Read 02 - Reliquary Online

Authors: Martha Wells - (ebook by Undead)

02 - Reliquary




Stargate Atlantis - 02
Martha Wells
(An Undead Scan v1.0)


Author’s Note



Many, many thanks go to Julie Fortune, for encouraging me at just the right
moment, to Irina Kolesnikova for her name, to Liz Sharpe for the title, and
especially to Margie Gillis, Katrien Rutten, Seah Levy, Naomi Novik, Nancy
Buchanan, Lisa Gaunt, Troyce Wilson, and Rory Harper, for critiquing,
encouragement, beta reading and being my auxiliary backup brains.





John Sheppard pivoted, eyes narrowed critically as he examined the large
round chamber. “I don’t know, Ford. I don’t think we could mount a backboard on
these walls.”

They were a pearly white ceramic, ornamented with three wide silver bands
that had a faint hint of sea greens and blues woven into their metal. The
sunlight that fell through the cathedral-like stained glass panels high in the
peaked roof made the whole room opalescent. The floor also had translucent
white-on-white patterns, long lines that were abstract and floral, sort of Art
Nouveau. It was a subtle and beautiful space, but for Atlantis, that was hardly

“Major,” Lieutenant Ford said regretfully, shaking his head. “You are
obsessing on the basketball. I’m thinking this would be a great place to play
handball. Or racquetball. We’re in another galaxy here. You have to think
outside the hoop.”

John lifted his brows, considering it. “Racquetball, huh? You may be on to
something.” He doubted anybody had brought a set of rackets along as a personal
item, but they could probably make them. He might even be able to talk one of
the Athosians on the mainland into carving a set out of wood, which would bypass
the whole “using limited materials for recreation” issue. “McKay, what do you

Rodney McKay and Radek Zelenka were both deep in the innards of the pillar
device at the center of the room, occasionally muttering inaudible comments to
each other. John thought of it as a pillar device because at the moment they
didn’t have a clue what it did except look like a pillar. It was silver and
waist-high with the typical crystalline touch-pad controls on the flat top. So
far, poking at it and pressing the touchpads had done nothing, but that wasn’t
atypical for Atlantis, either.

McKay’s voice answered from inside the device’s guts. “I think you should
stop exchanging facetious random babble with Ford and try to use your obviously
overrated gene to make this damn thing work.”

John obligingly leaned an elbow on the unresponsive pillar. Most of the
Ancients’ technology had to be either operated or initialized by someone who had
the Ancient gene, which was rare even on Earth, where the Ancients had spent a
lot of their time when they weren’t traveling between galaxies. There was a
mental component to it too, which was sort of cool when you could turn lights on
with your mind, and lifesaving when the puddlejumpers responded to your urgent
need to make a course change or fire a drone before you could physically reach
the controls. “I don’t think that’s the problem. If it won’t work for me or your
half-assed gene, then it’s probably a lost cause.”

McKay had the gene artificially through the gene therapy retrovirus Carson
Beckett had developed. It worked for much of the Ancient tech, but some things
just needed the natural gene to initialize. “Oh please, nothing is a lost cause.
It’s just a matter of—Are you thinking at it?”

“I’m thinking it’s broken,” John admitted. It was kind of hard to turn
something on with your mind when you had no idea what it was supposed to do.

“That’s not helping!”

“So if it is broken, can we use this room for recreation?” Ford put in

McKay extracted himself from the pillar’s guts, twisting sideways to avoid
elbowing Zelenka in the head. Annoyed and sweating from working in the close
confines of the device, he said, “So not listening to you, Lieutenant.” He
picked up a tool, nudged the grumbling Zelenka over, and plunged back into the
pillar again.

“Hey, recreation is important,” John said, just to keep the argument going.
Standing around cradling a P-90 while watching other people work on something he
couldn’t help with bored the crap out of him, but moving on to another room while the
others were occupied was out of the question. This wing wasn’t part of the
secure area patrolled by the Marine detail and hadn’t even been thoroughly
explored yet. It was distant enough from the center section that the only sound
was the constant wash of the sea against the floating city’s substructure far
below their feet. Nobody was supposed to be here without a military escort, and
two scientists, deeply distracted by recalcitrant Ancient machinery and
oblivious to the world, definitely needed somebody to watch their backs. Or
their butts, which was about the only part of them visible most of the time.

But John really didn’t mind. It wasn’t that it beat
being up in the
operations tower, debating the different ways to replenish their dwindling
stores of ammo and toilet paper; exploring Atlantis was one of the coolest
things he had ever done in his life, and he didn’t expect that to change anytime
soon, no matter what wonders they found traveling through the ’gate.

“Yeah, recreation is important. For team-building, and exercise. And for
morale,” Ford agreed earnestly. Or at least he was doing a good imitation of

“Morale, that’s a good one.” John gave Ford an approving nod. “We’ll use that
when we talk to Elizabeth.” John and Ford had both been hoping to find an area
that could convert to outdoor space closer to the center section of the city.
They had found several big rooms that could have been meant for theaters,
lecture halls, or even ballrooms, and the others had searched for controls while
John had stared hopefully up at the ceilings, thinking
retract, please.
But nothing had happened.

Since Atlantis had been built for underwater use, space travel, and harsh
land conditions like the Antarctic, John could see why the inhabitants hadn’t
gone for an open football field. But there were balconies, so it seemed like
they might have wanted a larger outdoor area occasionally.

And, with the city’s shields inoperable, any large space able to open to the
air could function as a landing field for an intruder. John wanted to know about
that, too. At low power, with so many of its Ancient defenses useless, Atlantis
was nearly helpless against Wraith attack.

McKay grunted and emerged from the pillar again, wiping sweat off his
forehead with his sleeve. “Nevertheless, you’re out of luck. This is some kind
of projector, and it must use the walls to display images. Throwing a ball
around in here could damage the surface. And, to be absolutely clear, it’s a
stupid idea.”

“You’re a spoilsport. Literally,” John told him.

Rodney McKay did not work and play well with others. Even the science and
technical teams of the expedition, the people who had spent their whole
professional lives dealing with brilliant and creative personalities, had
trouble with him. Some of that probably stemmed from the fact that Rodney was
right so much of the damn time, and that just had to chafe.

But the fact remained that a tense situation just made McKay think faster.
You could probably phrase it as an equation, where the increasing awfulness of
whatever tight spot they were in was directly proportional to the speed of
McKay’s ability to think a way out of it. He was so reliable on this point that
John had stopped counting the number of times McKay’s brain had saved their

Some people were intimidated by that, and it made for a lot of yelling on
occasion. John wasn’t intimidated, and neither was their other teammate, Teyla.
Ford, twenty-five years old and barely out of kidhood, was learning not to be.
And John had realized early on that he and Rodney had eerily compatible senses
of humor. That probably wasn’t a good thing, but it made for interesting

McKay was steadily getting better on the fieldwork aspect as well. It helped
that nobody ever had to tell him to be careful; he knew better than anyone just
how dangerous any kind of alien technology could be and just how many things there were out there
besides Wraith that wanted to kill you.

“And if this is just a big projector room, it’s not new. We’ve already found
plenty of projectors,” John added, just to mess with Rodney a little more. A lot
of the living quarters had small theater rooms; the science team had already
been able to use parts from a damaged laptop to convert one to play the DVDs
people had brought along in their personal items.

Still sitting on the floor, McKay gave him a withering look. “This is a
holographic projector,” he corrected pointedly as Zelenka struggled out of the

“We found one of those already, too.”

“Oh, hey.” Ford looked intrigued. “Maybe this is a holographic game
projector, for virtual reality games. That would be cool.”

“You watched too much
Star Trek
.” Rodney told him.

Ford snorted. “Oh, like you didn’t.”

Before John could add that a virtual reality game room would be awesome,
Zelenka said, “I don’t think this is for entertainment.” He sat back on his
heels, looking thoughtful and adjusting his glasses. Zelenka was Czech, short,
with a fuzzy halo of brown hair, and probably the most brilliant person in
Atlantis next to Rodney. He had had the Ancient gene therapy, but he was one of
the forty-eight percent of the population that it didn’t affect. “There is no
place to insert media. It will only play what’s contained in the memory core.”
He eyed the pillar without satisfaction, then shrugged philosophically. “Perhaps
it’s meant to be a museum display.”

“Whatever. Let’s try it again.” McKay shoved to his feet, wiped his hands on
his pants, and slapped a touchpad.

The walls started to glow with a mild white light. Then it suddenly flashed
and dissolved in a bright flare of fuzzy three-dimensional static. The pillar
made a constipated burping noise that just couldn’t be good. “You broke it,”
John told Rodney. The gray static stood out about a foot from the walls, and the
shimmery three-dimensional quality of it was already giving him a headache.

“Oh, I did not.” McKay rolled his eyes, still poking touch-pads.

“I don’t think you should have substituted those crystals from the—” Zelenka

The pillar burped again, and the walls flashed, but this time John happened
to be looking in the right spot and saw it had displayed an actual image, just
for a second, before dissolving into static again.

“Whoa, did you see that?” Ford asked, flinching away from the brightness.

“What was it?” McKay demanded, pivoting to stare around the room.

“Those were symbols for a ’gate address.” Intrigued now, John stepped up to
the pillar, hoping the thing was stuck in some kind of memory loop. Just as the
pillar burped again he hit the biggest touch pad.

The walls blurred into motion, blazing with light and color. For an instant
John got an impression of dark stone walls and towers, a storm-gray sky
overhead. Then it all flashed into the bright liquid static again and vanished.
John winced and rubbed his eyes; his retinas felt as if they had just gotten a

“Ouch,” Ford commented, grimacing. “That wasn’t good. I think it’s wrecked.”

“Okay, all kidding aside, now you really broke it.” Irritated, Rodney flung
his hands in the air.

John threw him an annoyed look. “I did not. It was already broken when you
were screwing with it.”

Zelenka waved his hands, glaring up at them from his seat on the floor.
“Hush, enough! I’m tired of watching the Major play Bugs Bunny to McKay’s Daffy

McKay frowned down at him. “Hey, why is he Bugs Bunny?”

“It’s the teeth.” Ford nodded seriously.

John turned to him, saying earnestly, “What did you say, Ford? You want to go to the mainland and dig irrigation ditches for Hailing?
Why, yes, that can be arranged!”

Swearing, Zelenka dived into the pillar console again, his voice muffled.
“Recriminations later. Let me try…”

This time there was a muted flash and an image froze, stretched across
three-quarters of the wall area. It was the seven symbols of a Stargate address,
displayed in three-dimensional blue figures a couple of feet high.

“Huh. What do you know about that?” McKay frowned thoughtfully at the pillar.
“What’s so special about this address that it gets its own kiosk and a
holographic display?”

Zelenka growled from inside the device. “If I could just get past this
damaged section of power input, I might be able to-Though perhaps the memory
core itself is damaged, maybe when crystals were drained.” He pulled his head
out to look at the address, brow furrowed. “We need to figure out a way to make
it play the whole thing. It must explain itself.”

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