Category: First time
Summary: Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
"Sir? Do these guys look kind of familiar to you?" Aiden asked as he scanned the assembled group.
"Well, I'm counting at least eight more of you," John said scratching his ear, "and that's just the first row. There have to be at least thirty, forty more. And the ones that aren't 'you' look as though they could be your cousins. Man, this is too weird."
"You're telling me?" Aiden replied. John smiled and tapped his com link to contact Teyla, who was escorting the other team.
"Hey, Teyla; how's it going out there?"
"We have just reached the cave," she replied.
"Did you encounter anyone on the way?"
"We have seen no one," she reported. "Have you not found the other Lieutenant Ford?"
"Yeah. We found a whole damned family of them."
"There are more Fords?"
"More than you can shake a stick at. Look, we've got a little situation here. Keep an eye out and stay put until we contact you. Sheppard out."
John pulled off his helmet and waded into the crowd, moving through his own people and a few of the aliens to reach Rodney's side. He noted that some of his men were brandishing their weapons and ordered them to stand down. Aiden moved in closer, eying the newcomers nervously. They seemed to be rather curious about him, but they backed away as he drew near, so he stopped a short distance from the group.
"McKay," John said, "what have we got here?"
"This is the talkative one in the group,'" Rodney replied, gesturing at the man standing next to him. "He says his name is Aiden. Isn't that original?" John looked at the man, who bore no apparent resemblance to his second in command. His skin was pale and his short curly hair was nearly blond. John smiled and introduced himself in a deceptively casual manner.
"Hello, my name is John. I'm the leader of these people," he said with a sweep of his arm to indicate his team. The alien nodded.
"These are my people," he replied in a voice that was clearly Aiden's. He imitated John's gesture and turned to look at his followers. "And this one as well," he added, walking over to the Aiden in the hazmat suit. "Your people wish to take him away from us. You must not do that. He must stay here."
"We meant no harm," John assured him. "We thought he was alone here and were going to take him home with us."
"But his place is here. He is one of us," the leader replied.
"We didn't we see any of you on our last visit," Werner said. The leader turned to her, wearing a smile that Rodney recognized as one he often dreamed about.
"We were here," he said. "We have always been here."
"Always being a relative term," Rodney explained. "By their measure of time 'always' is probably approximately three days."
"Are you sure?" John asked. "This guy's got to be thirty if he's a day."
"Three days," Rodney repeated confidently. John squinted at him in confusion.
"Did you come through the gate?" Johnson asked the leader of the group.
"No, they didn't come through the gate," Rodney said exasperatedly.
"We are of this planet," leader said. "We are the Aiden."
"Excuse me?" Werner and Johnson said in unison. At the back of the crowd, Aiden started. John glanced in his direction; Aiden swallowed his discomfort and put on a brave face.
"Don't you get it?" Rodney said, gesturing in his direction. "They're him!"
"We are the Aiden" the alien said once again. "We will be the Aiden until we become...other than."
"Other than? Other than what?" John demanded.
"When we become the other," the leader said, holding up his palms and looking skyward. John turned to Rodney, who merely sighed.
"This is our Aiden," Rodney told the leader, pointing to his teammate. "We're very curious to learn how there came to be so many more who look like him." The leader smiled and walked over to Aiden, who flinched as he approached.
"Of him there are many," he said.
"I get it. They call themselves 'the Aiden' because they came from me--all of them," Aiden said, looking around wonderingly.
"Yes, and at some point after their creation they evolve into something else," Rodney said. "All of these people once looked exactly like you. The luckier ones still do," he said wryly, gazing at a rather odd looking man standing to John's left.
"Yeah," John replied. "I can see that now. McKay, get Ford out of his gear."
"Why?" Aiden demanded, surprised by the request.
"Not you," John said. "The other one. Do it." Rodney and Johnson quickly did as they were bidden and the other Aiden emerged from the hazmat suit and rejoined his people.
"Thank you for returning him," the leader said. "We have been looking for him."
"We're happy to oblige," John replied. "As I said, we meant him no harm. We only wanted to understand," he said.
"Exactly how many of 'the Aiden' are there?" Aiden asked timidly.
"We have counted eighty."
"I take back what I said earlier," John said softly, elbowing Rodney in the ribs. "That's your wet dream come to life." Aiden shot his commanding officer a withering look. The leader looked at Aiden more closely.
"We were scattered to the four winds," he said. "I have spent all my life looking for the Aiden. We seek more of our kind."
"I'm not one of you," Aiden said taking a step backward.
"We did find another one of you--'the Aiden'--a few days ago," John said, coming to his assistance. "He is back at our home."
"He must come here," the leader said firmly. "He must join us."
"We'd have to go get him," Rodney said, looking over at John, who nodded. The leader looked doubtful.
"Take us to him. We will bring him back."
"Our home is through the gate," John began. "It's very far away. Why don't you let us bring him to you?" The leader still appeared to be dubious. Rodney and Johnson exchanged a worried look when a few members of the group began a murmur of protest.
"I'll stay here with you until they bring him back," Aiden said before he lost his nerve. All eyes turned to him and the leader smiled.
"That is agreeable," he said.
"I'll stay, too. I'd like to learn more about 'the Aiden,'" Rodney said, giving John a look that just dared him to make another sarcastic remark. But John merely nodded and agreed to let him remain.
"I'd also like to stay," Johnson volunteered.
"All right," John said. He walked a short distance away from the group, tapped his com link and called Teyla to give her an update. "I'm going back to Atlantis to collect the other Ford," he concluded. "Why don't you all make your way over here while I do that?" he said as Rodney joined him and listened in on her report.
"It will be difficult to get the scientists to leave," Teyla said. "They not only found more of the spores, but several unusual plants as well."
"Don't touch them!" Rodney shouted. "And whatever they do they are not to pick them. The future of this planet depends on it."
"McKay!" Parrish's voice came over the com link. "If you think you're going to make your cockamamie theory pan out by trying to--."
"Hey! We've already got living proof of his theory right here," John interjected. "You heard McKay; don't touch any plants. Take pictures of them, collect soil samples or whatever and then get back here. Sheppard out." He turned to Aiden. "You're in charge. Any of those scientists gets out of line or tries something stupid, shoot him." He strode toward the gate. "That includes McKay," he said with a wink. He took Werner and the Marines in his team and went through the gate, leaving Aiden surrounded by several dozen people bearing his own face.
"Look but don't touch," Rodney said gently.
"Right, Doc." Aiden took a cleansing breath and pasted on a smile as Rodney suggested that they all sit down and talk.
"That's an incredible story, John," Elizabeth said.
"You can see it for yourself," he replied, glancing at the monitor. "It's like a giant Ford family reunion."
"This is fascinating!" Carson said, peering at a face that was both Aiden and not Aiden at once. "This is a whole new species. Beings who start life as plants and end up humanoid--it's incredible!"
"They didn't exactly start as plants, Carson," Elizabeth corrected. "They started as spores on our Lieutenant Ford. That would seem to make their origin at least partially humanoid."
"And they don't seem to end up exactly humanoid," John added. "They don't register on the life signs detector."
"Perhaps they are still plants," Radek suggested.
"We studied the one they brought back quite thoroughly," Carson said. "He was all flesh and blood."
"That could be due to the fact that he's not evolving up here," Werner replied. "...Or that his evolution diverged from the others. There seems to be something about the atmosphere of the planet involved in the changes we saw down there. The people down on the planet definitely could be some form of plant life. A few of them looked a little...well, green. I want to make a closer study of them when we return."
"Aye," Carson said, manipulating the MALP's camera and zooming in on one of the aliens.
"What do they make of our Ford?" Elizabeth asked curiously.
"It's weird, like they recognized him as one of them, but somehow knew that he was different," John said.
"And what does our Ford make of them?" Radek asked.
"I think the kid was pretty spooked," John said with a fond smile, "but he stepped up and volunteered to stay behind when the natives got a little restless about me returning here to get the other one."
"That's our Ford," Carson said, smiling at the man in the monitor.
"What can you tell us about how your--how 'the Aiden' came to be?" Anne Johnson asked. Everyone had removed his or her helmet, but they all kept their hazmat suits on and were careful not to make direct contact with the aliens.
"If they know everything I know about biology and botany, not much," Aiden replied. Johnson smiled, but waited for the leader to speak.
"We are the Aiden," he said simply. Johnson bore the disappointment better than Rodney, who sighed in frustration. "We come from the planet, and to the planet we return." Rodney sat up straighter.
"Now you're talking," he said eagerly. "What exactly do you mean by that?"
"We are what we are; we will be what we will be," the leader said. Rodney slapped himself on the forehead and Aiden giggled.
"If they know what you know, Lieutenant Ford, you must be quite the existentialist," Johnson teased.
"Remind me to give you a serious science orientation the next time we go to a planet where someone might decide to make you its model citizen," Rodney said.
"I'm sorry," Aiden replied unapologetically. He turned to the leader. "When will you return to the planet?"
"We return to the planet with the cycle of nature," the leader said. "We become, we grow, we thrive, we fade. It is nature's way." Aiden nodded.
"You understood that," Rodney said doubtfully.
"Yeah," Aiden replied. "He means--."
"I know what he means," Rodney said as he scrambled to his feet. Aiden followed his line of vision and saw Teyla approaching with Parrish, McClaren and the rest of her group.
"Hey," Aiden said, rising. The leader and the others who were sitting on the ground also rose. Teyla's mouth fell open and she looked at the familiar faces that surrounded her as she approached Rodney and Aiden.
"This is most unsettling," she said.
"I don't know," Johnson said with a twinkle in her eye. "I kind of like it." She had the satisfaction of seeing Aiden's cheeks color slightly as he averted his eyes.
"All these people came from those spores," Rodney declared.
"I still say that it's impossible," Parrish insisted.
"And yet, here they are," Rodney replied.
"How many of them are there?" Teyla asked, having momentarily lost sight of the original and wondering which one of the curious onlookers was the one she knew.
"According to their leader, there are at least eighty of them," Johnson replied. "They apparently all look alike when they first appear and as time goes on they evolve into unique creatures. I've been watching them as we sat here and can practically see them changing before my eyes."
"One of the plants we found showed evidence of having recently released its spores," McClaren reported. "It's hard to believe that this was the result."
"And these 'people' corroborate your story?" Parrish asked, looking around.
"They can't," Rodney admitted. "They don't appear to have the technical knowledge to do so. But the evidence suggests that they originate from plant spores and eventually evolve back into plants. At least that's what he's saying," Rodney concluded, pointing at the leader.
"Well, excuse me if I want harder evidence, but I--."
"Oh, Robert, just open your eyes!" Johnson cried. "Look around; each of these creatures was once exactly like the one you brought back from this planet, identical to Lieutenant Ford in every way. And look at them now. They're evolving! Some of them still look exactly like the lieutenant, but others have changed completely. Look at that one! He's got leaves growing in his hair! What more evidence do you need?"
"It's entirely possible that these beings were created by another means. All you've got is circumstantial evidence," Parrish insisted.
"Granted," Rodney conceded. "That doesn't make my theory any less plausible. And I have yet to hear a better one." He sat down again next to one of the Aidens, peered closely at him and rose to move a few seats over.
"Hey, Doc," Aiden said smiling.
"Hey, yourself," Rodney muttered as Teyla took a seat on Aiden's other side.
"There are no women here," she observed.
"She's right," Johnson agreed. "I'd noticed that earlier."
"Well, duh," Aiden replied.
"Of course, they don't need the female of the species," Johnson continued. "They replicate asexually."
"These people have no concept of fun, then," McClaren said to no one in particular. Aiden smiled self-consciously.
"They didn't get that idea from me," he said.
"Now, that's what I'd really like to find out," Johnson said. "Exactly how much of them is you?" Aiden shrugged and turned to Rodney.
"Well, the Ford we found and brought back to Atlantis was identical to ours in every way," he said. "I suspect that he'd made skin to skin contact with our Ford and that influenced both his physical and cognitive development, just as the fact that these people are in touch, literally, with their environment and it has influenced them."
"That one appears to be growing pale," Teyla said. "Others are darker. They no longer look so much like our Aiden Ford."
"Yeah," Aiden said wistfully. He checked his watch. "I wonder what the other 'me' will make of all this."
"I'm just not sure we should send another team back," Elizabeth said doubtfully. "We'd risk being exposed to that pollen--."
"...Which is apparently harmless to humans," John replied.
"You saw all the tests we did on Ford. He's in perfect health! Besides, who's to say that there'll be another release of the spores any time soon?" Carson added. "I'd like an opportunity to study the phenomenon first hand. Who knows what we might learn?"
"I agree, Dr. Weir," Radek said. "There could be applications of this technology that could prove to be invaluable."
"Technology?" Bates repeated. "You're talking about some alien life form."
"I'm talking about the spores, actually," Radek clarified. "If we could figure out how to--."
"Their benefits to medical science could be--."
"All right, you two," John said to the animated scientists. "We get the point. Liz?"
"How would the natives feel about us returning to their planet?" she asked.
"Well, we could ask them, but they didn't seem to mind our company," John replied. "The only thing they seemed to be concerned about was keeping the Aidens together."
"We needn't bother them at all," Carson suggested.
"If what John's saying is true, they're part of the planet," Elizabeth reasoned. "Anything we do there--our very presence, in fact--might have serious consequences."
"...Like the creation of eighty more Lieutenant Fords," Bates said dryly.
"We should at least make an attempt," Carson said. "It's too valuable an opportunity to pass up."
"I agree," Radek said.
"Well, I agree with Dr. Weir," Bates said. "I'm still wary of these creatures."
"How did the SGC manage to overlook your obvious xenophobia when they chose you for this team?" Radek said, rolling his eyes. "This is a scientific expedition! Our mission is to explore the Pegasus Galaxy and learn everything we can that might be of some strategic advantage to us back on Earth. Think of the possibilities! If we can hybridize the spores to suit our needs the potential medical applications alone are worth whatever effort it takes to acquire them. Someday we might be able to reproduce limbs that have to be amputated, not to mention that we could develop any number of other critical applications. If we could--." Bates raised his hands in surrender.
"All right, all right," he said. "You've convinced me." Radek smiled.
"He said yes," he said triumphantly. Elizabeth returned the smile.
"Very well," she said. "But I want you to return Ford first and ask the natives before you bring anyone else to the planet."
"Fair enough," John said, rising.
"No!" Carson cried. "I want to return with the major and Ford."
"As do I," Radek said, rising. He stole a glance at Bates, who glared at him.
"And already things have gotten out of hand," he muttered. "Dr. Weir--."
"I don't think it would do any harm," she said. "But no one else. Take Dr. Beckett, Dr. Zelenka and Dr. Werner back with you."
"Terrific," Carson said, practically bouncing out of his seat. Radek rose and followed him. John smiled and followed the two of them, but his smile faded as he headed toward the suite where Aiden was being held.
"Where are you going?" Rodney asked as he followed Aiden out of the clearing.
"For a walk," he replied insouciantly. "It's a nice day."
"You should stay and wait for Major Sheppard to return. He's likely to be back at any time."
"He'll be a while yet," Aiden estimated. "First, he'll have to report to Dr. Weir, then all the science geeks will insist on being brought into the loop--uh, sorry, Doc. You know what I--. Anyway, he won't be coming through that gate for at least another hour. We'll be back by then."
"Aren't you coming with me?" Aiden asked innocently.
"No," Rodney said stubbornly. "And I don't think it'd be a good idea for you to leave the group."
"Why not? It's not as though I'll be missed," Aiden said impishly, turning to look at the group of Aidens behind him.
"But I will."
"I'm kind of counting on that. I've got it all planned, see? If anyone does manage to figure out that I'm gone, I've got a built-in excuse for wandering off."
"Which is--oh, I get it. Very droll," Rodney said dryly, but he was already following Aiden further into the woods and smiling at the prospect of being truly alone with him.
"Look," Aiden said, crouching down and peering at something on the ground. "I was going to ask what had happened to all their weapons."
"Weapons?" Rodney repeated as he knelt at Aiden's side.
"I was carrying my P-90 when I was hit with the pollen. The dude we brought back through the gate had one, so did the one we found today. All the Aidens back there should have had them, too, along with TAC vests, spare ammo--they should have had everything I had on me that day. I guess they just dropped them, not knowing what they were or how to use them."
"And the earth has already begun to reclaim them," Rodney said, brushing his gloved hand over the submachine gun that had taken root and begun sprouting leaves. "This is amazing." He pulled out a camera to document the evidence. "Parrish is going to flip."
"I bet we can find more," Aiden said, rising to his feet. He moved further into the wood, as he spoke. "The science team can track the movement of the Aidens by seeing where they dropped their gear." Rodney nodded, impressed by the suggestion. "Too bad we probably won't get to that little beach," Aiden said a few minutes later. "It sure was pretty." He lifted a branch and stood back to allow Rodney to pass under it. Rodney looked at the branch thoughtfully.
"Do you realize that all these trees and plants were formed just like your friends back there? Someday they may all look like this."
"Is that what he was saying? I thought he just meant that they'd die eventually," Aiden said.
"No, I think he was being literal," Rodney said, turning to look at him. "Under normal circumstances, the spores probably land on the soil or the plants or any of the other natural flora of this planet and reproduce them. In this instance, they landed on a human being, and reproduced you. I think the Aiden are likely to suffer the same fate as the plant life on this planet. They grow, wither and die. Perhaps not right away," he added quickly, when he saw the horrified look in Aiden's eyes. "This tree is healthy and strong and might live for decades. Like you and I, plants have a natural life span." Rodney smiled at him. "Your presence interrupted the normal cycle, but 'the Aiden' seem to have adjusted and will naturally revert back to what they are meant to be."
"Cool," Aiden said, mollified by his explanation.
"You know, I think you've improved the planet's gene pool," Rodney said with a smile. "I know this is only my second visit to PX3-39, but I think the place has never looked lovelier."
"Did you just call me 'lovely'?" Aiden asked, squinting at him.
"What if I did?" Rodney challenged. Aiden took a step forward, invading Rodney's personal space.
"Just asking," he said, leaning in to claim a kiss. He gently pressed Rodney up against the tree and teased with him a series of playful but increasingly intimate kisses. Rodney grabbed him by the vest when he tried to pull away and Aiden grew serious, deepening the kisses until he'd become thoroughly acquainted with every inch of Rodney's mouth. Not one to be passive, Rodney turned the tables on him, reversing their positions to nuzzle the spot beneath Aiden's ear that he'd always wanted to taste. Aiden gently pushed him away when he began to suck on the spot.
"What?" Rodney protested muzzily.
"No hickeys," Aiden said hoarsely. "I get enough shit from the major about you without giving him actual proof of anything."
"You, too? I thought he only teased me."
"No, he's been onto us since...before we were onto us."
"He's smarter than he looks," Rodney said, but he didn't spare another second thinking about John Sheppard. He leaned in again and slowly licked along Aiden's jaw until he reached his succulent mouth. He absently recalled that they still had yet to talk about what was happening between them, but words seemed utterly redundant at that moment. And while Rodney might have been tempted to take things further, he was oddly content just to be kissing Aiden. It was something he had longed to do for as long as he could remember, and it was far better than he'd imagined. Hot, sexy, and intoxicating; the only thing that could make it better would be to be able to touch him, but the gloves of his hazmat suit effectively prevented that. He was about to shuck them when he heard John's disembodied voice.
"Where the hell did he go?" John demanded in a tone more than a little tinged with annoyance. Aiden and Rodney abruptly parted and looked around.
"He was speaking to one of the Aidens," Teyla said apologetically. Aiden covered Rodney's mouth and pointed at his com link. Sighing in relief, Rodney nodded and Aiden released him.
"Major Sheppard?" Rodney said in a voice that was slightly out of pitch. He quickly cleared his throat. "We're on our way back. Ford and I have been"--he paused and cast about for an excuse--"following a hunch. He was wondering what had happened to the gear carried by all the replicants. We managed to find some. It's already begun to take root and--."
"You can fill me in later," John replied, cutting him off. "We've got a situation; we need you back here in Atlantis. " Rodney and Aiden exchanged a look and headed back to the gate.
"Why? What's happening?"
"Our guest wants to speak with you," John said cryptically.
"He's not in a terribly talkative mood. Just get back when you can. Sheppard out."
Rodney and Aiden reached the edge of the clearing in time to see the gate shutting down. Carson and Radek were standing in front of it, looking bewilderingly at the assembly of Aidens before them.
"Yes, it is," Carson said.
"There are enough Aiden Fords here to satisfy the fantasies of every man and woman in Atlantis," Radek said.
"Even the ones with very interesting...variations," Carson replied. Radek glanced at him and Carson shrugged.
"Hey!" Rodney called as he and Aiden drew closer. "What are you two doing here?"
"He's undoubtedly the genuine article," Radek said of the man at Rodney's side.
"Naturally," Carson replied. "Say; do you think Dr. Weir would mind if we brought back a few souvenirs?"
"I can think of at least one person who would object to such a notion."
"He's not my problem," Carson said wryly. Radek shrugged and sighed.
"What's going on?" Rodney demanded as he reached the two men. "And where's Major Sheppard?"
"Major Sheppard is back in Atlantis waiting for you. We're here to do our own observations."
"It's amazing!" Radek said, once again scanning the scene. Aiden rolled his eyes.
"What's happening in Atlantis?" he asked.
"Your twin is demanding to speak with Dr. McKay," Carson told him.
"Why?" Rodney asked, frowning. Carson and Radek both shrugged, so Rodney dialed the gate. Aiden started to punch in his personal access code and Radek abruptly grabbed his wrist.
"It won't work. As a security measure, your code has been--." Before Radek was finished, Aiden pulled his arm free and turned away angrily. "I am sorry, lieutenant."
"It's not your fault," Aiden said softly. He looked up with a slightly hurt expression and met Rodney's eyes.
"I'll be back," he said gently. He punched in his own code and went through the gate. As soon as he arrived on the other side, he began to peel out of the hazmat suit. John started down the steps to the gate room to meet him, but Rodney threw the suit aside as soon as he was free of it and met him halfway. "Major Sheppard? What's going on?" he asked impatiently.
"Ford wants to speak with you. He apparently doesn't want to return to the planet and is claiming that you said he could stay here."
"I did make that promise, yes," Rodney admitted as they walked to the nearest transporter.
"Of course, that was before I knew what he was..."
"Well, now that we do know, we have to return him to his people--or whatever they are."
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Rodney replied pensively.
"I'm almost afraid to ask," John said as they stepped out of the transporter.
"I don't think he can go back. That Aiden Ford isn't one of them any longer."
"What? What are you saying?"
"'The Aiden' are a product of their environment. They're adaptive creatures; when that Ford fought with our Ford, they made physical contact. He also came into contact with our medical staff, numerous science personnel, the Marine guards--."
"McKay, just bottom line it, will you?"
"I don't think we can send him back, major. He's flesh and blood. He's become one of us," Rodney concluded. John gaped at him for a moment, then abruptly turned and headed back to the transporter. "Where are you going?"
"To tell Elizabeth."
Rodney nodded and watched him go. When the transporter doors closed he turned and continued down the corridor. He reached the suite and found Bates standing outside the doors with another guard. Rodney sighed and rolled his eyes before approaching the two men.
"Dr. McKay," Bates said. "The alien is refusing to cooperate."
"The 'alien,' as you so quaintly put it, is simply reacting as anyone would if he were told he was about to be abandoned on a strange planet."
"That planet is his home!" Bates asserted.
"Not anymore," Rodney replied with equal force. "I'd like to speak with him privately." He met Bates' glare evenly and quickly entered the suite when the sergeant finally backed down.
Rodney took a few steps into the lounge and spotted Aiden sitting by a window curled up in a chair. He looked up and saw Rodney approaching. Leaping to his feet, he threw himself into Rodney's arms. Rodney was stunned and confused by his actions but before he even had a chance to react, Aiden was kissing him for all he was worth.