Chuck leaned back, the hum of Atlantis all around him. He enjoyed working the night shift, everything quiet and peaceful. There were no gate teams out, everyone still pulled in close, licking their wounds after...after that Sunday. The Daedalus had just come and gone, dropping off new personnel who were still wide-eyed with awe.
“You got money on the Brown/McKay pool?” Chuck glanced over at the new technician, fresh off the boat. He was a cocky American with a winning smile and an idea of getting into the Atlantis black market. Chuck smirked. The newbies were so adorably out of their league sometimes.
“Nah, my money's all tied up in the Ronon/Teyla pay-per-view fight this weekend.” They shared a grin of anticipation.
“Oh, man, I'm so--” A loud boom echoed in the distance.
Alex braced her back against the wall, wedging her body into the tight niche as she slowed her breathing. Her heart raced and her body screamed for air, but she ignored it all, blocked it out and concentrated on her surroundings. The knife, heavy and comforting in her hand, couldn't prevent the flash of fear that sliced through her, white-hot and paralyzing. She cast around for something calming, something to break fear's hold on her. Sense-memory came roaring back, so strong she could smell the mingled scent of her parents, feel their arms around her, hear the cadence of their voices.
She got lost in the past, that time when she remembered safety and warmth. Like the night her parents had let her watch Aliens, firmly wedged between their bodies and clutching their larger (soft caring loving familiar strong) hands in her own. Alex watched the whole movie, wide-eyed and scared out of her mind, too stubborn not to see it till the end. They'd let her crawl into bed with them after despite warning her she'd have to sleep alone like a big girl if she insisted on watching big girl movies.
But her parents were gone, lost to the creatures who still threatened those left of her people. One last parting gift from the Wraith. The fear receded and the anger returned, cold and deadly.
Alex's body tensed, ready to act even before her mind identified the dry sliding sounds of the creature moving into the room. It materialized out of the inky darkness, moving like the squids of Earth, tentacles reaching out. It searched restlessly, the sharp click of hard, deadly points echoing off the walls. Another bolt of fear crashed through her calm facade before she pushed it aside. Her hand clenched around the knife and she had to hold herself back; if she attacked now, she wouldn't survive.
The creature paused, the bulk of its body suspended between its four tentacles, and she got a brief glimpse of dull, malevolent eyes. Its wide, hungry maw was filled with sharp protrusions that were too jagged and non-uniform to be called 'teeth.' Alex heard the rustle of its scales as they tensed, locking into place to form an impenetrable carapace as it scanned the room for danger. She shuddered when the creature relaxed, body once again pliant and formless.
The nazghoul took the bait, drawing into itself like a dead spider, tentacles folded up stiffly as it hovered over the blood-soaked shirt. She didn't know what the nazghoul ate, if they ate at all; they killed indiscriminately and viciously, for no apparent reason. She understood what drove the Wraith; their actions at least had a biological component, an understandable, quantifiable compulsion. But these things, these nazghoul as they'd named them, killed to kill. The creature made a high keening noise and arched up—the sign she'd been waiting for.
Alex moved swiftly and silently, conscious of all the muscles in her body, the way they moved, the strength in them, the ways she could combine them in a deadly dance. She struck the nazghoul twice before it reacted, both mortal hits—but it wasn't dead yet. It screamed loudly, a sound that made her ears ring. The creature spun and carried her across the room, two tentacles embedded in her left shoulder. It pinned her to the floor, screaming out its victory as it flexed, ripping into the muscles. She cried out and scrambled for her gun as a third appendage rose to strike her. She rolled into the beast so that the knife-like tip nicked her arm instead of piercing her through the heart.
Automatic gunfire erupted around her and the beast screamed again. It ripped its limb out of her shoulder and scrambled backwards away from the guns, collapsing as it died. A hand gripped her jacket and hauled her off the ground.
“Fuck.” She stumbled into the solid body beside her, the world spinning a little. Sturdy hands pressed a field dressing onto her shoulder. She hissed as she tried to move her arm to assess the damage.
“Stop,” Mike grunted, immobilizing her shoulder. His long, unkempt hair fell into his eyes, but his hands were deft and gentle as he probed the torn flesh of Alex's shoulder. She stilled and gave into his ministrations, eyeing the dead monster with hatred. They needed to move before more of them showed up. Mike peeled the dressing back, noting the absence of clotting. “I think you got a pretty good dose of anti-coagulant. You'll need a shot.”
“It can wait,” she told him, trying to pull away. “We still have all the food?”
“We got the MREs,” Jason answered as he shot the dead nazghoul once more. Black ichor, putrid and nauseating, splattered onto his clothes. There were spots of nazghoul blood on his face, dark against his lighter skin. He scowled at the dead beast and kicked it once, for good measure.
“It's definitely dead,” Mike observed dryly, before turning his attention back to Alex. “We should give you a shot now, can't have you bleeding out on us.”
“It'll keep till we make it back to base camp,” Alex replied stubbornly. Mike glared at her and turned away; no use arguing with her when she got like this. He dug angrily through his medpack, but a hand wrapped around his arm, pulling his attention back to her. “Look, I really want to get the food back. I promise to let you and Danielle do all the voodoo you want when we get to base camp, OK?”
“I'm holding you to that.”
“I have no doubt.” Mike offered her a small smile.
Alex watched as Mike carefully took a sample of the fetid blood, making sure none of it touched his skin. If they ran across a working lab or circled back to one of the ones they'd abandoned before, they could work on...something. Even though they were never in any one place long enough to do anything useful, they had to try. It gave some of the younger kids hope.
A shadow moved in her peripheral vision, and she tensed for action before she identified it. Dex stepped into the light, taking in her shoulder and the bandage, silently asking if she was alright. He ghosted his fingertips along the wound.
“Base Camp to foraging team, what's your status?” A tinny voice broke through the silence that had fallen over the group in the wake of the attack. Jason keyed his ear bud to an open channel and took stock of his people. Settling automatically into a diamond formation, they started making their way back to their current room of residence.
“Kayla my love, heart of my hearts! The world is a beautiful place now that I have your dulcet tones whispering sweet nothings in my ear,” Jason sang out dramatically. Everyone made the requisite groans of disgust and annoyance, but any happiness in their lives—like a new, unexpected romance still in the lovey-dovey phases—was celebrated by all. Even Dex cracked a small smile and Alex only muttered derisively under her breath. The moment passed and the team returned to seriousness; distraction in the field could be fatal. “As for the others, Dex is sulking; Alex killed a nazghoul without him, it's all very tragic, they're having a violent lover's tiff. Mike's playing scientist, scooping up liquefied nazghoul bits like there aren't thousands of them he can run tests on. And I'm counting down the seconds till I can see your face again!”
“I'm pretty sure it's not your face he's interested in,” Mike mocked, dancing sideways as Jason took a swipe at him.
“Pay him no mind, darling Kayla. But Boss-Lady's been hit, twice in the shoulder, so have Danni standing by.”
“I am not the boss,” Alex sighed, an age-old argument.
“You don't want to be the Boss,” Jason pointed out unhelpfully. “That doesn't mean you aren't.” Alex glared at Jason, who gave her his best puppy dog eyes. She retaliated by sticking her tongue out at him.
“Very mature,” Mike said blandly.
“How bad is it?” Danni's clipped, efficient voice broke in over the radio. Their flippant conversation irritated her; if someone got injured, she needed to know about it. Alex grunted her noncommittal answer, sheathing her knife and checking her P-90. Guns jamming were just one of the increasingly numerous ways to get yourself killed.
“Enlightening, thank you,” Danni said dryly.
“I'm—” her response cut short when they heard the multi-tonal screech of a nazghoul hunting party. The haunting, terrifying melody making their skin crawl. “Shit, nazghoul.” Danni's gasp sounded over the radios.
“There's at least ten,” Dex said grimly.
“At least.” Alex considered their options, expression dark. “Right, put all the food in one pack.” They swiftly transferred their MREs and canned goods into one of the backpacks, other less vital supplies sacrificed for space. They worked efficiently listening to the sound of the creatures growing closer. Alex closed the backpack and tested its balance; it would do.
“Mike, Jason, figure out a plan of attack, somewhere we can draw them in, keep them occupied and hopefully escape. Dex is going to run the food back to the camp.” Alex didn't bother to see if they were following her orders; her gaze remained fixed on Dex, reading the protest she see building in him.
“No.” His jaw set in a grim line of determination, eyes hard.
“Yes.” He jerked his head in the negative, and Alex grabbed his face between her hands, fingers tangled in his hair. She drew his forehead down to touch her own. “You're the fastest runner we have and one of our strongest fighters. They're going to need you. And they need this food, none of this means anything without it.” She willed him to understand what she was saying, willed him not to fight her on this.
“Sateda,” she breathed, the plea caught in her throat. His lips claimed hers in a desperate kiss before he grabbed the pack and took off down the corridor without a backwards glance. Jason watched him go, then called attention to the map.
“There's a large vestibule a couple of--” An angry, triumphant cry rent the air. Alex spun and dropped to one knee, P-90 firing at the nazghoul. It screeched as it died, summoning its brethren. They sprinted from the room, Jason leading them. Alex touched her radio and gave the evacuation order. “Get them out, you have to MOVE.”
Sounds of machine gun fire and stunners echoed over the open coms, inhuman cries making everyone on a radio shudder. The whole of Base Camp froze, waiting for updates.
“What's your ETA?” Kayla asked, aware that every eye stayed fixed on her as she got updates from the recon team. Fear for Jason and the others in the field made her voice waver. Kayla felt the comforting presence of her brother at her back and reached behind her to grasp his hand in support. Terhaan squeezed her hand, his own fear palpable.
“Doesn't matter.” Alex's words over the radio were clipped and emotionless.
Terhaan growled. “We're not leaving without you,” he said into his mouthpiece as Kayla handed him an M-16 assault rifle.
“Not up for discussion.” More gunshots.
“Mike! No—FUCK.” The pain and anger in Alex's voice landed like a physical blow, harsh and unexpected. Terhaan closed his eyes and fought back the tears that threatened to spill over. Kayla gripped his arm, and he took solace in his sister's touch. Gunfire once again cut across the open radio channel. “Jason, don't let them divide us! Shit! Terhaan, Kayla, go. NOW!”
“Everybody move, escape plan delta seven!” Terhaan thundered. It broke the collective reverie of the group, spurred people into action. Pallets were grabbed, backpacks shouldered, children corralled and paired. In a matter of minutes, the sleep-space was empty, as if no one had ever been there to begin with.
A dark figure dropped silently from the ceiling.
“Alex and Jason are holding them back, but not for much longer. We need to move. Fast.” The high whine of a weapon charging punctuated Sateda's command and the casual utterance of two names where there should be three.
“But Alex and Jason--” Terhaan swallowed at the hollow look Sateda shot him. He pushed the pain that welled within him as far down as he could. Distractions would only get them killed. They'd been through this far too many times for this to be a real argument. Token protests at yet another life lost, their numbers dwindling even further, were luxuries they could ill afford.
“Stay low and keep moving,” Kayla hissed, less instruction and more something to say. She stepped into the hall, gun ready. They spread out, clearing the hallways and ushering their people away from danger. They kept low, moving silently through the dark halls. Teenagers carried toddlers on their backs and guns in their arms; spindly tweens moved in pairs, the group's possessions strapped to their small bodies or carried between them. They moved fluidly, reading each other's body language and unspoken signals, the result of being forced to move too many times to remember.
They kept going until they were a fair ways from their previous camping spot, selecting a small abandoned lab as a resting place, one Ancient monitor glowing a faint blue. Kayla, Terhaan, and Sateda took up point positions at the door as another one of their people turned on the lab's computer interface.
“Dan?” Kayla called.
“I can access the security parameter from here, give me a minute.” Dexterous hands flew across the ancient keyboard. The seconds slipped into minutes, terse and silent. They had an emergency security perimeter, chunks of C4 set up around the base camp; in the event of the nazghoul finding them, it could be set to motion-detect detonate, collapsing the halls between them and the alien creatures.
“Dan.” Kayla's voice came clipped and brusque.
“I'm working! Give me a minute, there's another program in the background here, I have to get around it, the computer is locked. This lab has independent power source, it is marginally connected to the mainframe. I must reroute power protocols and—”
“Bohdan! You have execute it now, we need to move.”
“I can't, I need—”
“You have no more time! We cannot stay here any longer. The nazghoul may still find us.” Bohdan swore under his breath, writing out a last minute code patch that would hopefully circumvent whatever ancient program was blocking his access to the network he'd set up. With a murmured prayer, he hit the execute button.
For a long while, nothing happened. Kayla was about to give the order to move out regardless when the unmistakable sound of a machine powering up sounded through the room. The readout on the monitor started scrolling Ancient text crazily. Dan tried to read it, catching bits and pieces of the readout, but none of it made any sense at all. Not until the last bit.
“Do prdele,” Bohdan swore, before a bright light seared his vision and a sonic boom echoed in his skull.
Chuck started in surprise, and then clutched at the nearest console as the shock waves from the explosion made the control tower tremble violently. He jerked upright and started calling up all of the various diagnostic sensors and data logs. He knew Atlantis's breath, her moods and tides, second only to Rodney McKay and perhaps Radek Zelenka.
“What happened?” Dr. Weir's voice, tight and worried, preceded her to the control room.
“There's been a power surge in one of the unoccupied sections,” Chuck relayed, sorting through all of the data being thrown at him. He'd never seen anything like this and he didn't quite know how to interpret the numbers. New sensors were coming online in the unexplored region, feeding him information that quickly added up to something Not Good. Self-activating Ancient (often malfunctioning) devices always led to someone trying to ascend, changing genders, getting turned into an animal, or trapped in a similarly uncomfortable situation.
“Do you know what caused it?” Weir shook the last vestiges of sleep from her brain and focused on this new crisis.
“There was an explosion...well, not really an explosion, the readings aren't quite right for that. Sectors R7 through R9 are coming on line; they're drawing power from the ZedPM...we've got lifesigns! I'm reading at least...10 individuals...12...there are two in grid R7, a cluster in R9. They're close together, I can't get an accurate read.” Weir touched her radio, already on the move.
“Colonel Sheppard, Major Lorne, assemble teams. We're reading lifesigns in several of the unexplored sections of the city. You're going to need jumpers...they're on the opposite side of the city. We may have Wraith, stay alert and keep an eye on Teyla.”
“On it,” Sheppard acknowledged, turning abruptly towards the jumper bay. People scurried out of his way in the halls, keeping their distance from the grim-faced soldier. Someone was attacking his city, and John Sheppard was never as dangerous as when something he loved was threatened.
Teyla and Ronon were already waiting for him, Ronon vibrating with unreleased energy that promised lots of pain. Sheppard nodded once in recognition, appreciative of the feral smile he got in return. Major Lorne's team hurried into the room, extra marines buckling guns to their tac vests. Sheppard was busy issuing orders when Rodney came barreling through the door, trying to put his vest on and run at the same time, though not really succeeding at either.
“Lorne's got the two isolated signs. We're dealing with the big group,” John explained quickly.
“Of course we are,” Rodney muttered sullenly. Far be it for John Sheppard to take the less deadly assignment. Sheppard glared at Rodney and yanked Rodney's vest into place. Rodney, unbalanced, fell towards him; the soft sound forced from Rodney’s mouth was suitable for a more intimate setting. John had to bite back a gasp, Rodney’s breath hot against his neck, the skin suddenly unbearably sensitive. He grit his teeth; he could not afford any distractions right now. Steadying Rodney, John stepped away, carefully putting his inappropriate thoughts for his teammate aside. He could torture himself later.
“Be careful, don't get separated. We have no idea what we're dealing with, so...don't get dead,” Sheppard commanded. The marines made some sort of manly, tandem grunt of agreement. Rodney wondered why no one ever felt comforted when he said things like that. They piled into the jumpers, the marines burly and expressionless.
“Hold it!” John turned around in time to see one of Keller's nurses dart into the back of his jumper.
“Elizabeth ordered a medical detail since you're going so far away. Keller's with the other group,” the panting medic informed them. John studied the flushed young man and nodded once.
“You stay in the jumper unless we call for you,” John ordered the nurse. The back hatch rose and John began maneuvering the jumper up and out of the bay. Ignoring the rest of the world, he concentrated on flying. Ronon lounged in the co-pilot seat and Rodney stayed in the back, laptop hooked up to the jumper's sensors so he could monitor all the systems coming on line in the unexplored section.
The breathless medic looked longingly at the bench and, after a pointed look from Teyla, Rodney grudgingly slid over to make room for the voodoo practitioner and his giant bag of chicken heads. They made in tense silence, the control room radioing updated information as it came in and Rodney intermittently muttering darkly about power drainage. All of the systems coming online in the unoccupied sector were taxing their one working ZedPM.
Team Sheppard landed on a deserted pier just outside of their contact position. John and Ronon took point, Rodney bringing up the middle surrounded by marines.
“Right at the next hall; they should be 20 meters down,” Rodney told them. The white dots were fairly stable, only three or four moving around. The majority were clustered in a corner away from the door in the hall, a mass of white that made getting an accurate head count difficult. “At least twelve separate entities, probably more than that.”
“How probably?” Sheppard asked.
“Definitely probably.” Sheppard threw him an exasperated look. “Look, they're all clustered together. All I can tell you is they aren't one giant being. You should be relieved. Based on our track record, encountering a large, carnivorous creature is about 22.4%, increasing by a factor of .7 with every mission.” Rodney became abruptly conscious of everyone's gazes. “What? I couldn't sleep one night.”
They moved slowly down the hall, systematically clearing each room. Sheppard wasn't taking any chances; they'd lost enough people in the past month. The section seemed similar to the one the scientists had taken over near the control tower. The hall was populated with labs of varying sizes, providing convenient cover to the group.
“Lorne to Sheppard.” John held up his fist, halting their progress so he could concentrate on his second's update.
“This is Sheppard.”
“We've got a s...heading...” The transmission degraded into static.
“Lorne? Didn't catch that last message.” More static filtered through the headpiece. “Major Lorne. Please repeat last message, over.” John looked questioningly at Rodney, who shrugged.
“Don't look at me; this entire part of the city is unexplored. There could be anything in between us. Electromagnetic field, malfunctioning Ancient experiment, deadly aliens hacking into our communication systems—“
“Alright, Rodney, we get it.” Sheppard interrupted. His marines were already on a hair trigger; he didn't need them any more wound up than they already were. Since Lorne hadn't sounded distressed or like he needed backup, John decided to move forward. He signaled the group to continue, carefully. Rodney kept monitoring the lifesigns detector, trying to extrapolate some pattern to the movement and get an accurate head count of whatever lurked in that room.
“They're in the next room,” Rodney stage-whispered to the group.
“Standard approach pattern. Be prepared to lay down cover fire.” Rodney, at the tail end of the column, watched his teammates creep down the hallway towards their possible demise. He should really be used to this by now, John putting himself directly in harm's way. The sharp retort of gunfire echoed loudly in Rodney's ears.
“Back!” Someone hauled Rodney back towards the door by his collar. Rodney concentrated on John's voice yelling orders over the noise. Hands pushed into a room, out of the line of fire. One of the marines jerked and fell, red pooling on the ground around him. On autopilot, Rodney helped the nurse drag the wounded soldier to safety and applied pressure while the nurse dug through his med kit. And to think that blood used to make him faint.
In the sudden quiet, Rodney's eyes darted from face to face, searching. He only relaxed when he met Sheppard's eyes, then Ronon's, then Teyla's. His team reloaded their weapons, expressions grim.
“They've got P-90s,” Ronon said.
“As well as Wraith stunners,” Teyla added. Rodney got the distinct notion that he was missing something in this conversation.
“So we're evenly matched. It's not like we only do impossible things when we're completely outgunned.”
“They have P-90s, Rodney.” Rodney leveled his most annoyed glare at John. As if anything in that statement even approached an acceptable explanation. “Real P-90s. Not P-90 like. Made in the USA, planet Earth, Milky Way Galaxy, P-90s,” John clarified. The blood drained from Rodney's face.
“Genii?” He tried to ignore the cold shudder that raced down his spine and how the scar on his arm throbbed. He forced it all back; he needed to keep calm if he was going to get his stupid, death-friendly team out of this. “So what do we do now?” A voice calling out from the hall saved John from answering.
“Who are you? Identify yourself.” Well. That was a new one. Most invaders already knew who they were here to kill. John glanced around at his team for inspiration and realized they were all looking at him. He shrugged and cautiously poked his head around the door. Nothing. Drawing back, he checked his ammo, cocked his gun, and checked in with Ronon.
“Ah, well. I'm Larry. My friend here is Moe. Curly's bleeding on the floor. Who are you?” A long pause stretched between them. John sighed. He hadn't really expected it to be that easy either. He really, really hated the Genii.
“Was that...” the voice trailed off, confused. John's grin was wolf-like and sharp; he loved playing stump the aliens. “Was that a Stooges reference?” The voice sounded incredulous and almost painfully hopeful. John turned to his team, brow wrinkled.
“Rodney? How many aliens have we met that actually got a Three Stooges reference?” Teyla and Ronon both raised their hands, their looks stating they only wished they did not. “The first time,” John amended.
“Perhaps more questions about your...popular culture would shed light on the situation?” Teyla prompted.
“Tom or Colin Baker?” Rodney yelled out, trying to refine the lifesign sensors to give him a more detailed reading. The silence stretched around him, enough that Rodney bought a clue and looked up. John was giving him that “What the fuck” look. “What?”
“Rodney, I don't think--”
“Eccleston.” Even one of the marines reacted to that one. Huh. Well, on the scale of weirdness, Rodney decided to put this at 'Pleasantly Weird,' gunfight not withstanding. John shrugged and went with the penultimate question of all questions.
“If I wanted to travel back in time, what would be my car of choice?” Ronon actually groaned. Out loud.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding! We're trying to establish some sort of amnesty based on a shared appreciation of classical Earth pop culture and you chose BACK TO THE FUTURE, quite possibly the single most insulting use of the space-time-continuum in the history of all things historical, on top of making a total mockery of at least four different branches of physics. As if a DeLorean is an acceptable model of--”