Dr. Elizabeth Weir stood braced against a control room console as Atlantis shuddered around her. The city suddenly seemed more alive now than at any time since she had come here, the steady thrum of its engines beating now deep within the heart of the massive city ship, pulsing through the soles of her shoes and the skin of the walls around her.
Colonel Steven Caldwell stood at her side, braced as well, as were the others manning consoles there in the control room. At least they had something to steady themselves against, unlike the mass of people and their possessions in the gateroom below her, spreading out into the hallways, awaiting evacuation through the stargate.
All but the most essential personnel had already been evacuated days before, and almost all the Athosians as well, the Athosians spreading themselves among the worlds of their former trading partners. Teyla was one of the few who had stayed behind. She had chosen instead to go to Earth with the people who had grown to be her family, as had Ronon, who stood now in the gateroom at her side, the two of them looking somehow undisturbed even as others panicked around them.
There was certainly reason for panic, as Elizabeth well knew, a massive Wraith fleet entering their solar system, almost a hundred hive ships with their accompanying escort of cruisers, more than they had estimated even to be in the Pegasus Galaxy, set upon them by the Wraith queen with whom they had attempted an alliance. The Wraith were determined to take Atlantis at last, to use the city's gate or the knowledge they could learn to make it to their new "feeding ground" of Earth. Atlantis had to be destroyed, utterly and completely, and the Daedalus as well. No part of either hyperdrive could survive to be reverse-engineered and used by the Wraith. No part of either database could remain intact to be mined for Earth's location.
The Daedalus sat moored now to Atlantis's east pier. Her personnel--those who had not already been evacuated to Earth--were among those in the gateroom. There were other faces there as well, faces that should not be here, but whose unfortunate timing had done nothing but place them in the path of the Wraith--Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, and Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell of SG1, along with Vala Mal Doran, who had been caught trying to steal a piece of Ancient technology on her first day in the city. They had come to Atlantis, along with Lieutenant Colonel Carter, in search of a weapon that could be used against the Ori, the great threat to the Milky Way Galaxy, only to find their mission interrupted by the discovery of the approaching Wraith. The SGC's chief surgeon, Dr. Carolyn Lam, had also accompanied them aboard the Daedalus to coordinate a medical project with Carson. They stood now among those awaiting evacuation in the gateroom. Elizabeth watched them, then allowed her eyes to move over the others waiting there, her people for more than the last two years, and the remaining crew members from the Daedalus--they would have nothing to brace against but one another when Atlantis tore herself from the ocean for the first time in several million years.
That is if Atlantis did not shake apart in the process to kill them all.
Rodney had said he would have to override the city's inertial dampeners, that there was no choice but to lessen the power drain on their sole ZPM and the naquedah generators--including the ones inbuilt in the Daedalus--that he, Radek Zelenka, and Sam Carter had managed to network together to provide barely enough power to launch the massive city ship and to fly her to her death in the heart of Atlantis's sun. There would be minimal life support and shields for the trip, with the bare power held in reserve to open a final wormhole to Earth once Atlantis's course was guaranteed. Rodney had warned them of the force of gravity they would be fighting during the launch, just as he had told them that they could not dial Earth any sooner than 39 minutes and 26 seconds before Atlantis was expected to enter the star's corona; only then would the pull of the star's gravity be enough to allow the engines to be cut back to provide the necessary power to connect a wormhole to Earth. They would then have 38 minutes to evacuate all their remaining people, 38 minutes after which the gate would shut down and the program Rodney had written would take over, shutting down life support to divert all power to the shields and engines for one last 7 second burst into the heart of the star to guarantee the utter destruction of both Atlantis and the Daedalus when the program dropped the shields at last.
A shudder ran through the great city now, then a massive jolt that wrenched a scream from someone in the gateroom below as Atlantis lifted herself from the waters that had been her home for millennia. The force they were having to expend to fight the planet's gravity was so intense that it sent even those braced against consoles in the control room from their feet, sending Elizabeth skidding on her back almost to the edge of the stairs before she caught herself against a railing.
Atlantis hovered for a moment, held aloft by forces Elizabeth could not even begin to comprehend, controlled by John Sheppard in the control chair, with Rodney, Radek, and Carter monitoring the power usage of the ZPM and the networked generators--then the city began to tilt, to list to one side, and for one horrifying moment Elizabeth was certain Atlantis would fall from the sky. Panic engulfed her as she tried to get to her feet, screams filling her ears from those in the gateroom as the tilt worsened and the city moaned as if in the midst of death throes--then the massive main engines fired, driving Elizabeth back to the floor with a force unlike anything she had ever felt or dreamed possible. She was pinned there, flat on her back, an enormous weight on her chest, her skin pulling back from her face, and she could hear shrieking now, both in her head and from the gateroom below.
The pressure lessened gradually, until Elizabeth could breathe again. She rolled over slowly and somehow managed to push herself to her knees, her eyes going immediately to check on those around her. Caldwell was getting to his feet, offering her a hand, her control room crew regaining their stations. Elizabeth moved to the railing and swept her eyes over those in the gateroom, assuring herself that, at least for the moment, they were all alive, though she knew that many probably felt as bruised as she.
She keyed her headset and spoke into the tiny attached microphone. "John, Rodney, is everyone okay down there?" she radioed to the chair room.
"We're a little busy right now," Rodney McKay bit out in return.
"We're having a rough ride up here--"
"We're all having a rough ride--McKay out," Rodney snapped and cut her off.
Elizabeth moved to try to steady herself against a console again as the city set up a constant vibration so pronounced it made her teeth chatter and her knees ache as she attempted to remain upright. There were a few minor injuries below her, she could see that now. People were being tended by Carson and Dr. Lam, the only two medical personnel who remained on Atlantis. The vibration increased, so badly that Elizabeth saw the slender, dark-haired Lam having to cling to her patient now to stay in place well enough to treat him--but the vibration only worsened, until Elizabeth thought it would shake the teeth from her head if it did not cease. The structure of the city was coming under enormous stress. Tiles had fallen, and equipment had toppled or failed, but still the control chair and the engines functioned, as did life support, which was all they needed.
The stargate's shield suddenly activated, as Elizabeth knew it would to prevent any outwash of the forming wormhole into the mass of people below. The gate began to dial as Rodney's voice came over the headset in her ear. "We're on automatic now!" he shouted, sounding as if he were running.
"Get up here!" Elizabeth ordered, watching the first chevron lock.
"On our way," Sheppard shouted, obviously running as well. "Start getting people through the minute the SGC opens their iris."
The wormhole formed behind the shield, washing the people in the gateroom below in watery- looking light. Elizabeth input her own IDC, then waited what seemed a lifetime until the voice of the SGC's Sergeant Harriman confirmed over subspace link that the Earth's iris was open. Elizabeth took a breath to order that the gate shield be dropped on their end to begin the evacuation--but an alarm began to blare in the control room before she could speak. A technician was shouting.
"Solar flare! Massive solar flare!"
The wormhole behind the shield turned bright white, hurting her eyes. Rodney was suddenly there, shoving the technician aside without a word, shouting to another, "Keep the shield up or we'll fry!"
"Rodney, we have less than 38 minutes!" Elizabeth shouted at him over the sound of what was now a chorus of alarms. She was beginning to sweat. It was growing hot in the control room, getting hotter by the minute.
"I know that!" He was typing furiously, looking from the computer screen to the now putrescent green wormhole, then back again, starting sentences that Elizabeth could not even comprehend, only to have them picked up by Radek, who was now working at another console. Sheppard was at Rodney's side. Carter was nearby, and she opened her mouth to speak, only to have Rodney silence her with a single motion of his hand before he returned to his work as if she were not even there. They were losing too much time--twenty-eight minutes until the wormhole would shut down--twenty-four minutes--seventeen--
The wormhole washed from putrescent green to green-blue then the blue of its normal state. Only then did Rodney drop the shield. "Eight minutes!" he shouted, panic on his face now that the minutes of furious work were over. "Go! Get those people through the gate! Go!" he stared at Elizabeth, as if she did not understand.
"Eight minutes, everyone! We have only eight minutes!" she yelled to those in the gateroom below, meeting Lorne's eyes where she had stationed him and his team before the stargate to lead the evacuation. "Go!"
And they started through, staggering on their feet as Atlantis gave a mighty lurch that would have sent Elizabeth to the floor again had not Caldwell steadied her--then Lorne's voice was shouting over the radio.
"Stop! This isn't Earth! We have injured! They're coming through the gate like a bat out of hell! Stop the evac!"
Caldwell yelled orders down into the gateroom to stop the evacuation.
Rodney was already speaking. "The flare. It caused a massive power surge. The wormhole must have jumped to another gate." His eyes were wide with fear.
"Can we redial?" she asked.
"No. We don't have the time or the power. We've got to go. Now."
"Get moving!" Elizabeth shouted to those waiting to go through the gate. "Prepare for a rough landing on the other side!"
Caldwell was already yelling orders to Lorne over his headset. "We're sending them through, Major. There's no choice. Keep the area before the gate clear on your side. Secure a perimeter."
They were running down the staircase and into the gateroom as person after person went through the stargate lugging whatever possessions they could carry. Elizabeth had snatched up her laptop case and bags. She saw Rodney stop just shy of the gate, loaded down now with his own possessions, only for John Sheppard to grab him by the arm and drag him through at his side. It seemed to take forever to get everyone through, to clear the gateroom and the hallways, and Elizabeth feared they would never all make it through in time, even before the alarm began to sound that Rodney had told her to expect one minute before the gate would shut down. Atlantis was groaning, the beautiful city in the last moments of her life. Elizabeth looked around as the gateroom emptied, looked her fill, knowing it would have to last.
"Everyone else is gone! We've got to go!" Caldwell shouted to her, taking her arm.
Elizabeth nodded, took one last look around, then stepped through the wormhole at Caldwell's side, leaving Atlantis behind, alone, for the city to face her final moments.