Word Count: 4800 words
Warning: Character deaths; kind of dark
Summary: Why Teyla and Ronon weren't in Vegas -- they had more important work to do elsewhere. This takes place a few months after the episode.
There is no moon on this world. The only light is the rippling blue glow of the Ring, and when that winks out, Teyla blinks away the spots dancing in her vision. Slowly her surroundings come into focus: an inky mass of trees against a sky full of stars.
"Quick, move," Ronon whispers, and they do, two teams of four, crossing the open space to vanish into the velvety silence under the trees.
Teyla wishes, not for the first time, that she hadn't spent so much time over the last five years in sterile hallways, gradually losing the wilderness skills of her childhood. These field operations always remind her that she is not a soldier, and hasn't been a hunter or a scout in years. It's been even worse since Torren's birth -- her body is still recovering from her relative lack of exercise during the pregnancy, and she finds that her breath is coming fast and hard as she lengthens her stride to keep up with the others.
"Stop." A harsh whisper through the darkness. Teyla can just see the glimmer of Sora's pale hair, bound back into a harsh knot at the base of her skull, and the flash of a light-skinned fist held up and then lowered. Teyla comes up to join the other team leader at the front of the group.
"Guards?" she whispers in Sora's ear.
Sora nods, loose wisps of hair brushing Teyla's cheek. "I count two."
Peering through the trees, Teyla sees the Ancestral facility for the first time. In the darkness, it's impossible to tell how badly time and nature have ruined it; all she can see is a black sprawling mass. Blue-white light glimmers through a window above them, and an occasional shadow moves across it. That's where the scientists will be.
A low cough and the rustle of a boot on dry grass draws Teyla's attention to one of the guards, standing at the edge of the clearing some fifty paces from the stand of trees where Teyla and Sora's teams are crouched. The other, she spots after a moment from the glimmer of starlight on the barrel of his gun; he's on the far side of the clearing.
Teyla's mouth is dry. She doesn't like what they're about to do, but she hopes in the long run that it will be the least ugly in a whole array of ugly choices.
"Remember," she whispers against the cool shell of Sora's ear. "Anyone who is unarmed, or willing to lay down their weapons, will be taken alive. No unnecessary killing."
Sora's eyes roll towards her; Teyla sees the quick flash of her eye whites. "This is a joint mission," she whispers back, "Genii and Coalition. You don't command my team. I don't command yours."
"Don't make me press this, Sora."
Sora does not reply; instead she moves forward to talk to her team. Teyla sighs and falls back to her own. Tonight, in addition to Ronon, she's brought Lannee -- one of the few Athosian survivors of Michael's experiments -- and Chega, a middle-aged, battle-scarred veteran from one of the other Coalition worlds.
Teyla doesn't like having Lannee here, but she knows it's nothing more than her own affection for the young woman. There are so few Athosians now; it's hard not to cling to the handful of her people that remain. If there were any safe worlds, Teyla would gladly send them there -- but there are no safe worlds, and Lannee is a good fighter, an excellent markswoman with the Coalition's bartered Genii and Traveler guns. More than that, she's driven, perhaps more so than anyone else among the survivors. If Teyla had not offered her a chance to come along tonight, she might have followed anyway; she's not about to pass up an opportunity to strike a blow at their enemies -- human and Wraith alike.
Seeing the young woman's face in the starlight, set into a mask of eagerness and hate, Teyla's heart breaks all over again with a very old, very deep pain.
"Ready?" Ronon whispers. His gun is in his hand; Teyla sees that the toggle is flipped to the lethal setting. She starts to tell him to switch it to stun, then stops herself. Trying to preserve the lives of people who are trying to kill you is how you lose a war. And there is no doubt that they're in a war now.
There was a time when she could not conceive of one human killing another. Wraith were the enemy, not human beings. Oh, she wishes she could be that naive again. She does not trust her voice, but merely nods.
Two quick, coughing barks break the silence as Sora's Genii marksmen fire from the edge of the woods, simultaneous shots at each of the guards. The nearer of the guards crumples in silence, but Teyla sees the other stagger, wounded, and his hand starts to go towards his ear, where the Lanteans wear their communication devices. She brings up her own weapon, a Genii rifle, but Ronon is faster; his gun flares in the shadows, and the Lantean's pale face dissolves in a spray of dark blood.
"Go!" Sora snaps, and both teams are moving, darting across the open space to the doorway.
The lack of security is incredible; they meet two more guards in the hallway, and Sora's people shoot them before Teyla can blink. It is obvious that the Lanteans didn't expect to be attacked. Teyla is impressed all over again by the level of intelligence that the Travelers have been able to gather since they figured out how to hack into the Lanteans' communication systems. Sooner or later, the Lanteans will figure out where their leak is and plug it, but in the meantime, the joint Coalition-Genii alliance has been able to run several successful operations. Slowly but surely, the Lanteans' forces are being crippled. A wound need not be deep to be telling; a series of small cuts can disable an opponent, and eventually bring him down.
If their intelligence is correct, this may be one of the most successful missions of all -- an opportunity to deal a truly damaging blow to their enemy.
Despite it all, Teyla still hopes to take the scientists without serious casualties on either side -- if they didn't hear the guns, if they can be taken by surprise, if, if if. But her hopes are quickly dashed as her team bursts into the brightly-lit control chamber only to discover that the scientists are also armed. Lannee goes down, screaming, shot in the leg; Teyla sees one of the Genii stagger as blood blossoms across his arm. But the scientists, for the most part, have small hand weapons rather than the big repeating rifles that the soldiers carry. The firefight is brief, bloody and brutal, and deafening in the enclosed space. Teyla's ears are ringing when the gunfire stops.
When her team entered the room, there were four scientists and two soldiers. Both of the soldiers and three of the scientists are now quite obviously dead. The fourth scientist is sprawled against one of the consoles, breathing, but gutshot and obviously bleeding out quickly. Teyla sucks in her breath when she sees that their intelligence was correct; it's Dr. McKay himself. And, in their haste, they've killed him, when he could have been a valuable hostage.
She can't even blame Sora for this. There wasn't really a choice; they had to kill the Lanteans or risk losing people themselves, and she can't lose any more. She won't.
The smell of blood hangs heavy in the air, making her ill. She tries to ignore the smell and sight of the dead bodies around her, and kneels next to Lannee; Chega is helping bind her wound. "How are you?"
"How do I look?" Lannee says between her teeth. She's very white, and trembling, but the blood is seeping rather than spurting -- that's a good sign. "I got the one who shot me, I think. It was that one over there, little scientist guy, with glasses." Her voice is bitterly triumphant as she nods at one of the bodies. "I got the bastard."
Teyla pats her shoulder, and then goes to see about their possible prisoner.
Dr. McKay has been disarmed, but no one bothered tying him up; there's no need, really. Genii rifles are messy and inefficient, and they make a big hole in a human body. There's blood everywhere, sprayed across the console and the floor and the wall. Even if they could get him to a doctor before he bleeds to death, Teyla has seen other men and women die of infection from that sort of wound. It's a nasty way to die, and she wonders if he knows it. His breathing is quick and harsh. Sprawled loose-limbed against the console, he looks up at her, his face grayish and tight with pain.
Teyla reaches down inside herself to see if there is any sympathy for him -- a fellow human being, cornered and dying, surrounded by enemies. Instead she finds the core of bitter anger that has kept her going through the last, impossibly difficult year. According to all their information, this is one of the two men who was instrumental in creating Michael; the other, Doctor Beckett, is already dead, so the burden now rests on McKay's shoulders alone. The deaths of Kanaan, of Jinto, of so many others that she once loved, can be placed in his bloody hands.
She crouches beside the dying man, her elbows resting on her knees. "Dr. McKay. Do you remember me?"
He speaks, slowly, through clenched teeth -- a flare of weak defiance. "No idea. Gonna finish what you started?"
"It's Teyla. Of Athos."
"I don't kn -- wait." He frowns; she can see him working to remember. He rallies a bit, seizing on this small puzzle to push back the pain. "The girl in the village? The one Sumner talked to?"
"I came to the Ancestral City a few times," Teyla says. Back in those early months, when they still thought the Lanteans could be traded with -- before Sumner began taking Athosian hostages to attempt to control the rest of her people. Before the Wraith were finally, perhaps inevitably wakened. Before Michael. Before everything.
But now he's frowning at her in a different way; his expression has gone from anger and defiance to something different. She can't quite read it. Odd, appraising, like he's seeing an old friend, or someone he knows from a better time.
Teyla does not want to see that expression on his face -- not from the man who has wrought so much sorrow and devastation over the last five years. She must not weaken, so she focuses on the very worst of many terrible memories: little Torren, born too soon, gasping out his life in her arms as she lay bleeding in a cell on Michael's ship. This is the man who is responsible for the death of my son.
McKay opens his mouth as if to speak, but then Sora bends over Teyla's shoulder, and he snaps his mouth shut. "When do your people expect you back?" Sora says.
McKay's eyes flicker from Teyla's face to Sora's. "Go to hell."
Without a pause, Sora brings up her boot and grinds it into his wound; McKay screams. Teyla eases back, out of the way, swallowing bile and the urge to intervene. This man killed your son. The elders would never have allowed this, but the elders are dead, because of his actions; he does not deserve mercy.
"Hourly check-ins," he gasps, slumping against the console.
"When did you last check in?"
He hesitates for only an instant, but the memory of pain is enough; he caves. "Half an hour. Something like that."
Teyla converts the foreign time measurements into the system that the Coalition uses. "About twelve liin, maybe ten. We don't have much time."
Sora nods. "Take him with us?"
Teyla looks down at the prisoner. "And carry him? No. He would slow us too much, and would not last long enough to make it worth it." And she does not quite have it in her to consign him to a lingering, terrible death, even though such a monster probably deserves it.
Sora looks like she wants to argue, then shakes her head. "I'll see what I can get out of him, then. You go see about the computers."
It is an intentional kindness, Teyla knows. Because of the speed with which it must be done, this will be a particularly ugly interrogation, and Sora is sparing her that. She clasps her friend's arm, and then goes to see how Ronon is doing with the computers.
During her time on Michael's ship, and subsequently with the Coalition, she has learned as much as she can about all forms of technology. But Ronon is still better -- he grew up with it, after all, even if Satedan computer systems were not like the ones the Ancestors used. He is also fluent in the Ancestral tongue, though he says he can read it much better than he speaks it; his education on Sateda was a very long time ago.
He glances down at her when she joins him at a console, and brushes a hand along her arm, a gentle gesture of support. There are few things in the last few years that Teyla can look back on with unmitigated pleasure or pride, but rescuing Ronon from his life on the run is something she will never regret.
"What have you found?" she asks him. Across the room, McKay screams again. Teyla forces herself not to look over, but she sees Ronon flinch, also. The ways of the Genii are not their ways, but in these desperate times, Genii ways work, and that is all they can afford to think of.
"I don't think it's more than a research base for studying the planet." Ronon waves a hand to indicate the world outside the facility. "There's lots of data on rainfall, temperature, seasons and stuff. One whole section I think is geology data, seismography and stuff. Boring as hell." He laughs a little. "Guess the Lanteans were probably as disappointed as we are. But I haven't looked at a fraction of this stuff; there could be a lot more interesting stuff buried under temperature graphs."
Teyla holds up a bulky Genii data storage device. "I believe in being prepared," she says, and smiles, though she has to fight to get it out. "We can take as much as possible, and sort through it in safety."
Ronon ruffles her hair -- she used to hate it when he did that, but these days, any kind touch is welcome. "Now I know why we keep you around."
"To give you orders, you mean?" she says, smiling back at him, and snaps the device into the data port with one of the little Ancestral-tech-to-Genii adapters that the Genii invented.
Sora joins them, her hands red and her uniform stained. "This place is useless," she says. "They came here hoping it would be a weapon, but it's just a biological research station."
"We know." Teyla nods to the device. "We're still taking what we can. Maybe there's something in it we can use, something the Lanteans hadn't found yet."
Sora nods. "I got some other information from our friend over there. Security codes, and a little bit on their current projects -- they're trying to get the Ancestral City capable of flight, apparently."
Teyla breathes deeply; the look on Ronon's face is probably also the look on her own. "That would be very bad." It's bad enough that the Lanteans have a spaceflight-capable ship at their disposal, but it spends most of its time in its home galaxy. The idea of the Lanteans being able to fly between planets at will, raining down death -- it doesn't bear contemplation.
"Maybe they'd fly away and never come back," Sora says, but the tone of her voice indicates that she doesn't believe it.
Ronon snorts. "Maybe a herd of purple graha will fly out of my butt."
"Losing McKay will slow them down, at least," Teyla says. "We will have time to plan. But only if we get this intel to the Coalition before Lantean reinforcements arrive. Sora, Ronon and I are just about done here; do you want to fall back to the Ring with the wounded?"
The look on Sora's face says she's trying to figure out if Teyla's playing an angle, and the lack of trust hurts, but not as much as it used to. Finally, she grips Teyla's shoulder, one soldier to another. "We'll plant charges before we go. All you have to do is push the button, and the place'll go sky-high."
Ronon moves to another console to see what else he can find in the scant time remaining to them. Teyla goes to Chega, and tasks her with getting Lannee back to the Ring.
"Give me a shot at that ... that human tumor," Lannee pants, jerking her chin at McKay. Crumpled against his console, he might be dead; Teyla is not sure. "I've got a few questions I want to ask him."
Teyla cups the young woman's face in her own dirty hands. "You have done very well tonight, Lannee, and right now your job is to get yourself home -- safely."
Once a reluctant Lannee is out the door with Chega, Teyla turns to McKay herself. Around her, the Genii are working briskly and efficiently. It hurts her to destroy the Ancestors' handiwork, but the Lanteans must not benefit from anything in this facility. As for the Lantean scientist -- she kneels beside him, wondering if she has the courage to put him out of his pain before the facility comes down on him. It would be kind, but she has never shot an unarmed and injured man before.
McKay cracks an eye open and wets his bloody lips with the tip of his tongue. "Still here, I see," he spits at her.
"You as well." She glances around, but Sora is gone now and the lone remaining Genii soldier is all the way across the room, setting explosive charges. "Doctor McKay, did you want to say something to me earlier, before Sora came?"
He stares at her for a moment, hostile and closed-off. Teyla reaches into her pocket and takes out a medical kit containing, among other things, a small ampule of the narcotic painkiller that they obtain through trade with the Travelers. It's expensive and increasingly valuable in this time of war, and she knows she is foolish to waste it on an enemy. And yet. She sees his eyes track it; he must guess what it is. "Doctor McKay, you are facing death; you must know it. This can stop your pain ... and there should be enough here to ease you, painlessly, on your way to the Ancestors. Right now, it is the kindest option I can offer you."
He bites off one word: "Why?"
"Because unlike your people, we are not cruel."
McKay snorts a small, miserable laugh. "Tell that to the blond chick who just kicked the shit out of me." A spasm of pain catches him, and the words break. Gasping, he looks up at her. "What do you want for it?"
The knowledge that she really is bartering, not offering succor freely, turns her stomach, but she forges forward. "I just want to know what you would have said, if Sora had not come. And why you looked at me the way you did." From somewhere inside her, a small unburned corner of her soul, she summons a smile. "I cannot bear to leave a puzzle unsolved."
"Hey, we have something in common," he mutters. "Me and the terrorists. Who would have guessed."
Teyla does not bother to waste time refuting the accusation; instead, she snaps the ampule home in a fat Genii hypodermic from the case in her pocket. She has already made her decision by the time the ampule is seated in place -- she isn't bargaining anymore, she's giving it to him regardless of what he gives her in return. Because I want what I told him to be true. We aren't cruel people. We do not have to become like them in order to defeat them.
She injects the painkiller into the large muscle of the thigh. She gives him half, then pauses, looking up at him. He gives her a small nod, and she gives him the rest of it: a lethal dose.
As she'd said, it is all she has to offer.
"You will begin to feel tired shortly, and the pain will go away," she says, wiping the needle and putting it away. And then, shortly after that, you will stop breathing. But she doesn't have to say that; she can see he already knows.
"Thanks," he says after a moment.
Teyla nods acknowledgment. Looking up, she sees the Genii soldier hand the controller for the explosives to Ronon and then slip out the door. Ronon glances in her direction, raises an eyebrow. A whole conversation passes between them in a moment, and then he goes back to the data console, retrieving what he can while she finishes up her business here.
Whatever her business may be.
"Want to hear a story?" McKay asks her quietly. His eyelids are starting to droop as the drug takes effect.
"I enjoy stories," Teyla says, and makes herself comfortable on the floor.
He blinks at her, and when he speaks, his voice is so low that she can barely hear it. "I once met a you from another universe." With a small snort, he adds, "Of course, that probably means nothing to you."
Teyla has met philosophers and scientists who theorize the existence of other universes; she also knows of Ancestral writings that speak of machines which can facilitate travel to such places. She has never seen such a machine, however, or met a person from another universe. "Tell me of her, this other me."
"She was very pretty," he says softly. "And ... kind. In her universe, Sumner's dead. When she met the Atlantean expedition, she was invited to join it, and she did."
He's lying, is Teyla's first thought. I would never ... But as much as the thought twists her stomach, she can see the truth in his face.
"There was another one of ... that guy, too." McKay rolls his eyes in Ronon's direction, which is all the movement he can manage at the moment. "And another guy ... you wouldn't know him. He's dead in this universe now, anyway." He pauses briefly, turning inward. "What there wasn't, though, was another me. God knows why. None of them had ever heard of me. Maybe in that universe, I never joined the Stargate program. Maybe I was a concert pianist." This seems to be some kind of private joke, because his bloody lips quirk a bit. "Maybe I died when I was a kid, who knows? It doesn't really matter. The point is, the head scientist on Atlantis was some woman I've never heard of -- I've already forgotten her name -- and this Sheppard guy and you two were its first-contact team."
"That is very interesting," Teyla says politely, after a moment. And it's true; but more than that, it's comforting, she realizes. It really is comforting to know that there are other Teylas out there, even if some of their life choices are somewhat questionable -- to know that even if she dies, there will be another Teyla who turned left instead of right, who zigged instead of zagged.
She is tempted to ask him if this other Teyla had a son, but does not. There is no answer he could give her that would not bring her pain.
McKay is speaking again, anyway. "It was one of those watershed moments for me, you know? Here I'd always thought I was indispensable to the Atlantis expedition -- that if they didn't have me, they'd be totally fucked. And yet here was another Atlantis that had never even met me, and they were doing just fine. Better than my Atlantis in some ways, even." He laughs a little, then winces, but it's more like a reaction to the memory of pain. His words are slowing down, too. "I think the other Sheppard probably thought the same thing, from his reaction when he found out there wasn't one of him here. Of course, there actually was one of him, but he'd gone a different direction and never met us. Zigged instead of zagged."
At the echo of her own thoughts, a cold chill travels across her shoulders.
He blinks up at her, his eyes tired. Fading. "You know what I think, Teyla?"
"What?" she asks, leaning in.
"I think you ought to have this. Don't think I deserve it, really. I'm not sure if the other guy who had it did either. Maybe that's why we're both dead now."
He's fumbling at his neck. Teyla is hesitant, suspecting a trick, a weapon. But it's only a silver chain with some kind of jewelry on it. It's sticky with McKay's blood, but not otherwise damaged. She helps him take it off and then holds it in her hand, the silver chain pooling in a cool lump in her palm.
"What is this?"
"It belonged to Sheppard." McKay nods at it, while she tries to remember who Sheppard was -- oh, right, the man from the other universe, the one that she never met, at least not in this lifetime. "I was one of the first people on the scene after he died. I took it off his body -- I'm still not sure why, let alone why I brought it back to Atlantis with me. A reminder, I guess, that things can take a different turn, that every choice we make has another possible outcome."
He's rambling again, so Teyla doesn't bother paying a whole lot of attention. She wipes off as much of the blood as she can on her blouse -- it's already filthy from the night's activities; it won't make much difference -- and puts the chain over her head. It's real silver, as near as she can tell, and quite nice. She likes the casual simplicity of the cross-shaped pendant.
"There's no one else I could give it to -- no one who'd understand, anyway." His eyes flutter and she can see he's at the end of his strength. But then he opens his eyes again. "I like to think," he says, very quietly, "that if we'd met in that other universe, we'd have been friends. You and me and him."
Teyla very much doubts that. She cannot imagine being friends with anyone from Atlantis. But denying comfort to a dying man is like withholding water from a man in the desert. And, surprising herself a little, she takes his hand. "I do not know," she says.
"Teyla." The sound of her name in Ronon's low rumble makes her jump, and she looks up when he places a hand on her shoulder. "The rest of our team is at the Ring, and we're running out of time. Atlantis might already know there's a problem. We gotta move."
"I know," she says. "Thank you." McKay's cold hand is lax in hers. Carefully she places it on his chest. She cannot tell if he still draws breath; if so, it is too shallow to be perceptible. She allows Ronon to draw her to her feet, realizing as he does so how stiff her legs are, how tired she is.
"That's new," Ronon says, looking at the silver cross between her breasts.
"It is a souvenir of a dead man," she says, and then realizing with disgust how much it sounds like taking a trophy, like the Genii sometimes do, she adds, "In another universe." She will tell him the whole story later. For now, she tucks it into her blouse so that it does not show. Explaining this to Sora would be awkward. Back on New Athos, she'll clean it and wear it more openly. In the great mixing bowl of the Ring-linked worlds, there are so many different kinds of jewelry and cultural symbols that it is unlikely anyone will wonder about it, or ask what it means to her.
A reminder that things can take a different turn, that every choice we make has another possible outcome.
She and Ronon leave the facility side by side, two more shadows in a night that is filled with them. Later, at the Ring, as they watch a rose of white flame bloom above the treetops, she takes his hand. She is not even sure why, but he doesn't try to make her stop.