screamed as Todd bore him to the ground, and turned him mercilessly beneath him. "Please… don't. I—"

With an animalistic snarl, Todd thrust his feeding hand against the youth's chest, feeling the fluid ache along his arm as the barbs anchored him deeply to the human flesh, and the rush of heat and life – the explosion of light, almost blinding against his fevered mind – none of it bringing relief from the burning madness, from the hunger, from the need…

He felt the knitting of bone and muscle and skin in his injured shoulder, the closing of his many wounds and snarled denial against it; against his nature. It was not for him, it was never meant for him.

Dust crumbled beneath his hand, and he turned first his head and then, crouching still, the rest of him in the direction of the other youth. That one was beginning to rise, yet still showed signs of the effects of being stunned. A single leap was all it took to bring him down again, and snarling for a second time, Todd thrust his feeding hand hard against the youth's chest… feeding deeply from the prey he held beneath his hand.

Still, it was not enough.

**

"Safe orbit achieved, Hive Second," the Wraith on the bridge all turned and looked with expectation in his direction. Kenny said nothing, merely reached to mentally activate the viewing screen so that he could look on the world to which his commander had sent him – in which his commander would place his hope and trust.

"I still believe you erred," he murmured to himself. Aloud he ordered, "Scan the surface of the planet for energy signatures that may reveal the position of the—"

He got no further with the order, the viewing screen wavered for a brief moment, and then changed from the image of the world beneath them, to the image of what looked like the face of a Wraith Queen, however, she was the most bizarre sight Kenny believed he had ever seen.

She was completely hairless, her scalp instead appeared almost completely blue with the marks of the many tattoos that graced her skin and completely smothered the white-green greyness of her flesh. The neck and shoulders that supported the head were naked, and similarly adorned, but it was the eyes, serpentine, without a doubt, yet of the deepest green, within the lighter green of their orbs that chilled Kenny the most.

"We have received your message, Hive Second," she hissed, her voice little more than a sibilant whisper.

Kenny drew himself up to the fullest extent of his height, noticing as he did that others on the bridge had backed away from the unsettling sight of the Sentinel Wraith, for such, he realised, she was.

"Not my message, Madam," he corrected with a respectful nod, "but that of my commander, under our Queen."

Mindful of the need to sound sincere, and convincing of the fact of the Queen's authority on the Hive, where of course she had none, he accompanied the word with a second apparently respectful inclination of his head. Then, anticipating what the Sentinel's next question would be, answered it before it could be asked.

"He sends his apologetic regret. However, he is in attendance of business vital to the status of the Hive and is unable to be here in person to oversee this… delicate process." Kenny said.

"No one has yet agreed that there will be a delicate process as you put it," the Sentinel hissed. "That is yet to be determined by an examination of your queen and her get."

Kenny took in a sharp breath, and swallowed down the concern that rose in him suddenly. Covering his fear with indignation, and as strongly as he could, he made the protest he expected his commander would have made in his place.

"That is unacceptable," he snapped, frowning deeply. "Our Queen submits to no one."

"None the less," the Sentinel answered, completely unaffected by his display, "she will be examined, otherwise the young aboard your Hive will be… disposed of. Prepare to be boarded."

Before Kenny could protest further, the screen went blank.

**

She lay shivering beneath the pile of cloth he had covered her with against the cold as though it did little to stave off its icy fingers that only seemed to fill her body with a relentless burning, for as he drew closer to her, as he came to all fours at her side, Todd could feel the heat streaming from her trembling form.

He leaned closer still, breathing in deeply of the scent of her, running the mingled and myriad odours through his olfactory senses; processed the tale each aroma provided. The iron scent clenched at his gut, told of the blood that still seeped from her wounds – wounds that had been resistant to the action of the Gift he had delivered so many times in the last several days. She should have healed. She should not still be dying. The scent of the blood was different, somehow, less like the metal with which human blood was usually so pungent.

Scenting her still he moved lower on her form, and snarled – then howled with anger as he caught the still strong scent of another Wraith, another male and tore aside the bundles of cloth he had so carefully arranged over her, in the instinctive actions of a jealous mate, meaning to tear her faithless body limb from limb.

She cried out as his talons raked against her breast, drawing an instant line of blood that welled brightly against the grey-whiteness of her once creamy skin. The starkness of it halted him, somehow reached through his anger. His entire body was still mantled over her, tense and ready to visit on her the punishment deserved by those without loyalty as her body's trembling increased beneath him.

"Todd! Help, please somebody!" lost in the grip of her delirium, reliving some dreadful moment she turned her head aside. "Don't! Let go of me! NO!"

At her scream he sprang, as though some invisible enemy attacked and landed crouched, straddled over her, with his feet on either side of her narrow waist and roared into the air, first one side and then the other as if keeping the unseen foe at bay. She whimpered, and aside from the trembling became still. He sniffed the air one more time, and once more caught the scent of her fresh, but sickly blood.

She must not die

The thought possessed him, and knowing nothing else to do, he drew back his feeding hand and thrust it hard against her panting chest.

He threw back his head, snarling into the air as the life began to flow from him, as the pain, not the rapture of sharing such an intimacy with her wracked his own, still recovering body. As he had so many times before he poured all of himself that he was able into the tiny frame beneath him… lost awareness of himself, and of the slowing of her trembling; lost awareness of the pain that tore through his own cells, and of the cooling of her fevered flesh beneath his…

He lost awareness of the strength that failed and had him collapse, half against her, half against the cold ground beside her – and of the listless, faint embrace of arms that wrapped around him.

"Todd…"

**

The Wraith commander stood erect, eyes closed, even though the viewing screen on the bridge of his Hive was active. His hands rested lightly on the controls of the central console, and he guided the Hive through a pitch and yaw manoeuvre to avoid the fire from the enemy Darts that flew against his ship.

(+report+)

Hull regeneration remains stable. Thirteen Darts remain within range of my sensors. Weapons are ready… Commander.

"Stand by forward and starboard batteries," the commander translated the words and impression he received from the Hive's consciousness for the rest of his bridge crew and finally opened his eyes. He was fatigued from the battle that had raged a full three days, in one form or another, which he had personally overseen – every single moment under his command – under his care… and so he must, for his Hive transported a most precious visitor who had supplanted even his Queen, whose consort he had been for several long centuries.

He found, however, that he did not miss her – for this other was far stronger – his Matron, and under her guidance, he was certain that his Hive would achieve a supreme status among the Wraith, particularly once he had subdued the forces that remained loyal to the Abomination; brought them to heel, and had executed each and every one of those unworthy even of the title prey.

"Commander, the cruiser has recalled its Darts." The Wraith among the bridge crew that was monitoring the communication between the ships gave his report as efficiently as always.

"They're running," his Hive Second surmised.

"Then we will give chase," he answered. "Stand by to target his hyperdrive generator. If he wishes to run, then he must do so here."

"Target acquired," the Wraith at the tactical console announced calmly.

"Fire the moment he begins to open a hyperspace window," he ordered, a cold, cruel smile coming to crease his otherwise sculptured face, accented only by the trace of a starburst pattern that was half masked by the hair that fell over the side of his temple. "We will allow him to believe that he can escape before we correct his assumption."

**

Vega moaned as the weight fell half over her, the fading edge of the nightmarish dream still lodged within her unconscious, even if her conscious mind recognised – in some way – that the weight belonged to the one she longed to see again…

"Todd! Help, please somebody!" She struggled as the commander of the Elder Queen's Hive reached her, and effortlessly threw her to the hearth. The rough coldness of the tiles scratched her back as he clawed at her clothing, taking both her hands in one of his and pinning them above her head. Her shirt ripped. The sound was louder, to her ears, even than her own screams. His intent was more than clear. "Don't! Let go of me! NO!"

"He denied me once, Handmaiden," the commander snarled, "and I am anxious to see what is so special – what all his fuss is about."

Pinned, and overwhelmed by the much taller Wraith, she had no chance, could not even twist aside when his rough bites began to descend from her neck, puncturing her breasts and grazing her belly, drawing blood that slickened her skin to his touch.

There was little finesse in his actions, and he did not take his time – she could already feel that the sheer power of his domination over her had aroused him sufficiently for what he had in mind. The nips and sucking kisses that left marks on her body were meant for other eyes than his or hers and what he did, she realised, was a simple act of revenge – a demonstration of his superiority.

She screamed even so… and when he released her hands to free himself she beat and slapped and scratched against him as hard as she could. She would not give him what he wanted, not without a fight. The screams might as well have been whimpers for the sound she made when he at last tired of toying with her, and forced himself inside of her – claiming her fully.

Where Todd had at least been mindful of her body, this Wraith was mindful only of his own pleasure, thrusting roughly until he filled her entirely and then opening to anchor himself in place as he bucked and pushed against her. The pain of it was beyond anything she could imagine, yet still it worsened as, several minutes into the torture he wrought on her, his breathing becoming more and more shallow and rapid, he tore out from her, and grabbing a handful of her hair bent her head down so that she could see his opened member as he lay it on the juncture of her leg and body.

The tiny, barb-like bristles around the edges of his open glans almost rippled as if searching for something into which to anchor, and where the lower side touched the skin of her groin the needle sharp mass of them pricked deep. From within, the innermost shaft, tongue-like and almost tapered, slipped back and forth in a bizarrely reverse parody of the act he had so deliberately interrupted. He held himself, mimicking the anchor that had been so painful inside of her, so that he maintained his pleasure, so that he could bring himself to fulfilment upon her – staining her… marking her with a scent she knew that Todd would not miss as he spilled his essence over her, roaring out his pleasure, his power as he came.

"If the wound I leave you with does not kill you," the commander hissed, "then surely his pride – his temper – will. Think about that… human!"

Then he leaned over her, and closed his teeth hard and deep around the flesh at the side of her neck. As much pain as she already felt in the centre of her body, she barely felt the added pain of the tearing flesh at her throat.

"To—"

"...odd!" She screamed as she came awake, and in spite of herself scrambled to be free of the weight that covered her… before turning to the side and retching, vomiting bile and little else until she was weak and trembling from it.

As she gathered herself once again she became aware of the burning pain in the centre of her chest. It took her still slow-waking mind a moment to understand its source, but when she did, she turned her head back to where she had woken, pinned by the dead weight of a figure. Her eyes found him easily, and she cried out in grief.

"Todd, no…" she wept, and tried to gather what little of her clothing remained around her once more as she crawled back to the prone figure she had escaped in her desperate waking. She could only imagine what must have happened, and what he had done as he found her… and even though her imaginings made a mockery out of the Elder Hive commander's intent for her to die by Todd's own hand, the reality was worse by far.

He must have found her, hurt… dying… and even though they both knew that she had been infected with the Hoffan protein, he must have tried to heal her anyway – tried to give his life force to her, to save her. Effectively… she had killed him.

"No…" She pushed at his immobile form. "…Todd!"

She almost screamed when he moaned softly, and turning, fell onto his back.

"Par…mhu…na," The word was barely recognisable, but fell from his lips in response to her distress and he stirred, trying to reach for her. "A…licia."

"Oh my God," she stammered. "Oh my God, Todd, hold on… hold on, I…"

She let out a hiccupping sob, trying to look around, trying to find something that the Elder Hive commander had not destroyed in his attempt to dominate her completely.

"Cold," he whispered. "Lost…"

"I'll… light a fire. I—" swaying as she forced her feet under her, she began to frantically gather the remnants of the furniture that lay in ruins around the room, bringing it to the hearth… anything… anything that could make her feel that she could help Todd, as he had undoubtedly and for a second time, saved her life.

**

Slowly, his head filling with stabbing pains as the light streamed into his too dilated pupils, Todd opened his eyes. As if the simple act of leaning up to watch Alicia were a mountain that he must scale, he pushed himself up on his elbows, trembling with the effort of movement, but it was as though, feeling her so close, and awake, calmed the animal in him to allow reason to gain the upper hand.

Instinct still burned in him, as did the pain of the need to feed – to heal himself more completely – but he was able to at least recognise who and where he was, and more importantly, the reason for the urgent insistence of the instinctive animal he had become.

Falling back as the effort to hold himself up became too great, he closed his eyes and let out a deep and pained sigh.

"Parmhuna," he whispered once again.

**

Kenny growled softly as his steps carried him along the central walkway of the Dart Bay toward the transport ship that set down at the end of it. His senses were alert for any danger, and at his back a full six drones, all armed, walked in protection – and, he raised a ridge in wry amusement at his own thought – as escort or honour guard for the visiting Sentinel Wraith. Still his underlying emotion was frustration, if not anger, that he had not been forewarned of this.

Todd paced back and forth as the Hive move into a stable, geostationary orbit around the world that housed their worshippers, his agitation and worry visible, even without the ability to feel his fear through the neural bond of the Hive. Kenny did, however, and hesitated to voice his reservations to his Hive commander.

"You sent for me," he said instead. "There are orders?"

Todd turned to face him, pausing in the pacing and with a nod, said, "Concerning the embryos developing in the generative chambers of the Hive."

"Is there a problem?" he asked, "When last I checked they were developing well – their cells even accepted the modifications the serum caused without any detrimental effects."

Todd shook his head. "You will find the coordinates to a nursery facility buried deeply within my personal files. Take the Queen's young there once I am away. Do not wait for me. It is of great importance that they should survive."

Kenny did not understand the attachment Todd had for the human woman. The thought disturbed him greatly, not merely because of his commander's concern for what was, essentially, a worshipper, albeit a most useful one, but more disturbingly, because of what had occurred – the recent assignations with Doctor Keller. He fought to sublimate the growl that rose in his throat at that thought, instead focussing on the thought of the Queen's young. If it were so important that these young be gestated in a nursery facility, why was his commander wasting time coming to collect one of his human concubines who could easily be replaced? Why such worry?

"Surely a slight delay will not—"

"This Hive is not equipped to fully support their development and," Todd interrupted, mistaking the subject of his question, "any delay may prove to undermine their viability. Return for me once that task is complete. I have already transmitted our intent to do this to the Sentinel at the nursery."

"You did not inform me," Kenny snapped.

Todd frowned. "I am informing you now," he said. "Is that a problem?"

"I simply feel it would be better – safer – were we to oversee the development of the young ourselves rather than under the control of others," he answered, refusing to make mention of his reservations about his commander's choice of companions. He had seen others come to less than desirable ends when even thinking such thoughts too loudly.

"The modifications within their genetic make-up will keep them safe enough until we can return and take control of the entire nursery – should that become the path I wish to take," Todd said and he waved an almost dismissive hand in Kenny's direction.

Kenny knew there was more that his commander had not said, a plan within a plan, but he also knew that now was not the time in which it could be discussed. Once he had proven his continued loyalty, perhaps, his commander would see fit to brief him completely. Until then, he must, for the sake of his duty to his Hive, make his commander aware of his concerns.

"I believe you err," Kenny said candidly.

"But you will still do as I command," Todd said, and fixed him with an uncompromising and baleful stare.

After only a moment, Kenny bowed his head in acquiescence to the orders of his superior, then turned and left the room.

The door to the transport ship opened with a swirling hiss of equalising pressures and Kenny tensed visibly. In spite of all his preparations – the carefully executed machinations of his commander – by reputation, the Sentinel Wraith were a wily group. It would not be easy to keep the truth from them, nor to deceive them even enough.

As the motion of the door ceased, Kenny found himself facing the terrifying reality of the danger that confronted him in the person of the Sentinel, and her attendant females, human worshippers who were attired and adorned with the same deep blue tattoos as was their mistress. Unlike other worshippers, however, these women were armed with long, curving blades which they carried in each hand, like the tusks of some ancient pachyderms.

The physical threat was less of a concern, however, than the hidden, unseen one. He could feel the powerful sense of menace from the trio of women even before the heavily tattooed Wraith stepped toward him. She spoke in the same hushed tones with which she has addressed him before.

"It is customary… polite," she clipped the word with a click of her tongue which pushed the final T into him like the thrust of a narrow bodkin, "that the Queen making the request for deposition of her young be the one to greet the instrument of her testing."

"Regrettably, Madam," Kenny answered with a bow, "our Queen is unable."

"Flawed?" the whispered word was like a gunshot and Kenny's gut clenched in anticipation of the impact."

"The young developed more quickly than we anticipated and we had no choice other than to temporarily transfer them to the gestation pods aboard the Hive," he answered. "The transfer has left the Queen weakened. As you know, it will be some time before—"

"Do not seek to lecture me." The Sentinel stepped forward and pushed the fingertips of her clawed hand against Kenny's chest. He resisted the urge to close his fingers around her slender wrist in restraint.

"My apologies, Old One," he made a subtle shift in his attitude as he spoke; the apology carried a strength that was suggestive of a challenge. Yes, I know those secrets you seek to keep from mere males.

The Sentinel waved her hand, dismissive of the apology – and the lack of sincerity.

"Take me to her," she demanded.

"Of course, Madam," Kenny said and swept a hand toward the interior of the Hive, inviting her aboard.

**

"It wasn't long after that," Malcolm said with a sigh, as Jethera's fingers worked through the braids in his hair, loosening their pull against his scalp, "that we began masking the drones… lesser commanders believed it was because our Matron came to realise, through her feeding on the Lantean woman, that their appearance would repulse our human servants."

"But you know differently," Jethera said softly, her tone as if of idle curiosity. Malcolm tilted his head, not at all convinced by the tone.

"What good will such knowledge serve you, Jethera?" he asked mildly.

"What makes you believe that I seek it for any personal gain?" she answered his question with one of her own. "You were the one that ordered me to walk with you, to tend to you here. Nor did you answer my question concerning the dream."

"I did not answer because I have no answer to give," he told her candidly, and reached to take her fingers from his hair, before turning to face her. "There could be many reasons for you to do so – including my presence in your chambers."

She shook her head. "You don't believe that, or I would not be here," she said.

Malcolm laughed softly.

"You are entirely a danger unto yourself, handmaiden," he said at length.

"Why then?" she asked him, trying to ease her hand out of his grasp. He held fast to it, refusing to release her.

"Our Matron had seen a far greater danger than a simple revolution among our servants," he said, fixing her in place with his gaze as he reached for her mind…

{one that would threaten her very existence} {existence} {existence} {existence}

…weaving around her the sharing in the deep fourth tone in his mentally echoed voice…

**

"Why have you done this, Hetja?" – "I had to build in some kind of failsafe." – "It's a construct. It's not going to harm—" – "It's a she, and she's fertile and breeding. If we don't ensure that the birthing of one brings the ending of the other—" – "It's murder, Hetja. It's one creature and its offspring. You wanted this and now—"

The Revered Matron Queen snarled, and snatched her feeding hand away from the Lantean, and scrambled away, her hand dripping blood and enzyme in her wake, still pointing at the woman.

::heal it:: ::it must survive::

{my Queen?}

She responded with an inarticulate voice sound, half way between fury and desolation, and for a moment, he could not move for being flooded with images of death and decay. As soon as he was freed, he shifted enough that he could easily reach the prisoner's chest and brought his hand to bear against the dying Lantean's sternum, his own enzyme mingling with that of the Revered Matron Queen and as though his own life depended on her survival, allowed his own life force to revive her, to heal her – to give her back her lost vitality.

"You healed her," Jethera frowned at him in disbelief. "I thought the Ancients were your enemy."

"They…" he hesitated, instilling a strange stress into the word that ran ice along Jethera's spine, "…were far more than just our enemy."

"I… don't understand," she said hesitantly, a growing tremor in her voice.

"No?" he asked, and letting go of her, he reached toward her with his right hand, barely disturbing the shift that covered her chest, drawing her closer with the hand he still held.

"Why… would I?" she stammered, bracing her hand against his shoulder to try and halt her forward motion. "How could I? I—"

With no warning, his hand shifted from brushing at the front of her shift to grasp the back of her head, and bring her close, so close that his breath stirred the fine hairs behind her ear as he spoke in a mere sub-vocal whisper.

"I do not know what game you play, girl," he said, the words echoing in her mind.

{…game you play, girl} {game you play} {you play} {girl} {girl} {girl}

"…but I would advise you play carefully…"

{carefully} {carefully} {carefully} {carefully}

"We are not all of us blind."

{not all blind} {all blind} {all blind} {blind} {blind}

Jethera trembled against his restraining touch, still fighting to keep herself away from him, until her strength failed, until she could not fight any more, and fell against him, moaning softly, as he caught her closer still.

**

"How dare you!"

Kenny caught the young Queen as she flew across the narrow quarters toward him. Her anger was more impressive in show than it was in threat as she was still weakened from the drug she had been given prior to the arrival of the Sentinel.

"I dare because I follow the directives I have been given," he answered smoothly, "and you would do well to moderate your attitude. But for my daring, you could by now be slain."

The Queen spluttered indignantly, and tugged against his hands with which he gripped her more strongly as her struggles increased.

"First, you throw me into this mere prison aboard your Hive, and now—"

"The sooner you come to appreciate your position here, my Queen," he stressed the words with not a little contempt, "the easier it will be for all of us. You were treated as you have been in order to ensure your survival before the Sentinel."

"So he means to go ahead with his insane plan?" she snapped almost petulantly and stopped struggling. She looked up into his face as though the thought of it cut her in two. "He cannot, he—"

"He has," Kenny interrupted, pushing her back down onto her cot. He held her there with one hand, and retrieved the syringe he carried in a hidden pocket, uncapping it with his teeth. "We are here, and the Sentinels have retired to consider whether or not they will allow the young to be gestated here."

"You assume they will," she spat at him, and winced as he pushed the needle into an exposed vein on her thigh.

As he withdrew the needle he looked up to meet her eyes, his filled with ice and the steel of resolve.

"I assume nothing," he said, "but it will occur – one way or another."

"You…" the Queen began to slump forward as the drug took hold, "…you do not understand… my dam… my sire…"

Her eyes closed as she lapsed into unconsciousness, and Kenny could not help but wonder what it is she had been going to say, and why her warning tone bothered him so much.

**

When next she woke, the first thing she noticed was the warmth of a fire that crackled nearby to her left, and that she lay on something soft, her head resting on an even softer pillow.

"Rest, Alicia," a voice nearby, broken and husky as if with lack of use, or overuse, addressed her softly. "It has been a long road."

"Todd?" she turned her head, and opened her eyes to the shadows beyond the fire.

"Indeed," the voice rasped.

"You don't sound like you," she said, a little afraid.

"For me also, the road has been… difficult," he answered. "I have not been well."

"I… I thought you were dead," she whispered as her memory flooded back. She reached out toward where she could make out the darker shape within the shadow. "You… you healed me."

Abandoning her reaching, she tugged at the blanket that covered her, and the shift she now wore, and tried to see the evidence of it on her chest. The dark shape moved toward her, into the light and gently caught her wrist.

"Leave it," he instructed.

She looked up at him, her eyes running over the overly grey, pallid green of his skin to find his eyes, their usual burnished gold tarnished still with pain.

"You healed me, even though you know I carry the Hoffan protein," she said, confused and hurt by the thought, cursing Michael for what he had done to her.

"I did," he said, and chuckled softly, though there was no humour in it. As the laughter died, as he moved to cover her with the blanket once again, he said, "I could not allow my lack of vigilance to be the death of you, my Alicia."

"But how… how did you survive? I—"

"Perhaps I did not," he rumbled softly, moving closer still to the exposed side of her, as though to keep the cold of the room beyond the fire from reaching her. He settled beside her, sharing space – if not the bed he had made for her. "Rest."

"But you're here. You—"

"We are both of us here," he murmured against her cheek as he laid his arm across her, on top of the blanket. His voice deepened then, becoming filled with a tone she did not recognise, but which amplified her fear. "And now, my Parmhuna, it must begin."

**

The Sentinel acquiesced to the touch of her servants as they guided her back into the unoccupied pod in the circle of seven identical chambers. She sighed softly with the comfort of familiarity as the tendrils snaked toward her, around her, anchoring her into the consciousness of the facility and of her sisters.

As each tendril connected with her near naked flesh, she felt their presence and their voices more strongly as a part of her. She felt home, fulfilled, and abandoned the emptiness that filled her away from the circle.

Tell us – show us what you have seen – share with us, sister

It was impossible to identify any single voice in the gestalt being they were with the circle, but their concern was as clear as her own doubts, her own desire for vigilance.

I urge caution; all is not as it seems – why? – his bloodline is not at fault, surely you can see that – his bloodline is not the question – then what? – he is of one of the Five - hers is – how? – there are shadows in her past – that is the case with most queens – many queens cannot even mindspeak of their lineage – they have lost the way – few receive the Passing – did she?

The question halted her train of thought – almost threw her from the communion – she slowly replayed all that she knew of the Queen in her mind… as she did so her limbs twitched and the tendrils tightened around her.

**

Unconsciousness did not preclude dreams – and at such times as these her thoughts turned backwards – dreams of before, her dam's dreams, her dam's past.

"Why do you allow her to command you? Are you not Queen of this Hive?"

The Queen span around as the male's voice broke the silence of her quarters. His very presence was a blasphemy to her, so deeply caught in her Zenith, relief of which had been denied to her by the words of the Elder Queen she served – his presence burned.

"Get out!" she roared at him. "How dare you come before me unannounced – unbidden!"

Even so she could not help but look at him as a potential mate… potential victim of her need. He was a tall and sculpted Wraith, perfection wrapped him in its threadbare blanket as he stood, head tilted to one side in an arrogance of waiting for her to answer his question. She could feel that from him.

Instead of withdrawing, with an unnecessary flick of his hand – a gesture made for show – he mentally closed and locked the door, began stalking toward her. She circled with him, hands clawing, her feeding hand already dripping enzyme in anticipation of the fight, and the act it might precipitate.

"In the before-time, all such Zenith ended this way," he told her, his soft voice massaging expectation into her psyche. "The male gave himself in sacrifice to the Queen, and the Queen in turn, surrendered herself to the future."

"There will be no such surrender," she roared and leaped at him, a tigress after her prey.

The battle was swift, brutal and with an inevitable end – the tigress become a kitten, mewling softly in the pain of his opening in her – in the agony of creating what was to come…

what I have given you…

The words echoed softly in her mind

The young Queen gasped and sat up, pressing a hand first to her chest and then to the flatness of her emptied belly… the final sound of the dream, the rattle of movement at the withdrawal of the male echoing in her memory.

Still weakened from the effects of the drug the Hive Second had forced on her, as she would be for hours yet to come, she knew, she staggered drunkenly toward the door, and in growing frustration attempted to find the mind of the Hive to make it open for her.

She could not allow this altered brood to survive – she could not allow this heresy to continue.

**

what I have given you is a gift of our inception; guard her well

interesting – impossible – why? we know that there are those that still exist – lies – you resist your own knowledge, sister – I urge caution – you are afraid – this one is dangerous; the shadows remain – if her dam's mate was one of Second or even Third… – and the young? – tainted – you know this? – You have examined their making to the destruction of one of their number? – it was necessary – nothing of that nature is necessary – another blood runs in their veins – impossible – true; why would I lie? – your fear prevents your objectivity, sister – my fear keeps me hone…

The gestalt mind was suddenly gripped with the presence of another voice, another mind, strong and terrible in its nature… demanding.

allooooow thiiiissss

For the full and spinning hourglass of several long minutes, there was silence in the minds of the circle. It was broken only as the echo of the command died away.

the gestation must be allowed – I agree – I concur – and I – it is my belief also – the benefits outweigh the concerns

Outnumbered, she had no choice but to acquiesce.

then let it be so

**

Kenny hissed softly, and tightened his grasp around the upper arms of the young Queen, holding her in place to watch as the tendrils carried the barely grown embryos from the depth of the Hive that now stood deep within the belly of the Wraith nursery, to facilitate the transfer.

"You must stop them," she whined. "You do not understand—"

"Did you really think that I would allow you access to their pods, knowing how you feel?" he asked in mild amusement of the attempt she had made to destroy her own offspring. He took a breath and straightened, liking the power he had over this female, this shadow of a queen. "Your commander has decided that these young will live. He is so adamant of that fact that he authorised the use of force against the Sentinels if they did not allow it, so it is perhaps better for all of us that they did."

"Heretic!" she hissed at him, and Kenny laughed at her attempted display of some semblance of power.

"No, my Queen," he sighed then. "The time is coming, when your kind, who have so far led us to nothing but ruination – to the brink of extinction itself – will find your place is not as privileged as you have come to enjoy."

He turned then, releasing the Queen to fall against the glass of the observation room in which they stood, hearing the slight scuff of footfall behind him. The Sentinel waited, head tilted to one side, and he neither knew, nor found that he cared, whether she had overheard his words or not. The circle of Sentinels' overall reverence for life would not allow them to destroy the young, not once they were within their care.

"It is done," she said at long last, and Kenny allowed himself to relax fully then, even to play to the charade of obeisance to the young Queen as she too turned to face the Sentinel, and he reached out to steady her.

"What...?" the young Queen asked, and Kenny was surprised at the sad compassion he heard in the Queen's voice.

"Males all," the Sentinel answered, her voice clipped, "And each of them fertile."

Kenny fought to contain the hiss of contentment at the news, in much the same way that the Queen failed to restrain her sigh of regret.

**

The commander of the Hive hesitated for only a moment at the threshold of the Queen's audience chamber, but it may as well have been an eternity as he gazed on the Queen that now graced that space, where once his own insipid Queen had stood.

This Queen, this magnificence of a creature that now dominated the audience hall, as she rightly should, face away from him yet, gazing from the viewing portal at the departing wake of the Hive that had carried her to him, and on which, unprecedented, she had allowed his defeated, now subordinate Queen, to survive and to maintain command in her stead.

"It surprises you?" The Red Queen's voice startled him the rest of the way into her audience chamber, and he lowered himself to one knee before her as she stalked his way, his eyes fixed obediently on the ground.

"My Queen?" he asked, uncertain of her meaning.

"That I allowed your own, mated Queen to survive?" She tipped her head to one side as if she were examining him.

"A little, Great One, I confess," he answered truthfully.

"I cannot be to you as she is," she answered by way of explanation, "and I would not see you denied that… possibility."

"I do not understand," he frowned and risked raising his eyes to look on her.

She was taller than most Queens, and even as ancient as he knew her to be, maintained her youthful, deadly beauty almost flawlessly. Her hair, long and bone white, flowed over her shoulders – shoulders that were uncovered by the soft leather of the dress she wore, which shone with silver accents that were carved and painted into the pliant surface of it. The accents that swirled within the darkness of the leather matched and continued the tattoos, dark, blood red, that graced the surface of her pale green-white skin with eddies of their own.

"Yes," she commanded. "Look on me, and soon, you will understand."

++understand++ ++understand++ ++understand++

The high cheekbones that defined her harsh beauty caught the reflected light of the audience chamber as she put back her head and hissed as though in triumph… and when she turned her amber eyes back to capture his, he trembled with the sudden knowledge that flowed through him.

"What is your command," he asked as he came to his feet, "My Matron."

"I received a coded transmission from the Circle on Pheris IV," she told him. "One that I have been searching for for quite some time has contacted them… has travelled to them, and I have a wish to get there before he departs."

"But the… battle… securing our supremacy. We must—"

++do not question me++ ++question me++ ++question me++ ++question++ ++question++

Her mental intrusion held more than the press of words, but showed images… expectations of his greatness under her guidance, under her command… and the vanquishing of the one Wraith she truly believed could be a threat to him…

(+forgive me, my Matron+)

"I will set course at once," he lowered his head in respectful obeisance.

"I am glad we understand one another," she said, and ran needle tipped fingers softly down the side of his face to curl beneath his chin to bring his eyes to meet hers once more.









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