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Exasperated, John began, "It trapped us here-"

"It stopped us here," Rodney snapped. "We were nearly to the stairs and it stopped us-" He halted abruptly, his eyes narrowing.

Getting it an instant later, John said, "Because there's a closer exit in this section."

Zelenka and Miko were already converging on Rodney, Zelenka saying rapidly, "It should have opened automatically-"

"The mechanism could be damaged-" Miko added.

"Look for seams in the outer wall," Rodney finished.

John scrambled with the others, running his hands over the stone, down the metal bands. It felt like forever but it must have been only a few moments before Teyla said, "Here!"

Rodney practically flung her out of the way, running his hand down the band. "It's not responding. Colonel-"

John stepped forward, pressing his hand to the band, but he didn't think this was a natural Ancient gene thing. The doors below had responded easily to Rodney's artificial gene, and there was no reason these should be different. The band didn't budge. "No, nothing," he said tightly.

"The crystals must be damaged," Rodney snarled, elbowing John out of the way.

Miko dropped to the floor, unslinging her pack and pulling out tools to hand Rodney and Zelenka as they pried at the band.

John felt another low rumble travel through the build ing. He saw Rodney throw a worried look at the ceiling. It would be just our luck that this place picks now to collapse, John thought sourly. Then a section of the band popped open, revealing the Ancient control crystals set into the deceptively simple matrix. Zelenka pointed, agitated. "There, there!" Rodney said, "I know, I know!" and rapidly switched around three of the crystals.

A section of the inner wall next to the band slid sideways, releasing a puff of stale displaced air. Inside was a circular shaft like the one they had found in the stairwell. The blue and silver light strips flickered on.

"The readings say the transporter effect should be working," Miko reported tensely, studying the tablet's readout.

Rodney fumbled in the pockets of his tac vest. "Hold on, I'll test it."

Ronon said, "I'll do it," and stepped into the shaft. Rodney gasped in alarm and John and Teyla both lunged for Ronon, but he had already vanished. "Ronon!" John yelled.

"It works!" Ronon's voice echoed up from below. "There's a door down here."

John swore, Teyla rolled her eyes incredulously, and Zelenka and Miko exchanged an appalled look. Rodney clapped a hand to his forehead and said, "That was not what I had in mind."

"Just go, come on, one at a time," John said. Miko went first, gripping her pack tightly, then Rodney shoved Zelenka in and jumped after him. John gave Teyla a nod, telling her to go next. He had one hand on the edge of the doorway, ready to step in, when a gleam of light caught his eye.

There was a small silver disk high up on the wall, standing out and angled so it was pointing at him. He froze for an instant, because he was damn sure it hadn't been there a few minutes ago when they had been frantically searching for the way out.

He took a half-step toward it. Then from the transporter shaft, Rodney shouted, "Colonel!"

John shook himself, recalling that he didn't have time for checking out mysterious objects, and stepped into the shaft.

Chapter three

John suddenly found himself standing at the bottom of the shaft, facing Rodney. Rodney yelped and flinched backward, then shouted, "What the hell took you so long?"

John shook his head; they used the transporters constantly in Atlantis, the size of the city made it impossible not to. But without the cushioning effect of the chamber it was just as disorienting as being grabbed suddenly by the Daedalus' Asgard transport beam.

This part of the shaft opened up into a larger well, with a darker green circle on the floor, which probably marked the space it was a bad idea to stand in if more people were coming down. The others were backed against the wall, watching Zelenka and Miko work on an open panel. John stepped out of the circle, just in case the transporter decided to reverse abruptly, and said, "I thought I saw something." He jerked his chin toward the door. "Can we get out of here?"

"Working on it!" Rodney snapped, turning back to the panel. He took Miko by the shoulders and shifted her out of the way.

"What did you see?" Teyla asked John, brows lifted.

"Something came out of the wall," he told her. "A little thing, angled like it was pointing at us."

Ronon looked up toward the top of the shaft. "A weapon?"

John shook his head. "No way to tell. Could have been a camera, too." All three of them pivoted, checking the walls. John couldn't see anything like it down here, but with the blue-green lights and the strips of embossed metal that might be decorative or something to do with the transporter function, there were too many places for a tiny device to hide. He added, "Whatever it was, it could've just been automatically tracking our movements."

"Or something could be watching us," Ronon added.

Teyla shook her head, though she still looked uneasy. "The life signs detector showed nothing."

"But this structure is very large," Miko put in, glancing back at them and adjusting her glasses. "And the shielding is unusual. If someone was several sections away, I'm not sure the detector would find him."

They all looked at her. "Oh," John said, turning that unpleasant thought over. Considering they had no idea if the ship near the Mirror was Ancient or not, if it had been here since the Mirror had been abandoned or since yesterday, it wasn't encouraging. "Great."

Zelenka was saying, "Ah, here, relay is damaged-"

"Got it!" Rodney stepped back from the panel, lifting the mask part of his SCBA unit. "Everyone put your breathing gear back on. This system was designed to get people out of this structure as quickly as possible if the Mirror destabilized. We could run into something that might pop us right outside."

"Important safety tip. Thanks, Rodney." John adjusted his breathing unit, made certain everyone else had theirs on, then gave Rodney the nod to open the door.

Rodney made a last adjustment to the crystals and the door slid sideways. The first thing John noticed was that the door itself was nearly a foot thick, as heavy as the blast doors. The second was that the large room it opened into was not the ground floor corridor he had been expecting to see.

The ceiling was lower and instead of the dark indigo stone, the walls were the metallic blue-green, with more strips of the tiny blue lights. Most of the illumination came from square pillars, set with blocky white glowing fixtures, not unlike the ones in Atlantis. But the lights toward the back of the room weren't on, leaving most of it in shadow.

John stepped through the doorway cautiously. He really didn't like not knowing where they were in relation to the jumper. "Rodney?" he said. "Any thoughts?"

Rodney stepped up next to him, saying uncertainly, "I have no idea. I thought we were on the first level."

"Yeah." John thought, we jumped into a strange transporter and we have no idea where it took us. Good one, John. "But we could hear Ronon when he called up the shaft. If this isn't the ground floor, then it has to be above or below it. It couldn't have taken us to another building." He added uneasily, "Or, you know, planet." Don 't let it be another planet.

"Unless there was a communications device in the shaft that was transmitting his voice back to us," Rodney said. John stared at him, appalled. Rodney added hurriedly, "But what's more likely is that we're a level or two below ground. Think about it: escaping a massive energy discharge by running outside the structure into the open is not the best option. It's more likely that there's a protected escape route down here." He looked around, brow creased in worry. "Somewhere."

"Okay, that is more likely," John admitted. He glanced back at the others. Teyla and Ronon had stepped out behind him, and were gazing around the room suspiciously, flashing their lights into the shadows. Zelenka and Kusanagi had put their tools back in their packs and were anxiously watching him. "It's okay. This happens all the time," John told them, judging this was a good time to throw honesty out the window and concentrate on reassurance.