"You are preaching to choir, Rodney," Zelenka added. "No one can imagine the unimaginable danger like we can.
Leaning in the cabin hatchway, Ronon said, "I don't understand."
John gritted his teeth. He really wasn't in the mood right now for Ronon's caveman act. "Ronon."
"I understand what it is," Ronon clarified. "I don't understand why we're still here with it."
Rodney sighed and pressed the water bottle to his forehead. "Because we have to find out if there's the slightest chance that it could lead us to living Ancients. If it can't, we have to try to shut it down before the Wraith find it."
Zelenka buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God."
You can say that again, John thought grimly. As they reached the spaceport, he slowed the jumper, directing it into a hover above the broken dome. The HUD popped up, telling him the immediate area was still negative for life signs and energy signatures, and that the terrain sensors detected no instability in the floor below or the struc ture itself. He eased the jumper down, past the curved surface of the dome.
The jumper's outer lights came on, revealing bluegreen metal walls and multiple levels of empty landing racks. Below, the stone floor was covered with windblown sand, and a half-open hatch led deeper into the structure. The others were quiet, watching as the spotlights illuminated the giant space, so much larger than Atlantis' jumper bay.
John let the ship settle to a gentle landing and switched all the systems over to standby. He leaned back and stretched, but his spine refused to unknot; he suspected that wasn't going to change for the next few days. He eyed Rodney, who sat slumped glumly in the jump seat, his expression set and grim. Worried about him, John asked, "You okay?"
"Oh, sure, yes, I'm fine." Rodney rubbed a hand over his face. "We need to call Elizabeth."
John raised Lorne on the jumper's comm system quickly enough, though there was a few seconds of transmission lag. John briefly outlined the situation. Lorne, who had been in the SGC, obviously didn't need Rodney to tell him about Quantum Mirrors. He said, "Colonel, that's… Damn."
"Yeah, that's what we said," John agreed. "Dial Atlantis and patch me through to the gateroom."
That took a few minutes. By the time the connection was made, Miko had connected a laptop to the outputs in the rear cabin, running through a full system diagnostic, while Zelenka was opening panels to do the manual checks. The others were sitting on the bench in the back, passing around the selection of packaged snack food from the jumper's supplies. Tied to the comm system, John waved at them, trying to get them to bring him something. He was saying, "Dammit, there is a vanilla one left, I can see it in the box," when Elizabeth's voice came over the comm: "This is Weir. What's going on up there, John?"
"Well, the good news is, we're not dead," he told her, swinging the chair back around again.
"Always nice to hear," Elizabeth responded, a wry note in her voice. "The bad news?"
Rodney came forward hastily, dropped a package of cupcakes into John's lap, and sat down in the shotgun seat. He said, "We found the source of the power signatures. It's a gigantic Quantum Mirror."
There was silence on the other end that had nothing to do with the brief transmission lag. "How gigantic?" she said finally.
John ate the cupcakes, while Rodney outlined their little adventure so far. Zelenka came forward to listen, leaning on the back of Rodney's chair.
Rodney said finally, "It comes down to this. The Ancients could have built this thing as an alternate method of evacuating Pegasus at the end of the Wraith war. If they were able to find another reality where Pegasus was uninhabited, where it had never been colonized by the Ancients, where the Wraith never existed, it would have been a viable option. The Mirror's circumference isn't nearly large enough to accommodate a city-sized craft like Atlantis, but you could move an enormous amount of people and supplies through with smaller cargo ships. It would be much more efficient than dialing the Atlantis `gate back to Earth multiple times. But we have no idea if they were successful, whatever they were trying to do with it."
Sounding thoughtful, Elizabeth said, "We've certainly never seen any indication in the Atlantean database that the Ancients had an evacuation route other than Earth. And do we know if this thing has been active all this time, or if these power fluctuations you're seeing are recent?"
"Well, yes, that's the problem." Rodney waved a hand in agitation. "One of the problems. We have no way to tell without exploring the installation to look for monitoring equipment. But I find it hard to believe this thing has been sitting here for ten thousand years releasing massive bursts of energy and activating the monitor on the base moon, without the Wraith ever noticing. I think it was dormant most of that time, that this activation is recent." He drew a sharp breath. "I think we've been lucky."
John had to agree. Except for the lucky part.
Elizabeth asked, "How do we know the Wraith haven't already found it?"
"I think it's safe to say that if they had, they'd be here right now, exploring through it for new feeding grounds." Rodney flattened his hands on the jumper's console, frustrated. "The Quantum Mirror at Area 51 was unimaginably dangerous. Two seconds after Dr. Jackson discovered the thing it dragged him into another dimension where the Goa'uld were in the process of invading Earth. This Mirror has the bonus feature of being big enough to allow an invasion fleet to fly through it, as well as being unstable. But if it was used for evacuation and it's still set for the same destination, there may be living Ancients on the other side we could apply to for information or help."
"I don't think that is strong possibility." Zelenka took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "If a group did use it to escape, their first act once they were safely through would be to shut down the Mirror on their side, changing the setting, so no Wraith could follow them. It would not prevent another Mirror in yet another reality from finding them-the Mirror in Area 51 was kept shut down, but that certainly didn't prevent other Mirrors from accessing it.
"Yes, yes," Rodney agreed impatiently. "That's why Hammond ordered it destroyed. But there is a small chance that this Mirror is still set to the reality the Ancients fled to. If it isn't, I agree that our chances of stumbling on it among the countless numbers of other realities is infinitesimal. And attempting to look would be unimaginably dangerous." Rodney's mouth twisted sourly. "Judging by the SGC's experiences, any reality we access is likely to be far worse off than we are. Far worse off."
"You keep saying `unimaginable,"' Zelenka grumbled. "I told you, we can all imagine it perfectly."
"Hold it." John eyed Rodney. It had always been obvious that the Stargate networks, here and in the Milky Way, would have been built by interstellar spaceships. John felt like he was missing something as far as building the Mirrors was concerned. "So they had to go through first and build a Mirror just like this one in the other reality? How does that work? How do you get there in the first place?"
"No one knows," Rodney told him impatiently. "Quantum Mirrors exist in all realities simultaneously. Building one is a logical impossibility, but yet they exist."
John looked at Zelenka, who nodded and shrugged. John said, "Okay," and decided to go back to imagining the unimaginable danger.
"Let me sum this up," Elizabeth said, obviously trying to bring them back to the point. "You want to take a closer look at this installation, see if there's any indication that we could use it to contact the Ancients, and if not, shut the Mirror down."
Rodney leaned forward. "Exactly. We'll need to enter the structure around the Mirror. The jumper's sensors couldn't get accurate readings with all the interference from the Mirror itself; the installation could hold anything from a new Ancient database to a working ZPM." He added reluctantly, "I wouldn't count on the ZPM. Quantum Mirrors don't need external power sources; they are power sources, drawing the energy they need directly from subspace. I'd be surprised if the Ancients didn't have a way to tap into that, to use it to power the auxiliary systems in the building."