“Liar! God damn you! Liar!”
The shrieks reverberated from
the ceiling, and the crystal
“Liar!” she screamed again, furiously wiping her face. The sobs gradually, madly, turned to hiccupping laughter.
Her hand found a third crystal, and she threw that, too, and the next and the one after that, until the compartment was empty. Silence fell, thick and oppressive, making her gasp for breath. Silence, that’s what was wrong with this place. Destroy the silence, and…
How long had it been? Weeks? Months? Years? She’d lost track. If she activated the mainframe—always supposing she managed to do the impossible—there’d probably be a calendar and clock somewhere, but the glutinous pace of seconds turning to minutes turning to hours was as much of an abomination as the silence. Perhaps more so, because it was proof, staring her in the face and laughing.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” she sang tonelessly, kept singing, kept the silence at bay with it.
The empty hatch yawned at her as if it wanted to suck her in. She didn’t like it. Didn’t like this room, not anymore. She pushed herself up along the wall, listing like a wino on a bender. And she’d better stick to that wall, too. She was barefoot, and the floor was carpeted with glittering shards of glass or crystal.
What had happened here?
Her toes struck a hatch cover. It fell over, hammering noise through the room. Had she taken it off? A gaping hole in the wall, emptiness behind. Nothing left. A soft, keening sound settled around her, until she realized she herself was making it and stopped. Looking back at the inactive chamber across the room, she gave a small, tired shrug. The glass door stood open, promising sleep and oblivion, but, like every cad she’d ever known, it would fail to keep its promise. Certainly now that the crystals had been destroyed.
Not that it mattered one way or the other. The technology was so far beyond her, she’d never had a glimmer of a chance of fixing whatever had gone wrong. She’d tried, doggedly, during the first endless weeks. She’d sat on the floor, staring at what looked like eclectic objets d’art, trying to see a similarity to some type of circuitry she might be familiar with and unable to find so much as a trace of damage. She’d swapped crystals randomly, each time hurrying back to the chamber, getting inside, closing the door, waiting. It’d never worked. And at some point—she’d forgotten when exactly—she’d simply given up. Given in. Whatever.
Janus had told her it was safe.
Had he ever even considered this contingency?
“Who cares?” she murmured.
Janus had died more than five thousand years ago. He must have. Somehow she doubted that he’d made the cut for Ascension—he’d been far too much of a loose cannon. Unless he’d simply been the two-faced bastard his name implied, a two-faced bastard to whom the fact that he’d stolen her life was worth a shrug at most. She preferred that. It left room for anger, and anger was the easiest of emotions, one you could keep at boiling point all by yourself. It also was an antidote to the poisonous despair she tumbled into each time she was crazy or desperate enough to contemplate her situation.
As far as she could determine, the stasis system had malfunctioned late in the second cycle. The failsafe had revived her and spewed her out into a nightmare. At first she hadn’t known that anything was wrong. Janus had programmed the system to wake her periodically—once every three thousand years—to allow her to rotate the Zero Point Modules that powered the city. She’d done just that, returned to the stasis room, stepped into the chamber, closed the door, waiting to drift off to sleep another three thousand years. Except, it hadn’t happened.
Then, slowly, brutally, realization had crept in. She remembered the terror. She was reminded of it first thing in the morning, last thing at night, wherever she went or stood. She was alone in a deserted city beneath the ocean, alone beyond the scope of human comprehension, galaxies and millennia removed from anyone and anything she’d ever known.
Oh, she’d tried to put a positive spin on things at first. There are no problems, just challenges, right? She’d fix it. She’d make it right, somehow. After all, she was Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the President’s favorite troubleshooter: Have plan, will negotiate. Have needs, will find food. And she had. She’d found storage rooms with imperishable rations that tasted like cardboard but kept her going. She’d clung to that perverse triumph, not understanding that it was a Pyrrhic victory. Not until she’d finally been forced to admit that her years with the State Department hadn’t equipped her to repair advanced alien technology.
Then she’d conceived some foolhardy notion about exploring the city. After all, that was what had brought her here in the first place, wasn’t it? She’d drifted around, climbed to the tops of Atlantis’s spires, poked into nooks and crannies. She’d discovered rooms of all descriptions and countless strange devices—none of which she could get to work, because she possessed neither the ATA gene that allowed a select few humans to operate Ancient technology, nor the skill and electronic gear needed to access Atlantis’s mainframe. In other words, it’d been like being eight years old and gawking through the window of the candy store without a nickel to your name. What it boiled down to was that she would grow old here, with nothing to do and no-one to talk to.
Perhaps it had been this very prospect that had pushed her over the edge. Her mind was slipping, folding in on itself, no longer able to suffer the lack of human contact and stimuli. She knew enough psychology to have expected it, and mostly she welcomed it. There were times when she’d suddenly come to in some remote part of the city, unable to say how she’d gotten there or what she’d been doing. It meant she’d lost an hour or five—more recently it was days—and every hour lost was a precious sixty minutes she didn’t have to live in this place.
Well, it was one source of interest, she supposed. You never knew where you’d find yourself next. Perhaps she should start a betting pool.
The idea struck her as uproarious, and she slid halfway down the wall again, shaking with hysterics. Then the laughter broke off, as suddenly as it had come. She straightened up, gingerly started moving toward the door, skirting the worst of the shards. She’d have to act now, while she was still capable of doing it. The only thing that had stopped her so far was the hope of somehow still achieving what she’d meant to achieve. Save lives.
Hope springs eternal.
Not if you messed with time itself, apparently. There was no changing the outcome: some four and a half thousand years from now another version of herself would lead the expedition to Atlantis, the city’s shields would fail, and everybody would die, including her. She’d just die a little later than the others.
Out in the hallway, lights activated as she went and shut down again behind her. For a while—who knew how long ago now?—she’d spent days wandering up and down the corridors, making lights come on and off, pretending she was coming home from work and Simon had heard her car and was switching on the lights in the driveway for her. And she’d go inside, and they’d have dinner and a glass of wine by the fireplace, and they’d talk… That game, too, had palled.
The hallway took her to the control center. The enormous room with its sweeping gallery and staircase seemed to belong to a dead person, every item in it shrouded in white dustsheets, as if waiting for a realtor to drop in and sell the place on behalf of the heirs. Every item, that was, except the console that controlled the Stargate. She’d uncovered that one, left it open, because occasionally she needed a glimpse of salvation. Now she hesitantly stepped in front of the console, one finger tracing the edge of a dialing pad.
She’d thought about it, of course. God only knew how often she’d thought about it. Dial Earth, go back… and end up in the middle of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, where people had yet to rise against a Goa’uld called Ra. Sometimes she fantasized about how she really had gone back and had, in fact, been the driving force behind the revolt. Another, less glorious, scenario was the one where she got taken as host and revealed the coordinates for Atlantis to the Goa’uld. Which probably would spell the end of mankind and countless other races across any number of galaxies.
The only real option she had was to randomly dial an address in the Pegasus galaxy. Suicide by Stargate. She didn’t fool herself into believing that there was any other likely outcome. The Wraith had won, after all.
End it right here.
The thought of it was tempting beyond words.
Her fingers continued to caress the pads. It’d be so easy, so—
A pad lit up, then a second and a third.
No, she couldn’t run. She’d wait and see, and never mind the consequences.
The sequence completed, the last chevron locked—the seventh, so the wormhole was coming from a gate within the Pegasus galaxy—and the event horizon burst into life, bathed the room in shimmering blue light and retracted.
“It’s Jumper One.” Precise, British tones, and Peter Grodin sat at the console, smiling up at her. “About time, too. They were supposed to be back an hour ago.”
She spun away, blood thudding in her ears. Peter was dead. He had drowned four and half thousand years from now, like all the others.
Rodney couldn’t have spoken. He lay sprawled in front of the gate, unconscious or dead, and morphed into a tall, uniformed man she’d never seen before, flung backward into the gate by a gunshot.
“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” she yelled, knowing even then that she had to be hallucinating.
Another, vaguely familiar voice burst into the control center. “Ma'am, Jumper One is lodged in the Stargate. Teyla, Doctor McKay and myself are in the rear compartment with the major. He's in bad shape.”
“Lieutenant Ford?” she whispered. “Lieutenant?”
He stood right in front of her, terrifyingly alien, his left eye suffused with blackness. Past him she could see a small ship emerge from the event horizon. It was ungainly, of the same type as the ships stored in the hangar upstairs.
Abruptly the Stargate shut down.
And the silence was back.
She was alone.
Gasping for breath, she absently noted that the delusion had been so intense she’d responded physically. Her eyes, bleared by the glare of an imaginary event horizon, squinted in the gloom now. When her vision returned, the ship was still there, slowly rising toward the ceiling and an opening into the hangar. It was piloted by a dead man yet unborn.