Spoilers: For the first couple of eps.
Summary: “…the Atlantis expedition never found a way to contact Earth. A year after the expedition’s departure, the Daedalus reached the Pegasus galaxy to find Atlantis deserted, although the team’s equipment, food and personal belongings remained. No evidence of foul play was discovered, and no trace of the expedition members was ever found. Due to the violent nature of the indigenous species known as ‘the Wraith,’ the Pegasus galaxy was deemed too dangerous, and Earth’s governments refused further requests for exploration. Like the ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Atlantis expedition has captivated the imagination of generations, and there has been much speculation about the fate of the expedition…”
Essie Malcolm – thirty-one years old and a member in good standing of the Atlantis Society – headed towards the lecture hall, pausing as she heard the quick beat of footsteps hurrying to catch her up.
“Hey, Ess,” said Steve Munroe, kissing her on the cheek. “How are you?”
“Steve!” replied Essie, surprised. “I didn’t think you were coming! I’m fine thanks, you?”
They both headed to the big oak doors of the university building. “Are you kidding?” said Steve, “Dr Arnold and his team come back from spending a year in the Pegasus galaxy, and I don’t go to the presentation of the main paper?”
Essie laughed. “Guess once Atlantis has got you, it never lets go. What are you up to these days?”
“Uh, Jaffa, mostly. Early history. The sources are pretty good. I mean, they’re offworld, so…”
“Lucky,” said Essie. “Actual sources. That’s like a beautiful dream.”
Steve glanced at her as they elbowed their way through the crowd. “You still on John Sheppard?”
Essie nodded. “Yeah, but it’s like getting blood from a stone. Jackson mentions him once in passing as having the ATA gene and having lit up the command chair in Antarctica, and there’s a suggestion a couple of days later that O’Neill suggested he join the expedition, but it’s not a named reference so I can’t be completely sure. There’s only a censored military record in the archives, not the full jacket, so I can’t get much from there.”
“Family?” queried Steve, but Essie shook her head.
“Nope. Had a brother, died with no issue. From what I can tell, the family was a pretty big deal – lots of money, you know? Patrick Sheppard – John’s father – owned a major company, which went to the brother after Patrick died. David sold it about ten years later; died not long after. Of course,” she added wryly, “anyone who wants to know anything about John Sheppard only has to watch Marcus Jones’ latest masterpiece.”
Steve grinned. “Death Demon of Atlantis? I hear it’s doing very well with the 16-24s. Fracking pile of shit, of course.”
“Yeah,” agreed Essie, “I think we’d have noticed the dozens of blood-spattered corpses dangling from the rafters.”
“Still,” said Steve, “he did kill those two soldiers, and the personal computer we found in Myers’ quarters implicated him in Colonel Sumner’s death. It’s possible he killed some of the others.”
“But not all,” pointed out Essie. “Did you read Claire Richmond’s paper?”
“On the habitation patterns in Atlantis? Yeah. Didn’t she conclude that it was unlikely Sheppard picked ‘em all off?”
Essie nodded. “Right. If he’d been preying on them, she reckons there’d be signs that they’d moved inwards, towards the core.”
“Circling the wagons,” said Steve.
“Exactly. Even if it had been a day or so, there should still have been signs of migration as the expedition members reacted to the threat.”
“So, John Sheppard probably wasn’t a psycho serial killer,” concluded Steve, but Essie shook her head.
“Oh, we can’t go that far. Nothing to say he didn’t kill the two soldiers on the way off Atlantis, and then – wherever they went – continued to attack the rest.”
“Another mystery of Atlantis,” said Steve.
“I’m hoping Dr Arnold will have found some evidence as to where they went,” said Essie, as they slid into hard wooden seats halfway down the auditorium. “It’s a miracle some of the DNA samples from the expedition survived – just a case of whether they found any matches in Pegasus.”
“2110 was a fracking curse for historians,” said Steve, pulling out his mobcomm and checking that it set itself to autorecorder.
“I’ll drink to that,” said Essie. She glanced around the hall, nodded towards the stage. “Gerry’s here,” she added.
“Of course,” said Steve. “I think he was liaising their project with the Society. They were nuts over it. Are they…?” He gestured politely.
“Funding me?” asked Essie, raising her eyebrows. “Yeah, some. I get some money out of the Stargate Society as well, and NYU gives me a grant. And a teaching position, but I like the grant better.” She sighed. “It’s gonna get pulled, though, if I don’t find anything worthwhile soon.”
“That’s too…” began Steve, then stopped as Gerry stepped up to the podium to introduce Caleb Arnold, late of the Pegasus galaxy.
After the applause, Dr Arnold, a short, stocky man with red hair fading to sandy at the temples, stepped forward.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said portentously. “I need not tell you of the mystery of the Atlantis expedition. We all know the story, how a group of soldiers and scientists from the Stargate Programme stepped through the Earth stargate, hoping they had found the legendary Atlantis, only to disappear from human history. Three years ago, Atlantis was rediscovered, adding greatly to our store of knowledge about the men and women who made that journey. And yet still,” he continued, leaning forward, emphasising his point, “still, their fate remains a mystery. Were they abducted by the Wraith, the violent aliens who roamed the Pegasus galaxy? The evidence suggests not. Were they, like the two poor soldiers discovered three years ago, killed by one of their own expedition, Major John Sheppard, a late and mysterious addition to the team, who, some evidence suggests, also killed the military commander, Colonel Sumner? Or did they step further into the Pegasus galaxy, to explore? To survive? We do not know.
“And that is why we decided to do what the Atlantis expedition may have done. We stepped further into the Pegasus galaxy, and using DNA samples taken from some of the original expedition team, we attempted to identify any surviving descendants of Atlantis in the indigenous communities of Pegasus.”
“How did they fix Atlantis?” whispered Steve. “It was about to collapse into the ocean while we were there.”
“Still is, I think,” replied Essie softly. “They travelled through the stargate, then decamped to a landmass. You know we found that transporter? They used that to fly to a spacegate about ten hours away from the planet; explored Pegasus from there.” She looked wistful. “That must have been fantastic.”
“Didn’t you apply for a place?”
“Yeah, but it was basically anthros and geneticists. No space for a straight historian.”
“Shhhhh!” came a piercing whisper from somewhere behind them, and they fell silent, listening as Dr Arnold outlined the projects findings.
Essie Malcolm – thirty-six years old and currently technically homeless – knocked impatiently on the door. “Mer, I know you’re in there. Open the damn door!”
“Go away, Ess!” called a voice from inside. “I’m not going through this again with you!”
“Stow that!” she called back. “It’s not about us. I found it. My missing piece.”
There was silence, which stretched to a minute, then two, then the door slid open, and Meredith Gaskell stood there, arms crossed, expression guarded.
“Can I come in?”
“If you have to.” Apparently Essie did have to, and she stepped past him, holding out a data sheet as she went by. “What is it?”
She grinned; very much the cat who got the cream. “Transcript.”
Meredith glanced down. “Of what?” She didn’t reply, just watched as he started reading, absently backing up till he reached the couch.
“It’s John Sheppard’s court martial,” she said, perching on the arm of a chair. “I found a paper copy in the old archives at Arlington. Took me months, all told.”
“…is why he got posted to Antarctica in the first place, yes. The ‘black mark’ on his record? This is it.” She jumped up to demand tea from the utility, and sat drinking it as Meredith read. Eventually he looked up.
“Not much of a black mark,” he commented.
“Well,” she started, and he nodded.
“Yeah, for the military, fine,” he allowed. “But not really convincing for a serial killer.”
“Zackly.” She stabbed a finger at the data sheet. “He went back to save a fallen comrade. They may have sent him to Antarctica but at least a couple of the people on that panel sympathised with his actions. You know,” she continued, “the thing that made me wonder, right from the start? O’Neill asked him to go. O’Neill. I mean, come on, do you seriously expect me to believe that Jack O’Neill couldn’t tell a decent officer from a serial killer? But this…” she rifled through a pocket, produced her mobcomm. “Check this out. It’s in the Jackson diaries. I didn’t pick up on it before. About three months after the Atlantis expedition left, Jackson wrote: ‘I wonder how Weir and the rest are doing on Atlantis. I still wish I could have gone, though I guess it was right to stay. Anyway, Jack says one unnaturally intelligent geek (his words) and one hotshot pilot are enough for any galaxy.’”
“Geek and pilot being Jackson and O’Neill in the Milky Way,” said Meredith.
“And your namesake (probably) and Sheppard in Pegasus,” completed Essie triumphantly.
“Could mean Sumner.”
Essie laughed. “Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with? Mer, Sumner was a Marine, you know that. No, the person O’Neill was most likely referring to was John Sheppard – trust me, I went over the expedition list with a fine tooth comb. Best interpretation, he approved of Sheppard. Maybe saw something of himself in him.”
Meredith nodded. “That’s valid, I guess.”
“Honestly? We know Sheppard killed those two soldiers. The forensics were conclusive, barring some freakish act of the universe. But I don’t see him as a serial killer. I don’t think he’s the reason the expedition disappeared. I don’t think he was the fracking death demon of Atlantis.”
Meredith looked at her intently. “What do you think happened to them? Seriously?”
She shrugged, crossed her arms. “Sometimes,” she said after a moment, “sometimes, when it’s late and I can’t sleep, I think: you know what? They died. One way or another, they died. Elizabeth Weir, who was determined to keep the mission a scientific one. Meredith McKay, who wanted to unlock the mysteries of the universe and win a Nobel. Carson Beckett, who was freaked out by having the gene. John Sheppard, who got talked into an alien mission, and took War and Peace with him – which, by the way, totally made me think he wasn’t a serial killer, because who takes a book that’s gonna take about a year to read as their one possession if they’re planning to murder everyone as soon as they get there? But anyway, they’re all dead now. The soldiers, the scientists, the doctors. Either the Wraith killed them, or Pegasus natives, or illness, or injury, or old age. That’s what happened. They died.”
They sat in silence.
“Wow,” said Meredith. “Morbid.”
“Yeah. I need to work on that.” She stretched out and rubbed her eyes. “I’m so tired. I’ve been looking at bits of paper all week, and my lease ran out and I’ve been living on Steve’s couch, and term starts next week, and I’ve got freshmen to teach, which sucks. I think they left Atlantis and went somewhere else in the Pegasus galaxy.”
“Har. The expedition.”
“Arnold’s research only found one trace of DNA, and given the numbers involved, the confidence interval was too great for it to be meaningful.”
Essie was shaking her head. “In an entire galaxy of people, what’s a hundred people and their descendants? You’ve seen the population studies. The feeding patterns of the Wraith disrupted everything. Entire planets were depopulated. Communities moved from planet to planet. Some stayed shielded by old Ancient technology. Some are probably still hidden. It’s impossible to draw any real conclusions when you take all that into account. And there are the stories.”
Meredith shook his head. “There are always stories. Arnold said the Genii defeated the Wraith centuries ago. Hero myths are common by-product of that.”
“But they talked about descendants of the Ancients! It’s logical to assume…”
“Incorrect,” said Meredith, holding up a finger. “They talked about descendants of the Ancestors, which, true, is what we call the Ancients, but the ‘Ancestors’ also hold a place of religious significance in Pegasus. What could be more natural than heroic myths being comingled with religious history? Doesn’t mean they’re talking specifically about people who came from Atlantis.”
Essie set her mouth. “I want to know,” she said harshly. “Mer, I want- I have to know what happened to them.”
Meredith stared for a moment. “OK,” he said eventually. “You know, don’t you, that you’re straying into crazy territory here?”
“Mer! I’m not j…” She broke off, relaxed slightly. “Yeah. You’re right. Christ. I need to get a life.”
“Start with a good night’s sleep.” He tossed a cushion at her, big and puffy. “You know where the guest room is, right? Stay for a couple of days. We’ll watch shit moves about sunsets and pixies, and next week you can get back to New York and your students and your latest, ground-breaking, paper on Atlantis.”
“I thought you were freaked out that I was only dating you cuz you were descended from Jeannie Miller?”
Meredith shrugged. “Hey, it’s just sunset movies.”
She smiled. “Fine. Sunset movies it is.”
Essie Malcolm – thirty-nine years old and a newly tenured professor at Princeton – glanced up from the essay she was marking as someone tapped on her office door.
“Yeah?” she called out, giving up happy fantasies of pretending office hours didn’t exist.
“It’s me,” said Meredith unnecessarily. “I was just on campus for that compsci thing. Look, I had a thought.”
“Is your thought better than Jennifer Holloway’s thoughts on the Stargate Programme as a reflection of twentieth century American foreign policy?”
Meredith considered the matter. “I honestly don’t know. How are Jennifer’s thoughts?”
Essie cracked a smile, jiggled her eyebrows suggestively. “Derivative. Are your thoughts naughty thoughts?”
“Well, they are now.”
“Cool. Can we make out? One of my students might walk in. I think it would definitely help my reputation.”
Meredith held up a hand. “Wait. No. My thought.”
“Fine. Tell me.”
“So, John Sheppard wasn’t a serial killer, we’re all down with that.”
“But he killed those two guys.”
“But he’s not a killer. Per se.”
Essie looked mildly confused. “Right?”
Meredith leaned on the desk, eyes alight with enthusiasm. “So why’d he kill them? He’s an Air Force officer. They’re Marines. It’s not like they were there long enough for a mutiny or anything. If he was killing subordinates, he’d have to have a reason.”
“But they were squeaky clean. Tomlins and Masterson: their records were perfect.”
“And yet, for some reason he killed them. You can’t have it both ways, Ess. You can’t have Sheppard be a good officer and the Marines be beyond reproach, because it doesn’t make sense.”
Essie looked determined, and flicked Jennifer Holloway’s essay off the monitor. “You know what? You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I can’t believe I missed this before.” She jumped up and began pulling archive discs off her shelf. “I’ll need to check their records again, see what else I can pick up in the official sources…” She trailed off, already intent in her research, and Meredith grinned.
“I’ll be heading home,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Essie.
“I’m guessing you won’t want dinner.”
“There’s one of your students here. I’ll just… office hours are over, kid.”
“Um. Okay. Sure. Bye, then.”
“Yeah, bye. Ess – don’t make your brain melt, okay?”
Essie didn’t answer. She was already mentally going through Daniel Jackson’s account of the Atlantis personnel he had known.
to be continued…