Chapter 2: Alien Concepts
The planet was the standard forested world and the MALP they'd sent through had recorded temperatures in the mid-range, so not too hot or cold. Cam wondered if the Ancients had a preference for temperate zones with lots of trees, or whether it was just coincidence that most stargates tended to be positioned in forested areas more often than not. Mentally shrugging those thoughts away, he surveyed the area, keeping an eye out for trouble.
"Oh lovely," he heard McKay say as he stepped out of the wormhole. "Yet another forest."
"You'd have preferred a desert?" Sheppard asked, as he too scanned the area carefully.
"Not particularly." McKay fiddled with one of his gadgets.
"Picking up any life signs?" Sheppard asked.
"Nothing but us," McKay answered, frowning at the screen for a moment, before smiling smugly. "But I am picking up a faint energy reading, over... that way." He pointed ahead of them and to the left of the gate.
"What type of energy?" Sam asked, looking over McKay's shoulder.
Cam stifled a groan as her question launched a discussion about the signal, its range and strength and other geeky, sciency stuff.
"I'm assuming we follow the signal and hope it leads us to these Leslanum," he interrupted, earning himself an annoyed harrumph from McKay.
"Yes, yes, give the man a gold star for stating the obvious!"
"McKay, play nice," Sheppard said.
"Huh, right," McKay replied with a snort of derision.
"So, how far are we from the energy source?" Cam asked, ignoring McKay's grumpiness. For now anyway.
"How am I supposed to know?"
"Well, you have the Ancient gadget," he pointed out, gritting his teeth.
"Gadget? This is a highly sophisticated scientific instrument! Gadget! Really!" McKay huffed in outrage.
"It doesn't work like that," Sheppard interjected calmly. "Not knowing how powerful the source is, we can't determine distance."
"If the source is faint, then it could be close by, if stronger, then further away," Cam said with a nod. "Okay, I get it."
"We could be in for a long walk," Jackson said, having watched the exchanges with obvious amusement, "so, the sooner we start the better."
Cam nodded in agreement. "Let's go," he said, taking point.
Sheppard and McKay followed close behind, McKay every so often pointing out the direction they needed to go while Sheppard made sure the distracted scientist didn't walk into any trees.
Jackson was next, with Sam covering their six, though he suspected she would have preferred to be looking at the scanner that McKay was holding.
Eventually, they came out of the woods at the base of a tall, rocky outcrop and ahead of them was an opening to what looked like a cave. It was hard to tell for certain; the opening was only big enough for one person to pass through at a time and would have been easily missed if overgrown. Fortunately this planet didn't appear to have much in the way of rock-loving plant life and so the opening was clear.
"Oh great," McKay groused. "Guess where the energy signal is coming from."
"The cave?" Sheppard answered, not exactly sounding thrilled himself.
"Where else?" McKay said with a heavy sigh. "I hate caves. All sorts of nasty things could be living in them."
"Well, if that's where the signal leads, then that's where we're heading," Cam said, looking at the gap with some trepidation himself. Not that he let it show. "Any life signs?"
"No, nothing but us showing," McKay said, twiddling with the Ancient gadget. "Of course, knowing our luck, whatever's in there is either shielded or hibernating."
"Are you always this optimistic?" Jackson asked.
"Nah," Sheppard replied. "Sometimes he's worse."
"Oh, thanks for that, Colonel Optimist."
"Any time, Doctor Doom."
Cam shook his head at the bickering and moved close to the cave entrance, shining the light from his P90 into the gap.
"Looks more like a tunnel than a cave," he said with a sigh. If things went wrong, there wouldn't be much chance of defending themselves or getting out quickly.
"Even better," McKay grumped from behind him.
"Not a good place to get trapped," Sam said quietly, having moved next to him.
"Yeah," he agreed softly, before making a decision. "Okay, standing around out here isn't going to get us any answers."
"You okay," he heard Sheppard ask McKay and turned to look at them.
"Oh, you know, just a touch of claustrophobia," McKay replied, trying to sound nonchalant but looking a little freaked out.
"You could stay out here," Sheppard said. "One of us would stay with you..."
"No," McKay said in annoyance. "You might need me. And I'm not coming all this way to give up now. I'll manage."
"McKay," Cam said, gaining their attention, "I'm not letting you go in there if you're going to freak out on me."
"I won't freak out," McKay answered him vehemently. "I'm perfectly capable of handling this. I've had plenty of practice over the years, after all."
"Yeah," Sheppard agreed. "He can handle it."
Cam detected a hint of uncertainty in Sheppard's voice and he was tempted to order McKay to stay outside, but the look of stubborn determination on McKay's face suggested he'd have a fight on his hands. If Sheppard said McKay would be okay, he'd take the risk, despite any hesitancy he may have detected. He just hoped he wasn't making a mistake.
"Okay, let's go. Carter, take our six."
They filed into the narrow passage. Cam took the lead; McKay was next, followed by Sheppard, Jackson and then Sam.
The walls and ceiling of the tunnel were uneven and the space around them varied from a not-so-roomy foot down to, in some places, an almost-too-narrow couple of inches. Even though he wasn't particularly claustrophobic himself, he was very much aware of the tons of rock surrounding him and could almost feel the weight of it all pressing down on him. He wasn't sure how McKay could do this, and the laboured breathing and mutterings about wide open fields and blue skies behind him told him that McKay was struggling to keep calm. But he was managing to stay calm, and, begrudgingly, Cam admitted to himself that he was a little impressed by it.
Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. The litany went through his mind as he tried not to think about the walls closing in on him. Wide open fields and high blue skies. Wide open fields and high blue skies. Wide open fields and high blue skies...
He wasn't in a narrow tunnel; there wasn't rock above him, around him, smothering him with its weight. No, no, no, that wasn't the case; he was in a wide open field with high blue skies and everything was open and spacious and he was fine...
Oh, hell, who was he kidding?
But it was okay; he was okay, so long as they kept moving, so long as the tunnel didn't narrow too much, so long as he knew Sheppard was behind him, watching his back, and he could move and wasn't trapped and it was okay, damn it, he was fine. He. Was. Fine.
And then Mitchell, in front of him, came to a sudden stop and that wasn't okay, that wasn't fine; he needed to keep moving, needed to keep going because stopping was bad, very, very bad...
"Deep breaths, Rodney," Sheppard said quietly, breaking into his thoughts and making him aware of his panicky breathing, and oh crap, he was hyperventilating and couldn't breathe... "Wide open fields, remember?" Sheppard reminded him. "Slow deep breaths and high blue skies..."
"Yeah, yeah," he whispered, forcing himself to slow his breathing down. Deep breaths, slow and even.
"There's a door here, but I can't get it to open," Mitchell said. "There's a panel next to it that looks a bit like the door controls on Atlantis."
"Could be ATA gene-related," Sheppard suggested.
"Maybe," Rodney said breathlessly. "But I don't think Anubis would do that. I doubt he had the gene."
"So, how do we open it?" Mitchell asked.
"Can you get the cover off?" Sheppard suggested.
Rodney could hear the sounds of scraping, but due to the narrowness of the passage, not to mention the fact that it was dark and the flashlights on their guns weren't very good, he was unable to see what Mitchell was doing.
"Yeah, got the panel off," Mitchell said after a few moments. "Now what?"
"Are there three crystals?" Rodney asked, hoping he didn't sound as desperate to get out of the tunnel as he feared he did.
"Right, take out the middle crystal and move the top one down. Now use the middle crystal to bridge the other two."
"Okay, take out the middle crystal," Mitchell said, presumably fitting action to words, "Move the top one down. Use the one I took out to bridge the other two." The door opened, revealing darkness beyond. "Yeah, that did it."
Rodney gulped at the darkness, not sure if that was better than the tight tunnel he was in. The tight tunnel he was trying to forget about being in. Oh crap.
Mitchell shone the thin beam of light into the room, presumably checking for movement or anything to indicate danger, and then carefully stepped inside. Rodney followed him in, swinging the light from his own gun around and spotting a console just to the left of them, close by the door. He moved towards it, only to be stopped by Sheppard.
"Let's check the room out before you start playing with the nice shiny buttons," Sheppard admonished him. Rodney scowled into the darkness.
"Just looking," he snapped. "And waiting, while you do your GI Joe thing." He waved his hands around airily, causing the light to spin around the room like a disco.
"It's not a thing."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Whatever." The conversation was already forgotten as he examined the console, and the lights came on.
"I thought I told you not to touch it, McKay," Sheppard growled.
"I didn't touch it. My hand just knocked the switch labelled 'lights'," Rodney said innocently, or at least, he hoped he sounded innocent. The scowl Sheppard aimed at him suggested otherwise, though. And crap, he was going to miss this, he thought suddenly and unexpectedly. Checking out new technology, pissing off Sheppard, being calmed by Teyla and protected by Ronon. He pushed the thoughts away. This was the last offworld mission he was going on, and he didn't even want to be on this one. There was no place for regrets; his decision was made.
Fortunately, he was saved from his thoughts by Sam, who came over and started studying the console. Not wanting to be left behind, he turned to join her.
Daniel shook his head at Rodney and Sheppard's conversation as he walked over to the far wall of the room, having noticed a recessed area that he thought might be a door. It was.
"Hey, guys, there's a door here," he said. "Looks like there's Ancient writing on it."
"So, what does it say?" Mitchell asked, walking over to him with Sheppard close behind.
"Stasis," he replied succinctly. As he spoke, the door opened.
"McKay," Sheppard exclaimed angrily, turning to glare at him.
"It wasn't me," Rodney cried indignantly. "It was Sam!"
"Carter?" Mitchell turned to her, raising his eyebrows in query.
"Sorry," Sam said a little sheepishly.
Mitchell looked at Sheppard. "Do you think we should hogtie them?"
"They'd only bite through the ropes," Sheppard said dryly, with a 'what can you do' look on his face, ignoring the glare Rodney was sending his way.
"The lights are on this time," Daniel pointed out, interrupting before the rant he saw in Rodney's eyes erupted.
"Yeah. Let's check it out," Mitchell agreed, "Try not to blow us up," he added to Sam and Rodney. Rodney just huffed in annoyance and turned back to the console.
The stasis room was rectangular, with chambers situated around its walls, all of them occupied.
"Leslanum?" Sheppard wondered out loud.
"Must be," Daniel agreed, walking towards the nearest chamber.
Inside he saw a humanoid form, taller than most humans and far more slender. The alien's skin was dark and leathery, its face oddly human-like, but more angled, with a shock of pale orange hair on its head. Its hands had six long and slender digits and it was wearing a brightly coloured tunic that came down to its ankles, with a fabric belt and sash. Walking around other chambers, he saw more aliens in similar clothing to the first one, with skin tones ranging from the palest white to the deepest ebony, and with many different hair colours - orange, blond, black, brown, red.
Sam and Rodney suddenly came rushing into the room, but the words on their lips dried up at the sight of the occupants of the stasis chambers.
"Wow," Sam breathed.
Sheppard looked askance at Rodney, who seemed to collect himself.
"We've found a way of bringing them out of stasis," he told them.
"Tell me you haven't started the process," Sheppard said coolly.
Rodney gave him a 'do you think I'm really that stupid look' and Sheppard held up his hand apologetically. Daniel shook his head, thinking that being on Sheppard's team must be as interesting as it was exasperating, not that SG-1 didn't have their moments. He hoped that Rodney would change his mind; he could tell how well Sheppard and he worked together and it would be a shame to break that up.
"We should bring them out of stasis..." Rodney started.
"Wait," Mitchell interrupted. "Shouldn't we get more information first?"
"Well, if there was a database as part of the console, then we would," Rodney said.
"It only controls these rooms," Sam explained. "Which is frustrating."
"Highly frustrating," Rodney muttered in annoyance.
"I don't like the idea of releasing aliens we know little to nothing about," Mitchell insisted.
"He's got a point, Rodney," Sheppard agreed.
"But we came here to help these Leslanum. We've already agreed that the risk of this being a trap is outweighed by the danger of this being true," Rodney pointed out.
"Maybe we could bring just one of them out?" Daniel suggested, fully understanding both sides of the discussion.
Rodney snapped his fingers. "Yes, yes, we could do that."
"It won't be easy," Sam cautioned.
"Yes, but if we isolate the power to one of the chambers and then disconnect it from the stasis program and switch it to the revival one..."
"What you mean is that you can do it," Sheppard interjected.
"Yes," both Sam and Rodney said in unison, causing Daniel to laugh, though he tried to cover it with a cough. Unsuccessfully, judging by the looks he received from them.
"I still think it is a bad idea," Mitchell said.
"We can reverse the process if we need to. Besides, we're not exactly unarmed if there's a problem," Sam pointed out.
"Okay," Mitchell agreed reluctantly. "Let's do it, then."
"You mean, let us do it while you just stand around being macho," Rodney grumbled, walking back out to the console with Sam.
John stood with Mitchell, watching as Carter and Rodney got to work. Jackson was prowling the room, presumably doing his archaeology thing.
He wasn't happy about opening up a stasis chamber, but as Rodney had pointed out, they didn't have much choice. This whole mission was based on limited information and a weird image that only Rodney and Jackson could see, which meant that things could go south, and fast. And the last thing he needed, that Rodney needed, was for this to go disastrously wrong and for someone to get hurt. Especially if that someone was Rodney. He wasn't sure if Rodney could take any more hurt right now.
Damn it, why did this have to be happening, and why now? Rodney was supposed to be relaxing and regaining his strength, not gallivanting offworld on a potentially dangerous mission. This wasn't going to help make Rodney change his mind about the team. A part of him wondered if that might not be a bad thing. Maybe he shouldn't fight this? Maybe Rodney would be better off left behind on Atlantis? He didn't know. The thought of losing him again was something he didn't want to contemplate, but the thought of not having Rodney with them on missions felt strange and just wrong.
One thing was for sure - he'd do everything in his power to ensure Rodney returned from this in one piece. That they all did.
"Okay. We're ready," Carter said after a few minutes.
"How long will it take for the alien to defrost?" Mitchell asked.
"Well, it's not defrosting as such; the stasis field is different than cryogenics..." Rodney started to explain.
"Rod-ney." John raised an eyebrow at him.
"Oh, right. Probably not long. A minute or two. Maybe."
"Okay, do it," Mitchell ordered, and John became even more alert, as he waited for the other shoe to drop.
Rodney pushed several buttons. There was a buzz of power and several lights lit up at once, including a flashing red one.
"What's that?" John asked, worried. Flashing lights were rarely a good thing.
"What? Oh. One of the chambers has failed, fortunately not the one we're isolating."
Rodney headed into the stasis room, and John followed closely behind him, along with the others. One of the chambers had a matching flashing red light, but was so darkened that John could only just make out a vague shape in the bottom of it. He grimaced, deciding not to look more closely. The one to its left had a blue light which changed to green as he watched.
"Won't the death of his fellow Leslanum piss off the alien we're reviving?" John asked.
"It wasn't our fault," Carter assured him. "The chamber had already failed; we just alerted the computer to the fact. This thing looks pretty old. I'm assuming Anubis either used an existing facility or brought this here from somewhere else."
"Okay. I hope he or she realises that we're not to blame."
At that moment, the stasis chamber opened and the alien within it surveyed the room with its grey-green eyes. John brought his gun up, as did Mitchell and Carter next to him. The alien moved forward, but made no threatening moves, merely looking around the group. When its eyes fell on Rodney, who had somehow managed to end up only a few feet from the chamber without John noticing, it stepped towards him.
"Uh, no," John said, moving to cover Rodney, but the alien was fast, very fast, and had reached his stunned-looking team-mate before he or anyone else could stop it.
Rodney watched, mesmerised, as the alien approached him. There was something familiar about these Leslanum, he thought distractedly. Something very familiar. A part of him knew he should be freaking out, or at least trying to get away, but he couldn't move.
The alien touched his shoulder and he suddenly found himself on the bridge of an alien spaceship, with just the alien who had touched him present. Wide-eyed, he looked around. The walls were a deep blue colour, the ceilings and floors a lighter blue, and each console had a different colour: blue, red, green, yellow, purple. The ship was as vibrant as the clothes the Leslanum wore, though the design was simple - squares and rectangles, clean lines with no adornments or patterns, functional but yet somehow elegant.
"This was our ship," the alien said.
"Yes. We are not really here, but in a construct of my mind."
"Okay, why?" he asked, worried.
"So that we can speak without the need for words. Language is not a barrier here. You have many questions."
"I always have many questions," he responded. "Who are you? Why are you here? Why are you a threat to the ascended Ancients? What happens now? And that's just a start!"
"I am Reis Utin Kleid of Zutal, the leader of this exploration team. We have travelled for many years, far from our homeworld, to learn about life in other galaxies. There is only so much that can be learned from those who pass through our realm into that of the Ascendeds. Or such as you, who passed into our realm but had no wish to ascend. We sensed this and provided an answer, allowing you to return to your corporeal life."
"So you gave me the idea about using the DNA to reset the ascension machine? I thought that was my idea."
"The idea was there, buried deep in your mind. We merely brought it to the surface."
"Ah, so it was my idea," he said with a smug smile. "But why are you a threat?"
"It is hard to explain to one who is fully corporeal, but if one Leslanum was to ascend to the higher plane, he or she would have great power. More so than the Ascendeds in this galaxy, though not more than the Ori, who become strong through worship. The ascended Leslanum's strength would come from those left behind, whose very thoughts and remembrances would empower them. An ascended Leslanum would be strong enough to destroy those who are ascended but are not worshipped, and could be used by the Ori. All it would take is one Leslanum lured to their side - and who can say that none of us could be lured by their promises? - and all could be lost. That is why no Leslanum is allowed to ascend. But an Ori could make the forbidden possible."
"So none of you ever ascend?"
"No. We live for hundreds of your years, but when the end comes, we die. A memory of our mind remains in the Leslanum realm, but it is little more than an echo, destined to fade in time."
"Anubis wanted to use you."
"He was misinformed; he could not have used us. When he realised his error, he placed us into the stasis chambers so that our corporal forms could not leave here. I believe he still had hopes of using us one day. He was arrogant, but ultimately, wrong."
"But if you were in stasis, how could you contact me?" Rodney asked, brow furrowed in concentration as he absorbed the Leslanum's information.
"Our bodies slept, but a part of our minds remained awake and therefore part of the Leslanum realm. Others from our homeworld have set out to rescue us, but we are years from home and they are still far away. Then came the one who was Ori and yet corporeal. She became aware of us as we did her. We know she is searching for us. When you came into our realm but did not wish to ascend, we helped you to return. In time, we were able to form an avatar to communicate with you. It was not easy, but we believed it was worth the effort. You will release us from this prison."
"You seem sure of that."
"Right." Rodney didn't like the alien's certainty, unsure if there was a hidden threat in there. What if the alien could possess him?
"We cannot possess another being's body."
Oh crap, it could read his mind. Not good, so not good.
"Okay, so what happens after we release you, assuming we do so?" he said quickly, trying not to dwell on the not-goodness of having his mind read. "You say you've lost your ship and the Leslanum ship that is coming for you is years from arriving here, so where can you go?"
"This ship was lost, but the shuttlecraft aboard it was not. Release those who have survived the stasis and we will transport to our shuttlecraft and leave."
"I don't know..."
"You could leave us here, but can you take the risk that the Ori succeed in finding us?"
Rodney sighed. "No, we can't. That's why we came in the first place."
"And that is why I know you will release us."
"Okay. Point taken."
"I have answered some of your questions. The rest must remain unanswered."
"We thank you, Meredith Rodney McKay of Atlantis, for rescuing us."
John aimed his gun at the alien, about to shoot, when Jackson stopped him.
"We don't know what it's doing to him."
"Exactly! We need to..." But before he could finish his sentence the alien moved away from Rodney, disappearing in a flash of light similar to an Asgard transporter beam. He rushed over to Rodney, grabbing his arm. "What did it do to you?" he asked insistently.
Rodney blinked at him a moment, before replying. "It spoke to me."
John listened as Rodney attempted to explain what had transpired. He looked disbelieving at first. How could the Leslanum say so much within such a short amount of time? But then, these were aliens they were dealing with. Aliens with some of the powers of the ascended Ancients.
"We need to release them, John."
The fact the Rodney had used his first name showed how important this was to him. Looking at Rodney intently, he sighed. "Okay."
Rodney breathed a sigh of relief.
"Whoa," interjected Mitchell, "Are you sure that's a really good idea?" He looked at Carter and Jackson, obviously wanting their perspective on things.
"I agree with Rodney," Jackson said. "We should free them, undo what Anubis did by keeping them prisoner here."
"If we help them now they may be able to help us in the future," Carter pointed out. "And it's what we came here to do."
Mitchell nodded reluctantly. "Okay, I get it. But can we be sure everything they told McKay was true?"
"We don't have much choice," John said. "If it's true, then leaving them here would be wrong and potentially dangerous." If it was a lie, he thought to himself, then they could be letting themselves in for a whole load of trouble. But he knew Mitchell would have already realised that and so didn't feel the need to say it out loud.
"Yeah, you're right," Mitchell agreed with a sigh. "But we bring them out a few at a time and keep them covered, just in case."
"If you insist," Rodney grouched, turning back into the console room. "You coming?" he asked Carter.
It took less than an hour to release the aliens, four at a time. Each group beamed directly to their shuttle as soon as they were released, without any problems.
Much to everyone's relief.