Some Corner of a Foreign Field

Day 308: "Bringing in the rain."

SO = security officer

The operations centre was overcrowded with technicians, scientists, SOs and politicians alike.

Tense and on edge, Woolsey leaned down next to Amelia Banks' console, if only to rid himself of the feeling that he was superfluous in this situation. "Any change?"

"No, sir. The two fleets are still kicking each other's collective asses," Banks said, staring at the sensor map on her computer screen. Still some distance away from Atlantis's blue dot, the red dots had become a single mass of colour. "Been at it for forty-six minutes. About six Hive ships and numerous cruisers have been destroyed."

Woolsey didn't know whether to let out a relieved breath or not. While it had surprised him that the second fleet had intercepted the first, thereby creating a perfect diversion for Atlantis' retreat, he couldn't shake off the sensation that something was wrong.

Though, the sensation might be related to the unexpected incarceration of Colonel Sheppard last night.

"Are we ready?" Everyone looked up as Xiaoyi ascended the final steps of the grand staircase. She looked calm, collected and practically relaxed; a stark opposite to many others.

She must've been to the stasis room, Woolsey surmised. It'd become a habit of hers, and it appeared to be something that eased her tension.

"All non-essential personnel have been redirected to the mess halls or crew quarters," Dawkins reported, his manner sharp as Xiaoyi passed him. "The infirmary reports that they are standing by."

"Everything we could spare has been transferred to the shields and stardrive," said McKay, seated behind the console next to Banks. He swallowed uneasily before meeting Xiaoyi's eyes. The news of Sheppard's arrest for treason had hit him hard.

Woolsey assumed that if it hadn't been for Xiaoyi specifically keeping him busy in the operations centre, the Canadian scientist would instead be trying to clear Sheppard's name, or maybe even conspire to break him out.

McKay continued in a tense tone, "Takahashi reports that he is ready in the control chair."

"Good." Xiaoyi offered a rare smile, then turned to Shang, seated behind the communications console. "And Daedalus?"

"They will rendezvous with us at the halfway point." Shang nodded towards the wall-mounted screen, where a smaller, blue dot marked Daedalus was barely seen on the opposite edge of the map from the Wraith battle. The battle cruiser was going to scout ahead to their new destination. "Sensors are tracking them."

"Excellent." Clasping her hands in front of her, Xiaoyi turned to Woolsey. "Then we are ready."

Nodding, Woolsey kept his thoughts to himself as he turned to Shang. "Please tell Dr Takahashi to take us up."

The order was relayed in an efficient, detached manner. Woolsey watched the whole thing unfold with a disconnected feeling of his own. While there was no chaos this time, no true sense of urgency, he knew something was different. Knew, but couldn't prove. After all, he couldn't say 'because she smiled', no matter how rarely it happened.

Atlantis shook with the strain of breaking atmosphere. On the screen in front of McKay, Woolsey saw the power levels take a dip. The man himself looked worried as he bit his lip nervously.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the shaking stopped.

"We're out of the atmosphere," McKay said. "Power levels are stabilising." On the screen, the levels filled up until they showed green across the whole table. The Canadian scientist looked up at Xiaoyi. "We're ready to engage the hyperdrive."

Again, Xiaoyi smiled. She gestured to Shang, who turned on the citywide speakers. "Attention all… 我想回家。"[1]

Woolsey frowned. He wasn't well-versed in Chinese, but he assumed—

All of a sudden every door slammed shut. Woolsey spun around at the sound, and was staggered to see that the SOs standing in the operations centre had unholstered their Wraith stunners and powered them up; ready to take aim at anyone who made a sudden move.

Disconcerted, he took a step back and swung his eyes at Xiaoyi, who gave him a cold, levelled stare.

Somehow he managed to keep the heat out of his voice. "What's going on, Shen?"

"We are retreating." With a gesture to Dawkins, Xiaoyi pointed at Banks, McKay and some of the other technicians, who all gaped at the stunners that were suddenly pointed their way.

Although the SOs gave Dawkins a lingering glance, they all complied with his silent order. Striding forth, they rounded up the technicians Xiaoyi had pointed out and led them away from the gate room.

Woolsey stood tense and quiet next to Banks's console, following the action with his eyes. If the plan were the same, there'd be no need to pick out anyone who might go against her wishes.

Therefore, he turned to Xiaoyi and assumed his carefully practiced lawyer's mask. "Where?"

If she was surprised he'd guessed her intentions, Xiaoyi didn't show it. She merely turned fully towards him with a calculating gleam in her eyes. "Home."

The hairs rose at the back of Woolsey's neck. "Earth is gone."

"No." Xiaoyi's eyes hardened. "It isn't."

"I'd finally gotten back on my feet. Why'd you have to go and ruin that, Ramirez?" Seated on one of the benches inside the cell, Sergeant Nelson held a long-since-thawed ice pack against his face. He looked worse than he'd done last night; all bruised, swollen and covered in butterfly stitches.

Standing next to the electrified bars, tense after Xiaoyi's earlier citywide announcement about their change of plans, John turned back with a wry look. "You could've just walked away, Nelson. Been the better man."

"I'm no one's punching bag," Nelson stated with a glare. "You hear that, Ramirez?"

Stretched out on a separate bench, Ramirez stared quietly into the ceiling. He'd made no further attempts at conversation since last night, when he'd explained there was no excuse for what he did. Nelson, on the other hand, was a real chatterbox when he was calm.

John opened his mouth to say something when the doors to the brig opened. He twisted abruptly, ready to badmouth or cajole whoever came through, but was surprised to see Ronon holding his hands behind his head.

"Fancy seeing you here," Ronon said sourly as he was pushed further inside by an SO's stun weapon.

"VIP lounge. You should feel special." John smiled humourlessly, to which Ronon simply grunted.

He didn't maintain John's attention, however. That honour went to one Lt Colonel Michael Dawkins, who then appeared in the doorway. Something twisted in the pit of John's stomach.

"What the hell's going on, Dawkins?" Inches away from the cell bars, he glared at the uncomfortable man walking safely behind the two armed security officers. "You rounding up all the veterans now? What's next – the firing squad?"

Dawkins stared fixedly ahead, yet swallowed visibly. He offered no explanation, but John could see the sweat trickling down from his slick haircut as he passed the cell. Whatever was going on, Dawkins didn't like it.

"Why Earth? Why now?" Voice low, John narrowed his eyes at the other colonel's back after he'd passed. "She share that with you or you just tagging along?"

Still, there was no answer. While the SOs kept Ronon under guard, Dawkins went straight for another cell and opened it. He then stepped back expectantly, one hand on his holstered Wraith stunner.

Wearing a mutinous glare, Ronon stepped inside. He passed Dawkins slowly and threateningly, to which the colonel shrank visibly, and lowered his hands after the door closed and the power to the cell bars came back on.

Like a scared rabbit Dawkins skirted his eyes at John, but they didn't stay long. He turned to one of the SOs. "They'll…uh…they'll remain here until Miss Xiaoyi gives the order. No one is allowed to contact them."

As the guard confirmed the order and Dawkins proceeded to hightail it out of there with the second SO, John clenched his fists tightly. Across the room, he met Ronon's eyes and gave a barely perceivable gesture.

Time to wait.

The stargate area on Tirana swarmed with armed people and equipment. Stepping off the path that'd led them through the woods from the mining colony, Sam gazed back at Hailey, her eyes narrowed in restrained anger.

"Just be prepared, Captain. There are only two reasons why John wouldn't have checked in, and, thanks to the Travelers, we know for a fact that the Wraith are still battling each other. So, what we'll have to do now—"

She was halfway through her sentence when she felt the familiar tingle of the Asgard beam. With a shocked expression directed at Hailey, she was encompassed in a glimmering light, transported moments later to the Daedalus bridge.

Caldwell gave her a levelled stare from the captain's chair, his jaw slightly clenched with tension. "We've got a problem."

The disorientation accompanying the transport beam flushed away swiftly. Sam tensed. "What?"

"Received new orders an hour ago," Caldwell said darkly. His hands fisted slightly around the armrests. "We're to evacuate Tirana of all Earth personnel and set an immediate course for Earth."

Shock didn't quite cover the feeling Sam felt. Her mouth went dry. "How?"

"Apparently, Xiaoyi's been able to finish a project started by the Ancients: the Wormhole Drive. It can—"

"—transport you instantaneously to another galaxy," Sam finished, stunned. At Caldwell's raised eyebrow, she added, "It was one of the many options I researched when we were running from the superhive. But I scrapped the idea immediately. The precise calculations and amount of power required alone…"

Then it suddenly clicked. Her eyes widened as she faced Caldwell, her whole body going rigid. "They managed to find the second ZPM."

Caldwell's grimace confirmed it. "Sheppard's been incarcerated, accused of treason. Xiaoyi's got the entire city in lockdown. Apparently, she thinks they'll be able to get away before the superhive detects them."

He paused and glanced around. The entire bridge was quiet, clearly following their conversation. Not that it mattered. By now the entire crew of Daedalus knew far more about what was going on in the shadows than the majority of Atlantis's population. However, it was only now that Sam sensed the tense pressure in the atmosphere. It was like they were holding their breath. Just as she was.

"We can't let her connect that ZPM." Tightening the arms crossed in front of her chest, Sam's expression hardened.

"It might already be too late," said Caldwell grimly.

Every box had been checked off. Shen had made sure of it herself. There wouldn't be any surprises this time. Dr Takahashi had assured her calculating the jump, along with the amount of power they had available, was his best work. She'd known him long enough to know he'd hold true to his word.

Surveying the wall-mounted screen, Shen confirmed that the Wraith battle was still taking place. More Hive ships had been lost, but none had retreated yet. Perhaps they weren't able to, or maybe they were sick of running. She could understand the latter.

This will be the last time.

"Second ZPM is connected."

Blinking, Shen turned away from the screen and gave Shang a nod of acknowledgment. Woolsey stood in the background, quiet and passive. But his eyes gave him away. They were piercing, almost lazily following her wherever she turned. Uneasy, she turned away.

"Power up the Wormhole Drive," she ordered. The technician on Shang's left, an older male scientist named Samson, complied. "Keep an eye on the Wraith battle."

"One ship has broken off from the rest," said another technician, Vygotsky, whose bespectacled face was buried in the computer screen in front of her. "No ZPM subspace signal detected."

"They might have received a transmission from the superhive, wherever it is." Voice low and quiet, Woolsey still carried weight in this room. Shen saw it immediately in the slight tension of Vygotsky and Samson's shoulders, and in their shifting eyes.

She turned to Woolsey, steeling herself. "We will be long gone before then."

"Two minutes to Wormhole Drive," Samson said aloud.

"The Wraith ship is picking up speed," Vygotsky reported, her voice rising slightly in intonation.

Gesturing to Shang, Shen touched her earpiece radio. "Dr Takahashi, engage at the end of countdown. You have a green light."

His reply was swift. "Yes, Madam Xiaoyi."

Shen turned off the radio and was met by hesitant yet expectant faces. The silence that followed was deafening. She straightened her shoulders, intent on putting on a show of strength and reassurance at this crucial junction.

"How do you know Earth is safe?" Woolsey's voice was still low, but his eyes were seeing straight through her façade.

Angrily, she turned her face away and stared resolutely at the wall-mounted screen where a large red dot was soaring towards Atlantis. Even as the moments crawled by, she focused her entire attention on it. The silence, however, was difficult to block.

"This isn't how a democracy works, Shen. We have a right to know." Woolsey's voice rose in volume and in frustration. Slowly, he stepped forward.

Seeing the action in the corner of her eye, Shen tensed, but he stopped after a single step. It was enough, however. Her tight control wavered. "I—"

"Engaging Wormhole Drive," Takahashi said on the speakers.

There was a low whine as the stardrive powered up, followed by an increasing tremble that threatened to unbalance her and a weird sensation behind her navel—

—and then everything came to a crashing halt.

For a flickering second, the power went out. Seated on the bench inside the cell, John jumped to his feet and ran towards the cell door…only to jolt back as emergency power abruptly lit up the cell bars. It was the only sign of power, however. Everything else was dark.

"Damn it!" Unable to punch the walls, John clenched his fists and let them fall impotently to his sides, nails digging into his palms.

"What's going on, sir?" The voice belonged to Ramirez, making it his first few words of the day.

"Dunno." Teeth grinding, John listened carefully for any signs of a battle taking place. There was nothing. Just like an ordinary power outage, or so it would seem. "Something must've gone wrong with that Drive plan of theirs."

"Good," Nelson said, pleased. He'd spent most of the past few hours arguing why going back to Earth was a crazy idea. At least it'd convinced John of his allegiance, compared with the guard on the outside of the brig, who'd refused to let himself be convinced that he was on the wrong side.

"No, it isn't." Turning back to stare at the two sergeants in the low illumination from the cell bars, John clenched his fists further. The pain grounded him. "They probably needed a second ZPM to even attempt that Drive, meaning that for at least a short amount of time…"

"The superhive got our location," Ronon finished across the room. He was barely visible behind the cell bars, his face covered in shadows. His tone promised danger. If he wasn't locked up…

"Oh," Nelson said, stumped. "Well, fuck."

The situation was too dire for Woolsey to enjoy the frantic look in Xiaoyi's face. Whatever had happened, Atlantis was still in orbit above the planet they'd called home for eight months. They hadn't even moved an inch, but now they were barely functioning. After ten minute's work, Samson had managed to restore power to life-support and emergency shields around the main tower, but nothing else. No communications, no weapons, no full shields and no drives. If something caused them to lose orbit, they would crash into the atmosphere and burn up before they reached the ground.

And then there was that Hive ship that'd broken away from the Wraith battle and had sped faster than ordinary Hive ships in this direction. Woolsey was starting to think that it couldn't get any worse.

"Do we have the power to dial out?" Leaning over Shang's console, Xiaoyi's lips were drawn in a thin line, but her eyes were wide and tinged with fear. It was the most emotion Woolsey had seen from her in ten months. "If we manage to send a message to Tikwa, perhaps they may be able to help us."

Woolsey cleared his throat. Xiaoyi's head snapped up and her face turned into an ugly grimace. Still, he wasn't deterred. This was beyond petty politics. "We have a large staff of fully competent scientists here in Atlantis, and McKay and Zelenka know this city better than the back of their hands. Let them help. The more people we have working on this, the faster we'll be able to get back on our feet."

"I am fully aware of this, Mr Woolsey." Pushing off the console she was leaning against, Xiaoyi marched towards him. To the side, Colonel Dawkins stirred in anticipation, probably ready to come to her rescue. The action wasn't lost on Woolsey.

"Then why turn to the Administration?" His voice was hard. "We might have our differences of opinion concerning Earth, Shen, but this is a matter of life and death. Even now, that Hive ship is headed this way and who knows how many more. We're dead in the water and defenceless. What we need aren't people from outside. We need whoever is right here."

As he'd guessed, Xiaoyi had no logical response. Yet her eyes still bore into his, clearly searching for a weak spot. For once, however, Woolsey felt confident he was right and she'd see that too. At this point, she couldn't afford not to.

"Colonel," Xiaoyi turned abruptly on her heel. "Get McKay and Zelenka back up here."

Staring at the long-range sensor map where Atlantis's IFF tag had been little more than thirty minutes ago, Caldwell rested his chin in his palm. "Could they have succeeded?"

Next to him, Carter grimaced. "Honestly, I don't know. There's a reason I scrapped the Wormhole Drive idea, even when we had access to three ZPMs. According to the Ancients behind the original project it's just too unstable. Chances are they've failed, but whether they survived…"

Caldwell frowned. He didn't like Carter's implication. Releasing a controlled sigh, he pointed to the map. "It's possible they disconnected a ZPM, right? Their signal wouldn't be strong enough then to show up on Daedalus' sensors, at least not at this distance."

"It's possible. The only way we'll know for sure is to either go there to check it out or attempt a dial."

He considered it for a moment. "Daedalus can be there within two hours, but dialling is faster."

Carter nodded. "I'll radio Hailey."

She made as if to leave but then paused and gave him a second look. "If they managed to get to Earth without blowing up…" Caldwell raised an eyebrow expectantly. "What do we do?"

He supposed it was a valid question. Casting an eye around them and satisfied to see no eavesdroppers, he said in a low voice, "We follow Homeworld Command's orders. We survive. Whatever it takes."

"Good." Carter's jaw tightened, her eyes glinting slightly. "Now, if you'll excuse me—"


A blue dot appeared on the sensor map, right where it'd been before it'd disappeared earlier.

"We've got it!"

McKay's shout came seconds before all the lights turned on and all the doors opened automatically. Woolsey blinked at the sudden difference in light, accustomed to the dimness from before. Conscious of his not-so-discreet guard, he approached McKay's console as the Canadian scientist began to elaborate.

"There was a failsafe in the system. Someone must've put it in place in case the Wormhole Drive failed. Sensors, shields and communications are coming online now."

Storming out of her office, where she'd spent the last ten minutes with Dawkins, Xiaoyi didn't waste a second. "Location of that Hive ship?"

Vygotsky ran her fingers across the keyboard, eyes fixed on her screen. "It's—it's four hours away! It's covered almost half the distance in just the past three hours."

"It's the superhive," Woolsey stated, his mouth going dry. He glanced at Xiaoyi to gauge her reaction. Her expression had gone rigid. "It must be. No other ship has been able to—"

"Recall Daedalus immediately," Xiaoyi snapped at Shang, who jumped into action straightaway. She then turned to Zelenka, eyes wide yet dark. "How long until the drives are back?"

"Unknown." Edgy, Zelenka pushed his glasses further up his nose. "It-it could take anywhere between an hour and several days, depending on what's wrong."

"We have to run a diagnostic first," McKay interjected, clearly in his element now. It almost made Woolsey smile; the man truly thrived under pressure. "It'll take at least twenty minutes."

Xiaoyi's lips thinned. "Get to it."

She began to turn away, but before she could the stargate activated. Everyone stopped, tense, listening to the electronic spin and locking sound as the chevrons lit up one by one.

"Raise the shield," Xiaoyi said abruptly, breaking the silence. "If it is the Wraith attempting an invasion, they'll find no entry here."

She strode over to the balcony overlooking the gate room, flanked by Dawkins, who ordered his SOs to spread out and take up a defensive position in case the shield failed. It didn't seem like it would; as the seventh chevron locked in and the event horizon stabilised, the luminescent shimmer of the shield held back the unstable vortex just as designed.

For a tense moment, there was nothing. Then, "Madam, we have a radio transmission. It originates on Tirana."

From where he stood, Woolsey could see Xiaoyi tense even further and could understand why. Daedalus was supposed to have picked up those on Tirana and left hours ago.

A strange shift happened. Almost seamlessly, Xiaoyi straightened and assumed a firm position on the balcony. Her voice was calm, yet cold. "Put it on the speakers."

"Atlantis, this is Colonel Carter on Tirana. Daedalus just relayed the news about the failed Wormhole Drive and the approaching Hive ship. How may we be of assistance?"

"Thank you for your concern, Colonel, but the matter is under control. Our best and brightest are working on restoring all systems to normal this very moment."

"How are the drives? Did they short out?" It sounded more like a statement than a question. Xiaoyi's stunned silence appeared to be answer enough. "The Wormhole Drive is extremely risky, even under the best of circumstances. Even if you complemented them with naquadah generators, two ZPMs wouldn't have been enough to create the necessary voltage for the Drive. It'd just draw additional electric current and lead to overheating. Is Dr McKay there?"

"…Yes." Xiaoyi's teeth were clenched.

"Tell him to check the stardrive's primary conductors. Chances are they wouldn't have handled the overheating. You'll have to—"

"Yes, thank you, Colonel," Xiaoyi enunciated, before glaring back at the McKay and Zelenka, who were already immersed in their computers and the diagnostics. "I am sure Dr McKay and his team can take it from here." At his name, McKay's head popped up and he looked for a moment like a deer caught in headlights. Xiayoi, however, had already moved on. "Atlantis ou—"

"Ma'am, multiple encoded messages were just sent through, unknown destination." Behind one of the consoles, Samson looked stunned.

Off to the side, Woolsey tensed, a multitude of thoughts running through his head, none of which he could afford to keep for long; he was sure his reaction might be visible on his face. He glanced apprehensively at Xiaoyi, who turned furiously towards the shield-enclosed event horizon, which was still active.

"Who did you just call, Colonel?"

Carter didn't reply.

"Cut the connection now." Angrily, Xiaoyi turned to Dawkins while Shang proceeded to carry out her order. "Seal off the main tower immediately. Post guards at every entrance." She glared back at Zelenka and McKay. "And get those drives back online!"

Her back against the wall, Reese peered slowly around the corner and assessed the situation. Only one guard at the end of the hallway, his back turned halfway towards her as he stared down the opposite end of the intersection. She was armed with both lethal and non-lethal weapons: a sidearm holstered at his side and a Wraith stunner in his hands.

She eased back into cover and silently relayed her information and consecutive order to the two soldiers with her. Greggs and Emerson nodded in confirmation and shifted into position. Reese raised the Wraith stunner she'd swiped from a patrol they'd taken down earlier, and checked the guard again.

He was staring straight at her, eyes widening in shock. Without thinking, Reese jumped out of cover and fired off a couple of stun shots. The first two were way off target, but the latter caught the guard straight in the guts before he had a chance to fire back. With a heavy thud, he crumbled to the ground.

"Let's go." Reese waved the other two from cover.

Emerson took point and led the way down the hallway, immediately checking his corners once he'd reached the end. He then eased into a more relaxed position and looked back at her. "All clear."

"Greggs, get the door," Reese said, and reached down to pull the unconscious guard away from the doorway. After taking the guard's stunner, Emerson helped her. Thankfully, the guard didn't weigh much, at least not as much as Ramirez. Still, the action made her sore and broken nose itch and ache. She tried to ignore it.

Meanwhile, Greggs had found a palm-sized device they'd taken from the patrol earlier and connected it to the door controls. He ran the automated programme – some sort of key that unlocked the still-in-effect quarantine doors – and stepped back once the door had opened.

Reese and Emerson stormed inside, stunners at the ready.

"Finally!" Within the centre cell, Colonel Sheppard got up from one of the benches and threw his hands up in exaggerated gratitude. "Took you long enough."

"Sorry, sir." Seeing no additional guards, Reese stepped up to the control panel and lowered the energy shield around the cells. "Took a while to get confirmation from Colonel Carter. That, and we had to circumvent a lot of closed doors and patrols."

With the door open, Sheppard stepped outside and released a sigh of relief before turning towards her with a serious look. "What's the word?"

"City's dead in the water. At least one Hive ship is on its way. Colonel Carter wants you to retake control of the operations centre so that she can come through. Xiaoyi's got the place locked down."

Movement in the background drew Reese's attention. It was Ramirez, who stared at her with an indescribable emotion in his eyes, bruised and sorry-looking.

She ignored him, a flash of pain going up her sore nose. There wasn't time for that crap right now. If it were up to her, she'd leave him here until this whole thing was over. Sheppard apparently thought differently.

"We're gonna need all hands on this." He gave both Reese and Ramirez a look of warning, his tone brooking no argument. Clearly, he'd understood the underlying tension.

"Yes, sir." Reese's jaw clenched.

"We need weapons." Flexing his arm muscles, Ronon stepped up to them, his expression dark and threatening.

"The armouries are under guard." Reese gestured to the stunner in her hands. "We had to ambush a patrol to get a hold of these."

Sheppard nodded towards the door. "I know a place."

Despite the increased chatter on the tactical frequency when Dawkins called for immediate implementation of Delta-5 – the foothold resistance plan – they'd reached the storage room without any incidents. With the biometric sensors most likely used against them, John figured they'd have to act quickly.

"Back row, bottom containers on the left." Positioned in the open doorway, John pointed Matthews, Ronon and the rest towards the innermost part of the room. "There are hidden compartments underneath the office supplies containing zat guns, compliments of the SGC."

"Shoot to stun, sir?" Nelson asked, last to pass by him. "What if they're using live rounds?"

"Incapacitate only," John stated firmly, narrowing his eyes. "They're still our people, Sergeant. Can't afford to lose anyone."

"Dunno about that." Nelson's mutter was barely audible as he followed the others further into the storage room.

Back at the doorway, John resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He could understand the sentiment. There were some people he wasn't sure he'd ever trust again, but Sam had stated it best: they'd have to live together afterwards too.

Sudden movement in the corner of his eye made John tense. He immediately pressed up against the wall, Wraith stunner at the ready, and called out, "Rogue."

"Squadron," a familiar voice called back, just as the soft scurrying of military boots on metal down the hallway stopped.

Relaxing, John stepped outside and eyed the newcomers. A large group of twelve combat-ready men and women, where most were Atlantis veterans, but some faces were from the SGC. "Good to see you, Major. You managed to get into an armoury?"

Lowering his own stunner, Major Lorne nodded. "We hit the one on the eight level. No resistance." At this, he pointed to two young Airmen standing off to the side – previous SGC evacuees. "They're with us."

"The more the merrier." John sent the two Airmen an acknowledging smirk. "How's that right fist of yours holding up, Janovec?"

The Airman in question grinned. "Ready to serve, sir."


John turned back to the storage room where Ronon and Matthews now stepped out ahead of Ramirez, Nelson, Emerson and Greggs. All were carrying zats, although Ronon looked disgusted with his. Not that John could blame him. The zat wasn't as sophisticated as his usual energy weapon, even with that handy disintegration setting Sam had told him about.

Positioning himself so everyone was in his line of sight, John got down to business. "All right, listen up. Mission objective: retake control of the operations centre. By now, the main tower's been locked down in accordance with Delta-5 procedure, meaning a front-door approach will be difficult even with the correct key codes. As such, we'll have to use the back door." John turned towards Lorne. "Remember Michael's invasion last year?"

Lorne caught on immediately. "You need us to raise some noise, sir?"

"As much as you can give me. I want them too busy to stay focused on the biometric sensors." Counting heads, John made the calculation in his head. "Major, take your team along with Emerson and Greggs, and head down to barracks and let our people out of quarantine. Then proceed to the main tower and hit it from the second and fourth levels with everything you've got. Maintain radio silence; we don't know who's listening. You've got 30 minutes. Meanwhile…" He turned to Matthews, Ronon, Ramirez and Nelson. "We're gonna find a ride."

"A ride, sir?" Ramirez frowned.

John grinned briefly. "Yes. A ride, Sergeant."

The silence in the operations centre was deafening. Each of the technicians was immersed in his or her work, trying hard to return power to the stardrive, all the while conscious of the bare trembles echoing throughout the open rooms. It was a constant reminder that a few levels below, forty-odd people were trying to force their way inside the tower.

Shen walked restlessly among the consoles, peering over people's shoulders, her arms folded tightly. Her head was aching, and her shoulders, neck and lower back were so tense she that felt as though she might snap. Every other minute, she glanced towards the silent Woolsey seated in the back with his guard nearby. His apparent calm grated on her.

He must be in on it too.

The echoing trembles increased in strength.

"Colonel…" Shen's teeth gritted tightly as she spun to stare expectantly at Dawkins, who immediately touched his earpiece radio and asked for an update. Frustrated, she rubbed her temple and cursed inwardly. This had all gone to hell very quickly.

"The defences are holding, ma'am. Even with C4, they shouldn't be able to penetrate the city's doors or walls…"

"Shouldn't?" Shen gave him a pointed, narrowed look.

Dawkins shifted uneasily on his feet, swallowing visibly. His once pristine haircut had become more frazzled with each passing moment. "Uh, won't, ma'am. They won't get in."

"Madam Xiaoyi!" From behind his console, Samson panicked. "The upper Jumper Bay just opened. Yet, I cannot detect any vehicle entering, or any life signs!"

"Could it be a glitch in the system?" Immediately, Shen stormed over to his console as his hands began to run quickly across the keyboard. In the background, she noticed Woolsey perk up.

"Uh… It's possible. It could also be that someone disabled a Gateship's homing beacon and used it to gain access, since it's the only ship designed to open the access panel remotely. But that's never been do—" A message beeped on Samson's screen. "The Bay was just pressurised. I'm detecting five life signs."

"Colonel!" Shen practically shouted, and the man thankfully reacted quickly. With no way to seal off access between the Jumper Bay and the operations centre, their only defence was the ten soldiers stationed on this level.

Within moments, Dawkins and seven others had stormed up the stairs towards the Bay. In their wake, Shen pointed the remaining soldiers towards the back staircase, where they took up flanking positions. Then, she could do nothing but wait. All other activity had stopped. Everyone's eyes and ears were turned to the Jumper Bay one level above them.

There were suddenly shouts and the unmistakable sound of stunner weapons from far above. Heavy thuds sounded in the staircase, but no blood-curdling screams. That scared her most of all.

As the moments passed, Shen inched further away from the staircase, listening to the running steps approaching with a sinking feeling in her gut. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the first military boot on the uppermost visible steps.

The boot belonged to Sheppard. He stopped the second he caught sight of the SOs crouched on either side of the staircase and skipped back into cover before they could hit him with their stun weapons.

His powerful voice, however, penetrated the wall separating him from the operations centre. "This is Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard to all military personnel remaining in the gate room. By order of Colonel Caldwell, you are to stand down immediately."

Caldwell…? He's part of this? How is that…?

The questions had barely time to take root in Shen's mind before Sheppard continued in a low, cold voice that carried into the entire room.

"Failure to comply and you'll face a court-martial for treason."

There was a split second where Shen could see the doubt in the SOs' expressions. Just a second. Then, without question, without looking to her for orders at all, the remaining soldiers in the operations centre put down their weapons.

At the clatter of the stun weapons dropped to the ground, Sheppard popped his head out of cover. Seeing the coast was clear, he stepped out entirely, his stun weapon raised towards the two surrendering SOs with eagle-eyed precision.

"Step away. Drop your vests as well," Sheppard said, descending the staircase. His posture was tall, strong, and powerful. Behind him, the rest of his four-man team followed.

Shen could do nothing. Nothing but stare as Sheppard reached the operations centre level, kicked away the dropped stun weapons, and then gestured for Ronon to watch over the two SOs.

Slowly and with deliberation, Sheppard's eyes met hers as he spoke to his team. "Nelson, Ramirez. Please escort Miss Xiaoyi, Mr Woolsey, Mr Samson, Miss Vygotsky and Mr Shang to the conference room. Stun them if necessary."

Shen's mouth opened in protest, but Sheppard had already turned to the two unarmed SOs and was now ignoring her completely. "Michaels, Erwine, start ferrying bodies. There are eight of them upstairs, stunned. Put them down in the gateroom and keep a watch on them until you're relieved."

The soldiers in question nodded curtly and did as ordered, disappearing up the staircase moments later. Two of the men that'd followed Sheppard – Ramirez and Nelson – had stepped into the console area and was half-pulling the selected technicians from their seats. Only Woolsey seemed to remain relatively calm, though he walked behind them willingly. Shen observed it all with a plummeting feeling of anger, frustration and defeat.

"Matthews and Ronon. Go down and let Lorne's men inside. Remind anyone that the consequences of not following orders will not be pleasant," Sheppard added darkly, before the two he'd addressed left down the back staircase.

"Rodney." He turned next to the Canadian scientist, who sat open-mouthed like a blowfish, staring at the activity around him. "Dial Tirana. Colonel Carter's got a plan to get us out of this clusterfuck."

There wasn't any moment to spare for the unconscious Dawkins being carried down the grand staircase, for the guilt that accompanied the sight of soldiers guarding soldiers, or for the nagging truth that she'd actually planned for this kind of event. As soon as she'd gotten her bearings, Sam strode up to the operations centre level where John stood talking to Rodney and Zelenka.

"Colonel," John greeted when he caught sight of her, his expression grim. "Command is yours."

Those three loaded words hit her harder than she'd care to admit. She could tell by the look in John's eyes that he knew that. This wasn't a moment to celebrate, however, or for second-guessing themselves. What was done was done.

"Where are they?" Forcing her uneasiness aside, Sam glanced around the operations centre.

"In there." John gestured in the direction of the conference room, where Matthews stood talking to Ramirez and Nelson outside the closed doors. "Want me to fetch them?"

"Yes, thank you." As he left, Sam glanced back at Hailey, who'd followed her up the stairs and held a medium-sized container in her hands. "Captain, hook up the device and start reconfiguring the transmitters. McKay and Zelenka can help you."

"Yes, ma'am." There was no hint of Hailey's customary cockiness – the way she usually handled pressure in a combat situation – but Sam couldn't think about that now. There wasn't time. Maybe afterwards, when things had cooled down. If they survived this…

"Um… what's going on, exactly?" Behind the power control console, Rodney gave Sam a confused look. "John said something about you having a plan…"

"I'll explain it later, Rodney. For now, Hailey will tell you what needs to be done. I've got to deal with some administrative issues." At that, Sam turned back towards the conference room. The doors were open now, with Matthews and the two sergeants on alert. John exited moments later, Xiaoyi and Woolsey in tow.

The moment Xiaoyi spotted Sam, her eyes glinted angrily and her lips pressed together. Woolsey, on the other hand, displayed no outward reaction.

"Miss Xiaoyi, Mr Woolsey," Sam greeted them, straightening her spine, and mustered as much willpower and confidence as she could. "I'm sorry this had to happen."

Xiaoyi said nothing.

Sam bit back her immediate annoyance and turned to Woolsey instead. "I've implemented Martial Law until the situation is under control, of which I will then return command to the IOA."

Xiaoyi scoffed, and Sam narrowed her eyes at the Chinese woman. "You wished to say something, Miss Xiaoyi?"

"Spare me your false righteousness, Colonel." The woman's eyes were icy cold, yet her voice was full of heat. "You placed that so-called 'failsafe'. You meant to sabotage our plan from the start."

Sam raised an eyebrow, for a moment surprised at the woman's accusation, before realising she should've expected it. Whenever things went wrong, Xiaoyi seemed to blame her.

Reigning in her immediate irritation, Sam said, "I had no idea you were planning to use the Wormhole Drive. If there's a failsafe, my guess would be that one of the Ancients on the original project is behind it." She folded her arms across her chest, eyes narrowing and her tone dropping to a low note. "Besides, you might want to consider choosing your words more carefully. I am not the one who put Atlantis in its current position."

A shadow crossed Xiaoyi's face and the coldness in her eyes turned icier. Before she could respond, however, Woolsey spoke up.

"She is right, Shen." His expression was hard. "You made this decision on your own without consulting the council. When things have calmed down, there will be consequences."

The only response Xiaoyi gave was a cool stare in Woolsey's direction. The two eyed each other for a long, drawn-out tense moment before the former looked away from all of them.

Sam turned to John. "Colonel, please escort Miss Xiaoyi back to the conference room. She will remain there until this crisis has passed."

John nodded curtly and gave Xiaoyi a pointed stare. The woman offered no resistance. Assuming what had to be a second skin to her by now – the quiet, cold yet straight-backed manner – she walked ahead of him to the conference room.

In their wake, Sam turned to Woolsey with a critical look. He met her eyes with a raised eyebrow. "Whatever you've been working on in the caves on Tirana, Colonel, I hope it will 'pack a punch', as they say."

"You knew?" Sam frowned, suddenly edgy.

Woolsey smirked. "Please, Colonel. Although I haven't seen fieldwork since the NID, I like to think that I still have the ability to find out a thing or two. Besides, I have followed your work for nearly a decade. We have not always seen eye to eye, but ever since that experience at the Gamma Site research station with you and Captain Hailey – the aggressive insects? – I knew you two would try to find a solution to the greater issue at stake: the Wraith threat."

Unexpectedly, Sam smirked back. It distinctly felt as if she'd just earned a stamp of approval and she couldn't detect anything with her bullshit detector.

Before she could think of anything to say, however, John had returned. "What's next?"

"Did you release the quarantine?" Sam asked, turning towards the operations centre. Both John and Woolsey followed, the latter somewhat hesitantly.

John eyed the IOA representative, but didn't comment. "Not yet. Didn't know whether to expect a counter-attack or not."

"All right. Well, you better head down to the ZPM room and back fast. Larrin won't wait forever."

"Right." There was a silent groan in that single word, but John left without further ado, taking some of Lorne's men with him.

Although Woolsey frowned questioningly at her, Sam ignored him for now. "Dr Zelenka, would you open a city-wide channel, please." She paused in front of the Czech's console and touched her earpiece radio at his 'ready' signal. "Attention, all personnel. This is Colonel Carter. I am, as of this moment, taking command of the city. All military units are ordered to stand down. Fail to comply, and you will be taken into custody and face a court martial."

She paused, meeting Woolsey's eyes. "Should any civilian decide to disobey my command, consider this: As I speak, the Wraith superhive is headed this way and our defences are limited. If we work together, however, we may still have a chance."

"Colonel, if I may?" Woolsey gestured to the radio. Sam considered it for a moment, then nodded. Zelenka handed him a second earpiece radio and Woolsey attached it to his ear. "All civilian personnel, this is Mr Woolsey. Colonel Carter is acting with both Miss Xiaoyi's blessing and mine. Please follow her orders. Any complaints may be filed with my office once this ordeal is over."

Smirking slightly, Sam nodded her thanks as Woolsey stepped back. Then, she stared at Hailey and Rodney, who were connecting the controller part of the Ascalon to the main control console. "For those in doubt, I know that we have had our asses kicked by the superhive before… But that's in the past. For the past six months, my people and I have developed a weapon powerful enough to take down the superhive. It's being brought here by Daedalus and will be here within hours." She paused. "This time, we'll turn the ass-kicking on the Wraith instead. But to do that, I require each and every one of you to do your jobs. Detailed instructions will be sent out to all department heads momentarily. Meanwhile, I am releasing the quarantine. All non-essential personnel are asked to remain in their assigned areas. Everyone else return to their duties and prepare for battle."

At Sam's signal, Zelenka closed the radio channel. To the side, Woolsey stared at her. "Now what?"

"How far off is that Hive ship?"

"Less than two hours," Zelenka supplied, looking up from his computer screen. "Long-range sensors are detecting more Hive ships breaking away from the main battle. Some of them are headed here. Others seem to be retreating."

Sam's jaw clenched. "So now the Great Eye has turned on us. Hailey?"

"Calibrating the transmitter will take about thirty minutes," Hailey said without looking up from her work. "Disabling the stargate should take five."

"Disabling it?" Hesitating, Rodney frowned. "Why would we…?"

Sam smiled. "Because we'll not be using it, Rodney."

Larrin tapped her foot against the Vestige's hangar bay floor. Five metres away, the Atlantis puddle jumper set down, windshield facing away from her. The moment the back hatch opened and hit the metallic floor, she snapped. "You're late!"

"Relax, will you? You'll pop a vein." Carrying a small container under his arm, Sheppard stepped out of the Jumper and strode towards her. "Haven't got time for that."

"Just give me that." She grabbed the container from him and threw it off to one of her waiting technicians. The young teenager ran off immediately. Larrin turned to Sheppard, her expression tense. "The fleet's already left."

"Once that ZPM's installed, we'll catch up. That's not our main problem." Sheppard gave her a pointed stare. "You just make sure that dyson ring holds up, or we can kiss everything sayonara."

"Hyperspace window opening!" Back in her old seat, Alicia Banks' shout roused the jittery operations centre.

Having paced on the operations centre balcony, Sam immediately spun on her heel and faced the wall-mounted screen. On the sensor map, a large red dot appeared tagged as TARGET-1. At the far end, still some distance away, a blue dot carrying Daedalus' IFF signal was speeding towards them at high ZPM-powered velocity.

"Raise shields." Touching her earpiece radio, Sam addressed Alicia Vega, their stand-in for John in the control chair. "Captain, prepare the drones, but hold them back until I give the order."

"Aye, ma'am."

"The Hive ship's opening fire," Banks reported. "One minute to impact."

Recalling the devastating attacks the superhive was capable of, Sam gestured to Zelenka, who opened a city-wide channel. "All hands, brace for impact."

She followed her own suggestion, stepping forward to hold onto Zelenka's console. Moments later, the ground lurched beneath her. She clung on, knuckles whitening, but frowned as the first impacts stopped a minute afterwards.


He seemed to understand her underlying confusion. "Shields are holding at 79%. Even if we take our upgrades into account, those weapons didn't pack nearly as much power as the ones we've faced before. Last time, they bled our shields dry with just three salvoes."

"Confirm target," Sam ordered immediately. "Give me the run-down, Banks."

"Target's certainly larger than the ordinary Hive ships, but it doesn't match the specifications we have on file for the superhive. It's smaller by comparison. I'm still not detecting any ZPM subspace signal, even if the ship is displaying considerable energy levels."

"It could be running on a single ZedPM, which would explain the size and why it remained relatively undetected," Rodney hypothesised. "Could also be it's suffering from hyperspace radiation. It didn't stop to regenerate."

Sam frowned. "But even if they poured additional power into regeneration, their weapons would still be stronger than an ordinary Hive ship. I'm thinking we're dealing with some sort of mini-superhive. It's the only thing—"

"Second volley incoming!"

The time between Banks' warning and the impacts had shortened. The jolts were also stronger and the attack lasted longer. Clinging on to the console with both hands, Sam glanced over at the wall-mounted screen. Daedalus was getting closer, but was still too far away to make an immediate difference.

"Vega," Sam yelled into her radio above the sound of continued impacts. "Weapons free."

"Aye, aye, ma'am. Bringing in the rain."

The screen lit up with tiny specks bursting outwards from the blue dot that indicated Atlantis. They surged towards the mini-superhive and Sam wished she could've been outside to watch the real thing. Instead, the specks' impact on the large red dot tagged TARGET-1 were just flickers on the screen. One moment they were there, the next they were gone.

The Wraith barrage stopped, and Sam took that as a good sign. "Damage?"

"Enemy ship hull is down by 22% in target areas," Banks reported. "They're already regenerating, but it's slower than the superhive's proven capabilities."

"It's gotta be the hyperspace radiation." Rodney grinned. "It's weakened their ability to regenerate. And if they're only running on a single ZedPM, they'll have to prioritise. Obviously, they'll choose regeneration because they've got such a great sense of self-preservation, but this is great! We can actually win this."

Sam shot him a look of warning, but Banks cut in before she could comment further: "They're amassing huge amounts of power in the starboard weapons arrays. Output's more than 200% than before."

The information made Sam go rigid. They'd always assumed the superhive possessed some kind of superweapon of its own, given that it'd completely eradicated entire colonies.

"Rodney, pull everything we've got into shields," she ordered, just as Banks called out, "Third barrage incoming!"

The response time was yet again cut in half. Before Sam managed to grab onto the console in front of her, the Wraith weapons hit Atlantis and she crashed hard into the ground.

After a moment that felt like eternity, she emerged from a fuzzy darkness to the sound of klaxons and the smell of burning electrics. All around her, people were getting back on their feet or into their seats.

Struggling to her feet, head aching, she called out, "Damage report!"

Rodney responded first, adjusting his seat and dismissively wiping away blood that'd started running down his face from a cut below the hairline. "Shields are still holding, but they're down to 32%. That last hit overloaded some of the primary conductors, but the secondary are already taking the pressure off them."

"Wraith ship is standing by," Banks said as she pushed back some loose strands of hair that'd sprung free. "They've refocused their energy on regenerating the hull. Regeneration speed is up by 20%."

"Vega." Sam turned on her earpiece radio. "Fire another volley of drones. We need to halt that regeneration until Daedalus gets here. Choose your targets wisely."

"Aye, ma'am. Volley coming up."

On the quiet bridge, Mark's voice was steady. "Exiting hyperspace in 3-2-1…"

For a second, Daedalus was locked in the disorienting feel of being stuck between two different spheres. Then, the outside view normalised and Caldwell could see both targets lit up on the Heads-Up Display. He frowned as he saw Atlantis's yellow shield had shrunk slightly and some of its outer towers were on fire. Some distance away, the Wraith ship simply hovered menacingly.

"Status," he barked.

"Wraith Hive ship is regenerating," Telman reported from the tactical sensor console. "Wait – they're powering up port weapons. Seems like they've spotted us."

"Major." Caldwell turned to Marks. "Take us in. Fire at will."

Marks nodded curtly. "Aye, sir. We're going in. Asgard plasma beam weapons at the ready."

Just as the Wraith ship opened fire, Daedalus tilted and swerved out of the way. Picking up speed, Marks steered the ship skilfully between the plasma shots and out of range. More weapons arrays opened fire from the Hive ship, unleashing a blue hailstorm that lit up the darkness of space. Dodging it forever would be impossible, but they needed to buy time.

Caldwell turned to the communications officer. "Contact Atlantis."

Carter's response was swift. "Daedalus, you're a Godsend. Our shields were starting to show signs of strain. Another hit and we'd be forced into the atmosphere."

"Yeah, I can see that. How long until your drives are back online?" Having received updates on the subspace channel, Caldwell cut right to the crux of the matter.

"Unknown. McKay's people are working as fast as possible. Maybe be an hour, perhaps even a day. The overheating from the Wormhole Drive really did a number on the drives."

The ship jolted from several impacts, but a glance at Marks told Caldwell that the shields were holding strong; they were just stray shots. He cued on the radio to Atlantis. "Any remaining drones? We will need cover in order to beam out the stargate satellite."

"Hold on…" There was a pause as Carter conferred with her people. "We have enough for a last barrage. Stand by."

Caldwell turned to the bridge in general. "All right, people. You know the drill. Wait until Atlantis unleashes the drones, then proceed with the plan."

A chorus of "aye, sir" sounded around him as Marks continued to guide Daedalus through the hailstorm, careful to keep the directed Wraith plasma fire away from the city.

"Atlantis is firing drones," Telman reported. "Wraith ship is powering down starboard weapons array. Regeneration speed is up by 10 %."

"Marks," Caldwell gestured to the now barren part of the hailstorm, and Marks responded quickly.

The ship soared between remaining plasma shots, unable to dodge a few shots that made the ship jolt, but nevertheless making it to the open space without major incident.

In quick succession, the shields powered down, and the stargate satellite was beamed out in front of the ship. Shields were raised again and Marks fired off a couple of Asgard plasma beams for good measure.

The white streams of light tore into the superhive's hull, resulting in immediate explosions around the impact site, but overall nothing more than slight indents in its armor. The hull was soon regenerating again, plugging the leaking holes with dark purple organic matter that merged with the seams.

Not surprised by the limited damage they did, Caldwell addressed Marks. "Take up a defensive position between the stargate satellite and the superhive. Protect it at all costs."

"We have a connection, Colonel. All levels are green." Seated behind the main control console, Hailey focused on the information pouring into her computer screen. The shield around the stargate satellite was raised to protect it from whatever shots Daedalus couldn't intercept, and the thrusters responded well to her commands. They were all set for the next step. "I'm dialling the Travelers."

"The Travelers?"

Somewhere in the periphery of Hailey's hearing range, Woolsey sounded dubious. She ignored him in favour of punching the buttons on her console, filling up the seven empty boxes on her computer screen with Pegasus coordinates. Down in the gate room, the Atlantis stargate was silent, having been disabled so that any incoming calls would go to the stargate satellite instead.

"Yes, they're on our side." Carter sounded slightly dismissive. However, she seemed to notice and corrected in a more polite tone, "I'll tell you about it later."

The screen in front of Hailey lit up. "Event horizon stabilised."

"Hey, that looks like Asuran design," McKay commented, pointing to Hailey's screen where the stargate satellite was displayed. "Is that—"

"Based on the Asuran stargate satellite designs you logged," Hailey said immediately, "only with upgrades."

She ran her fingers over the keyboard, glancing at the small video feed in the corner where she could see Daedalus hovering between the camera and the large, hulking Wraith ship. Their shields lit up on occasion from blue plasma shots, but they didn't move. She stood ready to move the stargate satellite if necessary.

"Open a channel." Carter came to stand in front of the communications console next to Hailey, where Zelenka jumped into action. On his signal, she touched her earpiece radio. "Traveler ship Hylea, this is Atlantis. Start the beam in 90 seconds on my mark."

"This is Hylea, we are ready."

"Good." Carter smiled briefly. "Mark."

As soon as the word escaped the colonel's mouth, Hailey waited two seconds and then closed down the stargate. With a bated breath, she waited, staring at the screen until… "Incoming wormhole."

"Signal Daedalus and move the satellite into position," Carter ordered. "Let's take this home."

As soon as Atlantis' signal came through, Marks fired off a final round of Asgard beam weapons at the Wraith ship's closest weapons array and then kick-started the sublight engines. On the Heads Up Display the timer was quickly going down from 90 and he knew they only had a matter of seconds.

Cooper's navigational calculations fed into his screen and Marks used a quick burst of power to speed away from their previous position. The ship shook under the impacts of continued plasma shots. In the periphery, he heard Telman report that the superhive's fire had shifted towards the stargate satellite instead, and he allowed himself a split second to hope that its shield and ability to move would continue to hold.

Sweat ran down the back of his neck. The timer continued to go down. At the same time, Marks counted the distance. Daedalus continued to pick up speed.

"20 seconds," Telman called out.

"This is it, people." Amidst the jolts from enemy fire and the sound of damaged equipment, Caldwell's voice was calm. "Brace for impact."

"10 seconds."

They'd reached a relative safe distance. Marks turned the ship around, not about to let the moment pass with only the computer data to record it.

Barely visible at this distance, the stargate satellite danced almost effortlessly away from the concentrated fire from the superhive, its blue event horizon almost indistinguishable from the plasma shots. Marks could see it turn and position itself…

And then a large, bright yellow-white beam burst out of the darkness. It pierced the blue plasma shots, the wide-open dark spaces in-between, and drilled into the purplish hull of the superhive's aft section.

For a moment, Marks held his breath, stunned. Then, the yellow-white beam tore through on the other side of the superhive, very close to the engines, and multiple red-yellow explosions erupted all over the ship's aft and midsection. Small at first, then growing in size and scope, snowballing from one to another until whole sections of the ship began to break apart.

The ship's weapon fire stopped. Readings said the regeneration speed had increased, but it was pointless. The stargate satellite shifted, running its yellow-white beam across the length of the ship like knife to cheese.

And then the beam stopped. But the explosions didn't.

Within seconds, the superhive was nothing more than slivers and chunks of debris…and Marks released a long, deep breath from the pit of his stomach.

The relief was palatable. The heavy, oppressive atmosphere of before had gone, dispelled with the sudden bouts of cheers and laughs and tears that filled the operations centre for the next few minutes. For some, it started immediately. For others, it started with a smile that grew into a chuckle that became a full-blown laugh.

Woolsey found himself smiling too. The visible joy and relief around him was contagious. He basked in it, and ultimately couldn't help but compare it to their last encounter with the superhive. This was ten times better, if only for the long-sought sense of finality it brought.

"Wow, Sam. I knew you'd blown up a star and all but… Remind me never to piss you off." McKay's stunned expression seemed as apt as the laughter and tears.

Leaning against the console next to him, Carter chuckled, her face looking ten years younger. The sight made Woolsey's smile widen.

He approached her as she broke away for a moment to catch her breath. "Congratulations on a job well done, Colonel."

Carter smiled. "Thank you, Mr Woolsey. This is… is…"

"…the closure we've been waiting for," Woolsey suggested. The thankful look in Carter's eyes told him he'd said the right thing. "I'm sure everyone will be pleased to hear the news."

Nodding, Carter turned to Zelenka at the communications console. "Radek, please open a city-wide channel."

"One channel coming up—"


"Ma'am!" Banks' panicked voice burst through the buzz of chatter and laughs. Everything stopped in its tracks as Carter and Woolsey both turned to the female technician. Her eyes were wide with shock. "A ZPM subspace signal just appeared on sensors. It's… it's headed here."

Slowly, his gut clenched, Woolsey turned to Carter. "There's more than one?"

Carter's eyes narrowed, but she remained frozen for only a second. With a grim tone, she turned to the technicians.

"Battle stations."

[1] 我想回家 = I want to go home (roughly translated)

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