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Stargate Atlantis: Exogenesis (novel)

SGA-5 Exogenesis cover.inddExogenesis is the second Atlantis title I co-authored with Beth Christensen, and once again, writing it was a sheer pleasure.

The ideas for Exogenesis and The Chosen came simultaneously, but The Chosen fit better as a Season 1 tale, whereas Exogenesis needed more Season 2 elements. The entire storyline of Exogenesis spent months in the back of my mind brewing, before I put finger to keyboard. Beth had a bunch of scene and dialogue ideas in mind, with a clear picture of where to use them. Consequently, entwined plot threads notwithstanding, Exogenesis came together quite quickly.

This is a story I really wanted to write, more or less from the moment I saw ‘Rising’, because McKay’s character has some truly inspiring…quirks. All of the show’s characters obviously carry degrees of emotional baggage, but McKay’s border on crippling. I wanted to worm our way behind his defensive façade, utterly mess with his head, and explore the fragility of those emotions, all without taking away from the Rodney we have all come to know and love. The story spiraled out from there. In short, ‘How about we do this to Rodney, and then create a world around that premise?’ We also wanted to toy with the McKay/Zelenka dynamic, squeeze the mixed-up Weir/Caldwell/Sheppard power structure, toss in Ronon’s sense of loyalty, and see what popped out. Teyla’s place on the team versus her role as a leader of the Athosians also comes under the microscope, and poor Carson Beckett is lumbered with far more than anyone should ever have to deal with. Really, these characters offer a feast of possibilities on so many levels, and then of course we dump them into a churning, action-oriented tale.

As to the backdrop, I’ve taken parts of Exogenesis into a world that’s second nature to me: underwater. It’s set a few episodes after ‘Grace Under Pressure’ so we also have Rodney’s accumulated neurosis from that little outing to play with. The physical descriptions of the settings come from quite literally thousands of dives on countless reefs and wrecks (Port and Starboard fish really do exist), one spooky experience in a submersible, and an even spookier free diving (versus SCUBA) encounter with the biggest dogtooth tuna I’ve ever seen – and man, it had attitude. I’ve also found several underwater wrecks, including an intact WWII Corsair fighter plane. For those interested, a bunch of my underwater (and topside) commercial photos can be seen over at Dive Vanuatu and Sailaway Cruises. Oh, and I once hauled in from the depths the particular species that, well, you’ll know it when you read about it. Rodney sure did. I’ve still never figured out the evolutionary reason for a fish having jaws several times larger than its body.

Couple of points that come up in the story: I’ve busted my eardrums because of reverse ear block, and, thanks to too many years of free diving (and hence, rapid pressure changes in the sinuses) killed the roots of two teeth. One of those incidents occurred over Christmas and New Year, and the effect was ongoing throughout the writing of Exogenesis. I like to share my pain. My dentist, Mike, is also a Stargate fan. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, because he’s also a fan of root canal therapy.

Probably the most offbeat thing about this novel, though, is that it was submitted as part of my Masters thesis  at Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane). I wrote the exegesis (the academic paper that’s submitted along with the novel) from a social anthropology perspective, focusing on the use of mythology (or in the case of The Chosen, what happens when you remove a society’s mythology) to create verisimilitude. The Stargate mythology is rooted in the ideas of Lovecraft, Hubbard, Pauwells, von Däniken, Sitchin, and so forth. I’m not absolutely positive, but based on a search prior to writing, it would appear that I am the first person to have ever undertaken a postgraduate degree centred entirely on Stargate.

A degree in Stargate, huh?

Cool.

Weird, but cool.

And yeah, the title is no coincidence. It’s a reminder to the rest of my MA cohort group, published writers all, of our mutual pain. My supervisor even allowed me to retain the title of the exegesis, ‘The Attraction of Sloppy Nonsense’.

From the jacket

The eye of the beholder…

When Dr. Carson Beckett disturbs the rest of two long dead Ancients, he unleashes devastating consequences of global proportions.

With the very existence of Lantea at risk, Colonel John Sheppard leads his team on a desperate search for the long lost Ancient device that could save Atlantis. While Teyla Emmagan and Dr. Elizabeth Weir battle the ecological meltdown consuming their world, Colonel Sheppard, Dr. Rodney McKay and Dr. Zelenka travel to a world created by the Ancients themselves. There they discover a human experiment that could mean their salvation…

But the truth is never as simple as it seems, and the team’s prejudices lead them to make a fatal error — an error that could slaughter thousands, including their own Dr. McKay.

Extract

Prelude

The shuttle plunged beneath the surface of the ocean. “We’re safe now,” said Atlas, slumping in relief. “The Wraith will not follow.”

Ea knew that Atlas blamed himself for her injuries, but the transport ship had virtually exploded around them. Whatever had ripped through the shuttle’s hull, severing her legs and damaging the primary inertial dampener systems, had also triggered the force field that maintained the shuttle’s integrity. Descending through the planet’s atmosphere while dodging the phalanx of Wraith Darts had been horrendous, but now they were underwater and the buffeting had ceased.

Relaxing her grip on the remains of her chair, Ea studied Atlas. The watery blue light dancing across his face should have been soothing, but it only enhanced his drawn features. The terrible wounds that he had sustained these past weeks had taken their toll—on both of them—for she had healed him so often that dealing with her own injuries was now out of the question. The best she had managed to do was control the worst of the bleeding and pain, and even that was becoming difficult.

Outside the cockpit window, the domed force field holding back the waters over Atlantis came into view. Moments later Ea saw the spires of the city and she stared in shock. Everything was still and dark and lifeless. “It’s too late. They’ve already left!”

“Doesn’t matter. There must still be power, otherwise the force field wouldn’t be operational.” Atlas glanced at her and swallowed hard when his gaze dropped to the mangled stumps of her legs. “I know the coordinates. Once we’re inside I can reroute sufficient power to the Stargate and open a stable wormhole to Earth.”

“What of the others?” From where she was seated, Ea could not see his visual display, but the stiffening in his shoulders was unmistakable.

“Only four made it past the Darts.” Atlas’s voice caught, and this time he could not look at her.

“So few.” Twenty shuttles had escaped the doomed transport. Ea closed her eyes, determined to control the pain that threatened to engulf her. Why had Moros refused to listen to them?

“Soon now, Ea. Soon, my love. Hold on.” Atlas’s fingers skimmed across the console. “I’m linking the shuttle’s force field with that of the city’s, so that we can pass through.”

And then? When they went through the Stargate to Earth, Moros or one of the others would likely be able to restore her body, but who could restore her soul? And of course the Council would also learn what Atlas had done.

“Our force field won’t link with the city’s,” someone called from another shuttle.

“We’re having the same problem,” came a second voice edged with panic. “We can’t get inside!”

“That’s not possible!” Atlas snapped. “The Council must have known that other ships might yet arrive.”

“Moros believed that evacuation to Earth was only a temporary solution,” a third pilot reminded them. “And that everyone would return to Atlantis as soon as they discovered a way to destroy the Wraith.”

Yes. It had always been about how they would vanquish those abominations. In its fear, the Council had forbidden the research work of those who, like her and Atlas and Janus, would attempt to undo this horror.

The pilot did not need to say more. The city’s force field had been breached many times by Wraith-controlled human pilots flying captured shuttles. Unaware that Atlas’s team was still alive, believing they were the sole survivors in a galaxy that now belonged to the Wraith, the Council would have set the force field to repel all comers in order to ensure the city’s protection. This was their team’s punishment, then, for keeping their work hidden. Banished from the city, with nowhere to flee, their only hope of a future now rested with their ability to Ascend—something that Ea did not believe was within her.

Her fear of the Council abruptly vanished, and Ea wanted to scream her rage at Moros. But of course Moros had made absolutely certain that she and Atlas would never be given that opportunity. “Curse them. Curse them all for their weakness in not facing the truth!” she cried.

The voices of those inside the other shuttles were laced with desperation and, soon, resignation as they, too, realized that there was no way into the city.

“This cannot be.” Atlas hoisted himself from the chair and turned to the control panels, searching for a solution.

“It’s over, Atlas,” Ea said, clinging to her anger in order to keep her tone free of despair.

“I won’t accept that they abandoned us!”

“One hope remains.” Even now, while the life ebbed from her body, she could not entirely give up.

Ignoring her, Atlas pulled open the panels and began sorting through the crystals. “I’ll find a way to change the frequency. We have days of air—”

Marshaling the last of her strength, Ea called, “Look at me, Atlas.”

He hesitated, but then continued examining the crystals. Ea admired his determination. Indeed, it was Atlas’s tenacity that had allowed him to create his incredible machines. She had no doubt that, in time, he would find a way to gain entry into the city, but time was something that she no longer had. “Look at me!” she demanded. It was becoming harder to breathe, and her vision was graying. “I do not have days, or even hours, Atlas. I can’t live very much longer.”

Slowly, the crystals slipped from his fingers, and he turned and crouched before her. “I won’t let you die. I’ll heal you.” Eyes bright with tears, he reached for her hands.

“No!” She jerked away. “You don’t have the strength, and I refuse to live if you perish.” The torment on his face was too much to bear. Relenting a little, Ea summoned up a final smile and held a trembling hand to his cheek. “If we choose now, there will be enough energy to calibrate the shuttle’s shield to protect us, as well as Atlantis, and we’ll both survive. Then we can begin again, just as we planned.”

Atlas’s face contorted in frustration. “We have no idea when or even if they’ll return!”

“Of course they will.” She gazed fondly at the city of her birth, the elegant spires where she had played as a child, safe and secure in its everlasting beauty. “Atlantis only sleeps. We shall slumber beside her and keep her company. It doesn’t matter when we awaken, because you and I will be together.”

Tears glistened in his eyes, but he nodded and gently lifted her in his arms. Whimpering at the brutal force of pain inflicted by his movements, Ea clung to him, imprinting on her memories the warmth and smell of his body. The terrible pain faded when he laid her down and comforted her with the soft touch of his lips and his parting words. “Soon now, my love, we shall dream sweet dreams together. And when we awaken the worlds will be as they once were, wonderful places full of hope and promise, and the Wraith nothing more than a distant memory.”

Resolutely clinging to the last shreds of her life, Ea smiled and slipped into sleep.

Chapter 1

The hushed mutterings off to his left failed to capture Dr. Rodney McKay’s attention. Unlike the vast majority of the science team currently stationed in Atlantis, Radek Zelenka didn’t pester him unless it was for something incredibly good, horrifyingly bad, or astoundingly bizarre.

“Muj Boze!” (author’s note: the diacritical on this is absent in ‘z’ in html – apologies to Czech fans)

Like that.

Automatically hitting ‘save’ on his computer, Rodney stood and walked across the lab to look over Radek’s shoulder. “You have something?”

The Czech scientist was currently investigating an underwater avalanche near the mooring apparatus that anchored Atlantis to the seafloor. He pointed to the readings on his screen and replied, “One might say so, yes.”

Rodney almost stumbled backward. “Are those legitimate?”

“No, Rodney, I am playing a joke,” Radek answered with a look of irritation. “It is April, and I am the fool to consider investigating the calls of a whale. Perhaps we should also have ignored the animal when it pinpointed your position as you floundered on edge of the abyss.”

“All right, excuse me for being just slightly surprised—and I wasn’t floundering,” Rodney shot back. “As always, I was entirely rational and methodical in my approach to the problem at hand. And where exactly did you pick up a term like ‘floundering’?”

“It was how Colonel Sheppard described Jumper Six on the edge of the underwater canyon.” Radek rocked his palm in a seesaw motion to illustrate his point.

Of course it was. It certainly had nothing to do with Rodney’s precarious mental balance during his excursion into a claustrophobic’s purgatory, complete with an intensely frustrating encounter with Sam Carter. He also preferred not to dwell on the fact that, with so much Ancient technology at their disposal, Sheppard and Zelenka had resorted to whale watching in order to locate his submerged jumper.

Now the same animal, or one of its relatives, had been sighted swimming around Atlantis’s south pylon—directly above the site of the avalanche.

“So.” Radek sat back and crossed his arms. “I was right. Your whale is trying to tell us something.”

“It’s not my whale.”

“Ah ha!” Radek shot from his chair and waved his hand in triumph. “You admit it. My suggestion was not ludicrous. I was correct, and you were wrong.”

“I admit no such thing! I simply stated that relying on a whale was—”

“Tantamount to soothsaying.” Casually elegant as always, Elizabeth Weir strode in. “Good morning, gentlemen.” Exchanging a knowing look with Radek, she added, “I just came by to check on your progress. So the whale really is signaling something?”

“Yes, yes, we’ve been through all of that, thank you.” Rodney blinked away the distraction provided by the mug of steaming coffee in Elizabeth’s hands and tapped a command into the computer terminal to bring up a bathymetric chart on the wall-mounted screen. “We’ve just found—”

A polite cough sounded from behind him.

With an exaggerated sigh, Rodney amended, “Radek has found something of interest.”

“Four puddle jumpers,” Radek added, his gaze fixed to the readout.

“What?” Elizabeth’s eyes widened. She quickly set her coffee mug down on the table and, tucking a wave of dark hair behind her ear, stepped closer to examine the screen.

“I’m assuming they were buried by debris accumulated around the edge of the shield when the city surfaced,” Rodney continued, unconsciously edging closer to the aroma of freshly brewed beans.

Indicating a faint but steadily pulsing light just outside the indentation in the seabed where the city had been, Radek said, “And there is something alive in one of the jumpers.”

“Probably the whale’s favorite snack food,” Rodney said dismissively. “I’m much more interested in the possibility of salvaging the jumpers for spare parts.”

“After they’ve been submerged for ten thousand years?” Elizabeth gave him a look of disbelief. “While I’d be the first to admit that you can fix pretty much anything, Rodney, I doubt that we’d be able to dig them out of who knows how much coral growth.”

“It’s entirely likely that the jumpers remained intact until the city surfaced. Which of course is good news for us, because even a year or two immersed in water wouldn’t have damaged the crystals to any measurable degree.”

Radek, who had returned to his computer, now swiveled around in his seat and peered at Rodney over the top of his glasses. “Life sign indicator is not for fish.”

“Well, then, what exactly is it? Giant hermit crabs? A baby whale playing hide and seek?”

“No. An Ancient. Two, in fact.”

“Oh, my God!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

Radek nodded agreeably. “Is what I said.”

Pushing the Czech’s chair aside, Rodney took one look at the readout, and then turned on Radek. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I was attempting to when you questioned if I was playing a joke.” Radek met his glare with an annoyingly disingenuous expression.

“Hold on a minute.” Elizabeth frowned. “How could anyone, even an Ancient, still be alive down there after so long? Unless they’re in—”

“Stasis chambers.” Without a thought Rodney reached across the table for Elizabeth’s abandoned mug and took a sip.

A bemused smile quirked at the corner of her mouth. “Feel free to help yourself, Rodney.”

“No,” Radek corrected.Almost choking on the coffee, Rodney nonetheless caught the look of concern that Radek directed at Elizabeth as he elucidated that comment. “Life pods.”

Examining the data, Rodney noticed the newly familiar blip in the life sign signatures. Wincing at the memory, he added, “The energy signature is similar to the units we recovered from the Cohall system—but it’s very weak. It’s not inconceivable that the avalanche damaged the pods, in which case, we need to get down there sooner rather than later.”

“It rather begs the question, doesn’t it?” Elizabeth’s expression had measurably tightened.

“Why these jumpers were unable to get inside city’s force field,” Radek supplied unnecessarily.

“Thank you for once again stating the patently obvious.” Realizing that he was still clutching Elizabeth’s coffee, Rodney put the mug down. “We could speculate endlessly, but it’s only a few hundred meters deep. We’ve already proven that the jumpers can handle significantly greater pressures than that, and I can patch in a spare power cell so that extending the shield won’t be so draining this time. Better yet, two jumpers parked here and here”—he typed in a command to bring up an enhanced image of the area, and pointed to a broad ledge near the signal’s origin—“would amplify the field approximately four to five times. We could take a look at all of the abandoned jumpers and possibly the mooring apparatus with a minimal amount of moving around.”

Her attention focused on the screen, Elizabeth nodded distractedly. “Teyla and Ronon are ashore visiting the Athosians, so you’d better take Colonel Sheppard, Dr. Beckett, and a couple of Marines. We don’t know what we’ll be dealing with down there.”

“I’ll go fill them in. You can enlist Carson.” Waving a hand toward Radek, Rodney added, “Might want to go get your gear.”

The Czech’s head whipped around so fast that his glasses slipped off his nose. “Pardon me?” He rapidly pushed back his chair and stood. “What happened to the ‘we’ in this discussion? I did not volunteer to play submariner again.”

“As you so subtly reminded us, this was entirely your own idea. Besides, I thought you vowed to learn to swim after your last adventure.” Rodney raised his eyebrows in challenge.

“A promise made in a moment of weakness. I was merely enthusiastic about not having drowned.”

“Well, now you can get enthusiastic again, because one of us needs to go, and you’d better believe it’s not going to be me.” As loath as Rodney was to admit it to himself, the hours he’d spent in that dying jumper under the unending ocean had left their mark. He’d gotten over it, having lived to fight another day and all, and if asked, he’d swear on Schrödinger’s grave that he never woke up in the dead of night with the sensation of cold salt water rising over his face. But really, why should he have to go back down there to prove that he was over it?

Radek opened his mouth to continue his objection, but after meeting Rodney’s gaze seemed to think better of it. “Yes, I see. Go, find soldiers. I will say hello to your whale friend for you.”