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Act 2

Head back, snarling with the satisfaction of the life force rushing through him, Todd fed deeply. Life, strength and health returned to him slowly in the wake of the extensive damage even the short exposure to the Hoffan protein had wrought within him.

"But how… how did you survive? I—"

"Perhaps I did not," he rumbled softly, "Rest."

"But you're here. You—"

"We are both of us here," he murmured as he settled with her, close but not so close as to stir fear of his intent. "And now, my Parmhuna, it must begin."

"Indeed," he purred and dropped the desiccated corpse onto the ground at the base of the small hut in the depth of the forest where he still hunted. "Now it begins."

His soft sigh mingled with the whisper of the newly fallen leaves. He remembered little of the madness that had consumed him as the serum he had made had warred within his cells with the very poison he sought to counter. He remembered only pain and fear and a hunger so intense that the burning of it threatened even his sense of self.

He sought to forget. Such a thing made him vulnerable, exposed his weakness.

It was a condition he could ill afford – ever, but particularly not at a time when Wraith factions from across the Pegasus Galaxy were gathering in huddled, terrified cabals. Each was seeking the protection of those more powerful than themselves, without the need to surrender to the subjugation of another Hive. It could never work. Yet in their blindness, the few remaining Queens denied the dangers that they saw and retreated behind the arrogance of their own false sense of self-congratulatory omnipotence, and the commanders that followed them surrendered their own strength and power to a failing cause.

"We cannot hide behind a lie," he hissed into the morning air, speaking as much to strengthen his own resolve as for any other reason. Such was the true abomination of the construct that his oldest rival had made of himself in the wake of what the humans of Atlantis had done to him: that he knew the Wraith Queens better than they knew themselves, and manipulated them just as freely as his contempt ran deep. Thus had the war begun, and what the one the humans called Michael had started, he would end… in blood and death, yes, but ultimately in the genesis of a new Wraith era.

The Pegasus Galaxy would be Wraith once more.

**

Slow, measured steps carried Kenny away from the simple quarters in which he had confined the young Queen after their return from the nursery. Even though there was much he had to do before he would be ready to take the Hive to the rendezvous coordinates his commander had given to him, to move with hurried steps through the halls of the Hive would have been unseemly.

He did not even turn his head when the Hive's third in command fell into step beside him.

"It is done?" he asked softly.

"The Darts made planetfall several minutes ago, undetected, as you calculated they would be," the Third confirmed.

"Good," Kenny nodded, more to himself than to appease the Hive's third in command, and added sharply. "See to it that they remain that way. As soon as you have confirmation that the rest of our Hive-brothers are in place, make preparations to leave orbit."

"May I enquire as to our destination?" the Third asked softly.

"You may not," Kenny snapped. "Inform me when everything is ready. I will be in the laboratory."

"As you command," the Third said, and bowed his head before turning away.

Kenny sighed. He couldn't afford to lose the loyalty of the Hive Third, not now, when so much hinged upon the next several days. It would hinder his commander's plans were he to have to defend his right to lead the Hive into the very heart of danger.

With another sigh, Kenny turned the corner of a corridor and let his steps begin to carry him toward the laboratory. Obedient to his commander he might be, but he was no longer prepared to follow blindly. He would come to know what it was that was so important about the research that his commander had been undertaking with the human doctor…

"Doctor Keller." Kenny did not miss the expression of mixed relief and worry as he stepped into the laboratory and his senses screamed at him to remain vigilant. "The Commander is indisposed and has instructed that I see to your needs. Tell me what I may bring to ensure your comfort."

"It's all right," she started to tell him. "I'm not hungry."

Hard on the heels of her words, a rumbling gurgle issued from her belly. She gave him a smile that he took to be an apology, and tilted his head in query.

"Or perhaps I am," she said. "Whatever you bring, I'm sure it will be fine."

He nodded. For reasons he could not understand, even then, he felt proprietorial concern – almost respect for the youngling. She smiled and thanked him softly before turning back to the computer. The motion was casual, but the flick of her eyes toward the data chip did not go without notice.

"In the meanwhile, I'll—" she started.

"I do not think so, Doctor," she jumped as he closed his hand around her arm as she began to reach out. He felt the heat stream off her as she blushed, but chose not to comment. Instead, knowing that his commander would be displeased should she refuse to comply, continued in his unexplainable protection as he said, "The Commander was most insistent that you went to your rest. He requires your mind fresh when you return to your tasks together."

"Oh, I will," she said, and gave him a smile over her shoulder.

"Go then," he said, almost softly, and nodded toward her adjacent quarters. "I will return shortly with nourishment for you."

Moving with her at first, almost as though he was reluctant to release her from the touch he maintained around her arm, he found his mind reached back to the matter of the data chip. It was evidently important to her, and equally as evident that she did not wish for him to know that she intended to purloin it. No doubt she would simply wait until he had left, and return to the laboratory to retrieve it, which would mean that she was not resting… and that would not do.

He released her, and on silent feet returned to the console to pluck out the chip and close his fist around it.

"Doctor Keller." He felt her fear amplify, almost physically aware of the knot that had tightened in her belly. He stood passively as she turned around to face him. The smile on her face was an awkward one. Meeting her eyes he said, "I believe you have forgotten something."

Shifting the data chip in his hand, he held it up between forefinger and thumb. He saw her swallow, and her eyes twitched wider as her breathing quickened. With a measured, deliberate gait, and still holding her in place with the mere suggestion of his gaze he crossed the laboratory, and carefully set the warmed material into her hand. His fingers, as he closed hers around the crystal prism, were almost gentle.

…if only to understand his own instinct to protect her from discovery of the stolen data.

**

When next she woke, it took Vega a moment to remember where she was. As she opened her eyes, a flickering of warm yellow and orange light danced on the ceiling over her head, and the weight of warm blankets covered her. It was almost a balm against the pain that still ached in her body, in her limbs and joints, and deep in her belly. As she moved, turning her head, further pain blossomed from the forgotten, though healing, wound at her throat.

A hunched figure crouched before the fire that had cast the light around her. His back was to her and he leaned forward, as though tending to something within the flames.

"Todd?" she said, and her voice rasped against the dryness.

He turned then, his unkempt hair falling forward as he moved, and without being asked, poured water into a beaker and held it out toward her. Only as he turned did the aroma from the fireplace reach her – roasting meat, the scent of rich, warm juices set her mouth to water. She took in a trembling breath and swallowed hard.

"You are hungry," Todd said, and setting down the cup just out of her reach, turned to pick up a knife and cut a sliver of meat from the spitted animal within the fire. He held it out to her, almost right beneath her nose, the fragrant juices running down his fingers. "Eat."

Her hand trembled as she reached upward to take the meat from his fingers. Her jaw almost ached with the anticipation of the taste, and the watering in her mouth became almost unbearable, but in the same moment as she craved the food, her stomach rebelled and twisted with a sharp nausea. Instead of taking the meat, she pushed his hand away.

"Sorry, I…" she began as she felt the blood draining away from her face, and her trembling increased with the effort of holding back the sickness. "Don't think I'm quite ready for that yet. Let's just try the water first."

"But you must eat, my Alicia," he purred.

"And I will… I will," she promised, "just… in a little while, okay?"

"Hmmm," he growled, and she could hear the uncertainty in his voice. "The water then."

Setting the food down on a nearby platter, he carefully cleaned his hands and then picked up, and offered her the cup, moving to help her sit, and sip at the water. She leaned against him weakly, craving the contact to stop herself from trembling.

"What will happen now? What did you mean?"

"Hmm?" She felt his arms tighten around her at the exchange of questions, before he continued, "Now you will heal sufficiently that we can return to the Hive."

"Then what?" she asked.

"Do not trouble yourself with what is to come, my Parmhuna," he turned her head up until he could capture her eyes with his. "Focus only on becoming well."

His words and the serious, yet softly commanding way in which he delivered them did little to settle her worries. They reached deep within her already churning emotions and grasped a handful of them, tying knots into the tangle of thoughts and fears that battered her defences.

"Todd, you're scaring me," she told him.

"It was never my intention," he answered, drawing her closer against him. She clung to him and had never wanted to cry more than she did in that moment. Yet she could not. "But you must understand that this changes… many things."

"This… this…" She slapped a hand against his chest. There was no real force behind it. She hadn't the strength, but when she drew back her hand to do so again, he caught it in his own. "You keep saying this. This what?"

"What happened here," he answered, still looking deeply into her eyes, "What came before… what will come after…"

He growled the final word, his eyes becoming hardened flecks of amber coloured flint, a cruel determination settling in that promised suffering and pain. Alicia shivered.

"It's what he wants," she whispered.

"I know," he answered. "What he does not realise is what he has done… and left undone."

**

Malcolm knew the commander had entered the bridge by the sound of his footfalls, and the sudden increase of tension among his fellow Wraith. He did not need to see or hear the commander to know that he was the cause of it.

Sighing, he tried to ignore the irritation as he would an insect flying or crawling around in his vicinity, and settled his fingers still lightly, but more with more certainty against the Hive interface, falling into an easy, skilful rapport with the semi-sentient vessel. It was almost comfortable.

"Leave the bridge!"

He turned his head and blinked him as the commander came to a halt, clearly addressing him.

"Commander?" he queried.

"I instructed you to leave my bridge," the other Wraith repeated testily. "I would not think that I would have to give such instructions twice."

Malcolm gave a moment's thought to mentally shutting down all systems before disengaging his hands from the controls. It was a fleeting notion, and dismissed as petty – beneath him. Instead he frowned and answered the commander in as mild a tone as he could muster.

"Indeed not, Commander," he said. "I heard the words, I merely wondered as to the wisdom of the order. Since your mind is clearly preoccupied with other worries."

"You dare—!"

As he predicted he would, the commander snarled, and in a display of temper, drew himself up to his full height – though still a full head shorter than Malcolm, even without the addition of the control platform.

"Is there something wrong with expressing my concern for the Hive Commander and for his Hive?" Malcolm interrupted, tilting his head in apparent query – though his eyes were diamond hard.

The commander growled.

"There are matters that require your attention in the lower station," he said. "I would have thought that you would know this."

The commander gestured to the console from which Malcolm had yet to disengage.

"A minor disturbance," Malcolm refused to rise to the commander's bait. "I will deal with the perpetrators in due course. When last I checked, the affairs of the worshipper community was not the Hive Commander's concern, but his Second's."

"It is my concern when it affects the efficient operation of the Hive."

"Perhaps if your concubine were to refrain from agitating situations among the worshippers, such matters would not at all affect your judgement, nor your ability to command this Hive." With that, all mildness left Malcolm's voice and his tone became one to match the chill in his eyes, and in a voice so quiet as to be for the commander's ears alone, said, "or perhaps you consider it acceptable to attend to a mere human before meeting the needs of your Queen?"

"You—"

"Do not think to publicly better me, Commander," he growled, cutting off the commander's tirade before it began. "The same question could be voiced openly – though I doubt there is a Wraith aboard this Hive that has not yet asked themselves that very question."

Malcolm saw the commander's knife even before the other Wraith had it clear of the sheath at his side, and had already ducked aside when the blade came down in the place where his forearm had been mere seconds before, and twisted away from the sparks that flew from the power that arced between the blade and the console.

He was acutely aware that with the action the commander was goading him to draw his own blade, to make a counter attack, and thereby an attempt to take control of the Hive. He was not yet willing to give the commander that satisfaction, for he knew the other Wraith was as aware that the Queen had forbidden such action as he was, and for him to make the challenge would considerably weaken the validity of his claim.

He spread his hands, feigning confusions and asked softly, "Have I offended you, Commander?"

"You are an offense to all Wraith, Outsi—"

"Commander!"

A woman's voice – Jethera's – cut across the escalating conflict, but only served to increase the atmosphere of tension as every pair of Wraith eyes turned her way.

"What are you doing here, Handmaiden?" the commander growled.

"I am here as the voice of Our Queen," she said formally, "at Her behest… She bids you come. She desires your counsel."

The Hive Commander turned to glance at Malcolm, and for a moment he truly believed the other would ignore the woman, and the words she carried. Malcolm inclined his body in the slightest of acknowledging bows to the woman, and noted that many of the others around him did the same.

"As… the Queen commands," the Hive Commander said eventually, stiffening his back as he withdrew his blade from the console.

As he left to attend the Queen, Malcolm tipped his head in query, meeting Jethera's eyes. He did not miss the warning he saw there. Attend the lower station – and soon.

**

Michael stared at the analysis of the DNA strands tumbling slowly over his monitor; a steady progression from concern toward a dreadful worry moving over his watchful features. Even in the sample he had taken days ago, mutation of certain key protein sequences was occurring, albeit with declining frequency, but in the most recently drawn blood, the rate of transcription was alarming.

His fingers flashed over the keyboard, freezing and then magnifying a single protein sequence, electronically deconstructing the amino acids, trying to identify the trigger and a way to neutralise its actions, or at the very least, some way to support the integrity of the surrounding proteins.

"Without destroying that which you have, in your arrogance, creat—"

Cursing himself for his lack of vigilance, Michael sent a crushing mental backlash toward the Wraith Queen's intrusion. Her answering cry, becoming one of rage at his audacity, amused him enough to calm his own seething anger.

"Your continued survival and relative comfort would best be served by remaining silent," he warned. His continued worry for Teyla maintained the edge in his voice.

"You cannot save her," the Queen mocked, heedless of his warning. "She was already condemned by the heresy in her blood before you even—"

He moved then, clearing the corner of the bench in a single terrifyingly fast leap and silenced the Queen with a physical slap.

"You speak of that which you do not understand," he growled, clamping his fingers over her throat. He stared into her psyche and hissed, "Be silent!"

-silence- -silence- -silence- -silence- -silence-

"You cannot save her," she rasped against both physical and mental interdiction. "We were never able to save the hosts, and she will—"

"Hosts…" Michael repeated the single word, a new understanding flowing through him, and a sharp new suspicion dawning. Dismissing the Queen and her words from his attention, he returned to his workstation and began to load apparently disparate data into his console, including the information Beckett had delivered to him in seeking his assistance on behalf of Doctor Keller.

"Sir?"

He was so focussed on the rapidly building profile that he had not heard or felt the approach of one of his hybrid soldiers.

"It can wait," he snapped, looking up from his work only when his subordinate contradicted him.

"No, Sir."

Michael frowned, and snatched the proffered tablet from the hybrid's hands. His already frowning countenance darkened still further, as he tracked the trajectory of the Wraith Hive that had triggered his early warning system, to its only logical destination.

"When?" he demanded.

"They were detected moments ago," the hybrid responded immediately.

"Set an intercept course," Michael snapped. The Wraith could not be allowed to interfere with the progression of his work at that facility. It was vital that the experiments he conducted there be allowed to run their course.

His eyes flicked once to the side to take in the arrogant defiance in the Queen's narrowed eyes, and then he turned his head to take in the alarmingly similar sequence of amino acids still displayed on the screen.

"And bring Doctor Beckett to me," he added, archly declaiming, "It is long past time that he and I had a little chat."

**

Vega stumbled and winced, grabbing hold of Todd's arm as he reached across to steady her, before he wrapped his arm around her and drew her against him. They stopped for a moment and Vega felt herself trembling against him. The deep ache that bloomed from inside her belly spread like a weed through her limbs, sapping her strength as they would strangle a healthy meadow flower.

"I'm sorry," she murmured against Todd's chest.

"It is I who should crave your forgiveness, my Alicia," he answered. "I have pushed you too far and too fast."

"No, no," she said and looked up at him, honest with the emotion she knew would be written on her face. "I just want to get away from here."

She felt the rumble that rolled through Todd's chest as he closed his eyes. She could only imagine what thoughts were running through his mind, what emotions, but she was almost certain that guilt would be one of them.

"Todd," she said softly. "It… what happened… wasn't your fault."

She expected an outburst of rage, an explosion of his temper. When it did not come, a vibrating chill began to flow through her veins in place of her blood.

He opened his eyes and fixed hers with an expression more intense than she had ever received. His voice, when he spoke, was a deep labyrinth, echoing on itself, though softly.

"Never say this to me again," he told her.

"Why not?" she asked him, just as softly. "It's true. You couldn't have known he would—"

"Because of my carelessness, you were assaulted, almost died at the hands of a Wraith who has already made threats against you in order to weaken me. I should have anticipated this," he insisted. "I should not have left you here without… more adequate protection."

"You're… behaving as if I were… I dunno," she finished, unable to bring herself to speak the word in her mind.

"My queen?" Todd asked, speaking it for her. "No, Alicia, never that."

Alicia swallowed, and a part of her couldn't help but feel a pang of disappointment at his admission, for did not the Wraith adore their queens?

"What then?" she asked, failing to keep the edge from her voice as the bitterness of that disappointment snapped at her already fragile emotions.

"The Queens have become corrupt, and with it have corrupted all Wraith," he explained softly, "Would you have me consider you thusly?"

"No, but I—"

He took one of her hands from where she had clenched it into a fist against his chest, and uncurling her fingers, placed a deeply sensual kiss against her palm.

"My Parmhuna," he rumbled softly against her hand, "It is you that has awakened in me the Wraith once borne in this unclean flesh; you that has reminded me of purpose and of the place of Wraith in this galaxy. You have given me back the freedom that was once taken from me, and for that… for that you will always mean more to me than any queen. I should have protected you."

Vega shivered again at the tone in his voice, the soft promise of menace hidden in the triple layered utterance.

"What… will you do?" she asked, instinct driving her closer to him. "I don't want you to risk yourself any more because of this." Freeing her hand from his light grasp, she reached for his feeding hand and ran her thumb softly over the puckered feeding maw at its centre, drawing a sharp breath from Todd. "You have already risked too much."

"Alicia," he warned, drawing out her name. "I will do as Wraith honour demands."

"Todd—" she started to protest, but stopped as he pulled his feeding hand out of hers, away from her still present caresses.

"It will be done," he hissed. Then, as if banishing the tension from his body on the next outward breath, he added, "Come. There are many miles before we reach the ship that will carry us back to the Hive."

**

As soon as they began to release their grip on his arms, Beckett snatched himself away from the flanking hybrids, coming to a halt behind Michael. The Wraith-Human hybrid's attention was still focussed on the display screen of a powerful computer-enhanced microscope. What little Beckett could see of the screen past Michael's shoulder told him that it was a genetic sequence that the other studied, but even the curiosity kindled in him, the almost instinctive desire to understand what it was that Michael was studying did little to calm the worried frustration at being treated as he was.

"You know very well that I'm no threat to you, Michael," he said, as much to announce his presence as to voice his concerns.

"You of all people," Michael began to answer even before he turned around to face him, "should know that where my work is concerned, I will accept nothing more than complete caution."

"In case you've forgotten," Beckett said, taking a half step forward, still flanked by the hybrid soldiers, until Michael waved them away with barely a breath of movement from one hand. "I'm the one that came to you."

"For my help," Michael snapped, "Yes. The irony of it does not escape me, Doctor, and yet I cannot help but feel suspicious of your motivations."

"No," Beckett shook his head. He had worked with Michael long enough to know that he said only as much as he had to, and that most of what he said usually had layers of meaning, like an onion, which grew stronger, the closer to the centre one reached. "You're suspicious of what Sheppard and the others might be trying to find out, but I promise you, they know nothing of my even coming here. I came to you as a last resort. I've tried everything I know to help my patient, even called in a consultant from Earth – someone whose expertise runs rings around my own and—"

The breeze made ripples in the grass around his hand where he leaned against it, watching the sunlight reflecting warmly from the smile on her face, her deep brown eyes quickly becoming the focus of his gaze – accentuated as they were by the light colours of the fabric with which she wrapped her head. Then she chuckled, and leaned forward to pluck the strand of grass from between his teeth.

"Carson, have you any idea how many foreign proteins you are putting into your system right now?" she scolded him playfully. "If you are so hungry that you cannot wait, we—"

"Goats do just fine, thank you very much," he teased.

"And you are no goat," she fired at him rapidly in Arabic. It was a common, comfortable exchange, and the fondness it spoke warmed him, but the ease of it was strained, and the warmth soon faded, as she sighed.

"Haya—"

"No, don't use that word unless you mean it," he interrupted, his own sigh punctuating the sentence. The radiance of the moment faded as if the sun had gone behind a cloud.

"Habibi," she amended sadly, "it is just that there is too much yet to be done here. I cannot abandon years of research to—"

He hadn't even felt the warning sensations that usually accompanied Michael's intrusion into his mind, as the memory flooded over him, almost like the physical touch that had accompanied her words. He tried to pull away with an increasing fear building in him as Michael sifted through more and more of his recollections, but as always, if not stronger than before, Michael's grasp was too strong. He acted before he even registered what he was attempting to do.

"Don't... you...!" He managed to take another half step toward Michael, this time in protective anger, before the hybrids caught his arms. Their restraint wasn't necessary. As soon as he'd moved, Michael's presence in his mind shifted just enough to still his motion, hold him fast.

"You truly think that this is something that I have not already seen?" Michael asked, his tone one caught between amusement and threat. "Why is it that you believe you need the assistance of such an expert? A remedial exobiological geneticist can only assist if there is cause to suspect the action of—"

"And you don't?" Beckett interrupted, moving past Michael to point at the display on the monitor. He felt Michael turn to regard the image. As he did, he continued, "I'll admit, at first it does appear to be the action of some kind of virulent retrovirus, but the transcription patterns are all wrong for that, they—"

Michael reached out and switched the display to another image. If not for his own expertise at working at the genetic level, Carson might have believed that the visual representation of the DNA on the screen was another image of the data he'd brought to Michael in the first place – Keller's data – but a single, and disturbingly familiar sequence of chromosomes caught his eye, and knotted his tongue into frightened silence.

"This is hybrid DNA," he said when he could finally catch his breath. "Natural hybrid DNA."

Michael merely nodded in confirmation, only speaking after several minutes; several long minutes in which Carson had moved closer to the workstation and without invitation, or hesitation, began manipulating the view – programming and running a number of short simulations.

"Several generations along from the point of successful hybridisation, with reproduction only along the human chromosomal pathway," Michael confirmed. "Yet maintaining the functional Chimera Radical, the same radical that you and I have both identified in the genetic sample you provided from Doctor Keller."

"Michael..." Beckett whispered, his blood chilling to match the ambient cold of the laboratory.

"You know the function of the Chimera Radical, Doctor Beckett," Michael went on, and to Carson's ears, he couldn't help but hear worry amid the usual impatience for those who overlooked the obvious. "I fail to understand why you have not considered that possibility in your patient."

"Because," Carson swallowed hard as he turned to lean on the workbench, looking up into Michael's face. "Because she's completely asymptomatic, that's why."

Michael shook his head, and reached past him to align the samples side by side on the monitor.

"Take a closer look, Doctor," Michael said almost softly, "The Chimera Radical exists to make transcription between Wraith and Human, or modified hybrid cells possible, but not..."

Beckett turned back to the monitor only when Michael swallowed hard and broke from speaking to call up another image to the screen along with the first two. The new image was one that was frighteningly familiar to him, from the last time he had worked with Michael.

"Aye, but that's not for the strand we were talking about," Beckett sighed, "Face it, Michael, this method is just too complex and requires far too much direct manipulation for the subject to survive."

"It must be made possible," Michael snarled.

"And what are you going to threaten me with this time?" Beckett demanded. "None of it will change the fact that without some pre-existing genetic variance from genotype, the two, no matter how similar, are far too incompatible to be able to produce viable cell division."

Carson felt the blood drain from his face, and he started to feel a little light-headed as he turned his gaze up to meet Michael.

"I can see you understand, Doctor," Michael said.

"You found and programmed the necessary variance," he whispered softly, his mind reeling, trying to make sense of the new information in his possession, and more importantly, what it might mean for Keller. "How?"

"It is surprising what the mind will do," Michael answered dangerously, "in order to escape the pain of torture."

Beckett looked back at the display, trying not to let Michael's words, nor his tone of voice affect him; frighten him any more than he already was as reality began to press in around him.

"But the Chimera Radical, and the genotype variance aren't enough, are they, Michael, to sustain the process," he asked.

"They never have been, Doctor Beckett," he answered softly, "for it was intended that we would never. Survive."

It would have taken a lesser man an impossible leap of understanding to follow Michael's inherent meaning, but Beckett, knowing the direction Michael had been taking his research, comprehended the dreadful reality of what Michael was intimating: the progression of the Wraith's evolution in the past.

"What happened?" he asked. "If that's true, then how did you—"

"Evolution," Michael answered. "The one thing the Alterans did not count upon."

"Alte—you mean the Ancients?"

"I mean, Doctor, that even the most hidden and insidious failsafe mechanisms possess an inbuilt work-around and with the correct knowledge and application of carefully nurtured science—"

"My God, Michael," Beckett gasped as the realisation occurred that Michael was not only talking about the past. "What have you done?"

**

Kenny took in a deep, almost fearful breath as the smoke began to clear away from the now opened door. It had taken many drones to successfully breech the door, and most of them had been killed in the ensuing, though, he was quick to notice, localised explosion, but now the facility lay open to him – for him to complete his mission.

There would be little time for dalliance, he knew. His commander had warned him that the Abomination would have detected their presence long before they landed and would already be on his way to defend his property – his science.

"Second?"

The soft query from his subordinate commander brought him out of his worried reverie, and he nodded.

"Proceed with caution," he instructed, "there is no knowing how many more of those devices are hidden within the facility. It will serve us little if we do not survive to bring the research materials back to the Hive.

"Are you certain the commander has provided you with sufficient information to achieve—" the subordinate's voice held trepidation, even fear as he peered past Kenny into the darkness of the laboratory beyond.

"You doubt?" he snapped, turning an irritated stare his underling's way. The anger on his face was aimed inward, however, and not, as would appear, at his subordinate. He had experienced such doubts himself. This was, after all, one of the Abomination's facilities and so, as the Lantean soldier in whom his commander had so far placed such store would say, all bets were off.

"Forgive me, Second," the subordinate Wraith stepped back and gave a half obeisance. "I merely—"

Kenny waved off his apology, and without a word strode ahead, stepping into the swallowing darkness.

He blinked to clear his vision and allow himself to adjust to the sudden dim illumination that flared from the glassy walls of the laboratory. It was a soft green light that had answered the presence of his Wraith DNA, he realised; a power saving mechanism. What did the unfortunate creatures held within the stasis tanks – for Kenny could now see that the tanks, in fact, lined the room – need with light?

Turning his attention to the content of the tanks, he swallowed hard. Made more eerie still by the shifting quality of the light on the fluid within the glass containers, the creatures were the products of fevered Wraith nightmares. Humanoid and in various stages of… of what – hybridisation…? Hardly; for humans as the Abomination had hybridised them looked nothing like these monsters – the creatures resembled the feeding beetles found on many worlds throughout the Pegasus Galaxy that had somehow evolved toward a bipedal existence. Their skin was blackened, chitinous and the flesh of their back more closely resembled a carapace than skin and bone. Arms ended in claws where hands should be, and their sightless, though open eyes reflected the sickly, green light from myriad facets of insectoid eyes.

Kenny shivered, and moved along the line of tanks that flanked the walls; seeking, searching for the form that his commander had promised would exist. As he moved further into the room, the strength of the insects' influence and characteristics in the subjects held in stasis lessened. The subjects began to appear more human and yet...

He shivered again, and this time the trembling continued as he realised that it was not more human that the preserved creatures resembled, but Wraithlike. Hair whitened, faces bore not one set but two, sometimes three sets of sensory pits, and gone was the hardened, blackened shell, to be replaced by grey-green tough-looking hide, which covered the still slightly stooped, but undeniably female, creatures. He blinked, and half turned back to look along the line of tanks. When had he missed the transition from insect to mammal?

"Insane," he hissed, disgust filling him to the point of the unfamiliar feeling of nausea. Once, as a younger Wraith, pre-adolescent, he recalled, he had consumed food that had been spoiled in the madness of hunger at his coming need to feed. He had lain three days lost in fever and sickness that he feared would never end. The feeling returned to him now, roiling in his stomach as the puzzle pieces began to assemble in his mind. He turned again to look down the line, hardly daring to imagine what he might find at the far end of the laboratory. "You seek to recreate—"

"Second," his subordinate appeared at his side once more, somewhat grounding his horror and speaking rapidly, "we've found another door. Should we attempt to open it?"

"Show me," he commanded.

He kept his eyes averted from the lighted creatures as he followed his subordinate to the end of the laboratory, to where the door stood off to the left of two tanks that he could not help but notice remained unlit. Movement from within the darkened fluid led him to believe that, unwittingly, he may have discovered the object of his search. He pushed the thought away, though increasingly aware of the passage of time through the silent countdown his mind had been keeping, and turned his attention to the door the other Wraith had brought him to. He narrowed his eyes, and considered the dimensions of the room compared to what they knew of the structure. It could be that the door was merely another entrance point from the opposite side of the facility. The dimensions were close, or it could mean that the doorway led to a further annex – he feared the answer would be given by the contents of the figures inside the stasis tanks that remained dark.

"Have the drones make an attempt, but with caution," he instructed. "I believe it will prove to be of little import, then attend me. I will need your assistance."

With a reluctant heart, Kenny retraced his steps until he stood before the unlighted tanks, peering into the fluid with his nose almost pressed to the glass. He could feel the ambient heat from within reaching out to caress his cheeks, and with the imagined touch the feeling of dread that mingled with the fading nausea in his gut increased.

The unseen current within the tank's fluid carried the occupant closer to the glass, a halo of long, white-blonde hair spread toward Kenny as he peered within, mesmerised and unable to pull away. The grey, dead looking flesh that followed was veined with darker greenish lines that spread over the sides of the creature's cheeks, upward towards its temples, and a single pair of sensory pits graced the skin beneath butterfly shaped eye sockets and the pronounced ridges of its brow… her brow – Kenny unwittingly corrected himself as the movement of the current turned the creature and brought her body closer to reveal breasts and sex to his gaze.

The creature bumped against the glass, carried on invisible waves, and Kenny couldn't help but recoil, pushing away from the warm glass with trembling fingers; away from that which his commander had sent him to collect, unwilling, even when the evidence floated – literally – in front of his eyes, of all that they had fiercely debated in the weeks since Doctor Keller and the other Lanteans had left the Hive ship. He turned his head away from the unsettling vision in front of him, to locate his subordinate commander.

"Get her out of there," he commanded, his voice sounding shrill even to his own ears. "And be ready to leave at once. We're running out of time."

The audible bubbling from within the tank pulled his attention back that way, and it was all he could do to suppress the shrill breath that gathered at his throat when he found himself staring into the creature's green-gold eyes through the haze of ascending bubbles.

**

Teyla winced, and grasped the side of Nethaiye's crib for support as she tried to get up and found her legs unwilling to support her. She felt almost as though she had been working out for hours, her limbs tired and almost trembling beneath her.

"Madam?" Midani's hand closed around her forearm, "Teyla?"

"I am all right," she said, standing straighter, and turning a smile, that she did not feel, Midani's way. "I have been sitting too long and my legs are asleep, that is all."

In a moment or two of standing doing nothing else, the strange feeling passed, and relaxing a little, Teyla started to wonder if perhaps the excuse for her stumble had, in fact, been the truth. She gave the girl a more genuine smile and pulled away from her supportive grasp.

"Thank you," she said softly. "I am all right. I am sure there are things you need to attend to. Please... go to your rest, Midani. I shall soon go to mine."

"Yes, Teyla," Midani answered, managing to make her name sound more like a title to Teyla's ears, and her following good wishes more like a frightened command. "Rest well."

"I shall," she answered, beginning to move away, to move toward the full length viewing port at the far side of the room. "You also."

Though she knew exactly when the other woman left her quarters, Teyla dismissed her from her attention long before she bid her the absent goodnight. Her mind was too busy; too full of discoveries, and revelations which disturbed her conscience where Michael was concerned. Yes, he had taken her people and many others and turned them against their will into his soldiers, hybrid slaves to his Cause, and yet... what choice did he have if he were to survive? Yes, he had been the instrument of hundreds of thousands of deaths throughout the galaxy when he released the Hoffan protein, yet, by his word he had done so in an effort to protect his work, and to afford those whose sympathies lay with his efforts to destroy the Wraith some protection against being fed upon. He had attempted to perfect the drug, but had run out of time for the luxury of finding that perfection and thus saving lives. Should she hate him any more for what he had done, than she should Doctor Beckett for assisting in its creation in the first place?

She sighed as the thoughts raced through her mind, and leaned against the viewing port to watch as the colours danced and swirled around the Hive as it made its way through hyperspace.

"And what of you, Nethaiye?" she asked softly. "Where best can I protect you from the horror this galaxy has become?"

It was an entirely selfish thought. She knew that, but it was at least an honest one as she sought to find peace with the decision she knew in her mind – her heart – that she had made. It would not be easy, she knew, to stay – not for her conscience and not for her compassion, and not for the deepening, almost painful feelings which, once she had admitted them to herself, had only grown to be the whole of her truth for the one whose life she had, albeit unwittingly, shared since the beginning.

**

He paused, hesitating at the doorway as he watched her standing; leaning against the viewing port. He could feel her agitation, and the turmoil of emotions swirling, like the interplay of colours the passage of the Hive through subspace caused to be. He wanted to give her shelter – solace from the difficulties she faced, and would face in the coming time.

Silently he crossed the room to stand behind her, just within arms' reach, and stretched out an almost hesitant hand. The tips of his fingers fell short of brushing against the edges of her hair as he stood, in awe of her beauty; her compassion, and emotion she kindled in him.

One day... perhaps... you will understand.

"...Michael..."

Teyla whispered his name, reaching behind her, her fingers outstretched, searching for contact.

"Yes, Teyla," he answered softly, and still hesitant in his movements, gently ran his hand down from her shoulder to cover her hand with his own. He moved in closer as she began to lean back, so that she could find support against his chest. "I am here."

"I was thinking," she told him, and he couldn't help but hear the fatigue he felt in her colouring her voice. He swallowed hard, his concern for her doubling.

"About?" he asked.

"Our child."

"Child?"

He took in a sharp breath, pushing against her mind with his own, deepening the contact between them to reach for; discover what knowledge and understanding dwelled within. His stomach rolled and tightened inside.

She turned then, without ever breaking the physical contact between them, and looked up into his frowning countenance.

"Nethaiye," she said, meeting his eyes. "Whatever you may have told yourself until now, he truly is our child for all that you were not the one that fathered him."

Michael swallowed again, hard, and took a deep breath before he answered, flicking his eyes away from the caramel depths of her gaze. He sought to control the lingering jealousy, as well as the relief that took a hold at her words. She did not know. Nor yet did she understand the extent to which his manipulation – genetic, emotional, and physical – had intervened in the creation of her son.

"Of course. Yes," he said at length. "What do you need? I will have it brought to you at once. I—"

She shook her head, and the words ceased as if she had commanded him to silence.

"Only your promise, Michael," she said, and reached out to cup the side of his face in the palm of her hand. In spite of himself he leaned into the warmth of the touch. "That whatever happens, you—"

"I told you," he interrupted, "I will care for the both of you. I will allow nothing to happen to you, or to the Child."

-the palms of your hands, my Parmhunaeterna... my life-

She took in a breath, and let it out slowly, accepting his words, he knew, as she leaned against him, her cheek against the rising and falling of his chest.

"You need to rest, Teyla," he told her, letting go of her hand to wrap his arm around her, the palm of his hand coming to rest flat against the small of her back. "Please."

"Where are we going?" She looked up at him again, though, he noted, she did not fight him as he began to move them across the chamber toward the bed. "Won't you tell me?"

"We are travelling toward Ataxis III," he told her, "to protect one of my research facilities. There is no cause for concern."

"Then why do I feel it in you?" she challenged. He could not help but chuckle. "What is it?"

"I should know better than to attempt to hide that particular emotion from you," he answered, his amusement still softening his temper. "Truly, Teyla, there is no cause for you to be concerned. My detection grid sends many warnings. This one I merely chose to investigate personally."

"What is on Ataxis III that is so important," she asked, astute as always.

He saw no reason to obfuscate and said, "The genetic material with which I will increase my army of hybrids, using the cloning facility, is maturing in a laboratory hidden deep within the planet's wilderness."

"How long before we arrive?"

"Rest, Teyla," he insisted, nodding toward the bed as they arrived beside it. "I will tell you nothing more."

She sighed, and he could tell she was extending her patience – though not toward him and his reticence to share with her the details of their mission, but toward her own fatigue. His worry for her blossomed once again, and he began to gently, but firmly ease her onto the bed.

"Stay," she caught his hand as he moved to straighten, reaching for the blanket with which to cover her.

"I will," he told her.

-until you are sleeping-

...why am I so tired?...

-rest, Teyla- -rest- -rest- -rest- -rest-

He did not release the hold on her mind until he felt sleep take hold... until he was certain that her mind and body both were at rest.

**

It was a ridiculous turn of events, but a deadly truism that, were he to act against the ring of small human women that surrounded him, he would be dead before he could draw a second breath.

The Wraith commander had to satisfy himself that, before they had apprehended him, he had been able to discover the information that his Queen had demanded of him.

"I will ask you one final time, Commander," the woman of the Sentinel's Guard snapped, with no deference to his race or position. "Why are you here, without invitation, inside the gestation chamber assigned to the Queen of a Hive other than your own?"

"I follow the commands of my Queen," he answered, telling them nothing even as he answered.

"If your queen has questions, she should address them to the Sentinels, as is the correct Protocol," the woman countered.

"Protocol be damned!" he hissed, taking a step toward her even though the blades of each and every woman twitched closer as he did. "Do you not know – do your Sentinel Mistresses not know – that you nurture—"

"We do as the Circle has decided, Commander," interrupted a new voice, and immediately the press of weapons around him, all bar the one that rested against his belly, withdrew. "Nothing more, and no less."

He glanced downward as he sensed movement, and watched as the blue-tattooed hand closed around the taught wrist of the head guards-woman, carefully moving the blade away from his belly.

He took his own step forward, and bowing his head, came to one knee before the Sentinel as she lowered her hood. He felt her stand immobile, and bathed within the tension of her silence, listening to the tap tap tap of retreating footsteps. The guards had been dismissed. The realisation made him look up, seeking the deep green orbs of the Sacred One before him.

"Madam?" he asked softly.

"Your queen is wise to fear what is developing here," she answered, cutting right to the heart of the matter behind his question, "and what will come after."

"My Queen does not fear—"

Her sudden motion silenced him. She dropped to his level, her hands reaching, her right for the centre of his chest, her left for the side of his head at the level of his temple. Instinct told him he should act; defend himself, yet even as the notion registered consciously her hands were already in place and the skirts of her dress billowed, cloudlike around them both as they settled.

The sharp bite of the barbs against his chest was nothing compared to the pain of the connection at his temple as the Sentinel pushed her awareness upon his. His head fell back and he hissed sharply. Trembling he tried to force his own hands to motion, to free himself from the strangeness in the contact. He could feel her feeding, drawing forth his life, yet so slowly it was almost gentle. The crushing pain at his head was another matter, as his vision blurred and colour danced before his eyes.

"Hear me, Commander, for there is not time to speak of what you must hear. You are in grave danger here – you and all Wraith. Save us. Keep us from the blasphemy wrought on us in this act. Those which develop here can bring only pain and death. Theirs is the way of war that will come after. Nothing good can come of this."

The words faded as images began to flash before his eyes; images out of legend – bed time stories told to Wraith young of a world that existed at the heart of a great red darkness and of a Queen so great and fearsome that to be in her presence alone meant death at a mere thought from her mind… and yet she divided, became five instead of one, but fell away into the arms of a single Wraith commander, and not the oblivion of death. The Five became little more than newborns, borne away in the arms of obedient human servants, returned to their mothers' bodies as though they had not yet been born… mothers with lifeless eyes – decaying flesh. The Fearsome Queen turned in the arms of her consort, reached for him, closed her fingers around his heart, and tore it, still beating from a chest scarred with the mark of many feedings.

The consort stumbled away; fell at the feet of another male, taller – almost regal – and with a strength that could almost be felt. The new Wraith male tipped his head to the side and reaching down, fed deeply from the already dying consort, until there was nothing left but a thin layer of white-green dust on the floor of the lofty hall that shifted and changed around him. The Queen drew closer, reaching for her new consort, who became nothing more than a pillar of white light – painful to view, that flashed like lightening against a gathering darkness… and against the darkness fell within the womb of a dark haired queen, to battle there, twin serpents the bright of the white against the dark of a blood-red river…

"It was never meant to be," the sentinel hissed and released him.

He fell backward, gasping… rolled to his side, fighting for breath as though the feeding had taken more of his life than a mere tender moment. The whole of him was on fire… and shaking with it he forced himself to his feet, intent on reaching his own Hive.

**

Todd let out a long, slow hiss as he led Alicia down from the scout ship to stand on the comforting solidity of the Hive's Dart Bay, instinctively stepping half in front of her as he noticed the approach of the Hive's second in command and the accompanying honour guard.

"Commander," the Second bowed his head in obedience to his command of the Hive. Todd relaxed as he reached out mentally to brush a query against the neural network of the Hive ship and her Wraith crew.

"All is well?" he asked, satisfied as to the Hive Second's continued loyalty.

"All has progressed according to your orders, Commander," his second in command answered. "We are ready to proceed."

He nodded.

"Good," he let out another breath, hunger burning at his breast. Now that all was ready, everything in its place, he could proceed in his plan for retribution against the one that had dared to lay hand upon that which was not his. "Return to the bridge, and prepare the course that I have given you. I must convey my companion to her quarters."

"Commander…" the Second began, and Todd turned a frown his subordinate's way.

"You have a problem with my orders?" he demanded.

"I merely question the wisdom of attacking the territory of another Hive – let alone that Hive," the Second said.

"Your objection is noted," Todd rumbled softly, knowing that would, for the time being, appease his second in command's honour, and by the time anything more would be necessary, the other Wraith would already understand the reason and the necessity of hitting the Elder Hive where it would hurt them – in the heart of their feeding grounds. "Now – do as I command."

"At once, My Commander," the Second said, with a bow, and immediately retreated to go and carry out his orders. The honour guard remained behind ready to escort their Commander on his way.

Todd turned to Alicia, holding out his left hand, and closing his fingers around hers, as she settled a hesitant touch against his palm.

"Allow me to take you to your rest, my Alicia," he purred gently, calming now that he could be surer of her safety.

"Will you stay?" she asked nervously.

"No," he answered, "but I will return to you, and join you later. First I must see to the needs of our Hive."

**

Still trembling, the Wraith commander waited for the Red Queen to speak. His limbs still ached, and it was all that he could do to remain upright and steady on one knee. His head still ached, and his temple itched the way it had not done since he had received his line's tattoo. He couldn't help but spare a fleeting thought for the state of that now, and what the bite of the Sentinel's touch would have done to the starburst pattern of it on his flesh.

"She told you this?" the Red Queen said at last.

"Showed me… My Matron," he answered, his voice almost breaking with the effort of it. "Would you have me act? The Ancient One's suggestion was clear. That one's offspring cannot be allowed to—"

"I will decide what is to be done!" she hissed, her feeding hand coming to a trembling halt mere inches from his already aching chest. His downturned, obedient gaze noted that her fingers trembled. She hissed softly, and that trembling eased as the Red Queen relaxed. "If I had wished for you to destroy that Queen's young, I would have sent you with an army to take the facility for our Hive."

"Of course, my Queen," he answered. "Forgive me, I…"

"You need to feed," she purred, and closed the fingers of her left hand beneath his elbow, to draw him to his feet, supporting him as he swayed slightly. "It is the touch of the Sentinel that has done this."

She released him then, and turned to step away, gesturing for him to follow. He stumbled before he could find his balance again.

"Did you know," she told him as he shadowed her, "that it is forbidden for any Wraith to touch the Ancient Ones… and taboo to allow such a touch to be made…"

He swallowed hard, fearing suddenly that the Red Queen would turn on him for having broken such a Wraith law.

"I… was unaware," he answered truthfully. Most Wraith would be, he knew, since few ever laid eyes upon the Sentinels, or even believed in their existence.

The Red Queen put back her head and laughed, and the commander winced as one at a time the three entrances to the Queen's Chamber hissed closed, sealing him in with her – completely at her mercy.

"Sit," she ordered as they reached the top of the dais.

"My Queen," he protested, "Matron…"

"Sit," she repeated, and pushed at him. It was barely a touch she gave him, but in his current state he stumbled again, and fell into, rather than sat down upon the Red Queen's throne. "Do you believe you are of use to me like this?"

He opened his mouth to answer. His words became a cry as the Queen's feeding hand descended faster than a whip and latched on just as swiftly. Molten fire flowed into him, his head spun faster and then settled into an almost peaceful bliss as his Matron Queen strengthened him – gave him life… then lowered her head until they touched brow to brow.

"Now, my son," she whispered as she withdrew the Gift, "We will allow these little creatures to mature. There are far more important matters for us to attend to than the errant actions of a single, lesser Queen."

**

On her knees, Isla kept her face downturned but flicked her eyes up to take in the sight of the Hive Second as he stood before the assembled worshippers. In that instant she took in the tension of his anger that rippled through the leather clad, muscled thighs and powerful forearms, even though his fingers appeared to be at rest. She knew such anger, and knew the danger in it.

"You would have me believe," he said, the triple tones in his voice dripping sarcasm over the Handler that knelt at her side, "that this single weak and insignificant female sought to contaminate the entire Hive?"

She closed her eyes, fighting the stab of pain that rose in her heart at the words he used… insignificant…for such she was to him now.

"I am certain of it, Lord," the Handler replied. "I have proof. I caught her—"

"Bring me this proof!" he roared, and even Isla cringed. The Handler scurried to his feet and tore clean across the lower station to his quarters. She knew what she would see on his return… the small vial of liquid that the Hive Third had given to her, with instructions to pour it into the water supply for the Hive… but she would not admit to this – would not implicate her new master in whatever crime it was he would have had her commit.

She had given up. The time now had come for her death and the swifter it came, to her mind, the better, and if it came at the hands of the Hive Second, so much the better, for there was no other to whom she would more gladly lay down her life. She looked up at him then, spilling the hotness of her tears onto her cheek.

{Isla, what have you done?} {what have you done?} {done} { done} { done} { done}

The touch of his mind within hers one last time was too much for her, and she began to sob openly… covered her face with her hands and curled into a ball at his feet.

**

Malcolm closed his eyes and let out a soft growl. He could not believe that she would have done such a thing, when her only act before had been in defence of Wraith; her every action loyal, heedless of her own needs. How could he save her from this?

"My Lord."

His eyes snapped open at the Handler's voice, and he glared at the man as though daring him to give proof of the treachery of one whose heart was naught but pure. The Handler pressed a small, stoppered vial into his hands.

Slowly, hardly daring to believe what he was seeing, he raised the vial into his field of vision, holding its deep, purple content to the light and allowing the light to spill over his face. He almost laughed.

Malcolm paused at the door to the Queen's private chambers, frowning as he watched the scientist, still standing over the prone figure of the queen, fastening his belt. The scientist seemed completely unsurprised at his presence, almost as though it had been he that had summoned Malcolm.

His eyes narrowed still further as the scientist pocketed the small bottle of deep purple fluid, making no attempt to hide it from Malcolm's eyes.

"I was the one that summoned you," the scientist confirmed, then looking at the Queen, as if to confirm Malcolm's unspoken suspicion, said, "There will be no new queen from this union, but she will have needs. You will see to them."

"Where did you get this?" Malcolm snapped the question at Isla, trusting she would hear, in the softer undertone of his voice, that she would be safe, no matter her answer.

"I cannot say, my Lord," she answered, "I will not implicate another in my actions."

{tell me, Isla. Wraith or Human?} {Human} {Wraith} {Human} {Wraith}

"My Lord," she cried, an appeal for him to stop. "Please…"

"I gave her the vial," the Hive Third's voice followed hard, almost an echo of the appeal, and turning, Malcolm saw Jethera hovering in the shadow behind the Hive Third. "When you have a moment, Hive Second, I would speak with you."

"I have a moment now," Malcolm growled softly, turning his balefully angry stare back on the Handler, "Now that this motherless rabble is no longer wasting my time."

"Indeed," the Hive Third purred.

Fixing the unlucky Handler with an even colder expression, like the steel blade of a knife through the man's eyes, Malcolm instructed, "You… disband this gathering and return to your duties. See to it that I am not disturbed with this nonsense again."

His eyes softened momentarily as he looked over at Isla, who was peeping up at him through partly opened fingers.

{you are safe} {safe} {safe} { safe} { safe} {go with Jethera} {go with Jethera} {go with Jethera}

As he turned to leave, he saw the other woman move from her place at the side of the room, already approaching Isla before he even had the chance to ask it of her.

**

Ayatesha Haddad was not a woman that was easily unnerved, nevertheless as she stepped within the chilled and darkened atmosphere she had created in her laboratory, the shiver had little to do with the temperature. Absently she waved her hand across the space in front of the door's control panel, and then again, when the door controls failed to respond and close the door behind her. She muttered to herself softly in Arabic that held a slightly nervous tone of voice, and was about to repeat the gesture when the city obliged her presence and the door slid closed; the panel turning to red to assure her that it was also locked.

Wasting no more time on the lesser of the issues she faced, she turned her attention to her work, quickly activating the bank of computers, and calling up programs on all but one of the workstations. It had taken her almost three days, but she had reconstructed much of the purged data from Carson's earlier work, and much of her own damning research from fragments of seemingly innocuous, unconnected information. If she were going to get anywhere with helping Keller, it would be through the very realisations she had sought so hard to bury.

Settling herself onto the stool in front of the still darkened monitor, she reached to put the headset into place, before turning on the other computer.

"Ana-smi Ayatesha Layla Haddad," she spoke quickly in her native dialect of Arabic. She waited for the cursor to change to the point-of-origin symbol before rapidly typing in her alphanumeric password. As the cursor changed again, she slowed her speech and deliberately asked, "Uddahmak Hall tahni?"

The irony of her secondary password was never more apparent to her than the moment in which the computer reactivated and recalled the last file she had been working on, as it was programmed to do. Do you have any other solution?

She feared they were at an impasse. She feared there was no solution at all, let alone another one. Switching between the keyboard and the touch screen she rapidly selected and enlarged various portions of chromosomes and gene fragments, placing them side by side on the screen, and scribbling rapid, flowing Arabic onto the note pad beside her, the process became automatic after a while and her mind wandered.

"You aren't hearing me, Doctor," she said, almost having to run to keep up with him. "I did not say there was anything wrong with your research, or even the conclusions. Simply... you are making a leap of faith that you have no basis to make."

"Look," Doctor Beckett rounded on her, and she almost collided with him. "Doctor Haddad, I appreciate your input, I do, but the evidence – the only empirical results that we have – puts the variance within one degree of the human norm, and firmly within—"

"La!" she cut him off. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Just... would you...would you just hear me out."

He folded his arms, and she knew she was in for a difficult time of getting through to the Scottish genius in front of her.

"Come with me," she said softly, "to my laboratory."

When his expression of inflexibility shifted to one of doubt, a spark of annoyance flashed into a small, but hot fire inside her. She had faced prejudice her entire life – for the sake of her gender, and then through her faith. She had thought him above that kind of thing, but now began to wonder. There was, however, another possibility – professional jealousy. Even ifhe did not see it, their research had been running along parallel courses for some time. Perhaps that was why he did not want to listen to her.

Testing the water, though not without some small hint of her growing irritation, she snapped, "I have a great deal of respect for you, Doctor Beckett. What would it cost you to show me the courtesy of humouring me? I've spent a good many years investigating the genetic variance inherent in the nomadic tribes of the deep Sahara. What I have found, in no insignificant way, mirrors some of your work."

Beckett sighed and unfolded his arms.

"Doctor Weir is expecting me," he said.

"Doctor Weir is expecting you to present her with a working theory on the link between the Ancients and humans of this, and the Pegasus galaxies," she argued. "You do not yet have that."

"And you do?"

Without answering him, she flicked through a lengthy, spiral bound document she carried in her hand until she found a page toward the centre bearing images of a series of PCRs. She handed him the essay and watched as he glanced at first the page, then flicked to the title, and finally, frowning in confusion looked up to meet her eyes.

"This is my research paper," he said.

"Aiwa," she agreed, then with a shrug, turned and started walking back toward her lab. "Come if you want. It is your choice."

"Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut," she paused in making her transcript and sighed deeply.

"Would it have made a difference?"

Ayatesha jumped. She had forgotten that she had instructed the orderlies to bring Major Lorne to her laboratory, to the isolation room adjoining it. He had obviously woken from the sedation he'd been given, and now sought her out.

Not bothering to kill the monitor, she turned in her stool to face the hybrid and asked, "Would what have made a difference?"

"Keeping your mouth shut," he said, peeling himself away from the doorframe and entering the laboratory. She tilted her head to look at him. "He would have got there on his own, eventually – and we'd all still end up right back here."

She stood as he halted beside her.

"How do you know what it is I am speaking of?" she asked.

He nodded at the monitor and said, "I recognise the composition of Beckett's retrovirus... other aspects of his work – and yours."

"How?" she demanded, frowning deeply.

Lorne shrugged, and then tilted his head as if in consideration, a strange and somewhat chilling blend of human and Wraith behaviour patterns.

"I suppose because it is in his mind," he mused.

"What is it like?" she asked, concern and curiosity both vying for position in the forefront of her emotions. With his head still on one side, Lorne raised a querying eyebrow, seeking clarification that she was more than happy to give. "Being able to hear Patient 4364... feel him... know what he knows?"

Lorne laughed, entirely without humour, she noted – and frowning, tipped her own head to the side, to regard him. His laughter stopped abruptly.

"Let's just stick with calling him Michael, shall we?" he said harshly.

"As you wish," she agreed. "My question still stands."

"You're not afraid of me, are you?" he leaned toward her.

"I have no reason to be," she answered. "You will not harm me. You will not harm anyone here in Atlantis."

"Because they were once my friends?" he asked, and the mocking bitterness in his voice was unmistakable.

"Because Michael sent you here with a purpose, and that purpose is best served if you do not cause harm to any here," she said.

"Ah," he purred and walked away a couple of steps, his hybridised face showing mild amusement. "So you believe I'm here as some kind of... agent; a sleeper cell."

He turned to face her again, all traces of amused kindness dropping from his expression. His gold-slit eyes hardened, becoming icy.

"Well, you would know all about that," he hissed.

Without hesitation, Ayatesha closed the distance between them, and slapped him so hard, the palm of her hand stung as though it was on fire. He caught her wrist as she pulled back her hand again, staring deeply into her eyes – his expression remained unchanged.

**

The signs of intrusion were obvious, and Michael's anger boiled within his stomach that was already rolling with fear. How had they come here? How had they found the facility, so carefully hidden and how much had they destroyed?

With a mental command to his hybrids, and a visual wave of his hand to the few mercenary soldiers that served him and still lived, he sent them ahead to ensure that the corridors and outer laboratories were secure, before allowing himself to set foot inside the main facility. Instead he turned his steps toward a much smaller building, one that was mostly hidden by a stand of trees and coarse briars. He pushed his way through, ignoring the scratches to his hands and made his way inside.

The hum of functioning machinery calmed the tumult inside of his gut. The secondary stasis unit was undisturbed; a physical back-up of all that was housed in the main facility – hidden in plain sight.

As he turned to go; to rejoin the others he paused momentarily to stare into the almost opaque glass of a generative tank, his eyes falling on the figure held in stasis, locked in an ever dreaming world of thought, sensation and memory that were its own, and yet, at the same time where nothing but a shadow of its Original's life experiences, shared across complex telepathic neural pathways.

It was the ultimate failsafe. Nothing would prevent him from taking the galaxy and bringing his own style of peace to it... but... as he had told Beckett...

His hand hovered for a moment over the tank's activation switch, the temptation to destroy this living admission of doubt and weakness became almost overwhelming. His hand trembled as he held it poised on the edge of indecision, until... almost as if sensing the closeness of its progenitor, the clone opened its eyes. The golden beam of challenge pierced the barely translucent glass to accuse, more loudly than with words, his arrogance and foolishness. Michael's trembling ceased.

"One way or another," he promised himself softly, "I will prevail."

Withdrawing from the hidden annex of the facility and shaking of the disquiet that lingered in his psyche he allowed his rapid, purposeful steps to carry him toward the main laboratory.

The lighting was low, and the long shadows cast by the greenish yellow glow coming from the many stasis tanks that lined the room, reached like fingers across the cold concrete of the floor, as if yearning for him... waiting.

"Report," he snapped as a lieutenant came to his side.

"Only one of the stasis tanks appears to have been tampered with. We are as yet unable to discover if the heart of the facility remains intact."

"Why?" Michael turned an angry frown on the unfortunate hybrid.

"The door controls are unresponsive," the hybrid answered. "It appears as if they were damaged in an attempt to force the door to open. It is unclear as to whether the attempt was successful, or whether the locking mechanism failed when the attempt was made."

Michael pushed past him, no longer listening to his rambling explanation. The loss of one subject from the outer stasis units, while bad enough, would likely not yield much usable data, or any other kind of information, but if the Wraith had gained entry into the inner facility it could represent a setback that would mean years of struggle in an escalation of the conflict between his army and the Wraith.

Reaching the heavy, inner portal, his finger flashed across the keypad, entering his personal access code. There was a sickening moment of silence, which stretched into a lifetime, before the tickle of recognition crept into his awareness, and with an almost irritated buzz, the lock released and the door swung outward, barely an inch.

"Reset the locking codes," he instructed the lieutenant, and then he opened the unlocked door fully and stepped through.

**

The water fell like needles over her naked body, hot – almost too hot – but still not enough to wash away the lingering filth she always felt remained a part of her since the last months she spent at Stargate Command. The water covered her, pounding indiscriminately against the smooth flesh and the scarred... the sensitive and the numb, but even the numbness could not shield her against the memories, not since she had called them forth again in the urgency of trying to find a way to save Jennifer.

It was flawed.

She stared again and again at the rolling simulation, watching progression of ever changing chromosomes, watching the base pairs of the existing DNA struggle against the invading retrovirus – and watching as the resultant exobiological immune response produced an increase of the dissolution enzyme. The combination of the two was as devastating as it was dramatic. Every single part of gene fragment; every radical was set to 'on,' as the simulated organism reinvented itself in its own image.

"Ayatesha? Doctor Haddad, are you there?" The warm Scottish burr held a great deal of concern, noticeable even across the communication link between the galaxies.

"You can't use this, Carson," she told him softly, swallowing to try and keep the fear from her voice. "The immunological response alone makes it impossible. This... this Wraith DNA is... it's dominant."

"You mean the Iratus DNA," he corrected.

"No," she said. "No, I mean the Wraith DNA. The Iratus is there, yes, but—"

"And the Wraith is the recombinant Human-Iratus hybrid DNA," Carson said. "So if I can stabilise the action of the immunological response so that it supports the retrovirus as it suppresses the Iratus DNA then it should work, right?"

"In theory, but, Carson, you're not hearing me."

"I hear you, 'Yetesha," he assured her. "You're saying there's independent Wraith DNA – an evolution."

"Yes. So even if you humanise the subject," she shivered, "assuming you have one... that gene will remain."

"So I have to work on an agent to prevent reversion, but... the retrovirus will work."

"I wouldn't want to be the one to have to make it work," she breathed. A sudden, cold realisation descended on her, an understanding of why she had been asked to be a 'second pair of eyes' over Doctor Beckett's research. "Carson, I'm sorry, I have to go."

"Ayatesha?"

"Ahebik, hayati," she told him, and looked around as though she expected the door to open any moment. "I always have. Sirma ma'aasalama."

Before she even cut the connection, she had typed the commands to irrevocably destroy the data held on the flash drive.

For good measure, she had left the building via the power generation room, and left the flash drive tucked in the space on one of the exposed magnetic coils of the generator. She hadn't even packed. She had simply taken notebooks, emptied her bank account, driven to Atlanta and checked herself onto the next flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson International to Cairo.









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