Some Corner of a Foreign Field

Day 305-308: "It's time."

DAY 308

There was a quiet hum coming from the stasis pods. Barely perceptible. If you stood quiet for long enough with no interruptions, with your breath calm and steady…you could hear it: the sound of life. The sound of hope.

Shen stared at the frozen woman within the left pod. It was the same who had reached out to her that day in the infirmary; the day James had killed himself. Several fingers and a leg were missing, and despite the weeks of healing pre-stasis, the woman's skin was patched, wrinkled and covered in bandages where she'd suffered the most severe electrical burns.

Slowly, Shen raised her hand and touched the glass. She'd expected it to be cool, but it was warm. Comforting. She brushed her hand across the frozen hand within.

She waited for a heartbeat. Her insides stormed, but she ignored it. There was no time to look back, to regret. The only path left was forward.

Then, with her other hand, she reached for her radio earpiece. "Dr Takahashi."

"Hai, Madam Xiaoyi."

"It's time. Initiate the plan."


Three days earlier…

"Something's up with these Wraith cullings we keep hearing about, Cap'n. Gotta be bad. I just know it."

The familiar voice drifted out from the infirmary's physical training gym, making Sam slow down to a crawl. Gripping one of Reika's most recent drawings a little more tightly, she stopped and peered inside the doorway.

Lying on his back on the workout bench, Sergeant Ramirez gritted his teeth and lifted his recovering leg, the muscles straining against the leather cushion. Next to him, Captain Matthews sat crouched, paying close attention to his repetitions. It was a common sight these days as Sam had seen it every time she came to visit Reika.

"Carter said it's the civil war. The other factions are stepping up the ante." Despite being the only two people in the gym Matthews lowered her voice so that it was barely audible. "Probably going to attack the superhive at some point and they're just preparing themselves for the battle."

"So… Fourth or fifth time's gotta be the charm, right? No way they'll lose again?"

Matthews snorted in response, then put her hand on Ramirez's leg. "That's ten, now pause. You don't wanna pull your muscle again."

As Ramirez sat up and accepted the water bottle Matthews handed him, Sam held back a sigh. The news about the increased Wraith cullings had reached Atlantis a few days ago through an update from the Daedalus, who was coming back from her month-long patrol of the Pegasus galaxy.

While their search for the superhive had been relatively eventless, apart from some minor run-ins with other Wraith factions, to Sam the Daedalus' return wasn't a moment too soon. She was tired of trying not to lock horns with Xiaoyi and her people at the weekly council meetings.

All she wanted to do right now was follow through on that promise she'd given Hailey on taking a spa day off-world. Judging by the dark circles that'd started to form under Hailey's eyes and her slightly thinner appearance, she needed it. They both did.

Inside the gym, Ramirez had started his set of repetitions again, with Matthews spotting and supporting him. The bond between them made Sam smile, as did Ramirez's determination to get back on his feet. She could identify with that urge.

Still holding Reika's drawing in her hand, she continued down the dim and quiet hallway to turn in for the night.


The hallways on the East pier seemed endless. Three times Shen had had to call up to Shang in the OpCentre to make sure she was on the right track. Two of those times she had to retrace her steps and start over again at an intersection where she'd taken the wrong turn.

When she finally rounded a corner and spotted Takahashi at the end she sighed in both relief and frustration. "Perhaps next time you could meet me at the transporter, Doctor."

Takahashi bowed quickly. "I apologise, Madam Xiaoyi. Next time, I certainly will."

Shen eyed the Japanese scientist critically, then their surroundings. The hallway looked like any other. Nothing special. "So, where is it?"

"It is quite brilliant," Takahashi said, smiling all of a sudden. "At first, I could not understand how it would not show on sensors, but then…"

"Doctor, it is quite late and I have an early meeting tomorrow," Shen said pointedly, cutting his excitement in half.

"Of course." Again, Takahashi bowed, taking her reaction in his stride. He held out his hand. "If you could follow me… and be ready to act quickly."

He strode quickly over to a set of three lights on the wall, and then touched them in a particular sequence. A harmonic resonance sounded in the hallway. Before Shen could blink, he stepped straight through the wall at the end and disappeared.

Shocked, Shen quickly pulled herself together and headed for the wall too. There was an odd sensation in her body as she went through the wall – reminding her slightly of the event horizon of a stargate – and next she was standing on the other side in a dimmed laboratory.

Screens and consoles lit in blue, green and red provided the only light, but Shen could see things quite clearly. Stacks upon stacks with containers were crammed in between the consoles, all marked with the SGC logo. Her lips parted in disbelief.

"They're sealed," Takahashi said. He stood next to one of the stacks and looked around. "I haven't been able to open them yet."

Shen touched the nearest console but it didn't respond to her touch. Apart from the illumination it appeared to be powered down – either by design or by coincidence. Still, there was a sense of familiarity about this place that she couldn't quite place. "What kind of room is this?"

"An Ancient's lab. Janus. Apparently he conducted secret and illegal experiments here." Takahashi paused. "That is what the mission reports say, at least. Dr McKay and Dr Jackson discovered this lab last year during the Attero Device incident."

And just like that, the dots connected. "I remember that. The lab was kept open afterwards to study what was in here." Turning narrowed eyes back to the SGC containers, Shen's lips thinned. "Until Colonel Carter shut it down due to apparent damages sustained in the first attacks by the superhive."

"An ingenious idea." In the dimness, Takahashi smiled again. "This laboratory doesn't show up on the sensors. I had to create a focused subspace sensor that could cut through any shielding—"

"You've done well, Doctor." Tapping her foot lightly, Shen peered around more carefully, taking in the fact that there were more than twenty containers in here. Whatever was inside them was apparently something Carter felt the need to hide away. That, however, would have to wait for another time. They were on a different mission now. "Where is it?"

"Right here." Taking one step back, Takahashi revealed a small container standing on top of a larger one. He picked it up and held it out for her.

Shen marched over to him and unfastened the seals on the container, which were simply old-fashioned clasps instead of a code lock. The lid opened and her lips curled into a smirk. Closing it again, she gave Takahashi a pleased look.

"You may begin the preparations."


DAY 307

"Sorry for the wait, Sergeant." Dr Keller strode past the privacy screen and closed it behind her. She put down her tablet computer on a nearby table and turned towards him with a smile. "Barely even nine in the morning and we've got our hands full."

"No worries, Doc." Seated on the edge of the examination bed in nothing but a hospital gown, Ramirez managed a small smirk. There was laughter in the air – innocent, civilised laughter – from the Kadarian children being examined in the adjoining ward.

"So, big day today." Keller reached for the antibacterial gel dispenser attached to the wall and rubbed her hands thoroughly before putting on a pair of latex gloves. Turning, she gestured towards his legs dangling over the edge of the bed. "Ready to check out the latest results of your hard work?"

Ramirez forced himself to shrug. "Estoy más preparado que nunca."

I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

Uneasy, he shifted his weight sideways and swung his naked legs up on the examination bed, suppressing a wince as he did so.

"Bueno." Stepping closer, Keller leaned down and began to examine his thigh where he'd been injured by that "Wraith" beast or whatever the Genii claimed it was. "The scar tissue looks much better." She lightly picked up his leg and proceeded to bend it slightly at the knee. "How does that feel?"

He gritted his teeth. "Fine. Just like normal."

Keller just hummed and continued with her checks; each designed to catalogue his muscular and neural responses. All the while, Ramirez told himself to keep breathing and ignore the itches, pulls and stretches that threatened to send spasms up and down his leg.

"Okay, it looks pretty good." Putting down his leg, Keller stepped back and pulled off her latex gloves. Ramirez relaxed and began to smile… "I want to run you through the medical scanner, just to be sure though."

He froze. It felt as if a stone fell into the pit of his stomach. "Is that really necessary, Doc?"

"It's a piece of very advanced equipment and it'll pick up things that I won't be able to with this type of examination. Nothing to be afraid of." She gave him what was surely meant to be a reassuring smile and then pushed aside the privacy screen to step through. "Just keep still, sergeant."

Just like that, Ramirez was alone and he became acutely aware of the rectangular scanner hovering a few feet above his head. His stomach twisted uncomfortably.

Time seemed to slow down to a crawl as the device powered up. As his eyes closed tightly, he heard his abuela's soft voice drift out of the darkness to calm him with one of her Catholic prayers of healing, reminding him of dark, stuffy rooms in LA and the cool breeze of the AC.

Padre todopoderoso y lleno de misericordia, por el poder que me concede tu Palabra, expulsa de mí toda enfermedad…

After two runs the hum of the machine quietened and his eyes fluttered open. Feeling suddenly nauseous, he sat up and rubbed his face. He sat alone for what seemed like an eternity before Keller came back.

When she did, the answer was in her face and Ramirez felt like he'd been punched in the gut with a puddle jumper.

"No…"

"According to the scans the muscles and nerves in your thigh have improved by about 70 %," Keller said quietly, closing the privacy screen behind her. "But it's not enough, sergeant. I'm sorry."

"What're you saying, Doc?" The words came out with difficulty, as the air seemed to be stuck in his throat. He couldn't believe it. He'd logged more than a hundred hours in the gym for the past two months. He'd done exactly what the physical trainer said, maybe even more…

"I cannot clear you for duty." Her expression soft, Keller reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. Ramirez quickly shrugged it off and slid off the bed, shaking his head.

"There's gotta be something you can do, Doc. You can't put me on the bench. I feel fine!" He began to pace, ignoring the spasms that threatened to act up again whenever he put his foot down at an adverse angle. "I've done everything you said. I can't… I can't be…"

"I'm sorry, Miguel. I wish there was something else we could do." Keeping a respectful distance, Keller sighed. "We both knew this was a long shot. Your muscles and nerves were just too badly damaged. The fact that you've even regained 70 % function…"

"No," Ramirez said immediately, a heat churning in his stomach. He marched into her personal space, towering almost a head over her. "It's not good enough, Doc. It's not good enough!"


Sam smiled as her fingers ran across the keyboard, watching as the white numbers and letters popped up on the black computer window.

Although the program wasn't anything sophisticated, just a simple energy output calculation for the dyson ring, this was the type of work she enjoyed most: programming events and causalities to make something happen based on a set of predetermined factors.

There was an undeniable logic and order in it, and it reminded her that some things were simple. Event A leads to event B, which in turn might lead to either event C, D or E based on the set of variables. As long as you knew of or could reasonably predict the variables, you could see how it would turn out.

Now, if only you could apply this to human behaviour—

Sam startled at the sudden, loud banging on the cabin door.

"Colonel!" The voice belonged to Reese Matthews. The enjoyment Sam had felt moments ago disappeared abruptly. The captain was on the gate security shift and she wouldn't have come here directly unless it was important.

Pushing her chair back, Sam leaped to her feet and crossed the space between her desk and the cabin door. Matthews stood right outside, holding the hood of her raincoat up against the gusts of wind and rain that'd hit Tirana in the early morning. Just a few steps behind her, looking decidedly on edge in a borrowed SGC raincoat, was Larrin.

"What's happened?" Dismissing Matthews with a wave, Sam gestured Larrin inside, and then closed the door behind her. Outside, the rainstorm seemed to pick up speed and the walls and floorboards groaned under the pressure. "You don't usually make house calls."

Shrugging off the raincoat's hood, Larrin made a quick survey of the small cabin before she turned in all seriousness to Sam. "Didn't know how else to get in touch with you quickly enough."

Sam tensed. "Is it the dyson ring?"

"No. Worse." Larrin's eyes narrowed. "Remember those Hive ships we detected converging close to M2V-875 two days ago?"

"They've moved?" Leaning against the edge of her desk, Sam bit her lip. The ships had been responsible for the increased culling recently according to Daedalus and the Travelers. Since no ZPM subspace signal had been detected, they'd surmised it had to be the other factions that were banding together in an attempt to get a fighting chance against the superhive.

"Yes. This morning. The scout ship managed to track them for a while before they pulled too far ahead." Pausing, her lips thinned into a tense line. "Based on their last trajectory though, they're not headed for wherever that superhive might be. They're headed to Atlantis."


The screen didn't lie, even if he wished it would. Far away in a distant solar system eight Wraith Hive ships had only just exited hyperspace, presumably to regenerate. If they continued along the path the long-range sensors projected, they'd come right to Atlantis.

Slowly, Xiaoyi turned from the screen to face him with those cold, dark eyes that occasionally sent shivers down Rodney's spine. "How long, Dr McKay?"

"At current speed and taking a regeneration stop into account, five days." He looked wearily at her, feeling the lurking of a dark cloud over his head. Why couldn't they ever catch a break? They'd just gotten back on their feet and now this… Rodney sighed deeply. His tone lacked energy. "Even if we cannot detect a ZedPM subspace signal, it doesn't mean that there isn't one. One of them could be here before the others."

"Can Atlantis withstand an attack?" Woolsey asked, his face grim yet steadfast whereas some minor IOA members looked slightly unfocused and panicky.

To the side, Rodney wasn't pleased to see Lt Colonel Dawkins share the latters' expressions. Not for the first time, he wished John was here and Rodney felt like the only one left of the old crowd. Jennifer hadn't been able to leave her duties in the infirmary at the moment. All the other faces were familiar but it wasn't enough. He felt strangely insecure.

"Against ordinary Hive ships, yes. We haven't tested the shields against an entire fleet, but based on past experiences we know they can at least withstand a couple of Hive ships at the same time. Of course, the Ancients withstood a siege for millennia, but they had the benefit of a full ZedPM complement. But the moment we hook up the second ZedPM, the superhive will be able to find us, whether it's part of the fleet or not."

"Then our most viable option is to retreat."

The statement came from Xiaoyi and Rodney hadn't expected that. He knew how the IOA had felt about the last retreat – aka the cat and mouse chase – Atlantis had performed. Judging by the surprised looks sent her way the other council members hadn't expected her suggestion either.

"From what I understand," Xiaoyi continued, "even with one ZPM, Atlantis should be capable of travelling to the closest edge of the galaxy well before the Wraith fleet arrives. In addition, the ordinary Hive ships do not have long-range sensors sensitive enough to detect us in hyperspace, so we should manage to remain undetected. Would you not agree, Dr McKay?"

Rodney opened and closed his mouth several times, stunned. He might have to revise the myth that the IOA members did not have the heads for basic military tactics. "Uh… yes."

Nodding, Xiaoyi coolly turned her head to Woolsey. "Then we will simply need a new location."


"It's a tight schedule, but we'll make it somehow."

"You sure?" Standing in front of the shimmering event horizon, radio in hand, Sam frowned. "Faulty or not, some of those satellites were practically scrap metal to begin with."

"Then we'll have to make do without them," Larrin snapped in Sam's earpiece. In the background, there was a flurry of activity from people and equipment being moved around. "One way or another, we'll get that ring to give you at least a couple of shots. Can't promise anything else but based on your theories, one shot should be enough, right?"

"Theoretically, yes." Sam resisted the urge to groan. Things had a tendency to muck up just when they weren't supposed to. At least the Daedalus had dropped by earlier on their way to Atlantis and picked up the stargate satellite, just in case the Wraith – one faction or the other – would be able to detect the city in hyperspace after all. "What about the fleet? Would you be ready to step in in case there's a battle?"

"You've got the Vestige and a couple of others firmly at your side," Larrin reiterated. "As for the rest, it's up to them, but I'll argue your case. Throw them out an airlock too, if necessary." She sighed. "Don't get your hopes up, though."

"I know." Rubbing the ridge of her nose, Sam closed her eyes. For once, she hoped everything would go according to plan. "In any case, I'll send John with our spare ZPM as soon as possible."

She just had to find some viable excuse. Since this morning, Atlantis had basically been locked down in anticipation of the coming retreat, with all off-world teams told to stand by until Atlantis had put down on a new planet. If John simply left in the middle of all this, it'd look too suspicious. She couldn't afford that now.

"We'll keep the door open," were Larrin's last words before she signed off. The stargate closed down moments later with a final whoosh.

Gripping the radio tightly in her hand, Sam looked back at Hailey, who stood pale, worn-out and tense next to the DHD and Captain Matthews. Both straightened as she approached.

"You have your jobs. Get to it."


Fresh from the showers and her 24-rotation on Tirana, Reese walked with a purpose. The clanging of workout machines echoed down the hallway, leading her all the way to the gym. There was no one there except Ramirez, who was seated in the workout station working on his thighs.

Sweat poured down his face, his shirt nearly soaked through. An empty water bottle and a crumpled towel lay next to him. Even from a distance, Reese could see he was pushing too hard. His muscles had started to shake, but he gritted his teeth and continued.

"Estúpido," she muttered beneath her breath. Narrowing her eyes, she marched straight through the gym and stopped next to him. "What do you think you're doing, Ramirez?"

"Staying in shape, Cap'n." The words came intermixed with some heavy breaths.

"You need to rest." Reese reached out to put her hand on the lever, trying to stop him. It was slapped away. Stunned, she gaped at him.

"I need to get back in action, is what I need." Unfazed, Ramirez returned his hand to one of the handles and continued pushing his legs up against the padded lever. "Haven't you heard? The Wraith are coming."

"I heard," Reese said, folding her arms defensively. He'd never slapped her hand away before. He'd always let her in. "I also heard that you've been here two times already today. Whatever happened to taking a day's rest between workouts? Your body won't heal faster like this. You know that."

"Whatever happened to leaving me the hell alone?" Ramirez's voice rose angrily as he abruptly dropped his feet and sat forward. He glared at her while picking up his towel and wiping off his sweaty face. "I'm not some wounded bird, Cap'n. I don't need you treating me like some fucking nanny!"

Reese's jaw dropped. "That's not what—"

"I don't need your help. I can make it on my own." Easing his feet out of the workout station, Ramirez rose to his feet…and almost fell back on his bum. "Joder!"

Ignoring his swearing, she was immediately at his side. She was about to take his arm to help him up when, without warning, Ramirez forcibly pushed her away.

She stumbled back, shocked, her ribcage aching painfully from the sudden shove. "What the hell, Ramirez?"

"Fuck you, Cap'n!" Eyes narrowed angrily, Ramirez pulled himself up to his feet and brought the empty water bottle with him. He then shakily walked towards the water dispenser in the corner, the words trailing behind him: "I told you to leave me the fuck alone. You fucking annoy me. Damn puta."

A different kind of pain rose in her chest. Reese might just know the basics of Spanish, but she knew full well what that word meant. Tears gathering in her eyes, she turned furiously on her heel and left.

Before she'd reached the end of the hallway, she heard the workout station's levers and weights clang again.


"What have you got?" The question preceded him. Half running up the staircase, slightly out of breath, Woolsey reached the console where McKay and Xiaoyi were gathered. The former angled his computer screen so that he could see.

"Small planet on the outskirts of the galaxy, fourth planet from the sun: much colder climate than we're used to, but they've got a viable atmosphere and an eighteen-thousand feet deep ocean. We could even hide under the polar cap if necessary."

"A bit limiting in terms of using the outdoors," Woolsey smiled wryly, then caught sight of Xiaoyi's steely, unamused face. "But that's not our primary concern. How long would it take to travel there?"

"Two days, and that's if we put everything non-essential into the shields and stardrive." McKay pulled up an image on the screen of the approximate distance between point A and B. "The good thing is that it's taking us further away from the Wraith fleet. The bad thing is that spending so much power on the travel itself will leave us vulnerable should we be attacked somewhere along the way."

Woolsey met Xiaoyi's eyes. There really weren't any other options. "Sounds like a risk we will have to take."

"I agree," said Xiaoyi, but Woolsey felt it was more like a courtesy to him than any real interest in his opinion. The exchange left him slightly on edge as Xiaoyi turned to the room at large, where Dawkins and a few other councilmembers had also appeared. "All departments are to start preparations for the retreat immediately. Hourly progress reports are to be sent to my inbox. Remember, we need to be as energy-effective as possible, so final approval goes through my office. We will leave tomorrow morning at 09:00."

Woolsey frowned. He would've thought speed and time would be of the essence. In their previous retreats, they'd developed routines to efficiently and quickly close down everything non-essential and be on their way without hours.

As the others left for their duties, he turned to Xiaoyi and asked in a low voice: "Tomorrow?"

"Five days, Richard." Xiaoyi gave him a cool stare, giving away nothing. "We have time to ensure that all is in order before we leave. This will not be some foolhardy, stumbling retreat like last time. This time, there will be no casualties."


There was a different atmosphere this time around. The last time the Wraith had come for Atlantis there'd been something akin to chaos. From what the Pegasus veterans had told her, the days preceding the tactical retreat had been busy with evacuating native settlers along the superhive's path. The city had been full of people, crates, equipment and animals. It'd been full of life.

As she walked the hallways now, Reese felt melancholic. Five hundred people in the city, two hundred on the Daedalus, and about a hundred on Tirana were a mere drop in the ocean of Earth's original population. You could wander around Atlantis without running into anyone, even on the barracks level.

It was so different from when she'd arrived in the midst of the evacuation chaos. Feeling as if she was just shuffled along an assembly line until she wound up with a hundred others in some room, packed almost like fish in a barrel. There'd been shouting, crying, huffing and puffing, and no one had given them any news…until Colonel Carter's voice sounded on the speakers and announced there'd be no more dial-ins from the SGC, followed by General O'Neill's last message.

Survive.

That's what they'd done. Put one foot in front of the other, swallowed one more forkful of food, and followed orders like the good soldiers they were. And here they were, ten months later.

Reese stopped and looked around. The hallway was empty. To the side, tall narrow windows exposed the dark, rainy storm crashing against the glass that'd plagued Atlantis for weeks. The reddish metal hues of the walls and floors had become familiar, just like the concrete walls of the SGC had once been.

For some reason, her stomach hurt. She felt nauseous, on edge, and…strange. Just strange.

"Captain!"

Startled, Reese spun around and saw Kerrick running down the hallway at top speed, dressed in workout gear, gasping for breath.

"You gotta come quickly. It's Ramirez."

An icy shiver ran down Reese's spine. She didn't think. She just broke into a cold run in the direction Kerrick was coming from, despite her legs protesting the sudden movement, and passed Kerrick, who made an abrupt turn and ran to catch up.

Kerrick led her straight to the gym. Even before they reached it, Reese could hear shouting and curses only associated with one thing. She swore underneath her breath and turned to Kerrick with a dark grimace. "Get Colonel Sheppard and security ASAP."

Coming up on the T-section, Kerrick broke off to the left while Reese veered right. She reached the open doorway to the gym and stepped inside. Despite her suspicions, the sight that met her made her halt mid-step.

In the middle of the crowd that'd gathered, Ramirez had sergeant Nelson's head trapped in a headlock. The latter's face was turning dark red, almost indistinguishable from the red blood seeping down from a cut across his eyebrow and underneath his eye. Ramirez looked worse. His jaw was puffy and tinged dark, his gritted teeth covered in blood that spilled over his lips. He had two more colourful swells on his cheek and left eye, each going to turn into a really nasty bruise.

And in spite of all that, Reese thought the look in his eyes were the worst of all. It wasn't him. They displayed someone dark, angry and alien and not the man she now called her closest friend.

Suddenly, Nelson roared and exploded backwards. People jumped out of their way as he pushed back and slammed Ramirez against the closest wall, releasing the headlock. He immediately followed with an upward strike with his elbow, catching Ramirez in the face.

Stunned, Ramirez's hand flew to his nose as Nelson stepped away, wheezing for breath. The latter sneered. "You asked for it, you fucker! Don't pick a fight you can't win."

It was the wrong thing to say. With a yell, Ramirez ignored his now bloody nose and threw himself at Nelson, who sluggishly pulled his arms up to block the incoming punch. Ramirez didn't quit, however. He just kept coming, one punch after the other, trying to find a way past Nelson's defences.

Reese knew it'd deteriorate quickly and glared at the passive bystanders – a mix of scientists and Privates, but no other senior officers. "Don't just stand there – grab them!"

They reacted, fear replaced by the calm that followed adhering to clear orders. As any good leader had shown her, Reese led the way. She reached Ramirez first along with two Privates, and grabbed his left arm with both hands. Before she could twist it backwards, he'd slipped out of her grasp and swung the arm at her. She saw black just before the impact hit her straight in the nose.

Somehow, she managed to ignore the crunching sound and to grab on again, while the two Privates grabbed hold of Ramirez's other arm, and together they wrestled the sergeant to the ground.

"Don't make it worse, Sergeant," Reese hissed into his ear. Liquid pooled and spilled out of her nostrils. Her whole face ached but she didn't care. Right now, she just saw red. "You're in deep shit as it is without adding a second assault on a senior officer on the list."

Ramirez didn't answer, but he stopped struggling against them, even though his muscles remained flexed and tense. She glanced up to confirm that Nelson was also contained, and was pleased to see that he'd calmed down considerably.

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me!" In the entrance, Sheppard had finally arrived ahead of four SOs. There was a furious expression on his face. "Nelson, Ramirez – I gave you a direct order to stop this stupidity months ago."

Neither man responded. Sheppard gave a disgusted noise and turned to the SOs. "Put them straight in the brig. The medic can see to them down there."

With back-up at the scene, Reese let go of Ramirez and got to her feet. The world around her swayed for a moment and she felt dizzy. Sheppard noticed.

"You better get down to the infirmary and take care of that nose, Captain." He watched the SOs lead Nelson and Ramirez away, then turned back to her with a dark frown. "Come see me straight after. I want a full report."

A part of Reese told her to stick by Ramirez and not press charges. But the events of the day still hurt and she knew inaction wouldn't do him any favours. Not now.

Hit me once, I'll let it slide. Hit me twice…

"Aye, sir."


The night was promising him a headache, and it wasn't over yet. Walking down the hallway towards a dead end, John rubbed the ridge of his eyebrows tiredly. Maybe he'd be able to catch some sleep before Larrin put him to work. Though, knowing her, he'd have better chances in the brig with Ramirez and Nelson.

"Stupid grunts," he muttered as he approached the three lights on the wall. Touching them in sequence, he proceeded to go straight through the wall at the end of the hallway. The laboratory lit up at his entrance and John looked around to get his bearings.

The sight made him tense. Someone had been there. Large crates were missing from the various stacks, and some had been rearranged. In the middle of the room, someone had left a box of tools and equipment, including a cutting torch. At a second glance, John saw that some of the crates had scorch marks, but those were mainly superficial. Sam had told him the metal in the crates were designed to withstand such tools.

Panicked, John walked straight to one of the stacks where he expected to find a smallish container, but it wasn't there. He looked everywhere. It was simply gone.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!

He turned abruptly on his heel and ran out of the room, down the hallways and around corners, until he reached the transporter.

As soon as the transporter doors closed and the control panel map appeared before him, he punched the wall and swore again. First Dawkins had him running all around the place and making sure things were locked down for the retreat, then there was the whole damn incident with Ramirez and Nelson and now this…

Sam's gotta know. Fast.

With a quick jab, he chose his destination. Since Sam was on Tirana, he only had one way to get in touch with her: the stargate.

There was a hum and a tingle, and then the doors opened.

"Don't move."

John froze. Right outside the transporter, three Wraith stunners were pointed straight at him, one of which was held by Dawkins. Recognising his target, the man looked scared shitless for a moment. The two SOs next to him glanced at him for orders, clearly surprised at their target, but Dawkins didn't lower his stunner.

"What the hell?" Tensing up, John narrowed his eyes and shifted his feet into a ready stand. "You crazy, Dawkins? Point those things somewhere else."

Looking guilty now, Dawkins tightened his grip. "I'm sorry, Sheppard. Orders are orders."

"Whose orders?" Lips curled into a sneer, John knew the answer perfectly well. There was only one person with the strings to pull this off.

"Don't do anything stupid, Sheppard." Despite the slight tremble in his hand, Dawkins waved the stunner towards the hallway outside the transporter. "Please step out."

"And what if I don't?" John challenged, raising his hand slightly towards the control panel. The stunner spun back at him firmly and his hand continued to hover in mid-air. "How you gonna explain this to the troops?"

He glanced at the two SOs. He knew them well, even if they weren't originally expedition members. He'd trained them, taught them how to get around the city, and had had drinks with them on the occasional pub night in Little Chow. Both glanced uneasily at each other and then at Dawkins, who stared resolutely now at John.

"That you're a criminal that's been conspiring against the current leadership of Atlantis and is a threat to the city's integrity and stability."

John cocked an eyebrow. "You let the Ice Queen write your speeches for you?"

He'd apparently crossed a line. Dawkins turned furious, and with newfound courage, he surged forward to plant the stunner against John's chest. With his spare hand, he grabbed hold of John's jacket and pulled him out of the transporter. Once the doors closed, Dawkins let go and gestured towards the staircase behind them.

"Go."

Slowly, John complied. His immediate surprise had passed and his head was clearer now. He knew there'd be no point making a move. What he needed was intel and there was just one way to get it.

As expected, Xiaoyi was in the operations centre. Unexpectedly, Chuck was not. Shang had apparently replaced him for the graveyard shift, though when that'd happened, John had no idea. He'd just talked to the Canadian a few hours ago when the man was heading off for his shift.

"So, it was you," Xiaoyi stated. Coming to stand in front of him, she surveyed him with a cold and slightly twisted expression. "Having a late evening stroll on the East Pier, Colonel?"

To the side, John saw the image of Atlantis on the wall-mounted screen, overlaid with the internal sensors that detected life signs. No one else was anywhere close to the East Pier. Denying it was pointless.

"It's not illegal. I've been running all over this city for years. Good cardio."

"Except for a moment, you disappeared from the sensors." Tilting her head slightly, Xiaoyi's eyes darkened. "To my knowledge, there is just one place where you can do that."

John said nothing.

"We monitored the lab, Sheppard," said Xiaoyi evenly. "I knew someone would eventually return to that place, especially now when power…"

A console beeped.

Xiaoyi startled. She turned abruptly to Shang, who stared down at his computer with shock. "What is it?"

"There's another fleet." The words were almost whispered. Wide-eyed, Shang turned the computer screen towards the rest of them. "No ZPM subspace signal, but…"

On one end of the map was the first fleet, consisting of eight larger red dots – the Hive ships – and numerous smaller ones signifying Wraith cruisers. At the other end was Atlantis, simply a large blue dot on the unnamed planet. And coming from a different trajectory than the first fleet were twelve large red dots with accompanying smaller ones.

As far as John knew, there were currently just two Wraith fleets in Pegasus, and one of them possessed a weapon powerful enough to wipe them off the face of the planet.

"Shit."


Vocabulary

"Estoy más preparado que nunca" = I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

"Padre todopoderoso y lleno de misericordia, por el poder que me concede tu Palabra, expulsa de mí toda enfermedad…" = Beginning of a Catholic prayer of healing in Spanish.

Abuela = grandmother

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