- Science Fiction
“This is an excellent way to get myself grounded from my brand new PS3,” Sebastian informed the city as he followed the flickering lights down the hall.
He had no real memory of leaving their apartment, but he wasn’t particularly concerned. Atlantis was safe for him in a way no other place in the whole universe was, and Sebastian knew that on some deep level. He reached out and touched the wall with his fingertips as he walked, like he’d seen his Daddy do, and was rewarded with a brush of warm affection. The transporter doors opened before he was even close to them, but he stepped inside the device without hesitation. He was already in so much trouble so he figured he might as well go all-in.
The transporter activated with input from him which was fine since he had no idea where the city wanted him to go. It was a relief when the doors opened, and he realized that she hadn’t taken him to the chair room. He really didn’t want to sit in the chair at all but most especially not without his Dad. Sebastian lifted his hand to activate his radio and realized he wasn’t wearing it. He hadn’t left their apartment without a radio in his ear since his arrival. It was his Daddy’s biggest and most serious rule—always have your radio within your reach in the apartment and in your ear outside the apartment.
Sebastian hesitated only briefly before he left the transporter and swallowed heavily as he realized that he had no way of reaching out to anyone if and when he found whatever Atlantis wanted him to find. There were parts of the city that hadn’t been active in thousands of years coming online because they’d installed the first new ZPM to come out of the construction lab earlier in the day. McKay and his Daddy had been on edge most of the morning after the install as if they were waiting for something terrible to happen.
Which, he acknowledged, was reasonable because a lot of terrible things had happened to the expedition since their arrival on the city. He was in a tower he’d never been in before—the patterns on the windows looked nothing like what he was used to. The air was warm, and the faint hum he always heard was more pronounced. He moved down the hallway slowly, touching the wall frequently for reassurance. She wouldn’t hurt him, but she’d clearly manipulated him out of bed in the middle of the night. He didn’t have a history of sleepwalking but he’d clearly done it at least partially through his little trip across the city which was disconcerting and would probably earn him an extra long session with Dr. Grant and probably Dr. Biro.
“If I get one of those deeply invasive physicals out of this experience, Atlantis, I’m gonna be really irritated with you.” He paused a pair of doors the led out to a balcony, and they slid open, so he stepped out and looked around. “Oh.”
He was miles away from the central tower of the city near pier eight which wasn’t occupied by any of the sciences or anything. The Marines did exercises in the far reaches of the city sometimes for battle readiness or whatever they called it. He only knew about them because sometimes there would be announcements for the civilians regarding noise and the combat drills. The first time he’d heard one he’d kind of startled as he’d never really considered the fact that Atlantis was a military base.
Sebastian backed up into the hall and took a deep breath. He was outside the patrol perimeter for city security—something he’d never done with or without an escort. There were parts of the city that were severely damaged and dangerous to walk on because of flood waters and thousands of years of neglect as the subroutines that kept the city in repair had retreated largely to conserve power. He hated to think about the city on the ocean floor, slowly starving for energy.
He turned to his left as the streams of light intensified and saw a door flip open—like the ones in the main conference room. Sebastian made a face and blew out a breath. “If I turned around would you take me home?”
The lights dulled.
“I’m going to gather up all the gene carriers on the city and give them a severe lecture about ignoring you,” Sebastian said grimly. “If they weren’t so mentally rigid I wouldn’t be out here in BFE by myself in the middle of the night. I’m a child, you know, and this is clearly adult stuff. We both need an adult, Atlantis.” He curled his toes against his socks. “And honestly, you could’ve got me to put on shoes when you were sleepwalking me out of bed.”
He walked toward the open door and stepped through into the startling white, dust free room. A lot of unexplored or unused parts of the city were still dirty, but this room had been cleaned thoroughly. There was a laptop from Earth sitting on a table near the middle of the room. He walked over to it and opened it as his gaze followed the extension cord all the way across the room to an Ancient terminal where it had been plugged in. Sebastian was tempted to go check it out since it looked like the first generation of the adapter Zelenka and McKay had designed to allow the city to power Earth tech.
There was a single console lit up in the room in front of the bank of servers. He’d seen a few pictures of the supercomputer that Dr. Kusanagi had built to create a data center for the reconstruction of the Ancient database, but McKay had told him that he’d probably never get to see the room since they didn’t need to travel all the way across the city to interact with the database. Perhaps because of the laptop that was currently displaying a login. Based on the security screen, he knew his password wasn’t going to work, but he input his ID in anyways and watched it get rejected. Hopefully, someone would notice the security hit and wake up McKay or his Daddy. He wrote a message for his dad in the password field and hit send, and the laptop displayed a locked screen and a warning.
Since he wasn’t sure how long the city would be patient with him, he walked across the room and slid onto the stool she’d provided in front of the console. “Okay. I’m here.”
The console opened just as he heard the tap-tap-tap of metal clicking on the tiled floor. He turned and scrambled off the stool as he watched the bug-form Replicator scamper into the room. “Jesus Christ!” Sebastian started for the door, but it slammed shut. “Let me out, Atlantis! That thing could kill me!”
The Replicator scrawled up the side of the console and disintegrated, leaving a sparkling red crystal behind. He stared at it in shock for a long moment then despite himself took a step back toward the console. “Not cool. Really. Don’t make any more of those things. They’re stupidly dangerous.”
The dust sank into the console.
He blew out a surprised breath. “There are some people on this city who are going to be horrified by that.”
Sebastian rubbed his sweat-damp palm against his pajama pants and after a few seconds picked up the crystal with trembling fingers. “I get it. Daddy would’ve destroyed that thing the moment he saw it and this crystal with it. You needed someone unharmed, huh?”
He studied dark red crystal in the console before carefully pulling it free with and sliding the other into place. “Here’s hoping you aren’t suicidal.”
– – – –
Avery’s screeching woke him. John stumbled out of bed and across the hall expecting to find his kid having a nightmare or at worst getting sick. Instead, the bed empty save for a very distraught penguin. The living room and kitchen were dark.
He lurched back into his room, snagged the radio off the nightstand and hit the all call channel. “John Sebastian Sheppard, Jr. Where the hell are you?”
Heart thundering in his chest, John braced himself against the wall near the door to their quarters and activated the security panel even as Avery tried to climb up his leg.
“John?” McKay questioned.
“The front door was activated an hour ago from the inside,” John said. “Who’s on security?”
“Frost, here, sir. No one is reporting seeing him, but we’d have contacted you immediately at this hour. I’ve already sent two teams to engineering and botany to check for him. Should I check the pier?”
“No, he left Avery behind.” He winced when several people started talking at once urgently. “I fucking know he carries the goddamned penguin everywhere!” He closed his eyes. “McKay, get on the sensors and try to track him? Elizabeth, please verify with whoever is on duty in the gate room when the last time the stargate was activated. Ronon, Teyla, Matt—meet me in McKay’s lab. We’ll start the search where ever McKay deems best. Gear up.”
“Colonel, this is O’Neill, I’m already in the gate room. There hasn’t been an activation of any kind in sixteen hours. Richard Woolsey is with me if that was a concern.”
John didn’t want to admit that it had been. “Thank you, sir.”
“I’ve got your gear, Sheppard, and I’m heading for McKay’s lab,” Ronon said.
Avery started nooting and poking him in the leg, hard.
John picked up the penguin with a sigh as he turned off the mic on his headset. “One of us fell down on their job around here.”
He snagged his boots from the closet, shoved his feet into them and headed toward the nearest transporter, penguin in hand. He really didn’t know what the little thing was capable of in his current state and he didn’t want him to hurt himself. The trip to the engineering tower was blessedly short. He shoved Avery into Elizabeth’s arms the moment he saw her, and she patted the trembling animal even as John took his gear from Ronon.
He pulled a TAC vest on over his T-shirt and barely acknowledged that O’Neill was the one to pass him a P-90. “McKay, talk to me.”
“Nothing on the security reports,” McKay said. “The whole residential tower is dark on the data front and has been for the last three hours. The cameras are down as well not that it would do us any good once he entered a transporter.”
“Can you tell if someone entered the tower that shouldn’t have been there?” John said helplessly. “Is there anyone on the city besides myself who could’ve forced their way past my door security with just their gene?”
“Me,” Rodney said. “But I already have access.” He looked up. “I have Zelenka checking the sensors for the system to make sure he wasn’t removed by a ship of some kind. He’s already confirmed that there is no evidence supporting the arrival or departure of a ship from Earth or Asgard.”
“Asgard?” O’Neill questioned.
“Hermiod was very interested in Sebastian,” McKay said neutrally. “And we can’t rule them out as a problem when it comes to him. One of them had no issues with kidnapping you or hell anyone else from the SGC they might need as they need them. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if an Asgard ship showed up in orbit and plucked him up one day for a conversation. We’d just have to hope like hell they’d give him back since we don’t stand a chance against them.”
John looked away from them all because he wasn’t sure how to deal with that. He knew it before McKay had even said it, but it was infuriating. Matt entered at that point and came to stand beside him.
“We’re still searching,” John said shortly and took a deep breath. “Did the city push you or prod you earlier today?”
“No, I’d have told you,” Matt said. “I had a headache most of the day, and the city seemed to know…even the humming was less pronounced.”
“Ah. I found him,” Zelenka announced. “He’s in the central computer hub on pier eight, but all of the transporters in that area are offline.”
“How do you know that?” John questioned.
“He tried to log into the laptop in that room twice—very clever. His first password attempt was his actual password and the second was Tell Daddy it’s totally not my fault.”
John took a deep breath to relax and shared a look with McKay. “Why is all the way out there? He couldn’t have found that by himself. He doesn’t have access to that part of the city’s schematics.”
“She lured him there,” McKay said.
“Lured,” O’Neill repeated. “You mean the city? The city is manipulating the kid, and you didn’t report it?”
“Manipulation isn’t the right word,” John said. “She prods and cajoles. Sometimes with lights and sparkles and other times…when her need is urgent with mental pushes. She pushed us both pretty hard the night the stardrive almost exploded.” He focused on McKay. “Rodney, can you activate the speakers in that area?”
“I can try,” Rodney said. “The city has cut a lot of power systems to prevent our interference. Whatever she wanted him to do—she wanted to make sure he was alone for it.”
Avery nooted sharply.
“Yeah, I know exactly how you feel,” John told the animal wryly and ignored the looks he earned for his trouble.
John activated his radio. “Sebastian, if you can hear me I need you to go back to the laptop and try to log in again. Are you hurt?” He focused on Zelenka.
“I’ve reset the machine so he can…ah. He says…I’m fine. You gotta come see this!” Zelenka adjusted his glasses. “I’m going to make him read Kavanagh’s dissertation repeatedly as a punishment.”
John frowned. “Don’t move from where you are, Sebastian. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He turned off his radio and focused O’Neill. “We haven’t reported his connection to the city because the IOA has enough interest in him and me both without adding this to it.” He glanced toward Woolsey who merely inclined his head as if he understood.
“So just how smart is the city?” O’Neill questioned. “Sentient?”
“Sapient,” John corrected and winced when O’Neill’s mouth dropped open. “I can’t prove it but the city isn’t like any kind of lifeform we’ve ever encountered before, and yes…she lives.”
“We’re going to have to take a jumper,” McKay reported as he picked up his tablet. “Let’s go. Matt, grab the penguin.”
Matt took Avery from Weir who just followed along behind them. John thought about trying to make her stay behind for security purposes, but he really didn’t have it in him to be professional about the situation.
– – – –
“Well, he’ll be here soon,” Sebastian said looked over at the large screen where the shadowy face remained visible. “It’ll be okay. He’ll understand, Theseus.”
“I hope so,” the city said. “It is difficult to…for, so many years I had Ally to communicate on my behalf and when the others left they corrupted her to protect themselves.”
“You did well to protect what you could of her,” Sebastian said as he turned his head and focused on the monitor where the city’s AI program was running. “Dr. Kusanagi will be able to integrate her code. It might not happen immediately, but everything will be okay.”
“Your father will be very angry with me,” Theseus said. “Had someone used one of my children as I used you…I’d have made war on them.”
“He’ll be mad but he’ll…” Sebastian pursed his lips. “You didn’t make me do anything, you know.”
“I should’ve realized you were asleep,” Theseus said. “And I didn’t. You left your little bird behind.”
Sebastian winced. “Yeah, I bet he went mental.”
“He’s distraught,” Theseus said. “I knew you would be good for one another, that’s why I sent him to that pier to meet you that day.”
He smiled. “How’d you do that?”
“The penguins, as you call them, are part of my ecosystem. When I was on Earth, they gathered around me often to use my shields to hide from predators and soon they learned that I had a rich hunting ground underneath my superstructure. They keep my undercarriage clean. When I left Earth, I created spaces for them to live so they could come with me.”
“You mean they really are fairy penguins?” Sebastian laughed.
“Yes, but they’ve changed and evolved much since we left Earth,” Theseus said. “And your little Avery was alone due to his genetic mutation. He’ll never successfully mate as he is infertile. Perhaps the females sense that or they believe him to be too immature for mating. The colony treats him like a chick, but he’s too large to play with the actual chicks. He was lonely, and you appeared to be as well.”
“That’s how he knew how to use the bathroom.” Sebastian huffed. “That’s been driving me nuts. They have a nesting ground underneath the city then?”
“Yes,” Theseus admitted with a laugh. “I keep them safe, and they take care of me. It works out well. My species was originally space-faring, you see, and it took some adjustments to get used to sitting on the water as I do now. My surface is tough, but creatures in the water can damage me if my surface isn’t cleaned regularly.”
“Here Daddy!” Sebastian called and left the stool just as his Dad trotted into the room. “Sorry. Not my fault. The city’s a dude. Did you know?”
“I.” John unhooked his P-90 and passed it to his brother. He walked across the room and dropped to his knees in front of his kid. “You scared the shit out of me.”
Sebastian made a face. “I guess you can hug me if it’d make you feel better.”
“It would,” John admitted and hauled his son close. He got a few half-hearted pats on his shoulder in return. “You’re grounded until you’re thirty and I’m never letting the IOA buy you a car.”
“Well, that’s only gonna work as long as I’m under eighteen and can’t sign my own contracts,” Sebastian said as they separated and shrugged when John glared at him. “Daddy, this is Theseus born of Aegeus, the Warrior King of the Levyathans.” He motioned toward the screen. “We were going to pick him out a new face, but we had a conversation about the penguins instead.”
John stood. “Theseus.”
The image on the screen flickered, shadow played over a humanoidish face. “Colonel Sheppard, you have my deepest apologies for encouraging your son to leave the safety you provide. I wasn’t aware…that he was asleep and not truly making decisions of his own free will until he was well on his way here and I’d already cut power to several transporters.”
John took a steadying breath as he released his hold on his son. “What…are you?”
“I am a Levyathan. To your understanding, I’m a synergy of technology and living metal,” Theseus said. “I come from the Cele galaxy. The ones you called the Ancients brought me with them when they fled the followers of Origin. I was very young and allowed the Ancients to shape me into the city they called Atlantis after the sentient computer program they installed to communicate with me. Unfortunately, they corrupted the AI on their departure and left me unable to speak with you when you arrived. Thanks to Sebastian, I can now enter this console so I can speak with you. I had to cut power to many parts of this area in order to complete the transfer of Ally’s code to a safe place within the device Sebastian has told me is called a supercomputer.”
“You kidnapped my kid,” John snapped and raised a hand when McKay cleared his throat. “It never happens again, or I’ll take him back to Earth. Understood?”
“I understand,” Theseus said gravely. “I had to be him alone, but I can’t foresee another circumstance where I would need his assistance like this again.”
“Why have you engaged with him so much?” Elizabeth questioned as she separated herself from the crowd. “Is it because of his gene? His intelligence?”
“He’s open and…” Theseus trailed off.
“It’s okay,” Sebastian said quietly. “You can tell them.”
“My species are empathic, and the boy’s grief over the loss of his mother made it easier to connect with him. There have been times in the past when heightened emotion has allowed me to develop a deeper connection with others within the expedition.”
“Like the night the Genii invaded,” John said. “I was…”
“Furious,” Theseus supplied. “And yes, your emotional state made it easier to help you achieve your goals. When Dr. McKay is excited—his mind is more open, and it’s easier to guide him toward issues and problems that I need to be resolved. I had no choice as I no longer had a voice of my own through Ally.”
“Ally?” Elizabeth questioned.
“Yes, when the AI was first introduced to me, her creator told me that her name was The Atlantis Collective, designation Primitus Civitas. When we merged, she suggested I call her Ally because her Janis had made her name ridiculously long for his own amusement. He enjoyed being long-winded and pretentious as it annoyed many around him.”
“Why did they give you a female AI when you appear to identify as male?” McKay asked.
“There are no genders among my kind,” Theseus said. “We reproduce asexually. I’m not sure when we started using male pronouns, but surely the Ancients were to blame.”
Sebastian laughed and turned when Avery nooted angrily. “Oh. Hey.” He walked across the room and took the bird from Matt. “Hi, Uncle Matt.”
Matt frowned at him. “You’re grounded.”
“You can’t ground me,” Sebastian protested.
“You’re totally grounded,” O’Neill said. “We took a vote on the way here. No PS3, no games on your computer, and you have to read Peter Kavanagh’s dissertation twice a week cover to cover for a month.”
“Wow, that’s…terrible,” Sebastian said aghast. “Dr. Weir, did you agree to this?”
Elizabeth huffed and crossed her arms. “I’m halfway across the city from the nearest pot of tea in my pajamas, Sebastian. I lobbied for two months.”
John snorted when Sebastian just shook his head at the betrayal.
Sebastian hugged Avery who snagged a few strands of hair and jerked them out with an angry noot. “Ow! You little butthole!”
O’Neill laughed. “Serves you right.”
“Look, Daddy, I told you they made Superman pjs in your size.”
John looked briefly at O’Neill’s lounge pants, sighed, and turned to Theseus. “On second thought, I might just give the kid to you. I haven’t had him long. I’m probably not that attached.”
“That’s not funny at all, Daddy,” Sebastian said and slouched down on the stool in front Theseus. “You’ll want to have a youthful appearance because that speaks to strength, but you don’t want to look too young because you’ll look inexperienced. So some middle ground—the oval shape is the most attractive statically for men. Roundish forehead. Shortish hair is probably the best choice since there are a lot of military types around. You’ll want to mirror their posture and state of dress without mimicking them which might come off as if you’re patronizing them. Clean shaven, dark eyes are probably good choices as well. Skin tone is your choice, of course, but most of the IOA is made up of white males who are notoriously insecure around other ethnic backgrounds so if you’re concerned, at all, about interacting with them then you’ll want to pick a face those buttholes are comfortable with.”
John was relieved they’d left Woolsey behind in the central tower.
“I’ll keep compiling and input all of that data to create a composite,” Theseus said as Sebastian yawned. “Thank you for your assistance, Sebastian.”
“You’re welcome,” Sebastian said and yawned again.
John cupped Sebastian’s shoulder. “Okay, time for you to go back to bed.” He raised an eyebrow at Theseus, who merely nodded his agreement.
He sent McKay a look when the scientist eyed the stool. “No, McKay, we’re all going back to bed. It’s 0300 hours.”
“I can meet you in your lab, Dr. McKay, I’ve almost finished building my network connection to your intranet,” Theseus said.
John rubbed the back of his head and glanced toward his brother to find him doing the same thing. “How would you feel about living in a tent on the mainland?”
“Ugh, no, Daddy, I’m allergic to camping,” Sebastian complained as he guided him out of the room.
“I’m actually allergic to grass,” Matt input. “So no, John. We’re not going to go live in a tent.”
He threw as many locking commands as he could at the door of the lab as it sealed behind them and noted that O’Neill was giving the control panel the eye as well. They exchanged a glance and O’Neill just gave him a nod before strolling ahead.
– – – –
“You need to have a really long talk with that…” Matt just waved a hand to encompass the city. “And hell put some kind of security alarm on your door that isn’t connected to the city, so you’ll know if the door opens while you’re asleep.”
John nodded and took a deep breath as he shared a glance with McKay. “Rodney?”
“I’m of two minds,” Rodney admitted. “The city’s attachment to Sebastian practically guarantees his physical safety here. Theseus is obviously very invested in him and in you. That gives you both security here that frankly, we need. There are powers on Earth who would certainly like to have you back there to operate the control chair to defend the planet in the event that O’Neill can’t. They’d be even more insistent if they knew how much better you are at that kind of thing that he is. You’ve spent twice as much time as O’Neill has working with Ancient tech and it shows especially when you’re in the chair.”
“But?” John prodded.
“Theseus is probably the most alien being we’ve ever encountered as a species—not even the Asgard can compete with him on that front,” Rodney said. “And we can’t assign human emotions and motivations to him no matter how he might project onto us when he needs our help.”
“I trust him,” John murmured. “I always have—even now in the face of what he did tonight…I trust the city.”
“Do you think he’s influencing you?” Matt questioned with a frown.
“No, because if he could do that—he would do it to all of us and he clearly hasn’t since you’re not comfortable at all with what we’ve learned so far,” John pointed out.
Matt sighed. “I don’t have your experiences with the city. Hell, John, you basically went to war with Theseus the night of that invasion, and that’s created a bond that I don’t have and probably won’t ever understand. I’d never held a gun in my life until a few weeks ago when Dad made me go through training to qualify to carry a 9mm.” He stood and paced a little. “And you’re right, I think if he could manipulate us on that level that he would do to all of us to protect himself. I’m sure he has some instincts at play himself, and we don’t know enough about his species to know what those are and how they’ll influence his decision making.”
“Are you worried about our safety?” McKay questioned.
“No, I have a feeling he’d have no problem eliminating the entire population if he didn’t want us here,” Matt said bluntly. “He’s clearly very attached to the expedition’s original members and to Sebastian. I think he’ll do whatever he has to keep us safe and happy so that we’ll stay.”
John agreed with that. He glanced toward the hall that led to his son’s room. “I overheard Woolsey tell O’Neill that the IOA shouldn’t be informed about the city’s organic intelligence. They’re going to report that introducing a ZPM allowed the integrated AI to emerge from hibernation to start city repairs. He thinks that many on the committee would consider Theseus a major threat.”
“He’s not wrong,” Rodney said. “Anything they can’t control or understand is a threat. A smart computer program? They won’t blink an eye. Some will make jokes about Hal and The Terminator, but as long as the city remains useful to them, then they won’t even be all that concerned. To find out that he’s capable of learning, growing, changing, and reasoning would be a nightmare to some who wish even their own citizens couldn’t do such things.”
John snorted. “God, Rodney.” He slouched down on the couch beside him and sighed. “Sebastian told me he woke up just outside the transporter and he only sort of remembers leaving the apartment like he was in a dream.”
“Stress can cause sleepwalking,” Matt said. “David used to do it when he was little—remember?”
“Sort of,” John admitted. “Just one incident sticks out in my head, and that was after mom died. Dad installed a security system so that none of the doors could be opened without setting off the alarm. He found Dave sitting on the side of the pool wiggling his feet in the water—sound asleep.”
“He could’ve drowned,” McKay said. “How old was he?”
“About eleven,” John said. “Dad freaked out which freaked out Dave who woke up screaming and crying. It was a mess. Sebastian’s medical records didn’t show a history of sleepwalking, and I think if it were a problem that Karen’s lawyer would’ve definitely made sure I knew about it. Blake doesn’t strike me as the type to overlook that kind of detail.”
“No, agreed,” McKay murmured. “Well, we’ll have to get Biro to give him a thorough workup tomorrow just to make sure he’s cool. Get a picture of his big brain.”
He nudged John and Sheppard responded by leaning against him and checking out his laptop screen. “Is that her code? The Atlantis Collective?”
“What’s left of it,” Rodney said. “Miko and Radek also have a copy. We won’t be able to save all of her—whatever the Ancients did was quite effective. The most will be able to do is give Theseus all of the programs that will allow him to repair and monitor himself. I’ve already tasked Miko with searching for a backup of the original AI. Janis was crazy but he was an excellent scientist—he backed up his work. We need to spend more time looking for his lab on the city.”
“We can start doing a physical search,” John said and yawned. He glanced toward Matt and found his brother staring. “What?”
“You two hide it really well,” Matt said. “I had no idea you were a couple, and no one has mentioned it to me either. In fact, more than one person has offered to let me in on the betting pool regarding when the two of you will eventually hook up.”
Rodney huffed. “Those rat bastards. Find out the date with the best odds, and we’ll go halves on a bet that will ruin it for them.”
Matt grinned. “You’re on.”