Chapter Thirty-One: Fragile Balance
Monday, 3rd April 2000.
Harry swooped casually over the canopy, following the river below as he gently swayed back and forth. The movement was barely even noticeable inside the incredible vessel, as evidenced by Hermione sitting in the co-pilot's seat reading a thick tome, completely unfazed by his flying. Something Harry would never tire of watching.
She seemed to detect his gaze on her and looked up from the book, giving him a soft smile. He had explored a large portion of Verda already, but something kept drawing him back to this continent. So Hermione had taken to joining him purely for the enjoyment of spending their time together.
"Wow." She said softly, looking out the side of the navi, this one now had a wide strip of window magically imbued into the metal around the entire vessel to better aid using it for surveying with multiple people aboard. "What is that?"
She pointed past Harry's shoulder and he pulled the vessel up and came to a stop, rotating in the air until he was pointing the front of the ship towards the area Hermione had indicated.
In the distance was a purple-blue mountain range, though whether the colour was natural or simply due to the deep distant shadow, he could not yet tell. It seemed like a natural semi-circle that wrapped around a large open area that swept down from the mountains. Several small streams wound their way across the plain and into a large lake about twenty or so miles from the mountains.
"That is one heck of a view," Harry said as Hermione laid her book aside.
She tapped several commands onto the controls in front of her as Harry held their position and the front of the ship lit up with a wide display HUD. It showed the data coming in from the vulta, indicating long-term weather patterns and other metrics they had programmed the tiny spheres to monitor.
"That's right in the green zone in just about every area." He said, looking at Hermione.
She bit her lip as she entered another set of commands and a new image appeared on the HUD. They both gasped as they watched the onboard computer slowly render one after another of the designs Luna and Parvati had worked out together over the view, each looking incredible, until Harry hit the controls and paused on one in particular.
It was an homage to Aether in that it too was built into a small mountain, though this time the mountain would be formed artificially around the city itself. And unlike back on Earth, this one would not be concealed within, but wear its nature proudly as it extended up and out of the rock, like fingers stretching up into the sky.
"That looks incredible," Hermione whispered as they stared at the sight of the potential design overlaid in place.
As they watched, the ringed moon began to rise over the horizon behind the mountains and Harry turned to Hermione and laughed. "I think this is it."
She nodded back, her face glowing with stunned disbelief at what they had found. Hermione stood up and walked the couple of steps over to Harry's seat, settling herself on his lap and wrapping her arms around him as the pair watched silently as the natural satellite rose behind what they were both certain would soon be their new home.
Wednesday, 6th April 2000.
Teal'c stared stoically out over the softly rippling water. It had now been several hours since they had arrived and nothing seemed to be happening.
O'Neill flicked his wrist once again, and his line sailed out deep into the pond, casting a new series of ripples out from the point of impact. He almost immediately began reeling it back in, the soft clacking noise of the ratcheting mechanism within the reel adding to the sounds of nature surrounding the cabin.
At least the temperature had risen considerably in the time they had been fishing. Though Major Carter and Daniel Jackson, on the second smaller wooden construct closer to the cabin itself, were still bundled up rather tightly in thick warm jackets.
"Jack," Daniel said, at last, breaking the silence that had persisted for many hours.
"Daniel," O'Neill replied, casting once more into the water.
Daniel scratched at his neck where some small insects were persisting in harrying the academic. "Are there any fish in this pond?"
Teal'c turned slowly to look at O'Neill as he retracted his line once again, having not allowed any time for any fish to have detected and approached the hook.
"No," O'Neill replied once again, the same medium inflection in his voice as if that should have been obvious.
Teal'c noticed Carter and Daniel look at one another and sigh.
"If there are no fish, sir, then why are we fishing here?" Carter asked, and Teal'c felt his eyebrow raising questioningly.
"Because the General suggested I take you all fishing as part of our leave. Here we are, fishing."
"But there is nothing to catch," Daniel added, in the tone he often used when O'Neill was being intentionally obtuse.
"We aren't here to do some catching, Daniel, we're here to do some fishing. So fish."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I happen to agree with Daniel in this case. What is the point in fishing in a place with no fish?" Carter asked again.
"You actually find repeatedly casting into an empty pond entertaining?" Daniel added.
O'Neill remained silent as he flicked the reel handle up once more and flicked his rod again. "Fishing is not about entertainment, Daniel. It's about relaxing in the beauty of the outdoors."
Daniel and Carter turned to look at one another in disbelief before the two wound in their lines in unison, drawing a glance and smirk from O'Neill, who seemed to believe they had gotten the message. Teal'c could clearly see they had gotten a message from the comment but doubted it was the one O'Neill had intended when they stood up and sat both rods on the nearby grass before turning and heading towards the cabin.
"Where are you going?" O'Neill asked, sitting up in his chair.
"Inside, sir. Where it's warm." Carter replied, pulling her jacket tighter about her body.
"Sorry, Jack. Maybe another time, in a lake with some actual fish in it." Daniel added, following Carter inside.
"Fine. T'll stay with me. Won't you, T?" O'Neill said.
Teal'c felt a small amount of guilt as he too stood, laying the rod he had not cast in some time down on the small wooden jetty.
"Apologies, O'Neill." He said, bowing slightly before he followed the others inside. Fishing, it seemed, was not a sport he found enthralling. Right now, he was unsure what made it a sport at all.
Sunday, 9th April 2000.
Luna carefully checked the final measurements on the receiver. They had done a thorough survey of the entire area and found that Harry and Hermione's initial assessment had been right on the money. This wide sweeping plain was perfect. She entered several commands as the system worked on tweaking the path of the central stream.
The team had worked very carefully to ensure that the structure they planned to build here would not negatively impact the surrounding flora and fauna, but complement it instead. She'd even added new tweaks to the design so that their fountain would drain to a small river that would empty over the near-side of the mountain to a waterfall, eventually emptying out into the nearby lake.
"It's ready." She said softly, the others watching her work quietly, all excited to be a part of what they were about to begin.
"Bring us closer, Harry," Hermione said from the seat behind him at the controls, Luna in the co-pilot's chair today.
Harry grabbed the controls and eased the navi lower, coming to rest in the central point of the wide plain. Luna entered more commands and they all heard the whirring of the beam engine they'd incorporated into the navis winding up. It needed to integrate a large object now. She was very glad they'd augmented the navi with additional power, or this would likely take several days.
"It should take four minutes to integrate," Luna said, turning to the others for one final approval before they began.
Once Hermione had returned with images of the area, and how it would look with their design in place, the decision had been unanimous. Everyone was looking forward to this, but Luna felt a single moment of hesitation now, as she sat poised over the button.
The others looked resolved. "Do it," Padma said with a soft smile. She had been the most opposed to living on Verda, but seeing it now, even she had completely come around to the planet.
Luna nodded and hit the button. Beyond the windscreen, a large hemisphere of white light came into being, shiny against the shadowed backdrop. They could all hear the sound of the beam engine integrating the small central cavern. It would be the foundation upon which the rest of the mountain would be built.
The beam engine within it would be far stronger than the one in the navi. It would have been able to integrate a structure like itself within seconds. It also had the necessary power to mine the nearby asteroid belt for the resources needed for the matter converter. The matter in the navi's buffer now being used to integrate it was some of the leftover material from Fundamenta and some additional matter mined from the Earth itself. A suggestion Merlin had made of continuing to use it as a foundation for the future of their people.
As time moved forwards, the hemisphere became brighter, and just as Luna was about to look away, it snapped into place and the sound vanished. The silence inside the small tubular ship was almost deafening without the thrumming of the beam engine. The soft noise of their collective breathing was the only thing audible at all.
Everyone was focused ahead, staring out the window at the base of their newest structure. It was made to look like natural rock, but they knew it to be some of the densest and sturdiest matter in the universe.
"Brilliant," Harry said, finally breaking the spell.
"This is going to be so cool," Richard said, standing from his seat and walking forward, standing between the kids in the front seats. "What now?"
"The design itself is programmed into the structure," Luna explained. "It will currently be scanning the star system for, and then locking onto, the best sources of matter in the system and preparing to…"
She trailed off as more beam energy began to flare in front of them. Small bursts would appear and then vanish, leaving tiny chunks of rock behind. The structure was building itself following the pattern they had preassigned it.
"It will begin by shoring up any underground weak points. So we won't see much from up here for now. But pretty soon, it will start building upwards. Though it will still take several weeks. It's going to be a lot of matter. Especially with the density of some of the walls and floors."
"How big is it going to be?" Natalie asked from her seat.
"From the plain? Not that large, the 'peak' of the mountain itself will barely be three hundred metres up. And without the need to contain large hangars inside here, it won't be nearly as wide as Aether, though it will still be quite squat overall. But the buildings will rise out of the rock into the sky. The tallest will be twice that height again from the peak."
Silence reigned once again inside the small ship as they watched the new mountain forming. Tiny flashes of light indicating where the computer was replacing material as it worked.
"It will need a name," Parvati said softly.
The group turned inwards, glancing between one another as they considered their options.
"Well, it is going to be our home," Richard said, having once more begun digging into the Alteran language since the team had decided to adopt it full-time. "Why not give a slight reference to Aether and call it Aedis? It means house, room, or home. Though it can also mean temple or shrine."
The others glanced from Richard to the light show outside and back again.
"What do you think, Luna? Parvati? It's your design." Harry asked.
The two girls looked at one another, and Luna was awash once again with overwhelming feelings as the group showed such unwavering trust in her.
"I like it," Parvati said.
"Me too." Luna echoed, looking at the others.
"Any objections?" Hermione asked, getting none from anyone. "It's official then. Aedis, the capital of the Aetherial Nation."
The entire group were all smiles as they continued to watch their future home flashing into existence in front of them for some time before they headed back to Earth through the porta they had installed on a hill nearby until they could move it inside the completed city.
Tuesday, 11th April 2000.
Carson sat quietly beside Cyla as she watched the three healers discussing the new muggle methods and how they might be utilised in magical medicine. He was equally as fascinated by their own forms of magical healing, so he found it nice that they were so interested in the muggle methods they had eventually used in return.
"Hello there." He said to Cyla, who turned to smile at him.
"Hello." She replied and he smiled at how quickly she had picked things up. While she still couldn't seem to remember anything, she was grasping English a lot faster than he had expected.
"If you feel up to it, Parvati provided me with this." He said, holding up a small book. "It's apparently a guide to learning Alteran. I thought we might practice together, given you're already better at it than I am."
Cyla took the book from his hand and opened it, looking curiously at the odd pictures accompanied by several forms of text. Carson watched as she studied the letters quietly. He had managed to figure out the Alteran alphabet and how it related to his own native tongue, but mastering the actual pronunciation was proving difficult.
For a moment he regretted not doing as he was told the council had done, having the language downloaded into his mind before coming down. But it gave him something to do, and a reason to sit and bond with their new friend as well.
"Ball?" She asked him, indicating the spherical object.
"Aye. It's not a terribly advanced one. Apparently, it's meant for pre-school children. But how else shall we pass the time?" He asked cheerily.
Cyla returned his smile again and he found her face was intoxicating when she did so. The pale blue eyes and skin playing off her dark red hair brilliantly.
The pair were distracted by a loud shout from across the room. "Ah, shit. That hurts. Shit, shit, shit… Ow. Don't touch it!" Aurora shouted at the two who had moved to inspect her injury.
"What happened?" Carson said, rushing over to the others as Aurora hopped on one foot.
"I kicked the bloody table by accident." She replied, clearly angry at herself for her moment of clumsiness and trying her best not to swear any further despite the agony she was obviously in.
"Well, where is your wand?" Leo asked.
"In my room. Where's yours?" Aurora snapped back and Leo fell silent.
Summer just rolled her eyes at the pair. "Take a seat, Aurora. I'll go get mine."
Carson helped the hopping girl take a seat and gently peeled her thick warm sock off, being very mindful of the several angled toes that indicated just how badly she'd hit it.
"Oh my, that looks rough. You're saying magic will sort that right out?" He asked as Cyla stepped up beside him.
"Yeah, breaks and sprains are…" Aurora paused as a spike of pain lanced through her, "easy to fix." She growled through clenched teeth.
"Easier just not to be a klutz," Leo grumbled, getting a dark look from the young girl.
"Cyla? What are you doing?" Carson asked as Cyla reached out and grasped Aurora's ankle firmly in her right hand. "Careful, deary. She's hurt."
Aurora took a sharp breath as Cyla's left hand hovered over her misshapen toes and gave a shout of surprise as the bones clicked back into place, seemingly without any pain whatsoever.
"That… how the hell did she do that?" Aurora said, flexing the once more corrected toes.
Summer walked back into the room, wand in hand to see the three medical figures looking between Cyla and Aurora in surprise. "What did I miss?"
Carson stood, looking at the fixed foot and then up to Cyla, just in time to see her collapse. His arms shot out and he caught her as she fell, nearly tumbling with her at the sudden dead weight.
"What's wrong?" Summer said, rushing over and casting several spells over the unconscious woman.
"I don't know. She fixed Aurora with her bare hands and then she blacked out."
"She's unconscious," Summer confirmed, noting the responses to her spells. "Exhausted by the look of it. We should run a scan again, make sure that it isn't the virus."
Carson looked up at her, hoping that it wasn't the plague having hidden away in her body somewhere. If it was, then they had all now been thoroughly exposed during the past week that the woman had joined them out of isolation.
Natalie watched as the two holograms appeared in the chairs opposite Richard, Luna and herself. The other council members were all currently off-world, altering the Lal Ring caverns and their porta to newer models to make the locations more secure, even though they weren't planning to use them for the time being. So the response to the meeting request was limited compared to normal.
"Things aren't as bad as we thought." Summer said immediately, shuffling in her chair. "There is no sign of the virus returning."
"You're certain?" Richard asked, concern visible on his face now that all of the group were mingling again in the isolation suite.
"We've rechecked the results multiple times," Leo grumbled. "It's clearly a case of exhaustion. I don't see why this is such a big deal."
Natalie stared at the man for a moment. He had become quite gruff in the past few weeks as the reality of the quarantine period had truly set in. She returned her attention to Summer, who was far more likable even under their current conditions.
"It was such a short exertion. How can it have resulted in exhaustion?"
"I think it is like a young magical first practising difficult spells." The woman replied. "There is a reason that Hogwarts serves such heavy meals. The energy required by learning magicals is quite remarkable. She's still rather weak from her long hibernation. It's possible the action was just too much for her system so soon after being revived.
"Merlin did happen to be scanning Aurora at the time, hoping to catch a new example of magic in action. So he did get a detailed scan of the ability as she used it. It is like magic but different in a way. He says that she put a lot of energy into the ability. Far more than I would have needed to repair the injury with magic, which could also have contributed to the draining effect."
"So it is one of these abilities the records show the Lanteans possessing." Luna summarised quietly.
"It would seem so, yes. But I didn't think that worked time-wise." Summer replied, having been brushing up on several such topics during her, until now, rather boring quarantine.
"It doesn't. Cyla is from before the Alterans abandoned Avalon for Pegasus. That is several million years of evolution between her and the Lanteans who were recorded to possess such powers." Luna said, having also spent a lot of time researching their histories of late.
Merlin shimmered into being in one of the empty chairs and the others turned to face him.
"I believe I've located the cause." He opened as an image of a brain appeared over the table. "There are several sections of neurons in Cyla's brain that are far more densely packed than normal. These portions were intensely active during the healing process. However, they are almost tumorous in appearance. I do not believe that she was born with them. It would appear that our frozen friend has undergone a process of mutation from the Alteran norm."
"Are there any references to such mutations in the database?" Natalie asked.
"A few. But none that were recorded to have resulted in such abilities."
"And yet, they eventually developed them later on in their evolution."
"Correct. I've also been searching ancient personnel records, hoping to find some pre-infection data on our guest, but I've yet to locate any sign of that name in the database. It is possible names of the infected were scrubbed from the records to aid in the grieving process for those departing due to the plague she was exposed to."
"Could the virus itself be responsible?" Summer queried.
The others pondered the question for a moment. It was certainly not unheard of for such things to occur. Many of the varied viruses that humanity had been exposed to over the millennia had left them with new or altered traits. But it tended to only have long-term effects through the evolutionary process, rather than causing positive change in a single living body in the same generation as the infection.
"It could be possible." Merlin mused. "The virus did affect the brain. It may be that Cyla possessed the necessary precursors for the mutation required to wield such power, and the infection itself was what triggered their activation. And unless she had offspring that survived and left for Pegasus, she would have been unable to pass on such a mutation into the gene pool."
"Meaning it took a long while for nature to repeat the required mutation again." Natalie mused.
"Correct. Though confirming such a hypothesis would be difficult. We lack any samples from her pre-infected state. And the ability does seem to be far less refined than the recorded powers of the pre-ascension Lanteans."
"That's what led to her exhaustion." Summer said. "I don't think she has utilised this ability much at all."
"The movement seemed more instinct than intent," Leo said. "I don't think she knew what she was doing even while she was doing it."
"Is it something we need to worry about?" Richard asked. "How is her condition now?"
"Aurora and Carson are with her now, monitoring her vitals," Merlin explained. "I do not believe it poses a danger to those around her, but repeated use without further information may be detrimental to her condition. I will keep an eye out for any repeat cases. Once the quarantine period is complete, we can arrange a testing process to better understand the function of her ability."
"If she consents." Natalie clarified. "Proper informed consent. There will be no tests without her express permission."
Merlin seemed as though he wished to argue the matter, but before he could speak, Luna joined in. "Natalie is right. Imagine the trauma she has experienced. She caught a plague that ravaged her people. Was left behind as she watched her home and loved ones abandon her and the whole galaxy due to the plague. Then she was frozen for millions of years, awakening to a world so different to the one she fell asleep in. It's possible her memory loss is not even due to the freezing at all."
"It's quite the harrowing experience to hear it laid out like that," Richard said softly.
"Once she has joined us up here and seems capable of understanding the scope of such decision-making, the council will allow you to offer her such tests to further explore her ability," Natalie said, intentionally forcing Merlin to accept their decision. "Until that time, anything beyond basic healthcare is off limits. We did not wake her up to turn her into a lab rat."
"Very well. I shall abide by the council's decision." Merlin responded, nodding slightly.
"How much longer do we have to be down here? There is no sign of the virus in any of us." Leo grumbled.
"The quarantine period was laid down in the contract you signed," Luna explained. "And we hardcoded it into that section of the facility once the infected were sent down there."
"From the last detected trace of the virus, the quarantine period lasts for three full weeks. It would require a unanimous full council vote to change that." Richard added.
"That means one more week. You'll be home soon enough, Healer Fearn. Just a little more patience."
The grumpy man rolled his eyes and stood from the table, vanishing into the air as he stormed off. Summer watched him disappear and shook her head as she turned back to the others.
"I understand his frustration, but it's not that bad down here." Summer said.
Richard gave the woman a soft smile. "We're sorry we kept you so long. We had hoped the process would be a lot smoother and faster."
"It's alright. I just look forward to seeing friends and family again. Though sometimes I wonder if Leo has any friends to be getting back to with his attitude of late. We will keep you apprised of any changes."
"Thank you, Summer," Natalie said. "We're very grateful for all of your work."
"It has been an experience, that is for certain." The woman replied before she too stood and departed, vanishing away as she left the range of the table.
"Well, this is certainly something," Richard said quietly.
"It has been somewhat hectic the past few weeks, with the thefts, the Asgard and Replicators, and moving. Now this." Natalie said. "It's all rather thrilling if I'm honest."
Luna smiled at her. "I just hope whatever all of this is doesn't adversely affect Cyla. Not only that it would mean all of the work those healers have done would come to nothing, but Cyla seems to be a brilliant woman. I cannot wait to have a chance to talk to her in person."
"Same here, but let's try not to overwhelm her too much. As you pointed out, this has to be a lot for her to process. Memory or not."
The others nodded and Natalie considered just how much worse it might be for the poor woman if she had retained all her memory. To know exactly that scale of what was now gone… she wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Thursday, 13th April 2000.
Cyla felt the grogginess lifting and she slowly opened her eyes. Her body was still sore, but far less than it had been the night before when she had woken for a few short moments. It was no longer overwhelming.
She took several deep breaths, trying to wash the stiffness away with the oxygen as it filled her up. Once the ache was low enough, she tried to sit up in the bed. A figure nearby approached quickly.
"Easy, Cyla. You drained yourself pretty good there." Aurora said, helping her up.
"I'll bet. That was quite the trick you pulled." She said with a warm smile. "Thank you, by the way. I think you even fixed a slight bend I used to have in one of my toes. I feel so much better now."
Cyla was still unsure of the correct response, so she simply nodded in reply.
"The, er, higher-ups," Aurora said with a slight chuckle, "have asked that you try not to do that again until you're back to full strength though. And I have to agree with them. It was a lot of work waking you up healthy. We'd hate for it all to go to waste now."
Cyla nodded again. She had no idea where the instinct to do what she did had come from, but it just felt right to do it.
"Summer seems to think that you can probably train yourself to use it better. That way you won't be exhausted afterwards."
"Train." Cyla mimicked.
The concept was interesting. She found her mind wondering if this strange power had been what allowed her to survive not only the plague, but being frozen in ice for millions of years. Her understanding of such things was still limited, but she'd heard the others discuss it enough to know that was very unusual.
"How. Long." Cyla said softly, the words still difficult to marry together aloud, which infuriated her given she could practically hear them normally in her own thoughts.
"How long? Till we get to go back up?" Aurora asked and Cyla nodded. "Not long now. It's the thirteenth today, we go back up on the eighteenth. Provided everything still looks clear."
"That's the one. Six more days, including today. Then you get to meet the others."
"The ones who run this place. They hired us to help you. But they stay away because of the plague. Now that you are cured you can go up and meet them in person. I suppose we all can, given I've only ever met Hermione."
"Hermione?" Cyla said, the word sounded melodic in her mouth and she liked the way it sounded.
"That's her. Good work getting it right. Some people apparently struggle with it."
Cyla smiled at the bright young girl. She was far younger than Carson, Leo and Summer. And she had a brightness that only Carson seemed to carry as well. She very much liked talking with Aurora.
"How do you feel? Want to get up and walk around? Or do you want to lie in and just talk?" Aurora asked her.
She considered both options before she decided that there was no rush to move. "Stay."
"Alrighty, how about we check out one of these magazines?" The girl asked, pointing to the small pile in the corner.
Cyla noticed that there seemed to be new ones from the last time she looked.
"Yeah, they're new. The guys upstairs provide us with new ones constantly. I guess they know what it's like to be stuck somewhere for an extended period. I'm really looking forward to seeing a new set of walls. And the sun."
Cyla looked back at Aurora. Her brain seemed excited at the concept of sun, though she was still uncertain what the word actually meant. There was definitely some instinct tied to it that she was unable to figure out. But she knew she wanted to find out more. Aurora fell silent as she considered how to describe the sun to someone who'd seemingly never seen it before.
Monday, 17th April 2000.
Daniel silently watched Sam working at the dialling computer as he heard footsteps approaching from behind.
"Carter, we've been back for less than two hours," Jack said, stopping beside him. "And you're already working?"
"Yes, sir. There were a few anomalies detected with the new gate while we were gone. I've been rechecking the results of all the diagnostics the Chief ran for me while we were away."
"And?" Daniel asked, thoroughly curious.
Sam had been extremely interested in the new gate since her return from P3X-234. Not only had it taken Siler's team eight days to install it properly, but it was still sending back the strangest responses. She hadn't had much time to inspect it before Thor whisked them all to Othalla, and the short week between their return and leave hadn't left a lot of time either.
"We're still getting the strange readings that result in defined error messages." Chief Master Sergeant Harriman noted as he too worked at the controls.
"I still don't understand how they're coming through in English. The responses we got from the Alpha Gate were just electronic waveforms. We had to work out what each and every one meant before they showed any clear response on the computer. Half of the work of making the dialling computer was figuring those out. We would still occasionally get an unknown response right up until we beamed it aboard the Biliskner."
"You did say this one was the prototype," Daniel said, recalling the few discussions he'd had with Sam on the Alpha and Beta Gates. "Maybe it was designed to give out more blatant information for that exact reason."
"See, that's the part that makes no sense. Even if it was outputting the words, how is the computer translating them into English in real time? Surely those messages would be in Ancient." Sam almost whined.
Daniel couldn't help but smile. Sam hated it when she found a puzzle she couldn't solve. And this one had been bugging her for almost a month now.
Jack glanced at Daniel and he could see the older man was trying his best not to smile himself. "Well, at least you're refreshed."
Daniel's smile widened. Jack had clearly not been at ease with their mandated time off. Nor had he been thrilled that the others hadn't elected to spend all of it at his cabin 'fishing' without fish. Though it had allowed the last of the pain in Daniel's appendix wound to pass. An injury that had kept him from helping during the Replicator attack on Earth, to begin with.
"Maybe it's part of the program Jack added a few years ago. When the..."
"Ah!" Jack said, raising a warning finger in front of Daniel who turned to look at him. "No."
Daniel tried not to smile even more at Jack's resistance to mentioning certain of the events he had endured as he turned back to watch Sam as she seemed to consider the idea. "It is possible there were more than gate addresses uploaded into the system. I've never really had the chance to go over all the lines of code that you entered, sir."
"Fine. Just don't mention that damned head sucker." Jack said. "Just talking about it gives me a headache."
Daniel wanted to prod his friend by asking if he meant 'fron'ache, but chose against doing so just now. "Does the why really matter?" He asked.
Sam and Walter turned in their chairs to stare at him. "Really?" She replied.
"Really. So this gate is telling us exactly what is wrong. How is that a bad thing? We already avoided making a connection you explained could have been disastrous because of these detailed error messages. Isn't that a good thing?"
"Of course, it's a good thing, Daniel. But I really would like to know why."
"If the Beta Gate is the original prototype, maybe it is just built that way. To make troubleshooting easier. It would explain why it took a week to connect it up. The plugs were different." Daniel said, as though it solved the entire issue.
"We did burn out three couplings trying to connect the Beta Gate to the system while you were on 234," Walter added, shrugging at the major seated beside him.
Daniel simply lifted his arm, pointing in the direction of the Chief Master Sergeant.
Jack rolled his eyes and Daniel nearly turned and spoke up to the man, but chose to ignore him for the moment.
"It's possible." Sam seemed to concede. "But I'm still going to look over the full program just to see if I can find exactly why. Or how."
She turned back to face the computer and began entering the commands needed to bring up the main dialling computer base code. One she had been instrumental in writing over five years ago.
"Well," Jack said, pausing for a moment. "You kids have fun with that. Just remember we have a briefing at 0730 tomorrow. Whether you find the why or not."
Daniel tried his best not to roll his eyes as he felt Jack glance at him as he finished speaking. Sam just nodded as she went line by line through the code, looking for anomalies that Jack might have made two years ago. His message delivered, Jack turned and walked away, and Daniel let the grin spread on his face. It was good to have everyone back where they belonged once again.
Tuesday, 18th April 2000.
"Everyone ready?" Harry asked, standing at the control pedestal in the navi hangar.
The others were arrayed around a somewhat large circular hologram on the floor which indicated the reintegration area. Each nodded quietly, an excitable tension filling the air. Today was the culmination of four whole months of work.
"Alright. Here we go." He said as he pressed his hand to the pedestal in front of him.
As he did, another rose in front of Hermione to his left. She copied his action and another rose from the floor in front of Dobby. Each council member in turn activating their console, until the final slightly wider one appeared before the adult Grangers to Harry's immediate right. Richard and Natalie pressed their hands down in unison and the air in the middle of the circle filled with white energy.
Harry smiled at the sight as five figures appeared within and glanced around at the group.
"Welcome back to Aether. Or welcome to Aether, for most of you." Harry said, stepping forwards. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you all in person.
He noticed Carson greeting Neville on the far side as Summer took his extended hand and shook it firmly.
"A pleasure to see the sky again." She said, nodding down the length of the room at the twilit sky beyond the large window.
Harry glanced over his shoulder and nodded. Outside, despite being almost one o'clock in the afternoon, it was still quite dark. The sun was hovering somewhere just below the horizon, casting the area in a near-permanent state of twilight, dotted with the brighter stars in the sky. Come midnight, it did actually approach what most would consider actual night.
"Sorry, we couldn't get you back up in time to see the sun," Hermione said. "It'll be gone down here until about August now."
"Sun?" Cyla asked, drawing Harry's eye from where she stood by Carson, seemingly at ease with all the new faces.
"That's right, deary," Carson said quietly. "Aurora mentioned it to her a few days ago and she's been fascinated ever since."
Harry turned to the others with a curious look. "Well, the sun is most assuredly up a little further north. We can hop up there and you can see it first hand."
"Yes, please." Aurora hissed, looking away from the twilight horizon.
"Or not," Leo said loudly, drawing all eyes. "I've had quite enough of this. I want confirmation of my payment and I want to go home. Now."
Harry glanced at the others who all seemed taken aback by the sudden statement. "If that's what you want, sure."
He stepped back over to the pedestal he'd used to trigger their return and entered a few commands. A piece of parchment shimmered into place on its surface which Harry picked up and passed to the rather ruddy healer.
"There you go. Receipt of transfer of funds. Thank you for your work."
"Yes, whatever. Send me back home." Leo growled, snatching the piece of parchment.
Harry nodded and the ever-present Merlin sent the healer away in a beam of light. The mood in the room had somewhat shifted and Harry was thrown by the whole experience.
"Was he like that the whole time?" Richard asked the two nearby women.
Summer shook her head while Aurora seemed frozen in shock herself. "No. He was fine while we had something to focus on. But those last three weeks really got under his skin. He doesn't seem to do well without something to do."
"We're sorry about that. You understand…" Hermione said softly.
"Of course we do. We were the ones studying that virus. I know exactly why the quarantine was necessary. We don't begrudge you a thing. Anyway, you lot were promising us some sun."
Aurora and Cyla both perked up at the renewed mention of seeing the star that fueled almost all life and energy on Earth.
"Right, I think I know somewhere special we can go. Not too far north of here." Harry said, smiling once more.
"Where are we going to go?' Hermione whispered to Harry as he used his remote to tag all present for transportation and set their destination.
"Somewhere I have always wanted to see." He said, smiling at her as he triggered the beam and all twelve of them disappeared from Aether, reappearing atop a wide red expanse. The bright rays of the sun illuminated it well, along with miles of open terrain all around it too.
Cyla gasped as she stared at the bright ball of energy roaring in the sky above them until Carson covered her eyes.
"Careful there. It can damage your eyes if you stare at it directly. She's quite the powerful ball of gas, our star."
Cyla looked at him and Harry heard an even deeper gasp as she began to stare out at the area around them. They were almost three hundred and fifty metres in the air on a long flat shot of sandstone rock that seemed so odd, yet so beautiful in the way it alone punched up through the flat expanse all around it.
"Rubea Mon," Cyla whispered in disbelief, surprising all around her.
"Red Mountain. I suppose that makes sense. Uluru is over half a billion years old. The Alterans certainly would have noticed it." Richard translated for those unfamiliar with the language as Cyla reached down and ran her fingers through the characteristic red dirt that this area was known for.
"Harry," Hermione whispered in his ear. "You do know that you aren't supposed to climb Ayers Rock?"
Harry turned to her surprised. "Er, no. But we didn't climb it, really."
"That's not the point, Harry. We shouldn't stay here too long. This place is sacred to the Aboriginal people."
"Ok, I'm sorry. I didn't know. We won't stay long." He said apologetically.
She gave him a firm hug before moving over to join the others looking out over the surrounding flats. He was about to join them when a voice sounded from his remote.
"Harry. There is something you should know." Merlin said softly.
Harry lifted the remote closer to his face as he watched Carson and Cyla running their fingers through a section of the red dirt. He was about to reply when the rings of a porta mundas shot out of the surface of the rock around them before Cyla and Carson both vanished.
"What the hell. Merlin, where did they go?" He yelled as the others turned to face the sound just as the rings vanished back into the ground leaving no sign they had ever been there at all.
"What is going on?" Summer asked warily as several of the group approached the site where the pair had vanished, Neville pulling a vulta from his expanded pocket and setting it to scan the area.
"The data coming from Mr Longbottom's vulta is confirming the data from my sensors. Both show a long-dormant structure deep within the rock itself." Merlin explained through Harry's remote, unable to form a hologram here where there were no emitters.
"So, what? They're inside? Is there life support? Bring them back out." Harry demanded.
Two figures suddenly beamed back into place atop the rock and the others rushed forwards, checking to see if they were alright.
"I am trying to interface with the systems, but the settlement is so old, it is not responding to my command codes."
"Alright, can you get a reading on the state of the inside? The way those two are panting, it doesn't seem like there is active life support." Harry asked, watching as Hermione gave the two unwitting adventurers a drink from a pair of conjured glasses.
"There is none that I can detect. If my scans are correct, this facility may well predate Fundamenta."
"Are you two ok?" Aurora asked, kneeling beside the two.
"Well, that was a new experience," Carson said, between deep heaving breaths. "And I wouldn't exactly call it a pleasant one."
"Sorry. We had no idea that was even there." Hermione apologised.
"Oh, it's no worry. We're safe now. But in future," Carson said, drawing Cyla's eye, "maybe a little warning before you go turning things on."
"Wait," Natalie asked, "you're saying she activated the mundas?"
"Well, she pressed something in the dirt and the next thing I know it's hard to breathe."
"Ok. So this little trip was far more exciting than I initially planned." Harry said, helping the others to their feet. "Maybe we should head back home for now. Let Merlin do his thing. At the least, he can beam in clean air so that we can explore it later."
"Can we have a few more minutes?" Aurora said, looking out at the horizon longingly.
"Of course. Just no more touching anything."
The group reformed together, looking out over the wide expanse of central Australia. It was a shining red beacon of beauty stretching away as far as the eye could see in every direction. Harry noticed a few small buildings clustered around one end of the natural monument and saw a few cars travelling the nearby roads as well. It seemed that one of their actions may have been noticed.
"I think we might be out of time, guys. People are coming."
The others turned and followed his eyes, noticing the incoming traffic.
"That's a shame." Summer said, bathing in the light of the early afternoon sun.
"We can always come back again. For now, Merlin, can you ensure that porta mundas is locked down? Wouldn't want anyone else accidentally getting in there in its current state."
"Done." The voice came from his remote.
"Alrighty, back to Aether for the moment." Harry entered the command and the group reappeared, this time in the Atrium. The soft tinkling sound of the nearby fountain was refreshing after the arid air of the wide desert plain.
"Wow. This place is incredible." Aurora whispered, looking around at the facilities.
"Sorry we had to blindfold you on the way down," Hermione said. "This place was pretty new at the time, and we hadn't gotten to know any of you yet."
"I'm definitely sticking around. As long as I can go home from time to time."
"You are more than welcome here," Neville said.
"That's good to know, but after all this excitement, I must take my leave as well." Summer said. "Not that it hasn't been an enlightening experience."
"Certainly." Harry said, "But before you go, we wanted to say this before Leo left too. This weekend is Easter, and we were planning a celebration off-world to toast your success. You are welcome to come along."
"Off-world? I don't suppose I can really say no to an offer like that. When would we leave?"
"About two days' time. Good Friday." Padma explained, handing the healer a small remote like the one Hermione had given to Carson. "This will transport you here when you press the button."
"We're planning on leaving at about two am local time," Richard said cheerily.
At the look on Summer's face, Harry had to try not to laugh. "Don't let him worry you. It would be three in the afternoon back in England. Our scans indicate there is a somewhat rare event due to occur on Verda around that time, so we planned around that."
Summer gave Richard a dirty look. "Alright. If I make it, I make it. But if I'm not here on time, feel free to leave without me."
"Sure thing," Harry said, tapping a few more commands on his remote as he conjured up the receipts for Summer, Aurora and Carson. "Here are your transfer receipts as well. Payment for a job very well done."
He handed the paperwork to the three and gave them a wry smile. "But now, I believe that Summer wants to depart, and Luna here has been dying to have the chance to give Cyla a tour of Aether."
Luna danced forwards and took the curious woman's hand. "Yes. Do you want to have a look around?" She asked.
The enthusiastic nod Cyla gave in return was all the answer Luna needed, pulling her away quickly, Aurora glanced at the others before calling out. "Wait for me."
The three women quickly disappeared into the depths of the facility and Harry walked to Summer once more. "Thank you. Truly." He said, holding out his hand to shake hers.
"It was a pleasure. And expect to hear from me again. I might not be staying here, but I'll certainly be staying in touch."
"Glad to hear it," Natalie said, stepping forward and also shaking the woman's hand. She quickly tapped a new command into her remote and a small tablet appeared in her hand. "Take this as well. It will allow you to access your notes and files from here directly. Though any data on the virus itself will be locked out. Just for the sake of safety. And only you can use it."
"Thank you." Summer said, taking the tablet and tucking it into a small bag. "Farewell, for now." A moment later she was surrounded by the white energy of a beam transport, whisking her back home.