STONES OF SILENCE
Disclaimers, etc. in part 1 of story in previous post
“We let you retain your memory and that was because…” The woman trailed off, her voice full of reproach and… could it be … annoyance?
A grimace passed over his face. “To make me remember my mistakes so that I would not repeat them,” he ground out.
“Mistakes?” Ronon arched an eyebrow in amusement, and Rodney was practically glued to watching John mentally squirm under this interrogation.
“Well, when the C4 was about two seconds from exploding, I sorta thought, gee, ascension wouldn’t be so bad and well, poof, there I was,” he replied.
“Poof?” Rodney’s sarcasm was back in full mode.
“For lack of a better description, yes, poof,” John waved one arm a bit dramatically. “So anyway, there were all these, glowy people around me but I was freaking out a little about getting killed and that you guys were going to get killed and thought, okay, if I’m ascended, I have powers, so….”
“The storm?” Rodney guessed, eyes widening. Teyla thought she detected just the slightest hint of jealousy at John’s apparent instant mastery of his newfound powers.
“Yeah.” John waggled his head a little. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“And you took the lives of several men,” the older woman spoke in dark tones.
“Who are you?” Rodney abruptly asked.
“Selten,” she replied, ignoring Rodney after that and focusing her sharp gaze directly on John, who looked a tad bit nervous at the scrutiny. “I am here to make sure that John understands the errors of his ways.”
“Look, I don’t regret washing away, and yes, drowning all those guys who first, might I remind you, shot me full of holes, basically killing me, and they were going to kill my team and those kids,” John said in a level but barely contained voice.
“And the woman?” she said cryptically.
“I was so damn close.” John glared at the woman, his previous trepidation all but forgotten it seemed, and now it was replaced by a simmering frustration.
“You were granted ascension, yet abused its privilege,” Selten continued. Teyla realized she’d developed an instant dislike to the woman because of her condescending attitude.
“Hey, I’m not about to sit by idly and watch my friends die and innocents slaughtered, and she-- OW!” Selten had grabbed John by the top of his ear and twisted in a sharp action. Teyla grimaced. The action looked quite painful.
“You are now back to human form. Mortal. The next time you die, do not expect such fair treatment. Do you understand?” John nodded quickly after she released her grip. “And?” she continued.
John seemed to dwell on that odd question, and for a moment, Teyla thought John might punch the woman for the way she spoke to him, but instead, he finally replied, “Thank you,” then rubbed at his reddened ear.
Apparently satisfied or perhaps, Teyla noted, assuming that she could do no more to change his stubborn ways, Selten disappeared in a blink. As far as Teyla was concerned, the earth phrase ‘good riddance’ applied wholeheartedly in this situation. It took several seconds for John to actually look secure that the strange woman was gone.
“What’s a Hartat toad?” John finally broached.
Teyla shuddered involuntarily at the simple query. “It is a vile creature. They ooze the most foul-smelling liquid from their skin.”
“Oh, well,” John said with a sort of sickening smile. “Guess I’m glad I’m not one of those. A couple of the elite ascended were voting to return me as one of those.”
“I can’t believe it,” Rodney spoke up. “That must be the shortest ascension in the history of well, anybody who’s ascended and then been booted out.”
“I qui—okay, I was booted out. I didn’t toe the line, obey their rules,” John admitting, stealthily offering a glance at the sky above as if a bolt of lightning might strike him if he danced around the truth. “Rodney, imagine being in front of a supercomputer and being told you can’t use it. Ever. For all eternity.”
“I’d kill myself,” Rodney grumbled, although Teyla was sure he meant that in a facetious manner.
“Yeah, lots of power and can’t do squat with it,” said John. “I couldn’t sit by and twiddle my glowy thumbs and watch you guys die.” He paused, sighing. “And they called me on the carpet for that immediately, I’ll tell ya, so I figured I’m dead already so might as well go for the gold.”
“Galactic domination?” pondered Rodney.
“Destroy all the Wraith?” Ronon suggested hopefully.
“She was this close.” John reached out an arm, his hand grasping and closing on air until he let it fall back to his side again in a defeated motion. He clenched his jaw, obviously angry about whatever had transpired. “If she’d turned, she would have seen me, but then those … people,” and that last word was uttered almost as a curse. “They ripped me back to their little realm and I’ll tell you, that was not a pleasant experience.”
“Who did you see?” asked Teyla.
John remained silent, his expression moody.
“Oh God,” Rodney hissed quietly. “Elizabeth?”
“She’s still alive,” John acknowledged. Sadness laced his eyes, and Teyla shared his emotions, as they all did. Having lost Elizabeth to the Asurans, and never knowing her fate, had been a horrible burden to bear. Yet she could not imagine John having traveled that distance within the galaxy, in his mind or whatever form he had previously taken, but John seemed to accept the impossible. “So damn close, but it’s against their rules to interfere. I’d told ‘em where they can shove those rules, but they didn’t have the necessary body parts in that glowy form. Can’t interfere. Sheesh, like the stupid Prime Directive.”
“Prime Directive?” Ronon said.
“Star Trek. Kirk. Spock,” Rodney added with a flourish of one hand as if explaining it were beneath him.
“So instead they argued what they going to do with me, like letting nature take its course.”
“Dead,” concluded Ronon, not happy with that thought.
“Yup, or be that disgusting toad or just boot me back to what I was, fortunately, minus all the holes but clothes would have been nice. Luckily one of ‘em argued on my behalf, something about me having potential.” John shot a glare of disdain when Rodney snorted derisively at that remark. “So, thankfully, I’m back to being me and not hopping around on four feet.”
“Huh?” John stared in confusion at Teyla.
“The Hartat toad has six limbs,” she clarified.
John didn’t really have a response for that, but the disgusted expression on his face said volumes. He glanced at the gate, then back to his team, his expression shifting more toward regret. “Sorry I put you guys through … all that.”
“It was not as though you had a choice.” Teyla did not feel that the customary Athosian head touch would be satisfactory in this situation, so she walked over and gave him a quick hug, relishing in the fact that he was once against solid. “We are very glad that you are alive.”
“Me, too. Believe me, me too,” came John’s heartfelt response as he returned the hug with one arm.
“I’d give you a hug, but I’m really not a touchy feely kind of guy,” Rodney muttered, fidgeting with his vest and failing to look indifferent while standing around in only half his uniform.
Ronon wasn’t quite so bashful, coming over and squeezing his team leader to the point John squeaked out “Gotta breathe, big guy,” until Ronon dropped him.
“Let’s get out of here,” John suggested as he noticed the large clouds above turning a shade darker in preparation for a storm not of his own making. “Um, no GDO,” he tapped at his bare wrist, “Rodney, if you can do the honors.”
“That I can do,” Rodney replied a bit cheerfully, pressing the device after Teyla punched in Atlantis’ gate address.
The gate’s blue vortex shot out, violent yet beautiful in its display, until it coalesced into a stable wormhole.
The team stared at the gate, the pain of the past few hours not forgotten yet definitely lessened by John’s miraculous resurrection. Teyla could see that the experience had affected him. Not so much his own death, as he had faced that situation before more times than any man should, but having the capability to potentially save Elizabeth, and failing in doing so.
John smiled, although she could see it did not reach his eyes, but this was the façade he wished to project to his team, and perhaps in time, he would speak of precisely what had occurred. Yet Rodney had never exhibited patience. He shifted on his feet, staring intently at John as if he could uncover the truth by visual examination. “Uh, Elizabeth. Was she…?”
“I was only there for a few seconds, if that.” John kept his gaze out over the empty plains surrounding the gain. “She looked … okay.”
“Did you see enough to figure out a rescue?” asked Ronon.
Sheppard shook his head. “No, I don’t even know if she was still on the Asuran homeworld.”
“Then how did you find her?” Rodney frowned in confusion.
“I just thought real hard. Seriously,” John shrugged his shoulders. “I figured that was probably the last act I’d ever do so … well, it was worth a try.”
“At least we know that Elizabeth is still alive,” Teyla added, noticing how somber John now appeared as he mentally reflected on losing Elizabeth – again. “That is more than we have had.”
“True, very true,” agreed Rodney quickly. “Should we, uh, leave? And I only say this cause that Selten woman was pretty creepy and I don’t think we should hang around for her to change her mind because I really don’t think Sheppard being turned into a toad is going to work when we go out on missions. Even with six legs.”
“So glad you’re thinking about my welfare,” John shot back, just a hint of sarcasm lacing his voice.
“Well, I’ve read all the reports on Daniel Jackson’s ascension and he was always returned in one piece and—“ Rodney’s eyes abruptly looked over John, from head to toe. “I mean, they did that in the Milky Way but you’re okay, right? I mean, nothing hurts or—“
“I’m fine,” John repeated, actually sighing in exasperation. He actually took a moment to look himself over, but Teyla knew the injuries had been repaired. He’d sustained several shots to the torso, and she was certain that one or two would most likely have proved fatal had not the wall collapsed on top of him. “Except for this bruise.” He held up his foot to indicate a deep bruise on the top.
“Oh yeah, that’s like when Daniel Jackson came back. They didn’t fix his eyesight so he had to wear glasses,” Rodney nodded.
“The bruise you gave me when you knocked over that crate in the lab onto me.”
“That was an accident!” Rodney insisted. “You’re not still going on about that and it was not my fault. You shouldn’t have been standing there.”
“How could you not see me?”
“Then why didn’t you move?”
“We should return home,” Teyla interrupted, ignoring the not very serious glares both men aimed at her. She was grateful for the banter, but also uncomfortable that the ascended woman might return. While she truly did not believe she would turn John into a toad out of spite, she also thought the sooner they were off this world, the better it would be for all of them.
“Damn, I really don’t want to write the report on this mission,” muttered John.
“Guess you can’t plead amnesia,” said Rodney. “Jackson always had his memory wiped when he got kicked out by his ascended buddies.”
“Lucky him.” John abruptly turned and without another word, went through the gate.
Rodney gaped wordlessly at John’s terse response. Ronon and Teyla shared a look of concern. They both knew it would be difficult but they would all be there for John. She motioned for Rodney to follow, and they went through the gate. Back home. Alive.