Day 13: "This is war, Mr Coolidge."
"Shields at 27 %!"
Major Kevin Marks' report was almost muffled by the stressed beat of the red-throbbing klaxons. Colonel Steven Caldwell turned to face him only to abruptly shy away as a console along the wall burst into a fireworks of sparks.
"Hive ship's coming around," Marks continued, pushing buttons in controlled motions despite the stress of the moment. "Incoming fire!"
"Get us out of here," barked Caldwell, just as the ship rocked with the impact of heavy energy fire. He found himself slung back in the chair, his hands fisting around the tips of the arm rests. "Now."
"Hyperdrive's still offline, sir. We've only got sublight engines," said Major Emma Cooper loudly from her position on Caldwell's left.
Ever attentive, Marks responded almost immediately, "Engaging evasive manoeuvre Delta-2."
Avoiding a sudden burst of sparks from an overhead conduit, Caldwell cursed inwardly and pushed the intercom button to Engineering on his chair. "Doctor. We need those hyperdrive engines now."
"—we—eed ten mo— minutes, Colonel!" Doctor Lindsay Novak's disembodied voice flickered through the crackling speakers.
The ship rocked with another impact. One of the officers close to a sparking console went flying through the air and crashed into two other bridge personnel at the back of the room. Caldwell cursed again.
"You've got two minutes, Doctor!" He shut down the intercom before she managed to reply and turned to Marks. "Recall fighters, both hangars, and direct Asgard weapons at the Hive's engines. Give us some time to breathe." He then turned to Cooper. "Notify Atlantis of the circumstances. Tell them to prepare for attack. And get us the hell out of here as soon as that hyperdrive comes online."
"Yes, sir!" responded both Majors, already embroiled in their tasks.
Caldwell grimaced as the ship shook with enemy impact and turned his eyes on the Wraith Hive ship before them. Huge, menacing and nearly completely resistant to the Asgard plasma beam weapons, spitting out ZPM-powered energy weapons like hail.
It was Earth all over again.
Sam looked up from her work to find Chuck in the doorway, looking extremely uncomfortable. He shifted his glance halfway over his shoulder. Seeing the three head representatives of the IOA remnant standing not three feet behind him, she had to fight to suppress a heartfelt groan.
Chuck hesitated for a moment, then said unnecessarily, "Mr Coolidge, Mr Woolsey and Ms Xiaoyi wish to speak with you."
Sam smiled tightly at the technician and made a hand gesture. "Send them in, Chuck."
As the Canadian nodded in response and stepped out of the way so the three IOA representatives could enter, Sam rose to her feet and gestured to the comfy chairs opposite of her desk.
"Come in," she greeted them. "Please sit down."
"Thank you, Colonel," replied Richard Woolsey, seemingly the only one of the three who genuinely appreciated the gesture. He gave her an affirmative smile and quickly spoke up before his colleagues could say anything. "We appreciate you taking your time to accommodate us. We're aware that things have been…busy…lately."
Sam resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow and instead nodded. "Protecting this city from the Wraith ZPM-enhanced Hive ship is one of our top priorities right now."
"Of which you're doing a wonderful job," assured Woolsey.
Sam smiled tightly, not assured at all. While Woolsey had proved to be an upstanding guy and politician in the past, and someone worth having on their side, she could not say the same for the other two IOA members.
She leaned forward on her desk. "So, what can I do for you?"
Before Woolsey could continue, the Chinese representative to the IOA directed a calm but icy look at Sam. "Colonel Carter, the IOA is not happy with the situation here on Atlantis."
Sam stared back at her, nearly speechless. She took a deep breath and counted to ten before responding. "With all due respect, Ms Xiaoyi, I doubt anyone is happy with the current situation."
"We recognise the severity of the circumstances—" began Coolidge, but Sam cut him off.
"Do you?" She gave him a hard look. "This is war, Mr Coolidge." The challenge was obvious and what little hair remained on Coolidge's head seemed to rise in objection.
Woolsey quickly raised his hands to quell any retort on his colleagues' part and gave her an imploring look. "Colonel. Things have not been easy since communication with Earth failed. You must understand that this is a trying time – for all of us. We're simply here to see what we can do to help."
Hearing the submissive tone of his voice, Sam forced herself to lean back in her chair, slowly uncurling her fists. She took a moment to think, then turned to Woolsey.
"What did you have in mind?"
If anything, Woolsey seemed to heave a sigh of momentary relief. He looked at his colleagues before replying. "As you know, there are more than two thousand people on this base, most of which are civilians and scientists. While our most pressing need is to protect ourselves from the Wraith, a lot of people feel run over by the military. They feel that their basic needs are either forgotten or not prioritised, and that their opinions regarding the decisions made on behalf of everyone on this base are ignored."
"Those decisions have kept everyone alive for the past two weeks," Sam said quickly, crossing her arms.
"Alive is not good enough," Coolidge butted in, earning him a curt nod from Xiaoyi and an almost dejected look from Woolsey. Sam tightened her arms against her chest. Coolidge pressed forward. "We're a democratic people, Colonel, and everyone in this city have the right to be heard regarding their own safety and future."
"With all due respect, sir," Sam bit out, "we don't have the time to take matters up in a committee every time something happens."
Woolsey quickly spoke up before Coolidge could continue, obviously straining to keep the situation calm. "We're not speaking of the military decisions regarding the Wraith attacks, Colonel. We simply wish to have a civilian voice among the senior staff. You already have representatives from the different departments. Having a representative for the civilians on this base among them would only be logical."
Silence fell over them as Sam considered his reasoning. It was logical. Coolidge — loath as she was to admit it — was right in saying they were a democratic people. Ignoring the civilians on this base — people who had not wished to come here, but had been forced by the circumstances — was fundamentally wrong, even if Sam had little love lost for those butting in on military situations.
She let her elbows rest on her desk as she leaned forward, regarding all three of them. She especially paid attention to the other two IOA members as she finally met Woolsey's eyes.
"Okay," she said simply, and Woolsey lowered his shoulders, giving her a relieved smile. "Mr Woolsey, would you like the job?"
Even if they both remained silent, Coolidge's hair rose and Xiaoyi's lips thinned. Sam felt like she had won her first victory.
"I would," said Woolsey, seemingly paying no attention to his colleagues.
Sam was about to open her mouth, only to be cut off by a citywide klaxon. Seeing the technicians in the gate room fluster about, she jumped to her feet. The three IOA members rose as well, looking at each other and their surroundings, uncertainty in their features.
Sam turned to Coolidge and Xiaoyi. "I suggest you return to your quarters. Woolsey, you're with me."
She gestured for the man to follow and then strode off towards the operations centre.
As soon as she came close enough, Sam called out, "Report!"
Chuck looked up at her briefly. "We received a subspace message from the Daedalus, ma'am. The Wraith superhive is on the move. ETA fifteen minutes."
"Okay, you know the drill," Sam told the technicians. "Boost shields and prepare for stardrive. And get me the security teams on the radio."
Once Banks nodded at her, Sam tapped her earpiece radio. "This is Colonel Carter to all teams. All non-essential personnel and civilians must return to their quarters or designated safe locations. We launch in ten minutes." After receiving affirmatives from the team leaders, Sam touched her radio again. "Colonel Sheppard?"
"I heard. I'm on my way to the chair room."
Sam nodded. "Call me when you get there. Carter out."
She turned to Chuck, who spoke up before she could ask. "Shields are up. ZPM power levels at 97 %."
"City lock-down in progress," reported another technician.
Sam found herself leaning over one of the operations consoles, following the reports from security teams and department heads as they came in. It was all happening fast, but controlled. By now, it was routine.
Somehow, the Wraith superhive managed to find them less than three days since they last escaped its clutches. That totalled five times in the past two weeks. The last three times, it had found them even faster.
It was a puzzle Sam was struggling to figure out. Even combined with McKay and Zelenka's problem-solving skills, they were no closer to figuring it out, and they were running out of time.
I'll have to call another meeting once we reach our next rendezvous point. It can't go on like this.
"Colonel Sheppard says he's ready," Chuck said, drawing Sam out of her thoughts.
For a moment, Sam was caught off guard – John usually gave her a call directly once he was ready – but then quickly donned her mask. "How's the lock-down going?"
"A few stragglers, but most of them have returned to their quarters," said Banks.
Sam nodded and touched her radio earpiece. "Colonel Sheppard, you've got the green light. Take us out."
"Copy. Strap in, guys."
Seconds later, the city was surrounded by the cloudy mist of stardrive.