City of Man
by Gaia
PG-13 // Angst // Character Death // 2007/09/13
Print version Print version // This story is completed
“The lives of the Elect are a mere shadow of that to come, and yet we might find glimpses of their infinity in passion.” The expedition members ponder the function of a mysterious device.
Spoilers: SUNDAY, TAO OF RODNEY, Sanctuary, Coup d’etat
"And what this beast is, though it requires a more careful investigation, yet it is not inconsistent with the true faith to understand it of the ungodly city itself, and the community of unbelievers set in opposition to the faithful people and the city of God."
- St. Augustine, City of God

The device is small and round and amber colored. It reminds Radek of a ZPM, except flat instead of phallic-looking. It barely has a power signature. If he were using just Earth-based equipment, he'd think it was nothing more than a spare piece of crystal, a brooch maybe.

Whatever it is it's neither mechanically complex nor high energy enough to be dangerous. Radek sighs and puts it into one of the bins to get Colonel Sheppard to turn on. Radek himself will probably never even get to find out what it is. The colonel and Rodney will take care of the testing on their own.

But, there's something about the little golden button that's tempting the way it seems to sparkle and glow, looking deeper and denser than it could possibly be. His mother would have wrapped it in a piece of well-worn cloth, tucked it into a fold of her skirt and called it a blessing.

He reaches back to examine it, holding it up to his eye, everything awash in amber. But it isn't until he looks over to where Dr. Simpson was working quietly on their backup power grid that he gasps, swearing quietly under his breath.

Dr. Simpson is beautiful, ringed in a golden halo of light. A part of Radek wants to cross himself, murmur a quiet chant. Patterns move around Simpson, the halo moving just a split second before she does, as though it is simply pulling her body along, a string puppet in a play of cascading light and color.

"What is it?" Kavanagh snaps from his station on the other end of the lab.

Simpson looks up, glaring at him, the amber aura rippling for a second before resolving itself with bright clarity. Radek is entranced, only stopping his staring when Kavanagh steps in front of him, a dark silhouette against Simpson's brilliance.

Radek lowers the small crystal device. "Huh."

"What is it?" Kavanagh demands.

"You do not glow."

Kavanagh throws up his hands and stalks out.

"Good riddance," Simpson pronounces, standing from he lab bench and walking over to Radek, hands held in her back pockets, like a shy teenager. Simpson has always seemed oddly demure when she isn't vivisecting your latest pet theory, that is.

"Here," Radek holds out the device to her.

She picks it up and feels its weight in her hand before holding it to her eye. "Everything's gold."

If it were Rodney, Radek would admonish him for stating the obvious, but this is Simpson and she was amazing. "When you look at me?"

Simpson shrugs. "You're the same, but orange."

"Oh," Radek pushes his glasses up his nose, not even close to hiding his disappointment.

"'Hey," Simpson pats him on the arm. "Don't worry about it. I have the gene. Artificial, but I have it. It's probably just a much easier way of doing a blood test." She gives him a small smile before turning and asking over her shoulder. "McKay drank the last of the coffee. I'm going to go get more from the mess. You want anything?"

Radek normally doesn't, but he's feeling a little despondent today. "Red pastry thing?"

"You got it. One red pastry thing coming right up. I'll get you some of that sweet popcorn you like too."

Radek smiles, touched that she remembered.

He turns back to the device, trying to see if anything else in the room looks different. He's just about feeling better with himself when Lorne and Cadman walk in, arguing and chained together at the wrist by what appears to be a pair of Ancient handcuffs.

"Woah, Doc. It was an accident!" Lorne protests, clearly reading the look of disappointment on Radek's face. Lorne has the gene and Cadman doesn't. But she's glowing and he's not.

"Is nothing." Radek waves the problem away and puts the crystal down for now. "Now what happened again?"

"Lieutenant Cadman was just wondering if these old things still worked and . . ."

"With all due respect, Sir. You were going to use them to threaten to strap me to Rodney again and . . ."

"Lieutenant . . ."

"Yes, yes, as Colonel would say, you should stop pulling pigtails and get a room.' Now, please . . ."

It takes him nearly the entire room, three different devices they thought might be keys and a blowtorch to get the separated, and by the time Radek's done with it, he has a migraine so painful that he completely forgets about the device.

Rodney stalks into the lab, fuming and ready to find some way to get that flock of birds nesting on the top of the main spire to fly into Lorne's quarters and leave him some presents' on every available surface.

There's nobody else there, thankfully for them. Because seriously, how could Lorne threaten him with any more forced interaction with Cadman?

Rodney is heading for the database and avian feeding patterns, when he spots a little speck of gold, shining next to Radek's workstation.

It's shiny and it looks kind of like a ZedPM, so clearly Rodney is justified in his distraction from his perfectly righteous anger.

"So, Radek's been holding out on me, eh? That little fuzzy gremlin."

He reaches out for the device. It doesn't light up, but it seems to shimmer enticingly. Rodney's busy holding it up to his eye when Sheppard walks in, stringing over to Rodney clearly caught somewhere between apologetic and righteous as though Rodney is wrong for being upset when the man that will take over should Sheppard succeed in his latest rendition of the suicide strut demonstrates the maturity and intellect of a five year old . . . wait, Sheppard practically is a five year old, so it won't be much different.

Rodney opens his mouth when he notices . . . Sheppard is glowing. He's so bright he's almost blinding, spikes of energy behind his spiky hair like a shimmering crown.

"Rodney?" Sheppard asks, uncertain.

Rodney is speechless. He's never seen anything more beautiful in his life. There's nothing he can do but step forward, laying the Ancient monocle thing down on the lab bench casually and cupping Sheppard's jaw, drawing him down for a kiss.

Sheppard is hesitant, but he kisses back. Of course he kisses back. This has always been a potential between them. Seriously, was there ever any doubt?

"Mmm," Sheppard hums, leaning into Rodney, even as he's shutting the door with a careless thought. "What was that for?"

Rodney shrugs. "You're beautiful."

Before they know it, they're kissing again, hot and heavy but soft and delicate at the same time. "My quarters?" John moans, batting his eyelashes in that shy dorky way of his and before they know it, the device is left once again on the lab bench, forgotten.

"I thought you didn't want me doing fieldwork," Dr. Kavanagh says from across the room. Miko tries hard not to wince. Sometimes she finds his voice a little grating.

"It's not that I don't want you do fieldwork," Dr. McKay replies, always so patient with this idiot of a man. "It's that I don't want you to sell us out to the Wraith or get a team of my scientists killed or pee in a perfectly good pair of expedition pants."

"It's a bio-thermal monitoring project that we can't do remotely and I hate to say it, but after Asian-girl, you're to most precise with your calculations and I need her here to um . . . look at this device . . ." he picks something up and tosses it to Miko, who startles and drops the thing.

"I'm sorry, Dr. McKay," she apologizes, picking up the device reverently and hoping that she doesn't break it.

Ever generous, he quickly waves her mistake aside, turning back to Dr. Kavanagh, "And I already know you work well with Cadman. And you'll have that little Asian anthropologist. Hopefully he's meditated enough that he won't strangle you, which might be an end in and of itself considering . . ."

"Why do I get the feeling that, like all decisions on this expedition, this decision is being made on the grounds of favoritism and not reason?"

"Oh, I have my reasons, Kavanagh. Number one being that you're a pain in the ass and a waste of time that I could be spending doing something else like oh . . . saving the city."

Dr. Kavanagh continues to protest, but instead of arguing, Dr. McKay decides to turn the bright sunshine of his presence upon Miko and ask her. "Hey . . . Asian-girl, when you look through that thing, what do you see?"

Miko holds the device up to her eye, slow careful movements like the slow dance of the theater. She gasps. Dr. McKay is even more beautiful and brilliant than she knew him to be!

He snaps his fingers beneath the gold cloak that seems to surround him. "Well?"

"You are glowing," she whispers.

He smiles a smug smile, his aura lightening even more. "And Kavanagh?"

Miko forces herself to look away, only able to do so because Dr. McKay has requested it.

"He doesn't glow."

Dr. McKay nods, satisfied.

It must be a matchmaking device, Miko thinks, telling her that Dr. McKay and she really are meant to be together.

"Go look at other people in the hall," he commands, turning back to Dr. Kavanagh. "Why are you still here?"

Miko slinks out into the hallway, already feeling the soft tug of disappointment. While Dr. McKay shines very brightly, he is not the only one alight. Katie Brown, the woman who would step between Dr. McKay and Miko's patient devotion, is walking towards her, smiling inside her own brilliant halo.

Miko looks back in. "I see no pattern to it."

Dr. McKay nods, motioning her over.

She stands demurely behind him as he points to a screen filled with Ancient words, not yet translated.

"It appears to be poetry," she says.

He nods, clearly upset. "Well, it's out of our hands then." He snaps his fingers at her again. "Take it over to Carson. It's probably some voodoo genetics thing."

She does not leave his side, despite the dismissal. There is something she must desperately know.

"Yes?" he prompts making her afraid that she has angered him.

"Dr. McKay . . . um . . . do I . . ."

He snatches the crystal from her, holding it to his eye. His movements are slower when he lowers it, as defeated as she feels. "No."

Miko nods deeply, before hurrying out the door, not meeting Dr. Brown's eyes on her way out.

Carson can't for the life of him figure this thing out. Originally, he thought it might be tied to the ATA recessive somehow, or certain traits of it, considering that a larger percentage of the people who glow' (himself included) seem to be ATA carriers. But, he's not finding any correlation with a trait that he's tracked in the very least. He's beginning to think that it might be an environmental factor, in which case he should send the device over to social sciences where they can verify that everyone does truly see the same thing when looking through the lens. He's just so tired. He can't wait for the upcoming rest day. Some quiet time to just sit with a baited line tugged gently by the current, the sound of water the same everywhere just like home.

He sighs, place the device in his outbox and rubbing at the headache he feels building behind his eyes. If he were being an objective physician, he'd prescribe himself more rest, but there are so many wonders here, and so much important work to be done.

Dr. Rachel Lindsay waits patiently for the hot water to come to a precise boil before kneeling down and pouring it, slow but steady like the ritual she learned from the Athosians the very first week of the expedition. It is an important ritual in Pegasus, and one she follows.

Only after she's finished exactly half her first cup does she rise and begin her work. The rest of the tea will sit until evening, when the flavor will have intensified and mutated strong but sweet.

Now, for the first order of business the small round object used much like a photographer's loop. She has the list she and Dr. Warren compiled yesterday the names of all of the expedition members whose auras are visible. Rachel is reminded of Kirlian photography the technique of photographic auras using crystals similar to this one. Though she wouldn't dare mention this in the report; Dr. McKay might be reading it.

She sighs, not one of the 30-odd expedition members out of 280 who do seem to glow. It wouldn't put her out so much if it weren't so beautiful. And yet at the same time, Rachel isn't an explorer. Neither is she a soldier or a scientist. Her role has always been quiet observation, the illusion at least that she can write some of her bias away.

The translation of the part of the database that discusses the object is cryptic, poetic in fact. Its description is simple: "The lives of the Elect are a mere shadow of that to come, and yet we might find glimpses of their infinity in passion."

Rachel sighs, looking at the list, she'd swear the device was a form of gaydar. McKay and Sheppard, top of the list, barely able to keep their hands off each other. Dr. Santos queerer than a three-dollar bill. That Sweedish biologist who's name should couldn't pronounce. Dr. Beckett, because no straight man bought a decorated turtle tote. And Lin, Brown and Pindhi. It's always the quiet ones.

And that isn't discounting the fact that the most manly people on the base the Satedan, Dex, Major Lorne, most of the Marines are not counted among the so-called elect.' But then there's always the curveball Dr. Biro, who is most definitely a lesbian, right down to the pink triangle earrings (she'd even tried to pick Rachel up once), isn't one of the select few. Oh well, Rachel thinks.

The thing is that when it comes down to it, she's not this kind of social scientist. There are the statisticians who look for connections and corollaries and trends in data then try to explain them, the ones sitting by their computers crunching numbers and then there are people like Rachel who plop themselves down in a rural community somewhere and watch the people. Except she can't even do that now, not since she saw those bodies in the burned down building. Fear, she thinks, is never something that she'll be able to escape.

She fingers the device, putting it down with a sigh. Maybe it's time she became one of the number-crunchers. At least then she'd be useful.

Kate sits calmly in her chair, watching Rachel Lindsay fidget across from her. Subjectively, Kate thinks that the woman is a mess, her hair falling down into her eyes in straight greasy strands, thick from sweat and worry. Unlike when she came back from 177, she's neither frantic and shaking nor calm and detached. Her panic is a quiet one, seen in the wary look in her eyes, the way her gaze flickers periodically to the unassuming jewel-like device sitting on the small table beside her chair. Kate would say it was a signal of paranoia, except for the fact that in Pegasus, there are very few truly innocuous things.

Kate pushes her hair behind her ears, a nervous tick she is conscious of and trained to minimize. She summons a smile, thinking about how Rodney was just in here, blushing and hyper and so obvious in his discretion. His eyes glazed over and he got embarrassed every time he tried to say Colonel Sheppard's name. Good for the two of them, both anti-social and guarded with intimacy issues, they deserved some happiness.

"I know what it does," Rachel says, eyes big and liquid and frightened. Kate spares a moment to hope that Rachel hasn't brought some dangerous device here. "The people . . ." her voice chokes up. "Cadman, Lin, Simpson . . . they were all chosen."

"What do you mean by chosen?"

Rachel grabs the device and hands it to Kate. "You just look through that like a monocle. You won't be able to see anything right now. You and I . . . we're not . . . but if you looked at someone who was Lieutenant Cadman, she was like a tornado. A tower of flakes of gold." Was. Kate makes a note.

"You believe she's dead?" Kate herself knows the story. She's spent the past five nights sitting at Dr. Kavanagh's bedside, though he's not likely to speak anytime soon, not with the ventilator in the way.

Rachel nods, looking down at small chapped hands. "They all glowed. Dr. Beckett too." Kate schools her features. Carson. Poor sweet Carson who talked about his mother and his turtles and Rodney's high blood pressure and Colonel Sheppard's reckless disregard for his own safety and Dr. Vogel's thyroid problem. If there were someone like a tower of gold, it should have been him.

Kate knows what's coming next.

"It shows who's going to die."

A part of Kate is fascinated by the device in her hands. She wants to look through it right this instant, look at her own skin and see that yes, she doesn't have to face that day of judgment just yet. She'd be a good Christian, if she just had more time.

But, religious views aside, there's only one professional answer. "But, Rachael, we're all going to die. Eventually."

Dr. Calvin Kavanagh sits carefully in his corner of the lab. Dr. McKay has set it aside for him in a rare display of something resembling compassion. In Calvin's opinion, he just did it because Sheppard told him too. The only way to get anything through to McKay is to fuck it into him.

Calvin smiles to himself, letting out a choked little laugh. Across from him, Dr. Kusanagi looks up and smiles. McKay and Zelenka are too lost in some petty half-articulated argument about power simulations. Before, Calvin would have eavesdropped, waiting to be ready for the day that something finally happened when they needed his help the day he could show everyone that he was just as smart as the two of them, just less popular.

Now, he just lets it all fade into the background, looking over the latest bin of harmless mystery objects. They don't trust him with anything else. Calvin wouldn't trust himself either. And it's not just the splinted fingers or the patch where his left eye used to be. It's the psychological instability.

He snorts to himself. Morons. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that they should ship him back to Earth as quickly as humanly possible. Not only is he a liability cracked under torture. What rational human being wouldn't? But he's also time bomb waiting to go off at any moment.

It's just the sort of high-handed moralistic bullshit he's come to expect of Weir: to think that they can heal him.

Calvin shakes his head, looking down into the bin and catching a glimpse of gold. He knows what those miners must have felt sifting through rivers back in the day, looking for that diamond in the rough.

He lifts the device up, looking through it. Maybe this is how Sheppard sees McKay beautiful, shimmering in a ring of golden fire. But all Calvin can do is shudder, dropping the device back down into the pile. This is how they'd looked, light crackling through their skin, spilling out of every pour.

It's how the others had looked before they ascended.

John's team is down in the Gateroom below, trying to get Rodney into the ceremonial costume for the trade blessing on MC-4873. Elizabeth can hear his squawking even from inside the glass sanctuary of her office.

"I don't see what sitting through the entire trade without being able to breathe will do for our . . ."

"You would be able to breathe if you let me adjust the frontispiece, Dr. McKay," Teyla says patiently, easily ducking one of his flailing arms.

"It's okay, Teyla. I really don't think I need anyone messing around um . . . down there."

"Rodney, I am not a blushing trel'nak awaiting her initiation rites. You will be uncomfortable and . . ."

"We'll have to listen to him complain about it," John says, startling Elizabeth out of her eavesdropping. He's leaning against one wall of her office, looking striking in an outfit of steel grey silk, a red sash tied like a kimono around his waist.

Elizabeth raises her eyebrows at him. "Well, you look nice."

John looks down at the floor, actually blushing. Sometimes it's hard to imagine he's a forty-year-old man instead of a ten-year-old boy. "After this trade mission. We are never speaking about this again."

Elizabeth smirks with minimal sincerity, "You have my word."

John rolls his eyes. "Well, I'd better get going. By the time we get Rodney ready to go they might finish the ceremony without us."

"Good luck," Elizabeth says.

"Hey, if I get through this without tripping over this costume, I'll consider it a win."

Elizabeth nods, watching him fondly as he almost takes a header down the steps. John is an amazing pilot, but then again flying is an activity that you do sitting down.

"Oh, why if it isn't Lieutenant Colonel Klutz . . ." Rodney begins, before his mouth seems to go dry. "Wow. Why can't I look that pretty in this?"

Ronon looks perplexed at this before reaching out, grabbing some material bunched around Rodney's waist and lifting. Rodney squeals and Ronon grunts before putting him down. "Better?"

"What was that, you man-ape? I swear . . . hey, you know what, that does feel more comfortable."

Ronon smirks and Elizabeth grins indulgently. Rodney, what would she do without him?

In her pocket she feels the stiff weight off the amber stone Dr. Kavanagh gave her before leaving for Earth. She's resisted the temptation thus far, but is it wrong to want to know? Kavanagh insisted that the device could tell you who would ascend and who wouldn't. Of course it's ultimately irrelevant it isn't as though the ascended are much use in the wars they're fighting at the moment. But Elizabeth wants to know.

She lifts the device carefully to her eye, looking down at team Sheppard laughing in the Gateroom below her. Rodney is scowling, but she can barely make the scowl out in the friendly swirling of light that cast his features as beatific as a saint. John is similarly alight, swirls of darker amber moving through him like waves. Ronon and Teyla are dark like shadows behind them.

Now, why wouldn't Teyla ascend? She's meditated more than anyone, except maybe Dr. Lin, but he's already gone. And why McKay of all people? Sure Rodney is heroic in his own way, and he's almost done it once, but how do a few years of this make up for a lifetime of pure obliviousness at the affairs of others? Does it matter the context in which one dies? Dr. Jackson died a martyr. But he'd supposedly had Oma Desala there to help him. Maybe John will help Rodney, Elizabeth thinks, watching them.

John leans forward, hand brushing against Rodney's shoulder, and it's a flash of light so bright that Elizabeth is practically blinded by it. When she looks back, they are surrounded by a bright ring of light, seeming to protect them from the world of shadows outside. Elizabeth's breath catches in her throat, remembering the song John has been humming recently: "Love is burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring . . ."

Elizabeth looks away, certain that she's intruding on something, even though she knows that she's the only one that can see anything out of the ordinary. Uncharacteristically, she doesn't stand in operations when they leave, instead looking down at Dr. Lindsay's report on the device.

Elizabeth herself isn't on the list. Maybe fifty more years, that's all she has.

Her breath catches until she must force herself to take the next one. It burns, burns, burns and not in a good way.

Elizabeth is the last person that Mike expects to see. Sure, they shared a nice chaste kiss and some really great flirtation at lunch a few months ago, but she's taken married to her work.

As much as he wishes otherwise, Mike gets that. There are some ones that you just can't have, no matter how much good you see in them. It's not his fault, he knows. He's not imagining the spark between them. And maybe that's enough for him, that he could have this smart, charming, beautiful woman if there weren't space vampires waiting to suck the life out of them all.

Who's he kidding? He's a man. Jerk-off fantasies can only be so good.

But then, Elizabeth is standing at his door, wearing a tight black top with a neckline that make him want to gape. Her eyes are shinning a deep enticing green and the professional suit skirt still manages to look sexy. "Elizabeth?" he asks, unsure. He'd heard about the love potion the chemists had accidentally concocted trying to grow weed in one of the Ancient chemical storage cabinets.

"Remember when I said I couldn't do this?" she says, stepping forward. Her voice is low and throaty and the clank of heels against the strange metal of the floors is piercing, pinning him in place, bewildered.

"How could I forget?" Mike replies, regaining a small measure of his composure. A part of him never expected this, even though he'd tried his hardest.

"Well, I think I can . . ." she learns forward, kissing him first this time. Elizabeth, as it turns out, is a forceful, commanding kisser. Mike doesn't want to rush her, but he can't help his hands coming up to grip her slim waist and pulling her closer.

She moans happily into the kiss, but he can feel her muscles tense beneath his roaming hands. "Elizabeth?" he pulls back. "You haven't been down to chemistry recently, have you?"

Elizabeth laughs, the low throaty chuckle that made Mike really fall for her. "No . . . I just . . . one life to live, you know?"

Mike nods.

Later, Mike doesn't wonder about the small amber crystal she makes him look through. He doesn't see anything. Probably because he doesn't have the gene. But Elizabeth presses it to her eye and touches him all over. He's never heard a woman tell him he was beautiful before.

Chaya knows she's coming every time. The once-born are not complicated. For a being outside of time, actions are not hard to predict. If she were the only such being in the world, she would know all of history in heartbeat. There would not be much point to existence. It is only in the others that she finds variety in eternity, the world moving back and forth, dimensions breaking off in response to their wills. The once born are nothing more than chess pieces, ruled by their basic desires. She can see the temptation in dominating them. But then again, maybe this is why she was punished to begin with.

But, enough of her sulking. She must arrange herself into her mortal form to await the visit of the Tau'ri, Elizabeth. She comes here alone these days. John is busy with his disingenuous scientist (if he were not among the Elect, she would have considered acting against him). His human form does not visit. But back before, when her vision was not limited and they played around in infinity together, he had been among her greatest friends. Enlightened or not, Chaya is still human enough to be lonely.

"Chaya," Elizabeth greats her with a small bow and a firm handshake. Chaya returns the gesture. She likes Elizabeth. For one of the once-born, she is intelligent and open-minded, sharp and considerate in a way that is a fresh breath of air in the world Chaya has known where power flows in a current like water.

"Elizabeth. It is good to see you well. How is John?"

Elizabeth pauses a moment and an image of him and his scientist kissing somewhere deep in the shadows flashes before her. She does not let on what image she has seen. "He is well?"

"Actually, Chaya, that's why I'm here."

Despite the fact that she knows how John's story will end . . . or begin, depending on how one likes to view it, Chaya feels her human heart clench in her chest. "He is in trouble?"

Elizabeth sighs. Her eyes are sleepless and there is a tension to her that puts Chaya on edge. "I'm afraid I've done something very wrong."

Chaya would laugh as though the actions of the once-born can bring about any true change in the nature of things. But she is not so rude. "Yes?"

"I . . . well, I found this . . ." she holds out a small golden crystal. Chaya knows it well. Merlin made it, all those years ago when he considered stripping himself of eternity to fight the Ori. It is a moment she visits often in time. John visited it too. It was there that they spoke of an end to they tyranny of passivity the end to the impotence of infinite power.

"You know its function?" Chaya must be careful not to reveal anything. She is not ready to risk further punishment.

"I think it tells you who will Ascend and who won't."

Chaya nods.

"And it is never wrong?"

"No. It is complicated, but in a way those who will Ascend have always been Ascended."

"So . . . even if I might have sent John to his death, he'll . . ."

"No matter what you do. You have already done it. If John ascends because of something you did, there is no way to change it." There is a darkness about this woman, a youthful righteousness that Chaya recognizes in herself. It's strange, the once-born act as though their actions, whether good or evil really matter, when their history has already been written. When they pass, there will be no one to judge them.

"So he'll . . . he'll come back? I thought that because he couldn't die then it would work out, but . . ." Elizabeth wrings her hands endearingly. "It's been three weeks and Rodney is . . ."

"He will join us, no matter what you do," Chaya affirms.

The sit in silence for a moment. Chaya summons a gust of wind to play through the chimes, bringing rain to the far side of the settlement where they have been waiting for rain for months now. In the back of her mind she can feel the delightful tickle of the farmers' joy. Their faith, that is the only weapon the once-born have in the battle of eternity.

"How did you ascend?" Elizabeth asks. An astute question.

"I was a priestess. Not much different than I am now."


Chaya shakes her head, laughing despite the hopeful look on Elizabeth's face. "No. It was in the days of the Great War. The Wraith were just becoming a threat, but there was a group of priests, technical theologians, who believed that the protectors should focus on Ascension instead of war practices. One of them came here. He explained that I possessed some sort of special trait. They had a machine. Many of the subjects they placed inside it had died. But I survived and Ascended."

"You were a test subject?" Elizabeth seems shocked. Chaya does not see why. Ascension is worth it. It is worth everything the scientists did back in those days, no matter how gruesome their actions might seem.

"But if they had already Ascended, then why did . . ."

Chaya smiles. Elizabeth's confusion is quaint. "You cannot understand until you've lived it."

"But I'm not going to . . ." Elizabeth blushes. "I'm a good person, I just don't understand why . . ."

"Shhh . . ." Chaya soothes, stepping forward and clasping Elizabeth's arms. "It is fate. It would not be so if we could change it."

Chaya lets her essence drift apart. Sharing with a once-born is difficult. It is depressing. But no matter what they might say about her, nobody would dare deny that Chaya is charitable.