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 – forty-three years old and extremely sleep-deprived – propped herself on the window sill of Gerald Sommers’ living room.
“Hey,” she said quietly.
Steve looked up. “Essie! Hey! It’s good to see you.”
“You too.” She gestured into the room with her glass. “Maybe not under these circumstances.”
“Yeah.” He gave a short laugh. “Cancer, huh? It’s weird, you’d think with all the advances over the years, we’d have cracked that by now.”
Essie looked at him curiously. “You sound… I never thought you liked him that much. Gerry.”
“I guess… I guess he was one of those guys, you know? Besides, he may have been a dick, but he was brilliant. He- he got it.”
Essie nodded. “Yeah. I know what you mean.” She sighed. “But the timing sucks. Kinda unfair.”
“He was psyched about going.” He glanced across. “And that’s all down to you.” He tipped her a salute. “Your research into the dead soldiers, discovering the NID connection. I mean, that’s what gave the compubods the clue to Atlantis’ system failure. S’why the Atlantis project became viable again. Wonder who they’ll get to go now to head the historical research side of things.”
“You?” asked Essie speculatively, but Steve just laughed.
“You’re kidding, right? I haven’t done any solid research into Atlantis in over a decade! No, I’m elbows deep in a joint project with the Nox at the moment. What about you?”
“Me!” She chuckled. “Yeah, I’m a little tied up right now.” Steve looked at her, confused, then his expression cleared.
“Of course! You and Meredith procreated! Congratulations – girl, isn’t it? What’s she called?”
Essie looked shifty. “She’s going by Nell.”
“Going by? What did you…” He broke off, then laughed, almost in disbelief. “Oh! Oh, tell me you didn’t!”
“I’m not saying anything.” Steve was laughing harder now, and they were attracting more than one censorious glance. “Shut up! Jesus! We’d just heard the news, OK, and I was excited and high on the drugs and the registrar came round and… it just happened.”
“You called your kid Atlantis.”
“Yes!” Essie was defiant, an attitude that quickly crumbled. “OK, yes, I’m not proud.”
“You know you’re actually disturbed, right?”
“I mean, really, on a scale of one to ten…”
“I will hurt you, Steve. Seriously. I’ve had, like, no sleep in a month.”
Essie Malcolm – forty-seven years old and a world-renowned authority on the Atlantis expedition – was scrabbling under her desk when someone knocked at the door.
Her head popped up, and she blew a lock of silvering blonde hair out of her eye. “Peter! Hi!”
He bobbed his head in greeting. “Hey, Prof. I just came to give you the latest draft of my thesis. Also,” he gingerly withdrew a data sheet from his back pocket, “I wondered if you’d seen this.”
Essie held up a hand. “Don’t tell me. Dury’s article in this month’s JSR?”
“Yeah, I’ve read it. That,” she said definitively, “is a man who watched Death Demon of Atlantis a few times too many as a kid.”
“He calls you a, uh, romantic revisionist hack,” Peter said with a twinkle in his eye, and Essie laughed.
“Yeah, well, Jasper Dury can kiss my as-yet unwrinkled ass. I’m trying to work out if it’s worth my bother to write politely to the journal and point out that his entire argument is based on the Myers PDA, which is a single, completely unsupported, piece of evidence about Sheppard killing Sumner.”
“I wish we had the records of what happened those few days they were on Atlantis,” said Peter wistfully. “The city kept the first 24 hours, but then…” He waved a hand.
“Nothing,” agreed Essie. “Last I heard, the compubods still don’t know whether to blame the NID agents, the Atlantis expedition themselves, computer degradation – though they say that’s unlikely – or some other factor we don’t know about. What we do know, now, is that McKay had a laptop that’s not accounted for on Atlantis.”
“Professor…” started Peter, then paused.
“We find information, piece by piece, but… do you think we’ll ever get the full picture?”
Essie didn’t answer for a moment.
“You know what I have nightmares about, Peter?”
“Uh – no?”
“You ever watch the tide come in? I do sometimes, if we’ve taken Nell to the beach. You know, we build sandcastle, we write in the sand, we dig holes, we… we do all at that stuff people do. And the tide comes in, and washes it away. It’s a tabula rasa. You go to the beach a couple of days later, when the tide’s been and gone and been and gone, and you can’t tell what we did. We did it, it happened, in that time it was there, but then time moves on and wipes away what was past. There’s nothing there, there’s just… instinct.”
“I saw this play once. Two characters are talking about the past, and one of them says there is, ‘a certainty for which there is no back reference. Because time is reversed. Tock-tick goes the universe and then recovers itself, but it was enough, you were in there and you bloody know’. I’ve always felt like that in a way. When I walked through the halls of Atlantis, when I read about the people there, when we talk about them… that you could walk around a corner and meet them. I think that’s why Sheppard’s always fascinated me: because there isn’t that feeling of familiarity.
“Since 2110, our official archives are a mess, but the SGC survived that. Its records are in pretty good shape, and apart from that, its history is written into hundreds of worlds across our galaxy. Almost all the Atlantis expedition came out of the SGC. Some of them had been working there since the beginning. McKay published widely before he joined the SGC, and after that his research survived almost completely. His memos, his files, his research notes: they’re all there. You can get a real sense for who he was. Elizabeth Weir is the same; and the same goes for many of the others. But Sheppard – he wasn’t one of them. We don’t really know anything about him, about what sort of man he was. There’s so little information. According to Jackson’s diaries, he didn’t even know about the Stargate Programme until he flew O’Neill out to the base at Antarctica. We know he had the ATA gene, and that’s probably why he was asked to go. We know he was a pilot who was court martialled after going back to rescue a comrade against orders. We know he had a brother, and that he came from a privileged background. We know he planned to read War and Peace while he was on Atlantis. We know he killed two NID agents who were on the expedition as Marines. And we know he liked Johnny Cash.”
Peter looked confused. “Wait, what? Who?”
Essie grinned, and reached into a drawer. “Johnny Cash. Mid-twentieth century singer. Here.” She tossed him an old-fashioned photograph. It showed a bare box of room, with a single bed, a desk and chair, and looming over all these, a large poster in black and white of a man in a greatcoat. At the edge of the photograph, was a back side profile of a man with a slightly pointed ear and a dark shock of hair.
“John Sheppard. Uh-huh.”
“I-I’ve never seen this before. Where did you get it?” He looked up, eagerly, questions tumbling over themselves. “How do you know it’s him?”
“I got it from a woman in Indiana. I met her a few years ago when I was researching Sheppard’s court martial. She was descended from Captain Holland.”
“The man Sheppard tried to rescue in Afghanistan?”
“Uh-huh. She still had a load of family stuff. She found this recently; sent it to me. Meredith ran a facial pattern scan, comparing it to the official photo of Sheppard, and it was a 92% match, which is fair, if not conclusive, but the thing is this photograph was included in a letter sent by Holland to his wife about four months before he died.” She tapped the monitor on her desk, and a scan of a letter appeared. “Read the highlighted section,” she invited, and Peter leant forward.
“‘Quarters aren’t so bad, though you wouldn’t think so from looking at Shep’s – thought I’d send you a photo so you could see how the poor damned bachelors have to live when they don’t have wives to send them stuff. Shep says he’s happy when it’s just him and Johnny, but I can tell the sorry sob is lying.’ Sob?”
“Son of a bitch, apparently.”
“Ah. Gotta love the military.”
He stared at the photograph for a while. “It makes it more real, you know?” he said eventually. “I mean, before, studying Atlantis, and him? It’s all official pictures and text books and stories, but this? It makes him real. Just a guy with a friend taking pictures to send his wife.”
Essie Malcolm – forty-eight years old and a terrible mother – sat on the couch, and watched her daughter playing.
“It’s not a problem, Ess,” Alec Malcolm was saying. “We’d be happy to take care of Nell for a while.”
“But you don’t think I should go.”
“I didn’t say that. I know how you feel about Atlantis. And this is – well, it’s quite an opportunity. Didn’t they ask you before?”
“Yeah, when Gerry – Gerald Sommers – died. But I’d just had Nell; it was out of the question. They got Terence Sawyer instead, but he… well, reading between the lines, he wasn’t the best fit. They approached me then, but Nell was still just a baby, really, so they went to Eva Mensch, and then she went and dropped dead from an aneurysm.”
“So they’ve come back to you. What does Meredith think? They offered him that compsci post, right?”
Essie nodded. “You know Mer. He’s quite the genius.”
“Does he want to go?”
She shrugged. “He says it’s up to me.”
“Do you want to go?”
She looked up sharply. “Do I want to go? Alec, it’s Atlantis! Of course I want to go!” She bit her lip. “It’s been over twenty years, you know? Since we went. And I still remember it. I still see it in my dreams. It-it was so cold. And dark, because all the windows were covered in gunk from the sea. Noises echoed in the halls. And it was amazing.”
Essie Malcolm – forty-nine years old and sick with anticipation – glanced across at Meredith as he took his hand in hers, and they both stepped across the event horizon, feeling that intense cold for less than a moment, before stepping out onto the other side. Essie had described Atlantis to Meredith many times: the cold, the dark, the wonder. But this… this was something else.
“I…” she began, and fell silent, as she was gently pushed to the side by an anonymous hands as more people and equipment followed behind her. Atlantis was not cold, now, nor dark. The embarkation room was brightly lit, the sun dazzling through stained glass windows at the top of the steps leading to the control room. Everywhere people bustled to and fro, and an announcement was being made over an open comms system.
There, right there, tock tick went the universe for Essie, and she could see them all, Weir and McKay, Sumner and Sheppard, Grodin and Beckett, all the men and women who had made up the Atlantis expedition, could see them in this city that, however briefly, had been theirs.
Essie Malcolm – fifty-one years old and highly suspicious – tapped her chin with her index finger.
“Don’t you think that’s odd?” she asked suddenly, and Peter, her former grad student, looked over.
“What Jenith said, about the gene therapy.”
Peter sighed, and leant back. “OK, I’ll bite, Prof. What’s odd about it?”
“He said that they’d had the gene therapy for the Ancient gene for hundreds of years, right?”
“So why’d they need it?”
“Wh- I’m confused.”
“Well, you know what the Genii homeworld is like. We’ve both been there. And we’ve commented before on the fact that they were the race that managed to defeat the Wraith, when…”
“…when they were one world that the Ancients didn’t leave much tech on.”
“Exactly! Props to them, they developed all their own technology. There’s no pre-existing Ancient infrastructure like there is on some planets. So why’d they need the gene therapy?”
Peter shrugged. “Pegasus is littered with remnants of Ancient tech, a lot of which needs the gene in order to be activated. Maybe they just wanted the edge. Or, I dunno, for using the Gateships or something. We know the Ancients had those; you found one on Atlantis.”
“But only one; I’ve never seen any anywhere else. And Meredith says Genii space travel isn’t dependent on any Ancient tech. And, I mean, yeah, I can see it being used but… look, we know how goal-oriented the Genii are. I just find it weird that they must have spent such a lot of time developing a genetic tool that can only be of very limited use to them. And there’s another thing.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Of course there is.”
“Peter, my darling, I am bigger and uglier than you, and moreover I have the power to send you back to Earth if you don’t adopt an appropriately fawning expression.”
“Esteemed professor, pray tell me what divine insight you have about the Genii?” He bowed slightly, and Essie kicked out at him lazily.
“Brat! You’ve read Caleb Arnold’s work, right?”
“Of course – it’s on all your reading lists. He was really the first one to do any research into the Pegasus people.”
“Did you see when the Genii defeated the Wraith? When they aligned up the calendars?” She paused, but Peter just frowned and shook his head. “Bad student! It wasn’t ten years after the Atlantis expedition came through the stargate.”
Peter’s expression turned sceptical. “So, what, you think…”
“Who’s thinking what?” came a new voice, and the two historians looked up. Standing in the doorway was Tony Penney, the Atlantis expedition leader.
“Essie thinks the Atlantis expedition were actually the ones who defeated the Wraith, not the Genii,” said Peter, dodging the pencil pot that Essie threw at him.
“I didn’t say that!”
“Well, make damn sure you don’t say it to the Genii! They wouldn’t take kindly to it,” said Penney, warningly.
“They’re defensive,” observed Peter. Penney nodded.
“It’s not surprising. They’ve been top dogs in Pegasus for a while; our presence has the potential to be a threat to that. The city of the Ancients is still a big deal here and we’re more than their match technologically speaking. What makes you think the original Atlantis expedition had anything to do with the Wraith, Professor?” he asked.
“Timing, partly,” said Essie. “And I’ve been collecting the Pegasus folk stories – there’s a few that seem to have cropped up around the same time, stories that don’t fit with the Genii. Like the Athosian warrior princess.”
“She loves the Athosian warrior princess,” put in Peter.
“She’s a legendary figure – a woman who was both diplomat and warrior. A leader of her people. I’m not saying it proves anything, but there’s an unarguable similarity to Weir. But it’s just legend. The Athosian people come up in stories occasionally, but they finally dispersed years ago, and so much of this history is oral, that it’s….” She stopped, shaking her head.
“Sand through our fingers,” said Peter. “Then there’s the Runners – men hunted by the Wraith. There are stories about them fighting back, um… one in particular…” he turned to the desk monitor, tapped a couple of times. “From a planet called Sateda. Destroyed by Wraith centuries ago. It’s all rubble, apparently.”
“We’re planning to send a team,” said Essie, “but it’s on a very long list of planets to visit.”
“Well, your next one just came up,” said Penney, cocking his head towards the corridor. “P4X 992.”
P4X 992 turned out to be another planet in a medieval stage of development with the lingering remains of Ancient technology, and Essie and Peter sat in a local inn and listened to the stories, heard, in this particular instance, another story about a giant called Lucius who had held his land in the cradle of his hand and protected it from all threats.
“I don’t remember there being a giant on the Atlantis expedition,” said Peter facetiously, when the story teller returned to the bar.
“Remind me again why I brought you?” Essie replied. “You know as well as I do that ‘Lucius’ is probably an amalgam of half a dozen different people.” She checked her watch and stood up. “Come on, time to meet back at the stargate.”
The planet was home to a busy marketplace, and they had to wait in a line with Captain Moore and Lieutenant Simon before they could use it.
“Apparently he could cure any illness known to man, and knew every story every told,” Peter was telling the soldiers as Essie looked around the people waiting to use the stargate. “Oh, and he was invulnerable to any attack.” A group of three men had gone up the stone steps as the watery event horizon steadied itself, dressed in clothes suggestive of a more advanced society. But there was something… “That could come in handy,” Moore was saying. “Maybe we should be looking for something like that, right, Prof?” Essie ignored him, taking a few steps forward, trying to see past the bustle of people. There was something about one of the men – what was it? Then the crowd cleared, and one of the men, a step out of sync with his companions, glanced back over his shoulder, his eyes meeting with Essie’s, and for a moment she took in dark hair and a pointed chin before he, too, vanished through the stargate and the wormhole stuttered out of existence.
“Hey, Prof, what’re you… what the hell’s she doing? Prof!”
She raced up to the boy taking payment for the stargate use, position next to the DHD. “Those men who just went through, who were they? Where were they going?”
The boy took in the soldiers standing behind her, and swallowed visibly. “I-I do not know. They directed the path of the Ring themselves.”
“They ever been here before?” demanded Essie, but the boy shook his head.
“I do not know. I think, perhaps? We have many visitors here.”
“Lt, you can get addresses off a DHD, right?”
Lt Simon nodded. “Well, yeah, but not in any order. Given how many folks come here, well – the words needle and haystack come to mind.”
“Hey, Prof, what is it?” asked Moore, placing a hand on her arm and pulling her away slightly.
Essie shook her head. “I don’t- probably nothing. I don’t know. Can we go back? To the market, I mean. I want to try something.”
Moore nodded. “Sure. Simon, go back with them. I’ll radio Atlantis.”
The three of them walked back to the marketplace, and Essie headed straight for the stall that sold remnants of Ancient technology – crystals, some damaged, some not, bits of cabling, control panels. She tapped her mobcomm, and held it up for the stallholder.
“You ever see a man like this?”
The woman peered at it. “Maybe. Not quite, but there was a man a little while ago. He looked a bit like that.”
“Has he been here before?”
She nodded. “A time or two.”
“Do you know who he is? Where he came from?”
The woman shook her head. “No, he comes, he goes.”
“The next time he comes,” said Essie, “could you find out? Let me know?” She took a slate and chalk from the stall, and scribbled the symbols to dial Atlantis. “This is where we are. If you dial that, and then… Lt, give me your radio… ask for me – my name’s Essie – that would be wonderful. Oh, and we can totally pay you.”
“It requires no payment,” said the woman indifferently. “If he comes again, I will ask.”
As they walked back to the stargate, Peter glanced at her. “The picture you showed her – that was John Sheppard,” he said.
Essie hunched her shoulders. “It was probably nothing. I just thought I saw… it doesn’t matter. It was probably nothing. I mean, what are the odds…” she trailed off, and they walked in silence.
Essie Malcolm – sixty-seven years old and extremely frustrated – narrowed her eyes at her daughter.
“Honestly, Nell,” she began, “the military?”
Nell Malcolm rolled her eyes and carried on cleaning her pulse weapon. “Jeez, Mom, get over it already.”
“What about intellectual curiosity? What about discovering the unknown? What about…?”
“What? This is about discovering the unknown! You know what, Mom, it turns out freelance adventuring isn’t actually a viable career, and there’s no way I’m going anywhere near academia.” Her voice softened. “I’m here, aren’t I? Atlantis is my home. Pegasus is my home. Has been ever since you and Dad came to your senses and rescued me from Uncle Alec and Aunt Susie. But if I want to explore it, I have to provide something to be on a team. And if that means military training, so be it. Anyway, I kinda like it.”
“Provide something!” said Essie querulously. “You know more about the Pegasus galaxy than most of these so-called experts put together! Did you see that paper Chen wrote about the Hoffans? Pure fiction! I mean, the history of this place…”
“I don’t care about the history!” exclaimed Nell loudly. “Mom, please… I don’t care. I’m interested in the here and now. Let’s just – change the subject, OK?”
“Fine,” said Essie. “Fine.”
“Didya hear about the Genii trying to colonise Latira? Apparently that’s their new thing these days.”
“It’s not surprising,” replied Essie. “The Genii have always been ambitious. Still, I suppose we have them to thank for getting rid of the Wraith.”
Nell snorted. “Yeah, apparently that story got embroidered on with time.”
“What?” Essie looked at her daughter sharply. “Where did you hear that?”
Nell stopped cleaning her gun, surprised. “Just some guy on a planet somewhere last year. Uh – he just said something about the Genii being happy to take all the credit but they’d have blown themselves up if they hadn’t had any help.”
Nell threw up her hands. “I don’t know! Just some guy. With… really, really blue eyes. He was kind of a douche,” she added dismissively, and picked up the gun again.
“But if he said the Genii…”
“Mom! Quit it! What does it matter who defeated the Wraith? Who cares if it was the Genii, or the mysterious first Atlanteans, or, I dunno, the Ancients coming back down and smiting them? Why does it matter so much?”
“I- I don’t suppose it does,” said Essie, sounding a little lost. “I’ve never been able to lose this place, you know. One of my friends, years and years ago, said I was obsessed. I suppose it was true then, and it’s true now. I see them. All the time. Actually, you know, once, before you were here, I saw someone on a planet who I thought looked just like John Sheppard. I thought, ah! A descendant! Maybe we can find him, maybe we can find a community that is made up of their descendants, and maybe they’ll have the stories of why they left Atlantis, and what happened to them. Maybe they’ll know. But the man was a stranger there. I asked a woman – a stall holder – to tell me if he came again.”
“Not that I know of. Maybe he never went back. Maybe she couldn’t work out how to get the message to me. Maybe he asked her not to. I don’t know.” She sighed, and felt old. “So, tell me about the Genii. I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to consider colonising other planets.”
Nell Malcolm – twenty-eight years old and weighed down with grief – stood stiffly next to her mother’s coffin, feeling the itch of woollen dress uniform rubbing against her skin.
“My mother loved Atlantis,” she said abruptly. “She loved the city. She loved the stories. She loved the people. I know some of you thought she was… obsessed with the first expedition, but her curiosity extended beyond that. She just wanted to know. To understand.” She paused, bit her lip. “She had this book she loved. It said something about the universe going tock tick, about being able to just see the past. That was what she wanted, and I know she was always sorry I didn’t feel the same way. I found the book. I found this in it.” She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket, the textured surface unfamiliar. “‘We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind.’ It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what happened in the past. The first Atlantis expedition may have been lost, their mission never achieved, but we’re here now, and we’re carrying out that mission. Atlantis is even becoming a colony, and we have our role to play.”
Nell Malcolm – thirty years old and covered in mud – glared at her companion. “That is the most unhelpful thing I’ve ever heard, Toran,” she said bitterly. He shrugged.
“Take it or leave it. If you want to stay caked in mud…”
She sneered at him, and followed what was apparently the official advice for ridding oneself of the local mud, as disgusting as it was. A couple of hours later saw her and Toran holed up in a shack just inside the woods that lined the northern continent of Versall.
“When are the Genii due to arrive?” she asked, checking her mobcomm.
“In about six hours,” said Toran, not even looking up from the book he was scribbling in.
“And why did we come so early?” she demanded.
“Case they got here early. Are you going to keep talking, Malcolm, only I’m trying to work?”
“Meh,” said Nell, and fell silent. Which lasted about ten minutes.
“Hey, you know what? I told my mom about you once. Remember the first time we met, on… wherever it was?”
“Well, I told her about what you said about the Genii almost blowing themselves up. What was that?” There was no reply, and she kicked at his book. “Toran! How did you know about the Genii?” He scowled at her.
“By the Ancestors, you’re annoying! I don’t know, it’s just a story I heard when I was a kid. Look, I just don’t like the Genii. And I like them less now they’re trying to take over the galaxy. Which is why I’m here.”
“Huh,” said Nell contemplatively. “Hey, did you hear about Atlantis, too, when you were a kid?”
“What? Why? Yes, of course. City of the Ancestors and so on. Sabotaged by spies or whatever. I really didn’t pay- Wait – what’s that?”
They peered through the small window. “Shit!” said Nell. “It’s the Genii.”
“And this is why we came early,” pointed out Toran. “OK, let us remain stealthy. Ancestors willing, this meeting of theirs may give us some crucial information.”
They crept out of the shack, and Nell followed Toran’s trail, frowning as they headed towards the treeline. “The Ancient hologram didn’t say anything about spies,” she murmured to herself, but then she cast it from her mind. The Genii seemed to be of a mind to exert their dominance over the entire Pegasus galaxy, and she had a mission to prevent it.
Lilia Ewinson – eight years old and the youngest child of the Elector of Olesia – chased after her elder siblings. “I wanna be ‘Lantis Nell!” she shouted. “Let me!”
“You’re too little,” objected Alif, her brother. “’Sides, Atlantis Nell was an alien.”
“I don’t care,” said Lilia stubbornly. “In the holo, she was nice.”
“That’s just holos,” said Alif. “You’re too little to understand.”
“You don’t understand,” said Lilia. “She was a- a desessant of the Ancients, and that means she was good.”
“Look, let her be Atlantis Nell,” said Desta, the eldest. “I’ll be Toran and the rest of you can be Genii, and we’ll have a battle.” He grabbed Lilia by the hand, and they ran behind the garden bushes, while the others scattered.
“When we go home,” Desta told Lilia, “I’ll find you a book about Atlantis Nell, and you can learn all about her.”