Mhalachai\'s Writing
"Agent Afloat Atlantis"
Story Information
Summary:
Ziva's new assignment certainly isn't what she expected.
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A sound escapes her lips, a prayer or a moan, she's not sure which, but there is no time to think because her brother, her dead beloved brother, stands beside Captain Wayne's body in Autopsy, staring at the floor, his arm stretched out.

Then.

By the wall, a body rises from the floor, unfolding itself as it straightens, but it is not a body at all. It is the shape of a human, but the being is first silver and metal and fluid and then it changes to a woman with dark hair and dark eyes and the universe rights itself from the impossibility of the dead returning, to the impossibility of an alien enemy standing on Earth soil. Ziva has never seen one of these beings, but she has read the files and seen the pictures and she knows them.

Replicators.

Replicator in NCIS Autopsy.

With Ducky.

Ziva thumbs off the safety on her gun as she ducks around the corner, closer to the door and out of the line of sight of the Replicators. "There are Replicators here," she hisses in a whisper.

Her words send an eruption of activity down the channel. "Are you sure?" Lorne demands, with Sheppard's voice rising over his demanding details and specifics.

"I am certain," Ziva says. She cannot see into the room and does not know if Ducky is alive or dead. "I have seen two."

"Fall back now, we'll be down there with a containment team in--"

"I cannot, there is a civilian with them!" Ziva exclaims. And because she knows that if she waits any longer Sheppard will order her back, she breathes deeply and pushes her way through the door.

Ari and the dark-haired woman by the wall turn lift their heads to look at Ziva. She only needs a moment to take in the scene before her, but the details are almost too much for her to comprehend and compartmentalize in an instant.

Captain Wayne's torso has exploded, leaving his bloodied insides exposed with no sign of any internal organs. Across the room, streamers of silver pour down the wall around the closed body cabinet doors, collecting into writhing metal puddles on the floor.

Worst of all, Ducky is on his knees before Ari, covered in blood, and somehow Ari's hand is inside Ducky's head.

Ziva lifts her gun and fires three bullets into Ari's head. All it does is drive him back a few feet with the force of the blows. It is not much, but it is enough. Ziva dives forward, grabbing handfuls of Ducky's shirt and dragging him from the room into the corridor. She does not need to look over her shoulder to know that the Replicators are coming for her.

As soon as Ducky's feet clear the door, Ziva slams her hand onto the big red button on the wall, the one to seal Autopsy in the event of a biological or chemical disaster. The doors slam shut before the Replicators cross the threshold and lights dim as the room is vacuum-sealed from within.

Ari and the woman Replicator stare at Ziva, their eyes cold and blank. It takes Ziva a heartbeat to tear her gaze away from her brother's face to look closely at the woman, but what she sees only chills her further. The woman wears the face of NCIS Special Agent Caitlin Todd.

On the other side of the glass, the other Replicators are taking on human guise, and Ziva's gut clenches as she sees the dead returning to life. Paula Cassidy. Jennifer Shepard. Mark Bryson. Chris Pacci. The dead men and women move to stand behind Ari and Kate at the sealed door.

"Ziva!" Sheppard shouts in her ear. "What the hell is going on? Report!"

That gets her moving. "There are six Replicators sealed into Autopsy," she says as she tries to pull Ducky on his feet. The man's eyes loll back in his skull. He is alive, but barely. "They wear the faces of dead people."

"What do you mean, dead people?"

"They are NCIS's dead," Ziva tells him. She hefts Ducky into a fireman's carry and heads for the stairs. He is not light and she is exhausted, but she will not let herself fail, not here and not now.

"We're evacuating the building," Sheppard says as the lights overhead dim and flash to red. Behind her, Ziva hears a loud thud, then another. The Replicators trying to free themselves. "All right everyone, this is a level five foothold situation, fallout in pattern Alpha Bravo 713!"

She knows that he is not speaking to her, but the lights flash and the glass behind her shatters and she's in the stairwell with Ducky on her back, and the exit is down but she's not thinking as she goes up. She has to get to the squad room. She has to warn Gibbs.

Adrenaline moves her up the three flights to the squad room with Ducky on her back. Her hand slips on the door handle, but her second attempt works and she heaves her body through the doorway just as something flies past her head. She stumbles forward and half drops, half rolls Ducky onto the floor. Desperately, she reaches back into the stairwell and pulls hard on the door, trying to close it but the Replicator wearing Kate Todd's face grabs the door from Ziva, yanking it open with one hand while the other sharpens to a metal point, speeding towards Ziva's head.

Ziva does not have time to think. Her gun goes up as she falls backwards. One, two, three times she fires before the ground rises up to slam into her back, and every one of those bullets go straight into Kate's head.

The Replicator is pushed off-course by the force of the bullets, stumbling against the door frame. Ziva refocuses her aim and puts one more bullet into Kate's shoulder, spinning the Replicator off-balance and back into the stairwell. With a speed Ziva didn't realize she still had in her, she pushes herself up and slams her hand on the emergency button to lock down the floor.

The door closes hard, a loud slam of metal on metal, securing everyone in place.

For a heartbeat, there is silence. Ziva's hand holds her gun pointing at the glass rectangle in the door. She cannot see the Replicator in the stairwell, but it must be there. Bullets do not stop Replicators, nothing stops Replicators.

Another heartbeat.

A hand slam onto the glass and then Kate is there, looking at Ziva through the thick window. Ziva can't help herself. She jumps back and she very nearly sends her last bullet into the bulletproof glass.

"Jesus Christ!" someone exclaims from a place above her ear, and Ziva spins. All she can think is that the Replicators got here before she did and she's being attacked from behind, but it's only Tony, his eyes as wide as she's ever seen them. His gun is drawn and pointed at the floor and he stares at the small window.

Behind Tony stand Gibbs and McGee. Each is armed and each is staring at Kate in the window. McGee is horrified and angry and confused, but Gibbs... there is a fury in Gibbs' eyes that sends a shudder over Ziva's skin. She spins back around to keep both eyes on the Replicator. So far in the room, only the Replicator has tried to kill her that day.

"Ziva--" Gibbs starts, but his words cut off as another shape appears behind Kate, illuminated by the harsh red flashing light. It is Ari, and this is every nightmare Ziva has ever had since putting a bullet into her beloved brother's brain.

Ari stands behind Kate, and the dead stare at Ziva with dark eyes, unblinking, emotionless.

Waiting.

Ziva takes a deep breath. This is not her brother. This is a thing, an alien robot, that hurt Ducky. He is the enemy and there will be no mercy.

"McGee," Gibbs says. His voice is not strong, but he carefully raises his gun until the barrel is pointed directly at Kate and Ari. "Check Ducky."

"Boss--"

"Now!"

No one ever disobeys that tone from Gibbs. McGee dives forward, ducking under the raised guns to fall to his knees at Ducky's side. "He's got a pulse," McGee says after a moment.

"Ziva, what the hell is going on?" Gibbs demands.

Ziva pushes at a numb buzzing in her head. "That is not Ari," she spits out. She cannot use the correct words, for even if it is a nightmare there are things that will mean nothing to Gibbs and Tony. "That is a... a golem in his form."

"Who ordered the building's evacuation?" Tony asks.

Before Ziva can find an answer, the whine and flash of the Asguard transporter beam fills the air. Ziva glances quickly over her shoulder to see Sheppard and Lorne and Lorne's team appear in the open space down the hall. Gibbs swings his gun down and Ziva can see he is hesitating on which direction holds the greater threat.

"David, report!" Sheppard barks, coming down the hall to stand at her side. Lorne's team spreads out across the room and Lorne himself takes point by the wall. Ziva is relieved to see that every one of them holds a Replicator dematerialization gun.

"There were at least six Replicators in Autopsy," Ziva says, putting her attention back on Sheppard. "These are two of them."

Sheppard sidles up beside Ziva. He has a life signs detector in his free hand and he raises it for a better look. Then he does a second take at the man in the glass. "Hey, isn't that your dead brother?"

Ziva ignores the question. "They gained information from Dr. Mallard."

Sheppard makes a noise in this throat. "They're not showing up on my sensors," he calls over his shoulder to Lorne. "We have an affirmative ID!"

"The room is clear, sir!" Henderson shouts from a distance.

"The hell it is," Gibbs interrupts. He moves to Ziva's side and she has not seen him so angry in many years. Since the last time he saw Ari. "What the hell is going on?"

"I'm Colonel John Sheppard, USAF," Sheppard says, not looking away from the Replicators. "This is a highly classified terrorist attack--"

"On my agency!" Gibbs retorts.

"You were supposed to evacuate!" Sheppard shoots back. "Why the hell aren't you gone?"

"My people are in the building and I'm not leaving until I know they're safe!"

Ziva lowers her gun as something occurs to her. "Where is Agent Lee?"

"She went down to forensics to wait for Abby to show up," McGee says. He's helping Ducky sit upright. "She took the metal thing down for analysis."

At Sheppard's raised eyebrow, Ziva explains, "It was taken from Captain Wayne's mouth. I believe that is what interrupted our communications."

"Great," Sheppard says under his breath. "Did your agent get out of the building?"

"How would I know?"

Before her sentence is complete, a fuzzy hum shudders through the building, standing the hair up on Ziva's neck. A strange quiet settles over the room.

"What was that?" Ziva asks. Her head is beginning to hurt and when she rubs at her temple, her hand comes away covered in blood. When had that happened?

Ziva's earpiece sputters to life. "I modified the Odyssey's tractor beam to turn into a shield around the building," McKay says. His voice crackles faintly.

"If this is a terrorist attack, who's attacking?" Gibbs is asking Sheppard.

But Ziva has a more important question. "How sealed off can we be?" she demands of McKay. There are any number of ways for the Replicators to escape, through the sewers or pipes or even through cracks in the windows.

"As tight as we can be," McKay snaps. "There is nothing getting in or out of that building. Not even the air."

Ziva's relief is quickly quashed by a sense of claustrophobic horror. "We are stuck in here."

"Until the situation is contained, of course you are!"

"It's part of the safety protocols of a level five foothold situation," Sheppard says. "We're in here until this is over, one way or the other." He glances over at Gibbs, and Ziva sees something pass between the men.

And then the Replicators in the stairwell both turn and walk away down the steps.

"Crap," Sheppard mutters. "They're on the move!"

Lorne motions to his men, Garcia and Manasseri, and Garcia turns and sprints up the stairs to the second level. Manasseri takes point at the door, and Sheppard motions everyone back deeper into the room. Tony helps McGee pull Ducky upright and guide him over to Gibbs' desk.

"How many people are left in the building?" Lorne asks someone on his headset. Ziva cannot hear the answer. "Affirmative on that."

"Well?" Sheppard asks.

"The SGC is coordinating with NCIS security on building logs," Lorne says. He listens intently to something on his earpiece. "There are nine people who were in the building and did not check out before quarantine was imposed. Roll call is..." A pause. "Gibbs--"

"Here," Ziva says, pointing at the man.

"DiNozzo and McGee..." Lorne looks questioningly at Ziva, who nods. "Lee, Mallard, one guest, that's probably Ziva... Parker and Jackson..." Lorne taps hard at his earpiece. "The last person in and not checked out was Sciuto."

Gibbs kicks hard at his desk, startling Ducky all the way conscious, then Gibbs is in Ziva's face and she doesn't have time to get away. "I've got Abby and Lee in this building with undead terrorists who can't be killed by bullets!" he shouts. Ziva knows he is angry and fearful and she understands but she cannot take much more of him. "What the hell is going on?"

Ziva stands up straight under the weight of his fury. He has not said it, but he does not have to. Atlantis has brought this problem down upon the Earth, and Abby and Lee are in danger right now because of this. But there are priorities that must be met, and Ziva cannot let herself feel the emotions threatening to overwhelm her, worry for Abby or grief for Ari. "Who are Parker and Jackson?" she asks.

"They're the Sunday MTACS techs, upstairs," McGee says. He lets go of Ducky's shoulder and takes a half-step towards Ziva. "Boss, Abby and Lee--"

"How much danger are they in?" Gibbs asks Sheppard.

For his part, Sheppard doesn't bother with lies or platitudes. "It's pretty high," he admits.

It's in the air, what none of the men is saying. There are women in danger, and that's not something that any of the men in this room can let continue. Ziva would object, but she knows Abby and Michelle Lee as Sheppard does not. Abby is gentle and a civilian and she does not know what is happening, and while Lee is a trained field agent, she is still a scholar at heart and is so very small.

So Ziva knows they must be found, for reasons different than the men hold, but the outcome will be the same and Ziva cannot bring herself to care.

"Okay, hold it!" Tony exclaims suddenly. "Let's just back up this freight train of weird! What is going on?"

Ducky sighs, a wet bubbly sound that is loud in the room. "It came out of the body," he says slowly.

Gibbs bends over Ducky, a reassuring hand on the man's shoulder. "Ducky, what are you talking about?"

Ducky coughs a few times. When he speaks again, his voice is stronger. "Captain Wayne's body. After Mr. Palmer left Autopsy, the captain's chest exploded outwards and something big and silver came out of the chest cavity." He shoots Tony a glance. "Rather like that creature in Terminator II."

In spite of the horrors of the day, Tony gets a far-away look in his eye for a moment. "Terminator versus Alien," he says. "I thought that was coming out next summer."

"What happened then, Duck?" Gibbs prompts impatiently.

"It wanted information, I'm afraid." Ducky lets out a breath. "It wanted to know who was in charge, how to blend in."

"How does looking like dead people help them to blend in?" Tony demands.

When Ducky looks up, there is a steely glint in his eyes. "I said they wanted information, not that I gave them the correct information."

"That makes it easier," Sheppard says. "This way, we just shoot the dead people."

"But how did we go from one in Wayne to six?" Lorne asks.

His questions pulls Ziva back in her memory, back to the scene in Autopsy, to the planet and the bodies of the dead. Realization hits her hard and she may be sick. "Organs," she says. Everyone looks at her. "The other Replicator were coming from the body trays in Autopsy. That's why the bodies of our men did not have any organs. That is where the Replicators came from."

Sheppard clenches his jaw tight. "Enough of this. We've got people to rescue. Did the Replicator say anything to you?" This last is directed at Ziva.

"After I shot Ari-- the one resembling Ari, they only tried to kill me," she says shortly. She gives Sheppard a look, wondering if he can figure out a way to make any of this sound better, because everything is ugly in her head and her hand itches with the remembered jerk of the gun as she shot her bother's golem.

"They started this by killing our people," Sheppard points out. He glances around the room, at Lorne's team guarding the exits, at Gibbs and Ducky by Gibbs' desk, Tony and McGee by the wall, and finally at Ziva standing alone as she slowly falls apart. "You know the layout of the building?" It's not really a question. "David, you're with me, we're going after Lee and Sciuto. Lorne, take one of these guys," he waves his hand vaguely at the NCIS agents, "And get the techs. Get them back here if you can and try and set up a fortified position."

"Hold on," Tony interrupts. "The building is under attack from shape shifting zombies and your brilliant plan is that we split up?"

Sheppard turns on Tony, but before Sheppard can say something that will start a fight no one has time for, McGee pipes up, "Why don't we try to get out of here instead?"

"No one's going anywhere," Gibbs says, never taking his eyes off Sheppard. "We're in a level five lockdown, right?" Sheppard nods. "At this point, anyone coming out of the building's going to be shot on sight. We're not going anywhere."

"The threat level is beyond anything you guys are prepared for," Sheppard puts in. "Forget red, we've..."

"Gone to plaid?" Ziva asks archly.

"I was going to go with infrared, but whatever," Sheppard snaps. "Grab a ray-gun, we're moving."

Lorne immediately hands Ziva his Replicator dematerialization gun, giving her a quick jerk of the head she knows is meant to reassure, but all she can think is that she may never see him again. There is nothing more to say.

Of the NCIS men, it is Gibbs who clears his throat. "Ziva--"

"I will bring Abby and Michelle back," she says too quickly, because she cannot stand knowing what Gibbs might say to her in this situation, and so she makes promises she does not know she can keep. She follows Sheppard with the noise of Lorne's voice buzzing in her head as he sets his own rescue mission into motion.

"More details," Sheppard says under his breath as he and Ziva make their way to the far stairwell. "That big guy in the door who looked like your brother Ari? Who was the woman?"

"That was NCIS Special Agent Kate Todd." Bemused hysteria bubbles up in Ziva's chest, because Ari shot Kate in the head and Ziva shot the Replicator Kate in the head and her life is full of snakes swallowing their tails. "She too is dead."

Sheppard pauses in his reconfiguring of the life signs detector. "That was a Replicator named Kate?" A totally inappropriate smile crosses his face. "We're after a Repli-Kate?"

Ziva stares at Sheppard. "Do you have that out of your system now?" she demands coldly.

"For the most part." He taps his earpiece. "McKay, what are the scanners telling you?"

McKay's voice crackles through Ziva's comm. "We were picking up the Replicators in the building, but there's a dead zone in the basement that our sensors can't penetrate. It looks like they've all retreated into that zone."

"So we will go blind into the vat," Ziva says.

"Blind as a bat, Ziva," Sheppard says. He raises his hand at Henderson, who raises his Replicator dematerialization gun to give them momentary cover. "We're going in."

The door unlocks under the touch of one of Sheppard's Ancient device, and Ziva and Sheppard step into a world of silent red flashing lights. Since Ziva is the one who knows the building, she is first down the stairs, with Sheppard covering her back.

Their comms crackle as Ziva's foot touches the top step of the basement stairs. "...going out of range... copy, Sheppard?"

"I hear you, McKay," Sheppard whispers. "We'll try and destroy the jammer."

"...not sure if you... hear me, but try and destroy.... jamming device."

Sheppard rolls his eyes. "Copy, McKay."

"How exactly will we do such a thing?" Ziva asks. "Do you have some C4 in your back pocket?"

"Well," Sheppard hesitates. "What was the jamming device made of?"

"I do not know. It appeared metal."

"So maybe it's made of the same thing as the Replicator. I say we try shooting it."

"You say that about everything."

"I do not."

"When the Puddle jumper's engine stopped working on P6R-3X2, you recommended that McKay take a P90 to it."

"I was frustrated," Sheppard stresses. They are approaching a bend in the corridor and Ziva's hands itch at not being able to see if anything is waiting for them. "Hey," Sheppard says, suddenly all business. "I'm getting a reading."

"Human or Replicator?"

"Human. Just around the corner and not moving."

"It might be a trap," Ziva says, a not-rational fear punching her in the stomach. What if it is Abby? Or Michelle? Or the Replicators having managed to mimic human life signs?

"Of course it might be a trap. You got a mirror?"

Ziva lets out an exasperated sigh. "Your hair is fine," she snaps. Going down on one knee, back to the wall, she pulls her shiny knife from her ankle sheath and ever-so-carefully angles the blade around the corner.

There is one body, lying crumpled on the floor. "One figure," Ziva says in a whisper. She cannot tell if it is Abby or Michelle.

"Your call."

Ziva takes a breath and tries to remain rational. "I lead."

"I'm on your six."

Gripping her ray-gun tight, Ziva pushes herself to her feet and swings around the corner, sweeping the corridor for any signs of movement. There are none. Even the body on the floor is deathly still.

"I'll cover you," Sheppard says again, so Ziva lets her attention fall to the body on the floor. It is Michelle Lee. Her eyes are half-closed and her skin is pale and tinged with grey, but when Ziva touches the woman's face, there is breath in her body and her pulse is steady if shallow.

"She is alive," Ziva says, her voice breaking in relief. The Replicators have taken five of her men, but they have not claimed a sixth life. Not yet. "I cannot see any bleeding, but she needs medical attention--"

"After what happened to the others, she'll need it," Sheppard finishes for her. He kneels by the young woman's body and pushes the hair back from her face. A long bruise marks the otherwise flawless skin on Michelle's forehead. "We should take her back upstairs."

Ziva says a silent pray of apology for what she is about to do. "We should leave her here," Ziva says. The way Sheppard jerks back to look at her hurts, but there is no time for her emotions. "The Replicators have taken what they want from her and they did not kill her. Abby might not be so lucky."

"We can't leave--"

"We must stop the Replicators!" Ziva hisses. "We brought this threat from Atlantis by letting Jeff Wayne come home! These things kill and replicate, and they take information and it cannot be for benign reasons! There are six billion people on this planet! Imagine what the Replicators might do if--"

Sheppard stops her rant by placing a hand on her arm. It is the first time he has ever touched her like this, and the gesture startles her into silence. "You're right," is all he says, and the pain in his eyes mirrors her own. There is no excuse for leaving Michelle Lee behind like this. "Move out."

Before they go, Ziva rolls Michelle into the recovery position, hoping desperately that the woman has no spinal injuries. Then off they go.

Another ten feet down the hall, Sheppard's life signs detector dies. By now, they are close to Abby's lab, and loud thump-thump of Abby's music pounds down the hall.

"That's not ominous," Sheppard mutters as the song tells them about a living dead girl.

On the contrary, the familiar sounds of Abby's music stiffens Ziva's spine. "That is how we work at NCIS," she remarks. She lifts her weapon and readies herself to sweep into the room. "On three."

Sheppard lifts his hand, counting on his fingers one, two, and then they both burst into the lab.

Ziva takes in many things at once. The Ari-Replicator and Repli-Kate have backed a panicking Abby against the far wall, with Ari's hand morphed to a point and moving towards Abby's head. Military tactics desert Ziva as her world narrows to the threat to Abby. She raises her gun and fires directly at Ari.

Her brother's golem collapses in a pile of small metallic dust. Abby lets out a scream and pushes back against the wall, away from the metallic puddle. Repli-Kate ducks to the side faster than any human can move, putting the bench between her and the dematerialization guns.

Sheppard sidesteps, trying to keep Repli-Kate in view. Ziva moves closer to Abby, trying spot Repli-Kate behind the bench, when something small and metallic on the workbench catches her eye. "Sheppard!" she shouts, pointing at the metallic oval. "That is it, the jamming device!"

Between an unseen enemy and a known threat, Sheppard doesn't even hesitate as he whirls, pointing his dematerialization gun at the oval and firing point-blank.

The oval disintegrates with the force of the blast, and a burst of sound erupts in Ziva's ear as her comm comes back online. Before Ziva can tell McKay of their success, Repli-Kate springs up from behind the bench and grabs Sheppard. She lifts him as if he weighs nothing and hurls him across the room and through the glass doors to Abby's office, hitting the stereo on his way down and cutting the music to silence.

He lays where he lands.

Furious beyond measure, Ziva fires another volley at the Replicator, but to her horror, the blast just washes over the woman harmlessly. Ziva tries again, but the result is the same, and some fragment of advice from McKay comes back to her, about how the Replicators can adapt to the frequency changes of the Atlantean weapons and use them sparingly or else everyone dies.

"Sheppard?" McKay's voice echoes in Ziva's ear. "Ziva? What is going on?"

Ziva's mouth has gone dry with perfectly rational fear. Repli-Kate steps slowly towards Ziva with emotionless determination in her dark eyes, and there is no way out of this. "Sheppard is down," Ziva tells McKay distantly. "The ray-guns have stopped working against the Replicators."

"What?" McKay squawks, and in his voice Ziva can hear all the worry and panic that the man will never voice for Sheppard. McKay lets out a wordless exclamation. "Okay, we'll fix this! You can rewire your dematerialization gun, just do as I say and--"

"There is no time," Ziva says. Her back-stepping has put her beside Abby on the wall. Abby grabs at Ziva's arm, her hand ice-cold and trembling and an idea, brilliant under the circumstances, occurs to Ziva. "You will tell Abby." Quickly, Ziva yanks her comm from her ear and hands it, along with the gun, to Abby. "Abby, McKay will tell you what to do."

"What?" Abby's voice cracks, but she's already taking gun and earpiece from Ziva. "Ziva, what's going on?"

Repli-Kate cocks her head to one side, considering, and Ziva realizes that she has inadvertently placed Abby in peril. Ziva shoves Abby back through the broken glass doors and into the office beside Sheppard's prone form. "We are in great danger," is all she can say.

"Yeah," Abby says with an angry sniffle. "I got that."

Repli-Kate takes another step towards Abby. "Ziva David," Repli-Kate says in a flat, unemotional voice, and while Ziva cannot be certain, it does not sound like Kate Todd's voice. "Mossad officer, assassin."

Ziva sternly reminds herself that the Replicator knows what Ducky told her and what they got from Michelle Lee. This is not Kate Todd. "I am the civilian coordinator on--" Would the Replicator know Atlantis? Ziva decided to risk it. "On Atlantis. Do you know about Atlantis?"

Repli-Kate blinks slowly, but at least she has stopped moving. "City of the Lanteans. The creators of the creators."

"What does that mean?" Ziva asks. Her heart pounds in her throat. When she was a child in Israel, a poisonous snake had crossed her path. It looked at her with similar dark eyes, as if trying to decide whether to kill her or to let her live. "The Lanteans created the Replicators, did they not?"

"The Asurans," Repli-Kate corrects. "They were our creators."

"And what are you?" Ziva asks. Behind her, she can hear Abby's frantic voice talking to McKay, the crunch of boots over broken glass. "Are you also Asurans?"

"We are weapons," Repli-Kate says. She steps to the side to see Abby, but Ziva moves to block the woman. "Our sanctuary was infiltrated by your men. We were defending ourselves."

The sheer audacity of it takes Ziva's breath away. "You killed five of my men!" she exclaims, her voice rising with every word. "Men who would have not harmed you!"

"Acceptable losses," Repli-Kate states. "Our programming tells us to disable all enemies."

"Is that what we are?" Ziva asks. "Enemies?"

Repli-Kate tilts her head into an impossible angle. "You destroyed the first of us." It takes Ziva a moment to realize the Replicator speaks of Ari. "Our programming is set."

And with that, Repli-Kate lunges at Ziva.

Ziva tries to move out of the way, but the Replicator's hand tightens vise-like around Ziva's throat. The world descends into choking grey. Ziva kicks and fights, but it is all for nothing.

Just as the black begins to cloud her vision, a white blast of energy rushes over her, loosening the grip on her throat. Ziva falls to the ground in a pile of metallic dust, coughing and choking as the world comes back to her.

Hands on her arms pull her upright. It is Abby, looking sick and determined and so wonderful that had Ziva not been struggling to breathe, she would have kissed the woman. "Oh my god, Ziva, are you okay?" Abby squeaks. She hugs Ziva hard, and in spite of the danger of more Replicators, Ziva hugs Abby back. "I thought it was Kate but it wasn't Kate--"

"It was not Kate," Ziva says quickly. She pulls back from the hug and somehow, with Abby's help, regains her feet. "The building was in lockdown, why did you not leave?"

"I was in the darkroom, I didn't see the lights until I came out here and found Kate and Ari--" Abby's voice catches. "What happened? Is everyone okay?"

"Almost," Ziva says. She makes her way to Sheppard's side. The man is beginning to stir, and he lets Ziva pull him into a sitting position. "Sheppard, can you speak?"

"Ow," the man mutters. He has blood on his face from a large gash in his forehead, but he appears coherent. "Did you get her?"

"Abby did," Ziva says with no small amount of pride. "Can you move?"

"Sure, why not?" Sheppard says. But before Ziva can haul him to his feet, there is movement in the door and two more Replicators stand there, ready for the attack.

Abby takes in a sharp breath, and Sheppard's pulling Ziva back down and telling her to cover her eyes, cover your eyes now! and Ziva closes her eyes as the bright light crashes down over them, but the world is white behind her eyelids and her hands don't stop the glare, and she curls in on herself, pressing her face against her legs as the light pulses and hums and as suddenly as it started, it stops and the world is quiet again.

Ziva blinks away the spots in her eyes. Where the Replicators stood are two piles of metallic dust, inert and harmless. Ziva cannot look away.

"What was that?" Abby demands. She stands and crunches over the broken glass to get a better look. The whole lab floor is coated with the remains of the Replicators. She pauses. "What do you mean, a dematerialization beam reconfigured from a tractor beam?"

"McKay, hold off on the top-secret science for a moment," Sheppard says. He uses Ziva to haul himself into a standing position. "Come on, let's get back to the others."

"Just like that?" Ziva asks. She cannot move her legs. "It's over? That easy?"

Sheppard looks at her, blood on his face and her throat hurts with every breath and Abby's about five seconds away from a melt-down. "You call that easy?"

"Is it safe to go out there?" Abby asks, but Ziva can tell she's straining to get to the others.

"We will see," Ziva says. She makes Sheppard lean on Abby out the door and down the corridor to the stairs. Michelle Lee has not moved, but the woman's breathing is stronger now, and she does not flinch as Ziva pulls her into a fireman's carry for the walk up the stairs.

Garcia nearly shoots them when they limp into the squad room, but he is soon convinced of their veracity, helped along by the readings of the life signs detector in Lorne's hand. McGee rushes forward and helps Ziva lay Michelle down on the ground, rolling up his jacket and placing it behind her head.

Gibbs comes over next. Abby unceremoniously transfers Sheppard onto Lorne's shoulder and rushes at Gibbs, nearly tackling the man to the ground. Gibbs hugs Abby back just as hard. "You okay?" he demands.

"I had to shoot Kate," Abby says, muffled by Gibbs' shoulder. "And Ari was there and Ziva almost died and I don't know how many more times I can say this but I don't like working on Sundays."

Gibbs chuckles low, running his hand over Abby's pigtails and planting a kiss on her temple. He looks at Ziva over Abby's shoulder and there's gratitude in his eyes, a gratitude that Ziva does not deserve. If Ziva had moved faster, the Replicators in Jeff Wayne's body would never have infiltrated NCIS, and Michelle and Sheppard would not have been hurt.

Lorne hauls Sheppard over to the desks beside Ducky. It takes Ziva a moment to see it, but the men in the room are not unscathed. The MTACS techs are ruffled and bloodied, if still upright, and Henderson sports a bandaged arm and Tony has a black eye. Ziva raises an eyebrow.

Gibbs catches the expression. "Two of your terrorists got into MTACS," he says once Abby stops trying to squeeze him to death.

Tony's eyeing Gibbs with annoyance. "Jenny Shepard and Paula Cassidy," he tells Ziva. "And wasn't that exciting fun?"

Ziva has no time for Tony's emotional fragility now. "I was faced with the Replicator that mimicked my brother. He was about to..." Injure? Interrogate? Slaughter on the laboratory floor for Ziva's sins? "Hurt Abby."

The woman in question rests her head on Gibbs' shoulder, trembling with the aftermath of the day. Gibbs pats her shoulder and Ziva thinks bitterly that her own father would never have comforted her so.

And just as soon as her anger rose, it disappears into nothingness. Shaking her head, Ziva crosses the squad room and leans on the desk next to Tony. He eyes her apprehensively, as if she might shout at him, but when she says nothing and the buzz of the room picks up speed again, he slumps down.

"This has not been a good day," Ziva says in a low voice after a while. Every word hurts, but she finds that she must say something to Tony. "Abby needed to raise arms against the... against the one that resembled Kate Todd."

"I shot... I had to shoot Jenny," Tony says quietly. Ziva closes her eyes at the pain in his voice. "She was trying to kill McGee and I shot her four times in the chest to get her to move back. Your Major shot her with the ray gun and she just... disappeared." He clears his throat. "Is this the kind of stuff you deal with every day now?"

Ziva thinks back to Stackhouse's words on her first day in Atlantis, about how things usually got worse. Today, five of her men are dead, her friends nearly so, and no one has won much of anything. They are all alive, but barely so. "Today was a particularly bad day."

Tony's fingers brush over her hand as they stand by the desk, then the room hums again as the force field goes down and five minutes later, General O'Neill and Colonel Carter barge in, flanked by a whole contingent of SGC Marines and a medical team.

"Well," General O'Neill announces to the room at large. He claps his hands together. "This is going to be one hell of a debrief."

Ziva lets out a weary sigh. She is so very tired.

to be continued


PS: Information on golems
 
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