T-Minus Twelve 

By John and Cheryl

aka ltcoljsheppard and eilidh17

 

 

EMAIL: John

EMAIL: Cheryl


~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Rodney swept his gaze around the crowded Mess Hall, looking overly put out and rather bored. He decided to try to focus on fragments of other peoples
conversations going on around him, sighing heavily as Sheppard continued his tale. The strong smell of coffee wafting from the huge metal urns next to the bain-maries nearby stole his attention yet again and Teyla watched him as she listened to Johns story and grinned as Rodney seemed to struggle with boredom.  Morning was definitely not his favorite time of the day. 

This morning was certainly no different. The only saving grace for him was the enormous scope of the event as Atlantis made its recent and most spectacular splash down in San Francisco bay, which in itself was an end play Rodney never could have predicted.  Nope, he hated mornings and this mornings angst-fest was definitely culminating on John Sheppards repeated and wholly over-exaggerated telling of yet another mind-numbing war tale.

“So there we were,” John was finishing up his story, with Ronon sitting across from him and Teyla sitting beside him listening with interest. They each wore smiles as they listened, but Rodney’s body language announced openly that he wasnt buying a word of Sheppards yarn. He bobbed his head as if totally disinterested or disbelieving and picked at his breakfast as Sheppard finished his story, “… riding into battle, to save the day, atop four huge camels.


The punch line was delivered with Sheppard barely containing his own laughter, which he let loose once the line was finished. His was quickly joined by a round of guffaws from Ronon and Teyla who seemed quite amused by John Sheppard
s storytelling skills. Rodney, however, looked totally non-amused by the entire tale, which only made the other three laugh harder.

The citys public address system suddenly squawked to life to interrupt their good time. Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay, report to the Control Room. Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay please report to the Control Room.

“Saved by the perpetual and unerringly consistent predictability of Chuck’s disembodied voice calling an all-hands alert to the newest emerging catastrophe no doubt, Rodney stated as he gathered up his notepad and prepared to leave the table. Teyla grinned as if conspiring to drive Rodney mentally around the bend and tossed Ronon a glance as John slid his chair back and stood up. Ronon just chuckled.

“Oh, come on, Rodney, the story wasn’t that bad, John argued with a grin.

“It was beyond my scope to understand the entertainment value of that particular story.”

“Aw, come on, Rodney… that was a good story,” John stated as they headed toward the exit side by side. “It had action and suspense --”

“Not so much.”

“And travel to far away lands…” John continued.

“It was crude in its delivery and a bit boorish in that it showed great insensitivity to the understanding of other cultures,” Rodney began to point out and John just grinned as he walked along beside him. “Not to mention that I grew weary in the dullness of your otherwise sharp and stinging wit ---”

“You’re just upset because you never get to do anything that exciting, John tossed back lightly.
“Not true,” Rodney countered. “My life is exciting enough --”

“Sure, sure,” John agreed openly, “If you count blowing up three quarters of a solar system…”

“It was five sixths, thank you very much, and must you keep reminding me of that fact?”
“I remind you of that fact??” Sheppard asked a bit astonished. “How can you forget that you blew up an entire solar system?”

“I don’t forget! Rodney forced back. I just dont need you reminding me of it all the time!

They continued a few paces in silence as John considered that and then he repeated, simply to satisfy himself, It was a good story.

“Maybe,” McKay agreed with a rather patronizing tone as if he didn’t really agree at all. But camels? he pointed out and John chuckled. That is not a true story! he insisted.

“Yes it iiiiiiis!” John defended his tall tale as they disappeared out the door. Ronon and Teyla watched with amusement until their teammates disappeared then they turned to each other and shook their heads.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Their conversation ended as they climbed the main staircase toward the Control Room and saw Mr. Woolsey looking over the rail from the terrace. He waited for them to reach the landing and step up into the command center before beginning his briefing.
“We’ve received a communiqué through Stargate Command from the research post in Antarctica, he stated and John crooked a brow at him.

“McMurdo?” he asked with a frown.

“I’m sorry, Woolsey offered and then recanted that opening statement. From the researchers we have at the Ancient Outpost in the Antarctic.

Sheppard nodded at the correction.

“What have they found?” McKay asked with barely reined in excitement and John looked to him in question before looking back at Mr. Woolsey.

“Have they found something?” Sheppard asked to be sure.

“They have, but they dont know what it is. Its an unknown piece of technology that they discovered over six months ago and have been unable to ascertain what it is or what it does. However it apparently became active the moment Atlantis entered Earths atmosphere a month ago.

“A month ago??” Rodney clutched his notepad tighter to his chest as he cradled it in one arm. Pursing his lips together he tried to calm his initial and most natural reaction, which would be to scream and holler over being left out of that type of information relay. “Why wasn’t I told about this? he asked.

“You’re being told about it now, Woolsey stated.

“So what’s going on there? John asked.

“Well, this machine, for lack of a better word, has been displaying an audible alert as well as a visual signal that coincides with the sound its making. It started off slowly and nearly inaudible at all, he added quickly as if trying to stave off a McKay rant which at this moment in time Woolsey wasnt entirely uncertain would be unjustified. Even Colonel Sheppard was now looking at him with an intense gaze as his face shifted into a concerned scowl.

“What kind of audible alert?” he asked in tone that clearly showed he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this.

“They think it’s a…” Woolsey looked between the two men as he paused, “… a countdown.

Sheppards chin raised up high as he seemed to look down the length of his nose at him. He clenched his jaw so tight that the muscles flexed beneath the skin and his nose flared as he took in a slow deep breath. Meanwhile standing beside him, Dr. McKay was beginning to huff as if he was having an asthma attack. 

“Rodney,” Sheppard stated as if the one word was his warning to calm down. He looked back at Woolsey evenly and asked too calmly, “What kind of a count down?”

“That’s the problem we dont know. He turned and nodded to Chuck who had obviously been waiting patiently at his console. He nodded back and pressed a few buttons which brought the large view screen behind Richard to life.  

On the monitor was General Jack ONeill who looked up as he came into focus. Ahh, Richard. Its about time, he quipped at the former IOA representative.

“Sorry, General,” Woolsey returned.

“Have they been briefed?” Jack asked.

“They have. With the little bit we have to go on.”

“Well, it might just be me,” Jack said with a patronizing tone and expression, “but it would seem to me that the return of Atlantis to Earth is a primary reason this… thing… has started beeping and blipping and pitching a fit.  The researchers at the outpost believe that the Ancients had indeed set it up for some reason to alert them when the City returned to Earth and for whatever reason doesnt seem happy about its return.

John and Rodney spared each other a glance.

“Sheppard!” Jack snapped to get John to look back at the screen.

“Yes, Sir!” he replied respectfully as he turned back to listen.

“I want you and your team to check this out.”

“Yes, Sir. Right away,” Sheppard concurred and Rodney immediately turned on his heel to head off to get ready.  All three commanders watched him leave and when Sheppard turned back he met Woolseys wry grin and then looked to the general.

“Get on it, Sheppard. Dismissed,” Jack told him, letting him go and John gave a brisk nod. He turned and ran straight up the stairs to the Jumper Bay to get Jumper One ready for launch.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Dark blue water slowly gave way to washes of lighter blue, tinged with green, as the Puddle Jumper banked right and crossed the icy threshold that marked Ross Island and McMurdo Sound.  Sighing softly, John drank in the stark vista, leaning forward to get a better view of the rapidly changing landscape as the virgin white snow of the flat plains quickly gave way to the majestic shape of the snow encrusted mountains. 

I miss this.

Distracted, Rodney turned his attention away from the pad on his lap and took in the view.  Hmph!  Kidding right?  Couldnt wait to get out of the place, myself.

“Ehh, McKay, you never saw Antarctica the way I did though,” John defended the icy, lifeless continent.

White, stark, cold, and infinitely boring.  Well the ancient outpost aside, and even that failed to live up to expectations most of the time.

Arching a brow at the scientist, John snorted.  I doubt theres anything out there that would live up to your expectations.

Yes, well, Im not easily impressed.

No kidding.

Really, Rodney, Teyla mused from the seat behind McKay. You would have thought that after all this time we might have come to that realization ourselves.

Rodney swiveled on his seat to face her, searching her face quizzically, only to receive a patronizing grin from the Athosian before she turned back to the forward view screen.  Yes I suppose you might have,” he conceded.

Heads up, people, John announced, slowing the forward momentum of the Jumper to almost a stop as it cleared a range of mountains. There she is.

Leaning forward over Johns shoulder, Ronon shrugged and snorted, Is that it?

The Ancient Outpost, yeah,  John confirmed as Jumper One now hovered above the massive steel-lattice dome. Light from the sun glinted off its metal beams and cast an aura across the surrounding snowscape. 

Its a dome.

Nice one, Conan, Rodney quipped. The outpost itself is actually situated a mile under the ice.  The dome is there to protect the entrance and contains barracks and science labs.

“Oh. Well, why didnt you say that, McKay?

Rodney balked and tried not to look perplexed.  I-

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sheppard interceded, “please make sure your seat belts are fastened and return your tray-tops to their upright positions.  Air Atlantis is on final approach.

Sliding his gaze sideways at Ronon, Rodney jutted his chin out and tipped his head back.  That means were coming in to land.

Yeah, Ronon said, deadpan. I got that.

 ~*~*~*~*~*~

As Jumper One descended into the Ancient Outposts newly unearthed Jumper Bay, a female technician was waiting near a console used as their version of Flight Traffic Control for the teams arrival. The need for such a console and its associated technicians seemed a bit unnecessary since there rarely was more than one Jumper in the skies over Earths surface at any time but it was a nice thought, Sheppard noted to himself as they made their way from the hatch toward the woman with the clipboard.
 
 
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, he introduced himself and then gestured toward the team standing behind him, Dr. Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagen, Ronon Dex…”
 The technician nodded to them with a brief, but cordial smile.
I am Dr. Felicia Redding. Thank you for coming, she said and then turned her attention immediately to Sheppard. This way, Colonel, she invited and led them out of the bay and down a few winding, frigid corridors.
 
 Teyla and Ronon had never witnessed such a thing as an entire community residing under enormous depths of snow and ice. The fact that it wasn
t brutally cold, even surrounded by so much frozen water, did not escape their wonder of the place.
 
 For McKay, well, he
d barely forgotten his time spent here the years before the expedition to Pegasus and didnt appear to be fazed by the return one bit. But, for John Sheppard, the place held a wonder all its own. It was here, after all, this very location, when his life had taken a drastic turn and launched him on the greatest adventure humankind had ever known. At least the humankind from planet Earth.
 
 
“So what can you tell us, so far, Doctor?” John asked and Dr. Redding offered him the clipboard she held. John barely had it in his hand long enough to spin it facing the right way so he could look at whatever was on it before McKay snatched it away from him.
 
 Sheppard let the rude snatch-n-grab go without comment because even he realized that he would
ve just shrugged and handed it to Rodney anyway.  Dr. Redding was already spouting the information before he got his attention back on track, but he was sure he hadnt missed anything new since she was just getting to the part about the alarms that were sending out a countdown-like alert.
 
 
“We’ve also, in just the past half hour, discovered a curious power signature building up in the North Pole, she added and John snapped his head around with a furrowed brow.
 
 
“The North Pole…” he reiterated to be sure he’d heard correctly.
 
 
“Yes, Colonel,” she nodded as they walked.
 
 
“Yes, that would be the opposite of the South Pole,” Rodney muttered sarcastically towards Sheppard as he scoured the information on the clipboard readouts and implemented them into his own electronic notepad for recording.
 
 
“I know where the North Pole is, Rodney,” Sheppard growled back under his breath.
 
 
“You detected this power build up from here?” Rodney asked as he quickened his stride to come up even with Sheppard just behind the doctor’s left shoulder.
 
 
“No, actually.  Our global defense platform now in geo-synchronous orbit and focusing on the Arctic Circle picked it up and alerted NORAD who informed the President, who then contacted the SGC, who then contacted you well, you get the picture…”
 
 
“Clearly,” Rodney replied.
 
 
“What we were originally hoping for, was to have Dr. McKay assist us in finding out what the original bells and whistles were for ---”
 

“Assist you --?” Rodney repeated looking totally put off by the suggestion that he would merely be assisting when he knew damned well it’d all be dumped into his lap moments after he was shown the equipment in question.  He was silenced by a glare from Sheppard and met his scowl with narrowed eyes in return.

“Well, we were hoping to use Atlantis’ sensors to identify the power build-up ---

“Not online yet ---” McKay interjected.

“… but…” Redding tossed him a hard glance, with the Citys sensors still in disrepair and no ships presently in orbit to take a closer look at it for us.

“You want us to jump to the North Pole to take a closer look…” Sheppard finished with a nod and then sighed.

“Yes, Colonel.” Redding nodded as they entered the lab housing the equipment in question.  

McKay moved around the doctor and headed for the beeping machine with the little red blinking lights on it.  He was already barking at the lab technicians who quickly offered up answers or reports as needed even as John turned to regard Dr. Redding.

“What are we talking here, Doctor?” he asked with a tilt of his head.

Dr. Redding leaned her head back and took a deep breath then looked him in the eye. 
Were not entirely sure, Colonel. But if this piece of equipment is what we believe it is ---

“It’s a communication device, Rodney called back.

“That’s what we believe it to be as well, Redding looked to McKay, as he continued to inspect the console, but kept her voice level as she continued to speak between her and Sheppard.  

“And what or who is it communicating with?” John asked, his gears already spinning and trying to connect the two recent discoveries.

“My guess is,” Rodney offered from where he was poking around inside an open compartment full of  control crystals and fibre-optic wires and cables, “it’s trying to communicate with something Ancient and its not getting an answer which might be the cause of the power build up in the North…” Rodney ground out between clenched teeth as he over-reached for something way in the back of the consoles inner workings.

John and Dr. Redding considered Rodney
s thoughts on it and Sheppard stepped up closer to Rodney. Why isnt it getting an answer? he asked.

Rodney suddenly stopped what he was doing and deflated a bit as he turned toward John.
Gee, I dont know yet, he answered sarcastically. If it was answering I could identify where the incoming signal is coming from but since its not getting an answer I cant do that, now can I?

Dr. Redding frowned and slid her eyes to the colonel, taken aback at Dr. McKay
s obvious intolerance toward his team leaders question. 

Sheppard simply shook his head in dismay and stepped up closer to Rodney, copping his own snide attitude. “Well, do you think that whatever is powering itself up in the Arctic Circle might have anything at all to do with this thing either trying to communicate with it… Is successfully communicating with it…. Or is sending out an SOS because whatever it’s supposed to be actually communicating with isnt answering, like you said So maybe its calling for help from the North Pole?? John set up the details of his own theories for Rodney to weigh in on.

“Hmm,” McKay hummed as he stopped working again for a moment to consider John’s questions. Thats a good theory…”

“Which?” Sheppard growled.

“The S.O.S. one,” Rodney pinpointed and stood up.  The Ancients are well-known for setting up so many redundant failsafe systems within their technology that almost nothing can happen due to human error or, most of the time, due to environment or eons going by before theyre powered up again.”

“Okay,” John replied.

“But what if, after ten thousand years, whatever function this particular piece of equipment was set up for… What if its partner no longer exists?”

John
s brow furrowed and his eyes darted about. Well, that doesnt sound good, he stated.

“Well, no, it wouldn’t be, I shouldn't think, Rodney agreed.

“So what’s powering up on Santas Island? John asked with a bit of a curl in his lip.

“Got me,” Rodney shrugged openly, holding John’s gaze evenly before he grinned with excitement and asked, How about we go find out?

Sheppard simply blinked at him for a few seconds as Teyla and Ronon watched from a few feet away. John licked his bottom lip and finally said,
Why dont we?

“Great,” Rodney stated and scooped up his notebook and pack and headed back out the way they’d originally come in, heading back to the Jumper.  John gave Redding a slow nod and turned to follow Rodney. Noting the smiles on Ronon and Teylas faces, he deadpanned at them as he passed by, “Let’s go," and his other two teammates took up his six.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“When youve see one frozen vista, youve seen them all.  Rodney looked disinterestedly out the view screen at yet another ice locked land mass, the second in as many hours, and muttered under his breath, Ill never get the fascination.

Are you kidding me, Rodney? Look at it! Sheppard barked with a big smile, gesturing at the gleaming sun-drenched snow continent outside the main viewport.

Teyla couldnt help but smile at Johns enthusiasm for the pristine wilderness and, as they flew over the open tundras, they saw the Earths strange polar icecap inhabitants: caribou and polar bears and even a small pack of arctic wolves. The small spaceship was able to cover hundreds of miles of air space in a matter of seconds so within a few minutes time, the crew on board Jumper One were able to see much more of the north poles vanishing wildlife than most people ever would in a lifetime of ground searching. 

“You picking up anything, McKay?” Sheppard asked from the left pilot’s chair.
“Actually?” Rodney replied, swinging his chair around a bit from the monitor screen he had set up behind Sheppard’s chair. Quite a bit.
Teyla was sitting in the co-pilot
s seat to the right of John with Ronon behind her.  As Rodney turned toward them with bright eyes shaded with a slight wariness, she turned toward him to listen.

“You gonna keep it a secret?” Sheppard asked.

“I’m picking up an energy field…” Rodney told them.

“Like a force field?” John asked with a frown.

“Well… it’s an electro-magnetic field and all EM fields are, by their very essence, force fields since they do carry energy over a distance"

“Yeah, but we’re at the North Pole, Rodney. Isnt this where the Earths magnetic field is the strongest anyway?

“Yes,” Rodney stated with a bit of a grin then held one finger up in front of him. “But! - this isn’t just a magnetic energy signature. This also contains an electrical energy signature.

“Meaning?”

“Something down there is building up a huge electrical magnetic field.”

“Why?” Sheppard asked.

“Now how am I supposed to know?” Rodney asked with a bit of an attitude.

“What’s the difference between an electrical field and an electrical magnetic field? Ronon asked from his seat beside Rodney.

“Voltage,” Rodney answered.

Ronon blinked and shared a glance with Teyla before looking back at Rodney with a questioning cocked eyebrow.

“Okay, it goes something like this,” Rodney began. “Both types of fields exist around us almost all the time, since they are present wherever electricity is found.  An electro-magnetic field consists of both waves and particles and power lines or conduits, like wiring or light fixtures and appliances have both electric and magnetic fields. Its the voltage in the wires that produces the electrical field but only when the current is actually flowing through the wires is an electro-magnetic field generated. See?

“No,” Ronon replied, pulling a face at McKay’s techno-babble so Rodney sighed and thought for a moment. 

Teyla glanced at John who was visually scanning the white land mass outside the main viewport as he listened. He seemed to be taking it all in without great difficulty and she assumed the subject of magnetic fields probably wasnt new ground for a pilot. She turned her attention back to McKay just as he began his dumbed-downed version to try to help Ronon, and her, to understand.

“If you plug in a lamp, it automatically produces an electrical field, even though it isn’t turned on. Its being supplied with the energy it needs to light up, but the energy is in a dormant state. When the lamp is turned on, or the appliance or whatever it is, is turned on, both the electrical field along with an electro-magnetic field will be produced.

“Magnetic fields are produced when electrical currents actually are flowing through a conduit. Its created by spinning electrons around an atomic nuclei in the iron material in a magnet head or core.  In order for them to actually act as a magnet, the atoms have to line up in the same direction so that their individual magnetic fields combine to produce ---

“One honking big magnetic field….” Sheppard interjected.

“Right,” Rodney said as he blinked at the back of John’s head.

“So that’s how Atlantis shield is created? Ronon asked and Rodney looked at him.

“Yes, actually,” McKay confirmed and raised his hands in front of him to gesture as he continued. “When the electrical current flows through the wires, the movement of those electrons produces a similar field in space… air space, not necessarily space-space,” he said, indicating the outer orbit as he gestured toward the ceiling of the spacecraft.  That particular field though is oriented around the wires producing it.

“Now if the current is a DC or direct current, the magnetic field will remain steady and stationary. The strength of that magnetic field will depend upon the amount of current flowing through the system - the more current there is, the stronger the magnetic field will be.”

“Okay,” Ronon acknowledged.
“If that current fluctuates, then the magnetic field will reflect those same fluctuations,” Rodney explained and then his electronic notebook chirped away with a triple note alert, bringing his attention back to the screen.  He tapped a few keys and the screen flickered to a new page of information. His eyes scanned the page haphazardly and then scowled.  Oh no.

“What?” John asked, his tone holding a note of dismay. He hated it when Rodney said ‘oh no and then made him ask in order to get the information from him.

“The levels are definitely rising. Whatever is down there is generating enormous electrical currents…”

“Why?” John demanded to know.

“Again - how should I know?” Rodney shot back.

“McKaaaaaaaaay!”

“I don’t know! he shouted back and spun his chair around so he was sitting back-to-back with Sheppard. His fingers were busy flying over the keys and the screens flickered past like frames on a movie projector. We need to get down there.

“Where?” Sheppard asked. Before McKay was able to reply, Jumper One brought up the H.U.D. in response to her master’s voiced inquiry. She showed John precisely what he wanted to know just as Rodneys screen also showed him the answer. He turned around slowly and let his eyes move to the heads-up display. He swallowed thickly as his fears were confirmed.

“Under the ocean’s surface..

Sheppard adjusted his heading to line the ship up with the signal they were receiving.  Rodney was muttering under his breath from behind him about how much he hated being in these ships when they had to go under the water.

“Come on, Rodney,” John tried to assuage his fears, “you’ve been in one of these underwater about five or six times now. Theyre as safe under water as they are in outer space.

“Ummm, that’s not entirely true, Rodney argued with a slight shake in his voice. Outer space doesnt have crush depths.

John gave a facial shrug, but didn
t turn around to let Rodney see. He simply changed the pitch of his descent and adjusted the thrusters to make a nice gentle entry into the ice cold depths of the northern Pacific. The internal heaters within the cabin kicked up instantly as the Jumper detected the sudden change in hull temperature surrounding its passengers. The soft hiss from the heat and ventilation systems was rather comforting as they all watched the sub-freezing waters engulf the small ship as it submerged. Sheppard moved a couple of switches and the cloaking device switched off and turned its own energy into a deflective shield to protect the ship and its occupants against the great weight of the oceans water pressure.

As the Jumper
s pilot kept an eye on the H.U.D. and the small red blip it was showing him, Sheppard continued to adjust his course as he followed the signal.  He steered the ship slowly through the dark waters, having left the sunlight behind them at around two hundred feet. The water density now allowed only the blue waves of light to penetrate the sea water as it absorbed the reds, oranges and yellows, removing them from the spectrum and turning their surroundings a deep midnight blue.

Descending through twelve hundred feet, Sheppard announced. His voice was soft and reflected the silence in their new and alien environment. It was dark and murky and the Jumpers headlamps barely cut through the gloom a few meters in front of them.
Twelve hundred? Rodney whined and turned to look out the front view port.

 

Were okay, Rodney, John assured him.

 

How deep is this thing? McKay asked and Sheppard looked at the H.U.D. as if reading the ancient text on the holographic screen.

 

Looks like its sitting at about 850 meters.

 

We cant go that deep, Rodney chirped. Crush depth for a submarine is like what? 700 meters?

 

A Seawolf submarine can go 730 meters, Rodney. Thats twenty-four hundred feet, twice the depth were at right now. And, I might add, this isnt a submarine, its a spaceship.

 

Thats right! Its a spaceship! Its not even intended to be under water! Rodney argued, getting a bit forceful in his behavior.

 

Ronon turned his seat toward him in order to jump on McKay if he had to. Hed heard of people going temporarily insane in the depths of space - space dementia, it was called - maybe the same thing could happen in the pressure changes beneath the ocean.
The few times weve taken a Jumper underwater, its never had an issue with the external pressures being put on it, not with shields up, John reminded him calmly. Im not going to let anything happen to you, Rodney. Im not going to let anything happen to any of us, so trust me just a little bit. Okay? Sheppard pointed out.

 

Rodney checked himself and settled down. He took a deep breath and nodded and John reached back to give him a pat on the shoulder in support. Teyla and Ronon were both watching him carefully now. They understood his fear and knew it was due to a real life event that had kept him stranded below the sea, alone, and with the imminent threat of drowning. They didnt fault him this phobia at all, but they were remaining alert for his irrationality to become dangerous to them all.

 

A few moments later, Sheppard checked their position and swung the Jumper slightly to starboard about three degrees. Nobody inside the ship felt the slight yaw as the rear of the Jumper slid portside. The inertial dampeners gave the trip a surreal feeling as if they were actually sitting in an amphitheater watching an I-Max film on the view screen in front of them.

 

Approaching twenty six hundred feet, Sheppard informed his crew in soft voice. We should be seeing it soon.

 

What is it we are looking for? Teyla asked, sitting forward slightly in her seat to peer out the front port.

 

I dont know, but Im sure well know it when we see it. If we can even see it down here, Sheppard replied. The Jumpers headlights barely cut through the the darkness and floating bits of debris at this depth.

 

Behind them, Rodneys monitor screen flipped and, at the same time, the Heads Up Display did the same thing. They all looked at it in wonder as it appeared to be some kind of

 

Its a building, John stated.

 

Actually, Rodney slowly turned his seat so he was facing forward like everyone else, its an underwater lab, of sorts. The layout and specs Im picking up by the outboard sensors show it to be clearly of Ancient design.

 

Youre kidding, John remarked in awe as the silhouette of the structure slowly came into view.

 

Afraid not, McKay countered, Its clearly of Ancient design and technology. Whats the depth?

 

John checked his instrument gauge and checked that against the HUDs information to be sure there wasnt any drastic difference in the calculations before answering. Its sitting at 850 meters twenty seven hundred and ninety feet to be precise. A smidgen over 850 meters.

 

A smidgen? Rodney echoed. Is that a technical term?

 

As a matter of fact, it is, Sheppard replied sardonically and Teyla smiled at their bickering.

 

Can you fly around it so we can get a good look at it? McKay requested and Sheppard nodded as he immediately steered the small Ancient craft around, above and below the submerged structure.

 

How is it just hanging there like that? Ronon asked from his seat behind Teyla.

 

Yes, there seems to be nothing anchoring it to the bottom, nor holding it beneath the surface. It is as if it is simply hovering there, Teyla concurred.


Its Archimedes principal of buoyancy, Rodney explained bluntly. When there was no further comment, he looked up from his laptop to see Ronon and Teyla looking at him in query. He twisted slightly to look over his shoulder to see Sheppard giving him the same look over his right shoulder.  McKay sighed and gestured with his hands to simulate a set of balance scales. If the weight of an object in this case, this submerged station or lab or whatever it may be, is less than the weight of the fluid that its displaced when fully submerged, that means it has an average density that is less than the fluid surrounding it. Which would indicate that it has a buoyancy that is greater than its own weight.

 

Meaning? John asked as he looked at the submerged building floating in front of his submerged Jumper. He understood the theory, but asked Rodney to expound for Ronons sake since he was still giving McKay a look of oblivion.

 

Meaning the object or building, lab, whatever, will remain floating at a level where it displaces the same weight of the water equal to the weight of the object. Obviously this lab was designed precisely in order to float at a specific depth; a depth calculated by its very design. It doesnt need floatation devices or anchors because its own weight and the density of its own mass will ensure that it neither rises or sinks from this depth as long as the oceans depth and density remains constant, that is, Rodney explained and then added, which it isnt.

 

Global warming, John surmised with a nod.

 

Right. Because of the ever-changing rates of water density and volume caused by the influx of fresh water into the heavier salt water due to the melting of the glacial ice…”

 

The depth of the station is fluctuating as well and…”

 

“… allowed the outpost in the South Pole to pick up its locator beacon. It literally is sending out a mayday of sorts.

 

So thats what the Antarctic station picked up?

 

Yes but thats not all, Rodney replied, with a sly grin, Im picking up another energy signature that looks unsettlingly familiar and not at all friendly, if memory serves, Rodney informed them.

 

What sort of energy signature? John asked, sitting up a bit straighter in the pilots seat.

 

Im not sure. Are we going to dock this thing?

 

Yes, Rodney, we are, Sheppard replied as he swung Jumper One around the station again to the cylindrical docking ports hed noted on their first go around. He spun the ship around and backed it carefully into the designated docking cone. He triggered a couple of levers and waited for the loud hiss of the airlock which actually made his ears pop inside the small ship.

 

McKay? he asked, just as the light on his control panel lit up to indicate that they were clear to open the rear hatch.

 

Were clear. The station appears to be intact and pressurized to comparable human levels. Life support is up and running theres oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen Were good to go.

 

Okay, then, John said, sliding his chair back and standing up. He went to the cargo bay and dressed out with his P-90 and double checked his sidearm. Lets go take a look. He smiled at the others as they gathered in the rear compartment with him.

 

He palmed the hatch plate and the ramp slowly descended, giving them their first peek at the inside of the airlock. It was almost blinding white in the contrasting darkness of the ocean. John had to blink a few times against the sensation of snow blindness that poked at his retinas.

 

Descending the ramp with the team following behind, he studied the control plate for a few seconds and then pushed the large horizontal button at the bottom of the pad. A series of blinking lights flashed through the keypad as ancient symbols flickered in front of them on a small screen. A loud thud shook the floor under their feet, making them all reach out as if to maintain their balance.

 

Okay, that was unsettling, Rodney commented.

 

Youre telling me, John agreed, his eyes intense as he looked at Rodney, pondering whether to order them all back to the ship for safety sake when a loud hiss caught their attention and the inside door slid open, inviting them into the station.

 

John took a deep breath and stepped forward. The corridor was dark and a bit cool from the surrounding ocean temperatures, but as he took a second step into the narrow chamber, the lights came on just as they had done the first time hed stepped into Atlantis.

 

He paused a few yards down the corridor, taking note that it branched off in three directions a short distance down from where they stood. Rodney came up alongside him with a meter in his hands, studying it intently.

 

That way, he pointed.

 

Do we know what it is yet? Sheppard asked him before moving forward.

 

Not yet, but Im sure were safe, Rodney told him.

 

Yeah? You want to go first? John asked pointedly and Rodney shrank a bit standing beside him.

 

Well. No, not really.

 

Mmmm, didnt think so, Sheppard remarked sarcastically.

 

What? Okay, Ill go. You want me to go first? Rodney shot back as he tried to recover from his own natural tendency to take the cowards way out first.

 

Nooooo, thats okay. I got it, John returned casually, knowing that would just fluster McKay all the more. Just watch your readings and point me in the right direction.

 

Okay, okay, Rodney replied as they made it to the next juncture. In there.  He pointed at a door that seemed to loom in front of them.

 

John paused for a moment and turned toward Rodney while keeping his eyes on the door. Life signs?

 

None.

 

Automated weapons?

 

Unknown, Rodney answered. Johns brows rose toward the top of his head and he spun on his toes to glare at Rodney. When he realized Sheppard hadnt moved forward, McKay looked up to see him staring at him. What? Hey, theres only so much I can calculate on this thing.

“Okay, okay,” John replied and turned toward the door. He stepped up to it carefully and swiped his hand over the controller. It slid open and he brought his weapon up to bear on the interior of the room. It was dark, but there were a few consoles inside with colored lights flashing and blinking and some that held steady.

 

When no hidden automated weapons fired at him, John stepped forward and the entire room came to life. The lights came on and turbos whined to life behind the walls somewhere. So many things began to chirp and whine and blink that Rodney didn’t know where to start as he raced from one table to the next taking readings and perusing the consoles and the writings embedded in the designs.

 

“This is definitely the central core of the complex,” he stated as the rest of the team milled about looking but not touching.

 

“Oh really,” Sheppard quipped sarcastically from the other side of the console.

 

McKay came up on the console that John had been giving his own visual scan and bumped him aside. “Excuse me,” he stated and John stepped back, not really having a choice. “How did you know it was this console?” Rodney asked him as he chose to take a seat at this one.

 

“What?” John asked, not understanding.

 

“How did you know it was this console emitting the energy signature we were looking for?” he asked again, comparing the readings on his own laptop with that of the console’s.

 

“I didn’t,” John told him. “Lucky guess?”

 

“Mmmm,” Rodney hummed, not always believing the answers he got from Sheppard. Sometimes he felt that his team leader didn’t always tell him everything he could sense through his ATA gene. Perhaps John kept those things to himself knowing that Rodney McKay was a jealous man who’d always envied those born with the gene even though he’d never admit it aloud.

 

Twenty minutes passed as the team waited for Rodney to finish his analysis of the console, its data, and the power anomaly it seemed to be generating. Ronon was roaming the corridors outside the core systems laboratory, but he didn’t go too far, just in case. Teyla remained leaning in the doorway watching him appear and disappear down the different adjacent corridors. John wandered around inside the lab, looking curiously at some of the different lights and levels and toggle switches that decorated a wall console to Rodney’s left.

  

“Don’t touch anything,” McKay muttered again and John’s shoulders rolled forward a bit as he let out a sigh.

  

“I’m not going to touch anything. All right?” he stated yet again.

 

 Teyla grinned a bit and then turned her head to look back down the corridor for Ronon. She could just make out his shadow being cast on the wall near a junction to her right, when she picked up a bit of static from her earpiece. She watched his shadow stop and straighten as he too picked up the interference as Woolsey’s voice tried to break through.

 

Sheppard stopped his wanderings and tapped his radio transmitter at his ear. “This is Colonel Sheppard, repeat your transmission. I did not copy,” he advised.

 

“Atl--is, calling J--per One. Come  --  pl---se. Colonel Shep--- do you ---y?” Mr. Woolsey’s voice broke through intermittently.

  

“What’s causing the interference?” Sheppard asked McKay.

 

 Rodney sighed heavily and stopped what he was doing to slide his chair to another console. Obviously he’d identified this one as a communications console, John surmised, since he flipped a few buttons and toggles and then pointed at him. John blinked at him, taken aback at how quickly he’d fixed the problem and tried again.

  

“Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Do you copy?”

  

“Yes, Colonel. Thank God.” Woolsey’s voice came back to him much more clearly. In fact, it sounded like he was standing in the same room with him.

  

“What’s wrong?” Sheppard asked.

 

 “Nothing. Nothing! We were just getting concerned. We were under the impression that you were at the outpost in the Antarctic, but when we contacted them to get a progress report, they informed us that you’d gone on to the Arctic Circle,” Woolsey told him and John cringed a bit comically, realizing he’d forgotten to inform them of the change in plans.

  

“Sorry about that. Just figured it was a short jaunt --”

  

“A short jaunt? You’re on the complete opposite side of the planet. Next time inform me of the change, Colonel.”

  

John shared a look with Rodney and then Teyla, both of them were giving him a bemused grin, but where hers was humored, the other was inherently snide. “Well, it’s a short jaunt in comparison to being on the opposite side of the galaxy,” he offered back. He could hear a sigh come from his earpiece and then Woolsey’s voice softened a bit.

  

“Of course. From your perspective… yes,” Woolsey said with a tone of understanding.  After a brief pause he changed tack. “So how are things going?”

  

“Well, McKay thinks…” Sheppard checked up and considered that phrase then looked to Rodney who then looked up at him.

 

 “What?” he asked.

  

“What do you think?” John now thought to ask.

 

“I don’t know,” Rodney answered, sounding a bit exasperated then tapped his ear to open his own link into the conversation. Now the others could hear both him and Sheppard as they conversed with the City’s commander. “It seems to be some sort of communications platform. Why it’s been sunk into the ocean depths is beyond my understanding, unless it was done simply to keep it hidden.”

  

“From whom?” Woolsey asked.

 

 “From… whomever would’ve been looking for it or whomever wouldn’t have appreciated it if they’d simply found it by stumbling upon it. I don’t know,” Rodney answered then changed his tone to be more instructional before continuing. “We know that they originally broke away from their original people, hence the Origin title, and came to Earth to escape their self-appointed God complex and the oppression they tried to heap upon the masses. Maybe it was put there to guard against an Ori invasion or, if not the Ori, then whomever they were running from had the means to follow them here or maybe they feared the Ori would follow eventually…”

  

“So how does this place alleviate that threat?” Sheppard asked and, back on Atlantis, Mr.

Woolsey nodded silently.

  

“Well, it wouldn’t really,” Rodney admitted.  “At least not by what I’ve discovered so far. There’s a huge control area in this room - we’ve found the central control core, I believe, of this outpost - and a vast majority of the consoles and equipment in here is dedicated to communications.”

  

“Communications for what? Or to whom?” Woolsey asked with interest.

  

“That - I still don’t know,” Rodney told all who were listening. Now Ronon stepped back into the room and waited by the door with Teyla. “Give me… four hours,” Rodney requested.

  

“You have two,” Woolsey countered. “I want to hear what progress you’ve made in two hours then we’ll decide whether it’s even worth continuing to study.”

  

Rodney gave Sheppard a sickened expression and John raised his eyebrows with a slight shrug.  “Okay, two hours, fine,” McKay agreed reluctantly.

 

“We’ll call you back,” John remarked lightly and then cut the link.  “Two hours, Rodney. Make it count.”

  

“Right,” he replied evenly and turned back to his work.

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

 

As his teammates milled around the station, being particularly careful to not touch anything at all, McKay worked diligently at the control consoles in what appeared to be a massive communications laboratory. What he couldn’t figure out though was why the Ancients had chosen, and specifically designed the outpost, to hide it beneath the ocean surface.

  

He’d moved from one console to another over the past hour and a half and Sheppard watched him casually as he worked.  Teyla and Ronon were off somewhere exploring the station with standing orders to report anything that seemed unusual or important. Of course that meant “more unusual than the unusual we usually see on a usual day”. They would know it if they were to see it, that’s what mattered.

  

“Half an hour, Rodney,” John informed him, checking his watch.

 

“Yes, yes,” McKay replied a bit forcefully even as he leaned closer to the screen he was now studying. He narrowed his eyes at the data that flipped every few seconds on its own accord. He tapped at a key several times to stop the program and rewind it so he could pause the screen to get a good look at it.

  

The screen blinked as it was paused, as if it wasn’t a condition of operation it was used to performing. It was an automated system so, of course, suddenly being manually paused and rewound seemed to make the device hiccup and try to reconfigure itself. Once it settled itself down Rodney was able to extrapolate all the information it’d been scrolling and his eyes widened as his jaw dropped a bit.

 

 “Oh no,” he remarked softly. 

 

John looked over at him and then rolled his eyes a bit. ‘Here we go again,’ he thought. “What?” he asked, curious, but with a slightly perturbed tone. He stepped toward Rodney and when his teammate didn’t answer, he said loudly. “McKay!”

  

As Rodney allowed the system to catch up to its own real time projection of data, he simply watched as the ancient writings and mathematical calculations raced across the screen. An image of the Ancient City flashed on the screen and John noted it.

  

“Was that Atlantis?” he asked, knowing full well it was.

  

“It’s a weapons communications outpost,” Rodney turned in his chair to look at Sheppard. His gaze was piercing and intense and was sending John’s adrenaline skyrocketing.

  

“What is? Atlantis??” he asked, confused.

  

“No...” Rodney drew out the word that showed Sheppard he’d been totally unnerved by whatever he’d learned.  “This place.  It’s a communications outpost for a weapons system platform.  An orbital weapons system platform,” Rodney explained.

  

John looked a bit confused and pulled a face in disbelief. “You saying there’s a weapons platform in orbit?” he asked and then added, to try to point out the absurdity of that theory. “Over Earth…”

  

“Yes,” Rodney confirmed, still looking at him as if terrified.  “Well, it’s not actually in orbit. It’s positioned at a LaGrangian Point between Earth and the sun. Position L4 to be exact.

 

 “Why was Atlantis on that screen?” John waved a finger at the monitor near McKay’s elbow.

  

“It’s identified Atlantis as a threat.  This outpost is sending a signal to Atlantis in order to confirm its identity as a friendly and it’s not receiving an answer. It believes Atlantis is a hostile,” Rodney told him then spun around toward the consoles again.  “The signal being received by the Antarctic outpost is a countdown!”

  

“This station is going to fire on Atlantis?” Sheppard asked, now wearing the same intense expression as McKay. 

  

“Well, not this station, the satellite will when it receives its orders from this station. Yes, I’d say that’s a good bet… once the countdown reaches an end,” Rodney confirmed.

  

“What do we do, McKay?” John demanded to know.

  

“I don’t know!  Give me a minute!” Rodney shot back and didn’t wait for John to acknowledge. He vaulted from the chair and began to buzz around the lab hitting buttons and keys and pausing to read data given to him.

  

John tapped his ear to open a channel.  “Teyla, Ronon… I need you back at the lab now.”

  

“Received,” Teyla replied.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

“We need more time,” Sheppard informed Woolsey from the Jumper as it sat docked in the underwater station. “Rodney  needs to sift through the data here and maybe we can figure out a way to shut down the satellite… or at least, have Atlantis send back whatever signal she’s supposed to be sending back.”

 

“Could that be the anomaly that Drs. McKay and Zelenka picked up earlier?” Woolsey asked.

  

“Yes, yes,” Rodney replied over John’s radio.  “Now that I’m seeing it in front of me, I’m certain that the signal we discovered earlier was asking us to identify ourselves.”

  

“Well, now that you are there, can you figure out how to answer the question?”

  

“No, I don’t know, maybe,” Rodney replied distractedly.

 

“Is this weapon powerful enough to reach Earth? You said it’s sitting halfway between Earth and the Sun, correct?”  Woolsey asked. “I’m no astronomer or an astrophysicist, but I’m pretty sure the distance is ---”

  

“Phenomenal,” McKay interjected.  “We’re talking a distance of 93 million miles from Earth.”

  

“Holy crap,” Sheppard remarked.

  

“Indeed,” Mr. Woolsey agreed. “What kind of weapon are we talking about here, Doctor? Is this a solid projectile weapon, like missiles?”

  

Rodney shook his head at the suggestion. “Highly unlikely. The Ancients learned a long time ago that one of the major complications with a solid projectile weapon being used for orbital bombardment of a planet with atmosphere would be the atmosphere itself.”

  

“Are you talking about the re-entry burn?” Woolsey asked.

  

“In a manner of speaking, yes. The air friction caused by the thick layers of atmosphere over a planet like Earth would burn up any incoming object or, if the projectile were to come in at the wrong angle, it would simply be deflected and skip across the upper atmosphere like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond.  Beam weapons, in theory, would simply break up and scatter harmlessly throughout the miles between the upper and lower orbits, attenuating into harmless bits before ever reaching the ground. Of course, bombarding a world or a moon with no atmosphere wouldn’t be as difficult….”

  

“Rodney,” Sheppard warned and brought McKay’s wandering mind back on track.

  

“I’m thinking worse case scenario here,” Rodney told them point blank.

  

“Which is?” Woolsey pushed.

  

“Upper-atmosphere detonation.”

  

John’s eyebrows twisted slightly and he shared a glance with Ronon and Teyla. Mr. Woolsey also seemed to need more detail than that.

  

“Elaborate, please, Doctor.”

  

“If this weapon’s system can’t penetrate our atmosphere in order to get any solid or laser projectile to the ground to hit a specific target, and I’m guessing that even the Ancients couldn’t figure out how to do that since the last LaGrange Point satellite we encountered, or should I say the first one we encountered --”

  

“Rodney.”

 

“--- was a space to space weapon, intended to take out enemy ships before they reached orbit of Atlantis’ home world, which, by the way, had an atmosphere equivalent to Earth’s… anyway,” he waved his hand in front of him as if erasing that thought for now.

 

“I’m thinking, and by my calculations of the data on that screen, I’m thinking I’m right… they’ve programmed this platform to focus its weapons on a particular point inside the layers between the upper and lower atmosphere at the level they were sure the weapon, beam, missile, whatever, can reach.  I’m betting it’s a particle beam laser weapon like the first one we encountered, which means if they focus this beam onto one spot and just keep piling up enough energy on that single point, all at once… it will produce a massive atmospheric explosion that will send the resulting shockwave through the thicker lower levels and will slam into the surface of the Earth.”

 

“Not exactly a surgical strike there…” Sheppard scowled, adding his thoughts from a military standpoint.

  

“Not at all,” McKay concurred. “We’re talking about a last line of defence system here. All or nothing. Remember the Tunguska Explosion of 1908?” he asked.

 

Sheppard shook his head, his gaze intense. The others, not being from Earth, also shook their heads in response, as did Mr. Woolsey, unseen, back in Atlantis.

  

“It was a comet fragment about twenty meters in diameter.  As it passed by Earth’s orbit, it was pulled into the planet’s gravity well and began to plummet through the upper atmosphere at a speed greater than seven miles per second. At that speed, it hit the thicker layers of the lower atmosphere like an egg hitting a brick wall. It shattered instantly, unleashing its pent-up kinetic energy about six miles above the Earth’s surface equal to about 20 megatons of power.

 

“The resulting shockwave from the comet fragment’s destruction acted like a secondary explosion hurtling toward the ground and was powerful enough to level over eighty million trees at the point of impact over an area of 830 square miles.”  Rodney finally stopped talking and let that image sink in.

  

The lengthening silence from those around him along with the color that seemed to drain a bit from Sheppard’s face told Rodney he needed to keep control of this moment.

  

“I need to work on this,” he stated, keeping his tone level. John looked over at him and blinked. Rodney felt for his friends as they came to terms with the situation. This was big. This was bigger than any threat they’d encountered so far. “If this weapon is malfunctioning, there’s no telling how many firing sequences are programmed into it. If we’re looking at multiple bursts or more, we could be facing an extinction level event for all life on this planet. I need to figure out our next course of action. Now.”

  

There was silence from their radios and then a soft sigh from Mr. Woolsey. His voice was still calm and collected but tinged with the same fear they all felt. “Okay. Take as much time as you need then, but… please keep me informed,” Woolsey requested.

 

“You got it,” John acknowledged and broke the link. Ronon and Teyla looked at each other and headed out of the Jumper to rejoin Rodney in the lab. John sat for a minute looking out the Jumper’s viewport at the deep, dark sea.  He could see the lights from the bio-illuminated creatures that lived down here and were now swimming around outside, probably studying him sitting inside the lit Jumper as he looked back at them. Of course, the ones outside were probably meat eaters with teeth as long as a butcher’s knife.  He shook himself from that thought and pushed out of the seat, heading back to the lab.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

While John remained with Rodney in the communications center, Ronon and Teyla explored the rest of the station. They followed the floor plan layout displayed on the hand held device Rodney had given them, and after about an hour’s searching, came upon a double door that refused to open for them.

  

“Colonel Sheppard?” Teyla called back on the radio.

  

“Sheppard, go ahead.”

 

“John, we’ve found a set of doors that are either locked or require the gene to access it. Could you join us? We’re three levels down, section D-7.”

  

“Roger that,” he replied and then looked to Rodney.

  

“Go ahead, I’ll be fine.”

  

“Okay. Keep working. I’ll be back shortly,” John told him and headed out of the room

 

 

 ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

 

John joined Teyla and Ronon outside the doors and Ronon gave him a shrug and a grin. They all looked at the doors and Teyla raised a brow to John with a smirk. Sheppard adjusted the weapon in his hands and stepped in front of the doors. They opened with a slight hesitation, and then a musical chime he’d come to know in the Lantean functionality chirped out as the doors slid smoothly to the side. They remained in place waiting for that something that always came as a surprise. Nothing happened.

  

The room behind the doors was dark as the three looked around from the doorway then John took a hesitant step inside and the lights came up. Another step and more lights popped on around the room. Within twenty seconds they were awash in brilliant colors of light from every direction. In the center of the room was a large opalescent orb sitting atop a short, wide dais. The orb spun slowly, changing hues slightly as it turned.

  

“It looks like a planet,” Ronon offered.

  

“Almost like a revolving planet,” John added, seeing the similarity as well.

  

“What is it?” Teyla asked and her two companions shrugged.

  

The three explorers slowly made their way toward it, looking at the machinery and other techno-gadgets along the walls as they approached the sphere from three directions.

  

“Hey,” Ronon said, alerting them to the dais with a nod.  “Are those what I think they are?” he asked, knowing precisely what he was looking at.

 

“ZPM’s…” Teyla acknowledged. Her eyes lit up with controlled excitement, for they’d been in this position before. The pot of riches at the end of the rainbow, as John’s people were fond of saying, but it was often a treasure they couldn’t grasp for one reason or another. Sheppard just stared at the rows of reclining modules, noting how they made him think of wine bottles resting in a wine rack.

  

“Some are black,” Ronon pointed out.

 

“But others, are not,” Teyla added.  “Many seem to be dimmed, but a few are still brightly lit.”

 

“They’ve probably been set up to share power needs,” John surmised.  “Can’t even imagine how much power it takes to run this place and a satellite system in orbit.”

  

“Wouldn’t your people have noticed a large orbiting station over your planet with all their space travel and high powered telescopes and things?” Ronon asked.

  

“Not if it’s cloaked,” John answered. “Which it probably is so any enemies coming into Earth’s orbit wouldn’t detect it. But Rodney said this thing is sitting 92 million miles away. Our moon is only about 238 thousand miles from here, a short distance in comparison. All other travel beyond our moon was by unmanned, remote vehicles and only Ancient systems can detect Ancient cloaking technology. So…” John let his words trail off.

  

“Why didn’t Atlantis detect it?” Teyla asked.

 

“It probably did,” John answered as he stared down at the cache of ZPMs.  “Rodney said he and Radek had picked up a power anomaly, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.”

 

“Yeah, but shouldn’t it have picked up on it from space? Why did it wait until we’ve been on Earth a week?” Ronon asked.

  

“I don’t know. This stuff is several million years old, from what I’m told. The Ancients left Earth several million years ago and headed to Pegasus due to some kind of plague or something here on Earth that was threatening to wipe them out,” John told them with a shrug. “So maybe it’s not all working like it was meant to. Instead of getting pinpoint timing and accuracy with the targeting system and its communications sources, everything‘s running behind schedule… seems like it’s taking its sweet time for everything to come online.”

  

“Well, I’d say that’s a good thing. Otherwise it probably would’ve already destroyed the City,” Ronon mentioned. “Maybe McKay can figure out how to turn it off.”

 

John and Teyla nodded, but their response was cut short by Rodney’s voice over the comlink channel as he opened the connection. “We’ve got a big problem. Sheppard, I need you back up here now.”  The three Lanteans exchanged glances and then John ran out of the room, followed by the others.

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

 

“See this?” Rodney pointed to a screen on the back wall as Sheppard strode into the room. John looked at it without a clue as the blips and wavy lines repeated their patterns over and over again. 

 

 “Yeah. What is it?” he asked.

  

“It’s a biometric sensor. We have one just like it on Atlantis.”

 

 “So?” John asked, unsure if he really wanted to hear the rest.

  

“It detects irregularities in biometric rhythms and reports them, stores them, and analyzes them.”

  

“Okaaaay,” Sheppard nodded. “Get to the bad part, Rodney.”

  

“The bad part… is that it picked up the Hive’s presence in orbit and that’s when all these systems started coming online. This station and the satellite overhead were put here to protect Earth from an attack.”

  

“From the Wraith?” John asked distractedly as he stared intently at the blips and wavy lines.

  

“No, from the Smurfs. Yes, from the Wraith!” Rodney shot back snidely. “The Wraith siege on Atlantis was the whole reason they left the City behind to begin with, remember? But that was after they’d escaped to Pegasus from Earth the first time. They originally fled to Earth millions of years ago from their home galaxy to get away from the Ori,  their origins, and were obviously afraid they would follow--.”

  

“See?” Sheppard grinned at Ronon and Teyla, feeling rather smug for getting that right. They grinned back at him as Rodney continued unperturbed by his comment.

  

“While they were here, they set up this defence system to protect Earth, and their children - us - from future threats. When they retreated to Pegasus, they left the system in a dormant state, programmed to come back online if a threat to us was detected. In the years following, they came into the battle with the Wraith. When they programmed the Pegasus satellite to detect Wraith presence, it must’ve uploaded that information to all their LaGrange Point satellites in order to protect us, and them, from attacks from their enemies – old and new. So now it’s programmed to come online if the Wraith ever managed to find Earth and came here looking for a new feeding ground.”

  

“So it detected the Wraith Hive…” John nodded.

  

“Right,” Rodney replied, still looking at him with a tense expression.

  

“But Atlantis took out the Hive ship, Rodney. Why didn’t the satellite power down once they were destroyed?” Sheppard demanded to know.

  

“Because it doesn’t know that Atlantis wasn’t compromised,” Rodney told him. “For all it knows, the City has been overrun and is under the control of the Wraith.”

  

“Why would it think that?” Sheppard growled.

  

“Because it asked us for confirmation of our identity and we didn’t answer.”

  

“Well, we didn’t know what the question was!” John said, thinking out loud more than actually informing Rodney of the fact.

  

“I know that!” McKay fired back and John nearly threw up his hands as he turned away, trying to focus on a solution to their predicament.  “But now it’s got a Wraith signal in its data receiver and an identity request not being answered with the right code… and it’s picking up the bio-signature of a Wraith on Atlantis…”

John spun around to look at Rodney, suddenly comprehending. “Todd.”

 

“Right. We have a Wraith in Atlantis confirming the City’s been compromised… so it’s counting down to destroy the City.” Rodney paused and then added, “And we can’t stop it.”

  

“Well, we have to stop it. Find the code!” John ordered him. “Figure it out, Rodney!”

 

“I can’t! I don’t have enough time! The only way to save Atlantis now is to get it out of Earth’s orbit and as far away from the Milky Way as we can get her before the weapon fires,” Rodney told them.

  

“Can she fly?” John asked Rodney.

  

“Well… yeah, theoretically she can. We sustained quite a bit of damage on re-entry, but thanks to the shields and the auto-pilot helping out with the landing… good thing with Carson in the chair…” he added half under his breath. “We‘ve been able to effect most of the vital repairs, and what damage we did sustain that hasn’t already been repaired can be repaired in flight, but we don’t have the power to get lift off and we certainly don’t have the power needed to achieve a hyper-drive window.”

  

“What would all that take?” John asked, as he pulled Rodney from his chair and ushered him toward the door.

 

“What? What are you doing?“ he asked and then answered the question. “ZPM’s of course, which we don’t have and there are no others that we know of on Earth. I need to finish this. Where are we going?” he asked as Sheppard physically hauled him out of the room and down the corridor to the transporter.

  

“Trust me, Rodney,” John told him as the doors slid shut behind them, “you’re going to like this.”

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

“Oh my god,” Rodney exclaimed softly as the door opened and he stepped inside the room that acted as the station’s power core.

 

“ZPMs. You need ‘em, we got ‘em,” John quipped as lightly as he could under the urgency of the circumstances.

  

“This is amazing!” Rodney chirped. “Look at this place…”

  

“We’ve seen it,” Ronon drawled.  “Can it help us?” he asked.

 

“I-- I don’t know. Give me a minute,” Rodney replied as he sat down at another console and opened his laptop. He began to upload the station’s data files, integrating them with his own files as he studied the routing systems of the power supply through the station.

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

 

Another hour passed as the team sat around the room waiting for Rodney’s verdict. He’d spent that hour with his attention solely on his laptop, either staring at the information on the screen intently or with fingers flying over the keys, making inquiries or calculating the data it showed him. Sometimes he pulled his eyes away from the monitor long enough to pick up his PDA or to slide his chair right or left to tap a few buttons on the banked consoles surrounding the Zero Point Modules.

  

Ronon paced near the door like a caged lion that desired to be anywhere but in the captivity he now felt closing in around him. Knowing that the cage was thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean was even more disconcerting to the Satedan.

  

Teyla sat on a tall lab stool a few yards away from McKay and watched him patiently. Her skill in the art of meditation served her well at times such as this, when the utmost patience was required to stay her need to do something. Once in a while she spared her other teammates a glance and a soft, empathetic smile, knowing just how difficult the wait was for her companions.

  

Sheppard, however, was now in complete military mode and stood nearby, every muscle in his body tense, coiled and ready to spring into action. Cradling his P-90, he waited for the information he needed to calculate his next strategic move in order to keep the people in the city, the people in his charge, safe. Finally, he moved and, although the movement was nothing more than flipping his arm up and over to look at his watch, the sudden action caught both his waiting teammates’ attention. Teyla and Ronon looked at him expectantly just as he stepped toward McKay.

  

“Rodney --” he began and was cut off by McKay.

 

“Okay,” Rodney finally piped out as he sat up straight and looked around the room to locate each of his teammates and to be sure he wasn’t completely alone in the room before he began to explain his findings. “Ah,” he said, pleased to find all of them were there and waiting on his every word. He turned himself toward Sheppard and John moved toward him and stopped a few feet away.

  

“What’ve ya’ got, Rodney?” he asked.

  

“I have good news and I have bad news,” McKay told him, waiting for Sheppard to choose which he wanted to hear first.

  

“What’s the good news?” John asked, which came as no surprise to Rodney.

  

“Okay, we can take some of the ZPM’s to give us the power we need to take off and escape the solar system, and get out of reach of the weapons satellite, and save the City and everyone in her…” Rodney told them then added, “including Todd.” The muscles in John’s neck tensed slightly in a reflex reaction. The slight, involuntary response from Sheppard, with the delivery of those last two words, told McKay that adding that information was somehow an important part that John was waiting for.

  

He didn’t really know what was going on between his friend and the Wraith, but it was clear to Rodney - to all of them - that Todd’s continued existence, as much as Sheppard tried to deny it, to himself and to others, was important to the military commander. Perhaps it was simply because of the unusual circumstances the two had found themselves in when they’d first met and the fact they were able to survive it together, and only with each other’s help, had formed a bond of seeming friendship between the two that had never been seen between the two species before.

  

Or  perhaps it was something that went a bit deeper, something caused by Todd’s repeated feedings on the man. After draining his life nearly completely, Todd had returned John’s life-energy to him voluntarily and, afterward, had referred to him as a “brother”. 

 

Rodney could only imagine what that sort of traumatic experience could do to a person, not only physically; the pain of the feeding process was well-known across the galaxy to even those who’d never experienced it, but psychologically and emotionally, as well. They knew for certain that the repeated taking and giving back of  a person’s life force was how the Wraith created and conditioned their human followers, their worshippers. So there was a precedence previously established that this exchange between the two species caused a formation of a bond on a psychological, if not physical, level.

 

McKay shook away those thoughts and got back to the matter at hand as Ronon’s gravelly voice pulled him back to the presently emerging crisis. “So what’s the bad news?” he asked.

  

“We can’t take all of them.”

  

“We kind of figured that,” Sheppard told him. “What else?” he asked, expecting the other shoe to drop.  And it did.

 

“And we can’t take the ones that are still full,” Rodney added, gesturing toward the two brightly lit modules that were now powering the station and allowing it to communicate with the satellite.  “These two,” he said, gesturing toward them as he stood beside the bank of ZPMs, “are the only things right now keeping that satellite from taking out the city and possibly the entire planet.”

 

“What?” Sheppard snapped with an angry scowl.

 

“If we remove these two power units, the satellite will immediately assume that this station has been destroyed and that Earth, as a whole, has been compromised and its population is in imminent danger of becoming fodder for the Wraith stores. In order to keep the Wraith from advancing any further into other galaxies, this satellite has been programmed to remove them as a threat to humans at all costs. That means, if taking out an entire single planet in the hopes of keeping multitudes of galaxies of humans safe…”

  

John scowled at him. “They’ll do it,” he finished.

 

“Yeah,” Rodney nodded somberly.  “For such a bright race, they sure made a lot of rash decisions to try to cover up their endless list of mistakes by making another endless list of poor judgment calls.”

  

“What can we take, Rodney?” Sheppard urged him, in order to stay on track.

 

“Any, but these two,” McKay assured them.

  

Sheppard stared at the collection of dimmed and blackened modules and rubbed his chin as he considered his choices.  His three companions looked at him, waiting for him to make a command decision. Finally, John took a deep breath and straightened.

  

“Okay, take any, but those two and any that are completely empty. Let’s get them back to the Jumper now,” he ordered.

  

Teyla gave a nod and ran out of the room. She returned a few minutes later with two large backpacks from the Jumper’s supply locker and joined Ronon who’d already moved to do as they’d been ordered. She helped him place the modules inside one of the packs as John continued to speak with Dr. McKay.

  

“How much time do we have, Rodney?” Sheppard asked as he pulled one of the zero point energy modules from its socket.

  

“I have no idea ---” McKay started to say and moved back to his laptop to try to consult the data again.

  

“Rodney!” Sheppard barked, making it clear that his lack of answers was not good enough.

  

“I’m sorry!” McKay snapped back.  “It’s impossible to estimate due to the power fluctuations and the malfunctioning of the equipment and the programming is making a lot of this data come out as a jumbled mish mash of incoherent digital vomit, basically.  It looks like it was originally set for…” He paused as he tapped a few keys and watched the Ancient symbols scroll and flash. “Twelve.”

 

John turned to look at him. “Twelve? Twelve what?”

  

“Ummm… I don’t know?” Rodney replied, uncertain Sheppard would accept that three word answer again.

  

“This is kind of important, Rodney! Twelve hours? Twelve minutes? Twelve days??” Sheppard pushed but McKay just blinked back at him with a helpless expression.

 

“Twelve… seconds? Maybe?” Rodney offered as an alternative to the others John had already listed.

  

“Twelve seconds?”  Sheppard bit out in disbelief.

  

“Well… it’s possible,” Rodney told him hesitantly.

  

“We’d be dead already,” John countered.  “It’s been counting down for over a week now, Rodney.”

  

“Ahh, but see, you’re forgetting that this satellite is approximately 93 million miles away from Earth’s orbit.”

  

“Meaning?”

  

“Meaning… it’s possible the weapon has already fired,” Rodney told him and the tension in Sheppard’s face suddenly went slack.  “The higher a weapon is in orbit, the longer firing window it has due to the fact that its height allows it more time over the potential target on which it’s firing.  This satellite, even with the powerful array of particle beams we witnessed in the first one, still has to push that beam millions of miles through space. That takes time. So even though the countdown might’ve already expired… or the weapon might think it’s expired due to all the malfunctioning data systems… it’s possible it’s already fired on Atlantis and we’re living on borrowed time here.”

  

“Back to the Jumper now!” Sheppard barked. 

 

He ran from the room, carrying the ZPM he’d freed earlier while Rodney gathered up all his equipment and Teyla and Ronon finished pulling the last of the dimmed ZPMs and carefully placed them in the second empty backpack.

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

 

As Jumper One shot out of the ocean Sheppard contacted Atlantis to inform Mr. Woolsey of their predicament. Between he and Rodney, they were able to make a very long and detailed story rather short by comparison.

 

“I’m not sure how much the I.O.A. is going to like this,” Woolsey mentioned as a matter of course, but even he knew that it didn’t matter.  Atlantis was once again under the gun, literally, and its survival rested solely on fleeing yet another planet.

 

“Frankly, Mr. Woolsey, the I.O.A has never liked anything anyone has ever done and if we left it to them to decide our fate we’d be dead, because we all know the I.O.A. doesn‘t like actually making a decision… about anything,” Sheppard reminded him. “And it’s not their asses on the firing line… ever, so this is our call. We have the Z.P.M.s ---”

  

“It’s not a lot of power even with the seven we were able to take --” Rodney said, talking right over Sheppard.

  

“Seven? You found seven Z.P.M.s?” Woolsey asked, astonished.

  

“We did, but don’t get too excited, as I was going to say, they aren’t at full power. I don’t know exactly how much power they do have left, but I’m hoping collectively they have at least enough to get us airborne and to a safe distance outside this solar system,” Rodney informed him.

  

“What do you need from us?” Woolsey asked from Atlantis.

  

“I’m ready to transmit data to Zelenka,” Rodney told him as he worked at his laptop behind Sheppard’s seat again. “I need Radek to do a final pass over the coding to be sure my calculations are correct. Normally I wouldn’t question that, nor leave it to Radek to double check my work, of all people, but I’m working under stress here… not that that is unusual by any means either --”

 

“Rodney. Can we stay focused please?” John asked.

 

“Yes, yes,” McKay answered.  “I’ve calculated, to best estimates, the power output requirements needed to achieve lift off and sub-light travel. Hopefully the Zed P.M.s we’ve acquired can provide that much, but we’re going to tax them out quickly. We’ll lose the first one within half a minute, I’m sure. So we need Zelenka standing by to switch over to a fresh one without losing our momentum during lift off. Once we reach orbit, the weight of the city won’t be much of a factor, but we’re still looking at massive power consumption for propulsion, even at sub-light. Once we’ve exhausted all of the modules in this cache, we can replace them with the Zed P.M. in the core right now. But space flight is going to tax that one too rather quickly. We’ll have a couple of days, a week on the outside, to find a new power source or a safe harbor. Playing it safe, I give us three days, at which point we’ll find ourselves drifting again with severely depleted power. That’s why I suggest we should save our good Zed P.M., which is in the city’s core now, for use after our escape. We’re going to need it for shields and life support once we’re out of the atmosphere.”

  

 

“Understood,” Woolsey replied.  “I’ll contact the SGC and inform them of the situation. We have people on shore leave, do we have time to recall them?”

  

“Doubt it,” Rodney stated bluntly. “Hopefully they’re not key personnel.”

  

“All command staff, except for you four, are in residence,” Woolsey assured them. “How fast a breakaway are we looking at?”

  

“As soon as we land, we need to launch,” Rodney told them.

  

“We need a pre-flight warm up done before we get there,” Sheppard told him.  “Get Carson in the chair warming up the star drive. Make sure inertial dampeners are online and functioning properly or we won’t reach high altitude before G-forces rip us apart.”

 

“I’ll head to the Control Room,” Rodney interjected, “to monitor overall systems operations and we need Zelenka to monitor the energy output from the Zed P.M. room. Same drill as last time.”

  

“Copy that,” Woolsey acknowledged.  “We’ll be ready for your arrival. Atlantis, out.”

 

“The fun just never ends,” John muttered as the Jumper streaked toward the City.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

In the Atlantis Control Room, Amelia Banks stared at the City commander with a concerned expression. Woolsey looked from her to Chuck and back again. With a heavy sigh, he gave her a nod and Amelia tapped a few keys to open the citywide public address system.

  

“May I have your attention, please. I regret to inform you all that we have found ourselves in another spot of trouble and Atlantis needs to leave Earth’s atmosphere to ensure its continued survival.  The reality of this situation is that the Ancients have left behind a weapons platform satellite, exactly like the LaGrange Point satellite that was found in Pegasus a few years ago. This one, however, has identified the City as a threat to the population of Earth and is targeting us for destruction.

  

“We cannot simply evacuate the city, because the weapon will fire on Atlantis whether it is occupied or not. The destruction to the surrounding area for hundreds of square miles has been assessed and confirmed… and once again we find ourselves in a familiar situation.  We cannot simply hide from this weapon by changing locations on the planet’s surface. It will most likely continue to fire multiple shots in order to annihilate what it sees as a threat.  Within the next half hour, perhaps sooner, we will be firing up the star drive once again and heading into space.

 

“We estimate, that with the cache of zero point modules being brought to the city as we speak, although nearly depleted, we should have enough power to make it clear of our solar system and, hopefully, put enough distance between the city and the satellite as possible. All personnel,  prepare for emergency take off.  Atlantis will be leaving Earth once again.”

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

 

Upon landing Jumper One in the jumper bay, Sheppard ran straight for the control chair while Rodney, Teyla and Ronon remained in the Control Room.  The floor vibrated under their feet as the city’s star drive was initialized. When John got to the weapons platform, Carson was in the chair, lying back with his eyes squeezed shut and his fingers gripping the chair’s arms.

 

As John ran into the room, the three technicians monitoring pilot controls and systems data turned to greet him with a nod or a smile, relieved to see he’d made it.  Sheppard noted their presence peripherally as he ran to the chair.

 

“Carson!” he called out over the sound of the engines, placing a hand over Beckett’s wrist to alert the man of his presence. 

  

Beckett’s eyes flew open.  “Oh, thank God,” he breathed out and slid from the chair without powering down.

  

Sheppard changed places with him smoothly and Atlantis was the only one who noted the change over.  In the pilot’s chair platform, the lights brightened slightly as it registered the change in, what McKay liked to refer to as, C.I.A. - Chair Interface Aptitude.

  

Carson stood back, off the raised platform, and watched in awe, as Sheppard seemed to meld himself into the chair.  John’s eyes closed and his entire body relaxed, feeling the power of the City running through him. Atlantis hummed loudly, its engines powering up to a deafening level as the entire city-ship seemed to come to life around them.

 

Beckett moved to hold onto the edge of a console nearby in order to keep his feet under him as the vibrations threatened to topple anyone standing.  The technicians monitored their controls, snapping a look at the pilot now and again, as the lights dimmed and the city’s thrusters kicked in.

  

Beneath his feet, Carson could feel the city rising from the ocean surface as the weapons control chair began to slowly rotate.  Beckett’s mouth dropped open a bit as he watched. He wondered if it only did that when they were taking off and not landing, because the chair hadn’t spun around when he was in control of it. Perhaps it rotated itself in response to the more powerful connection it had with Sheppard’s ATA gene. That would be something worth studying at a later point, he decided.

  

“We have lift off, Colonel!” Woolsey’s voice came to him like a disembodied spirit.

  

“Copy that,”  Sheppard replied.

 

“Five seconds!  Altitude, twenty-three point five miles!” McKay’s voice came through.  “Come on, you can do it, Sheppard! We need to reach altitude at speeds of seven miles per second in order to achieve escape velocity or we‘ll get trapped in lower orbit without enough momentum to break free if our power drains before we reach orbit.”

 

Carson listened to the radio transmissions along with the rest of the city’s population as he watched John reclining in the chair.  His expression was relaxed, as if he was in a trance-like state, something Dr. Beckett couldn't seem to do.  He also noted that Sheppard’s entire body was suddenly covered in a layer of perspiration as if he was physically exerting himself. These were all things that he intended to study a bit more now that he'd have the time again to follow through with his ATA gene therapy research.

  

“Twenty seconds!  Altitude, ninety four miles!”  Rodney shouted over the din. “Come on, Sheppard, you can do better than that!”

  

“Rodney?” Zelenka’s voice came across their earpieces.  “He needn’t actually hit escape velocity speeds since we have a source of continuous propulsion energy. If he---”

  

“That’s if you assume that our continuous propulsion will continue! How are we doing with the Zed P.M.s?” he asked pointedly.

 

“We’re doing fine, actually,” Radek answered. “We’re about to change out the first one.”

 

“What’s our trajectory?” Rodney asked Chuck sitting to his left.

  

“He’s taking us on a radial line from the center of the planet. Straight up,” Chuck confirmed.

 

“Which means the only significant force being put on the city right now is the Earth’s gravity well --” Radek continued, but Rodney cut him off again.

 

“You are not taking into account air friction,” McKay snapped.

 

“Yes, I am,” Radek countered calmly.  “You are projecting a worse case scenario, Rodney.  There’s no way he can reach speeds of seven miles per second. The city is too massive for such speeds within a gravitational field,” Zelenka warned.  “You’re taxing him for no reason.”

 

Carson listened to the chatter with concern, but he watched John Sheppard intently. The man seemed to not be bothered by McKay’s urgency or his demands. He seemed content as a man could be under the circumstances and the city rose steadily from Earth’s surface, heading for space.

 

Rodney watched his data screens with steadfast attention as he clung to the edge of the console to keep his seat.  “Why don’t you just let me coach him? I know what I’m doing.”

 

“Because we are still within the Earth’s atmosphere and you know as well as I do that it is impossible to give any object that kind of speed this close to the surface of the planet due to atmospheric friction.”

 

Mr. Woolsey stood in front of McKay and Chuck at the Command Center’s communications console, listening closely. He let the two scientists argue it out without interference because he didn’t have a clue which was right or wrong and secondly because the view outside the city’s massive windows was changing from the pale blue of oxygen and hydrogen rich atmosphere to the deeper purples that quickly changed to black.

 

“Yes, but what you’re not taking into account, Radek --”

 

“The hypersonic regime --”

 

“Is not an issue here considering the propulsion system of Atlantis is beyond the norm of what we would otherwise consider ‘practical propulsion’,” Rodney nearly bellowed as the city around them quieted and smoothed out her travel.

 

“It would appear that all your arguments are moot, Doctor,” Woolsey offered with a satisfied smile. “I believe we’ve achieved orbit.”

 

Everyone in the Control Center, and city inhabitants on all levels, were quietly looking about as the silence settled around them.  Outside the city shields the universe enveloped them like a black drape across their windows.

 

“We did it,” Rodney stated as he looked around them bright eyed. He smiled. “We did it!”  He did some fast typing on a keyboard and read the data it gave him. “We’ve got a clean path ahead and are heading toward the edge of the Milky Way away from the direction of the satellite.”

 

Cheers erupted throughout the city as McKay’s reassuring words came across the radios.

 

“Colonel Sheppard, you can stand down,” Woolsey informed John.

 

“Not yet,” Sheppard replied and Woolsey looked to Rodney in question.

 

“I have no idea,” McKay told him.

 

“Colonel Sheppard, what are you doing?” Woolsey asked.

 

“I think we should take a look at that satellite. I don’t like the thought that it may have already fired at Earth and we escape scot-free while thousands of people on the ground are in the line of fire,” Sheppard replied.

 

“Sheppard?” Rodney said, standing up in concern. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to take us to the satellite,” John answered, his voice droning evenly as if he was entranced.

 

“And then what?” Rodney asked.

 

“If it has fired, like you suggested, we’ve got to do something,” Sheppard told him.

 

“Like what?” Rodney demanded to know. “We can’t destroy it, John. That weapons system is precisely the thing we’ve been hoping for all this time to defend Earth. Do you have a plan?”

 

“Not really,” Sheppard replied. “You’ll figure it out when we get there.”

 

“Oh, of course, I will,” Rodney remarked.  “Why do you always lay this stuff on my shoulders, huh?”

 

“Because I know you can do it,” Sheppard told him. “Even if you don’t.

 

John’s words of trust and faith went right to his core and caught Rodney off guard. John was his best friend and, although he often pretended that the military commander was little more than a sore on his ass, it was moments just like this, when Sheppard wore his faith in Rodney on his sleeve without pause and in front of so many that really pierced McKay’s heart.

 

Rodney sat back down to monitor systems and keep in contact with Radek regarding the ZPM outputs. “We’re heading for the satellite, Radek. Stay on your toes with those ZPMs,” Rodney told him.

 

“Copy that,” Zelenka replied.

 

It didn’t take long for Sheppard to steer the city-ship into range of the satellite’s laser beam. Rodney picked up on its energy signature still millions of miles out. His fingers ran over the keys of two of the laptops in front of him and he frowned.

 

“What is it?” Woolsey asked, leaning over the edge of the console in front of McKay.

 

“It’s fired,” Rodney answered.  He tapped his earpiece, his expression intense as he turned a bit in his seat as if visualizing John beside him as he spoke to him. “Sheppard, the weapon has fired. I repeat, the weapon has fired. We need to intercept that particle beam or Earth is…”

 

“I got it, Rodney,” John replied calmly.

 

“Can the shield take a hit like that?” Woolsey asked, ready to counter that plan.

 

“It better,” Rodney replied, “but it’s either us or thousands of innocent people on Earth who don’t even know they’re in danger because of us.”

 

“But the last time the city had to deal with a particle beam weapon like this, you tried to sink the city and that didn’t work. You had to make an emergency escape and ended up drifting lost in space until --”

 

“That was a sustained beam energy weapon,” Rodney said, shaking his head at Woolsey’s conclusion. “There’s a huge difference between that and this one. This satellite has fired one burst, I think we can take that.”

 

“You think,” Woolsey pointed out.

 

“I’m pretty sure,” McKay nodded.

 

Woolsey looked at him but didn’t say anything more. He had to put faith in those that knew the city and what she was capable of. He stood close though, not moving from the spot in front of Rodney and Chuck.

 

“We’re in range and should be able to pick up on the energy beam on sensors,” McKay reported and looked to Chuck as he and Amelia began to work their respective consoles.

 

“Got it,” Amelia called out and Chuck nodded as he received the same data on his equipment.

 

“Put it on screen,” Woolsey requested.

 

Amelia brought up external sensor data and widened the field to show the shape of Atlantis coming into proximity with the enormous particle beam zipping through space like a deadly missile.

 

“Distance 23 million miles, speed 11.6 thousand miles per second.  It’ll be within intercept range in…” she checked the data coming over her screen, “... three minutes, twenty-three seconds.”

 

“Sheppard, if you can keep us on this course, we will be intercepting the beam in three minutes,” McKay reported.

 

“Copy that,” Sheppard replied.

 

Tense minutes passed as they all waited to face their fate.  Every person in the control room and the power core room and in the chair room, along with every other person on the ill-fated ship shared concerned glances with those nearby. Except John Sheppard, who was busy mind-melding to the great city to accomplish the mission, and Carson Beckett who was simply standing in front of him trying to assess the Colonel’s physical state.

 

“One minute,” Banks reported.

 

“One minute, Sheppard,” Rodney relayed to his friend.

 

“City wide,” Woolsey requested, pointing at Chuck who nodded and opened a channel for the commander to address the troops.  “Your attention, please. All hands prepare for impact,” he warned and everyone within the city got ready.

 

Rodney stared at his monitor as Amelia began the countdown to their fate.

 

“T - minus twelve, eleven, ten, nine…”

 

Everyone braced themselves and Rodney gripped the edge of his console as hard as he could as he stared at the read out on his computer. In the very last seconds of Amelia’s countdown, Sheppard pulled the city up at an abrupt angle, as he fired port thrusters and aimed the dome of the city shield directly at the incoming laser beam.

 

The impact lit up the shield like a neon bulb in a Vegas sign as the shield’s shape deflected the particle beam and shot it out into space at a right angle to Earth’s position. Rodney’s face fell in shock and awe as his monitor showed him the beam traveling out away from the planets in their solar system.

 

“What did you do?” Rodney babbled out. “What did you do? How did you do that?” he asked.

 

“We’re not dead,” Woolsey mentioned and Rodney looked up at him.

 

“We’re not dead,” Rodney echoed with a surprised smile on his face. “We’re not only not dead, the impact didn’t drain too much out of the shield because of the angle it hit. It glanced off our shields instead of solidly impacting it.  But the glancing blow has sent us careening off course. We‘re on a new trajectory heading toward the edge of the Milky Way in the direction of Andromeda… instead of Pegasus.  It‘s not that big a detour in the grand layout of the universe, but we can bring the city back on course once we --- ”

 

“Rodney? We’re down to our last three partial ZPMs,” Radek informed him.

 

“What? Already?”  McKay replied.

 

“And we’ve lost what little bit of  sub-light engines we had.”

 

“We’re adrift? Again?” Rodney asked, knowing full well what it meant.

 

“Yes,” Radek answered.

 

McKay looked up at Woolsey, but the city commander just looked back at him waiting for the bad news. Rodney, however, didn’t blurt out his normal doomsday rhetoric. “It’s okay,” he said, to everyone looking back at him. “It’s okay, we’re okay. We’ll… figure out something. We always do,” he stated and then redirected his attention to his radio. “Sheppard? How did you know that would work?” Rodney asked the pilot, awe-struck.

 

“The whales,” John replied.

 

“Whales?” Woolsey asked, but he knew McKay understood perfectly by the expression on his face as Rodney nodded.

 

“I figured it couldn’t be much more powerful than a coronal mass ejection and if we could use the shields of the Daedalus to redirect that solar flare using our ZPM to strengthen their shields ---” Sheppard explained.

 

“Then the city’s shields should be able to do the same thing…” Rodney finished.

 

“Right.”

 

“Wow, you really are a genius,” Rodney stated in wonder. Everyone around him smiled as the great scientist offered a compliment to the military commander.

 

“Thanks, Rodney” John replied and everyone in the city went back to work.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

In the chair room, John opened his eyes and sat forward. His face was shiny with perspiration and his wild scruffy hair was plastered to his forehead. He sat up breathing heavily and took a slow, deep, cleansing breath.

 

Carson moved up in front of him, gazing at him with a bit of concern. “Colonel? Are you all right?”

 

John looked to Beckett and blinked as he considered the question before giving a nod. “Yeah, I think we’re all ‘all right’… at least for now,” he answered. “As long as our power lasts anyway,” he added and the two men stared at one another as that thought once again weighed heavily on their minds. 

 

End

To Be Continued