“Incoming wormhole!” Nora called out. “Lt. Reed’s IDC.”
She glanced at the datapad and saw that AR-3 was returning right on schedule. As soon as she lowered the shield an additional message came through on the secure line, and Nora turned to Amelia.
“What does ‘code A-2’ mean?” she asked, at the same time Amelia said, “Shit!”
Amelia thumbed her own earpiece. “Dr. Keller. Dr. Ramesh. We have a code A-2. Urgent.”
Before Nora could ask again for clarification, the team stepped through the Gate. It was immediately apparent that something was wrong. Coughlin and Reed looked grim, Dr. Parrish looked sick, and Major Lorne was so tense he could’ve been made from a block of stone. None of them spoke, just headed directly for the transporters for their mandatory medical check-in.
“What happened?” Nora asked, her voice hushed. “What’s A-2?”
“Officially, it’s Offworld Non-Consensual Physical Contact.”
Nora felt a little sick herself. “Non-consensual?”
Amelia gave her a sympathetic look. “It sucks, basically. Some of the native populations insist on a demonstration of loyalty or fidelity or whatever-the-hell between members of the team. Sometimes in front of the whole group, sometimes just for the muckedy-mucks.”
“But that’s horrible!” Nora couldn’t imagine it, and she was glad that she wouldn’t be part of an offworld team. “Can’t they say no?”
“It depends on what the natives have to offer, or what the penalty is for the team if they don’t comply.” Amelia leaned forward and lowered her voice even more. “To be forced to perform like that…it’s so degrading. And it doesn’t matter if the team members are just friends, or dating, or whatever. Just…ugh. Not right.”
Nora grimaced. She couldn’t help wondering which members of Major Lorne’s team had been forced on each other. “So the protocol is to notify Drs. Keller and Ramesh.”
Amelia nodded. “Right. On the secure line. Dr. Ramesh will notify Dr. McKay if that particular Gate address needs to be red-flagged, or locked out completely. Mr. Woolsey will be notified during debriefing, and that’s where it ends. You don’t tell anyone about anything.”
“No, of course not.”
“Don’t worry,” Amelia said, patting Nora on the arm. “It doesn’t happen all that often.”
“Often enough to have a code,” Nora muttered as she got back to work. “What’s next? Sex pollen?”
“That’s code A-12.”
Nora couldn’t tell if Amelia was joking or not.
“Incoming wormhole. Audio only.” Nora knew without checking the schedule that it was Colonel Sheppard’s team. They were almost three hours overdue for check-in. “Specialist Dex’s IDC.”
“Patch it through,” Amelia said.
Code Black. Send Marines and a ‘jumper.
“Not again,” Amelia moaned. She flipped on the PA. “Attention! We have a Code Black for AR-1. I repeat, we have a Code Black for AR-1.”
Mr. Woolsey popped out of his office. “Again?”
The Gate room was suddenly a flurry of activity as a squad of Marines headed for the locker rooms. Dr. Keller came in on the heels of Dr. Zelenka, and Dr. Ramesh wasn’t far behind.
“Again?” Dr. Keller asked. “I’m going to have to add a wing to the infirmary just for Colonel Sheppard’s team.”
(“We don’t like Dr. Keller,” Amelia had told Nora on her second day. “She snagged Ronon before anyone else had the chance, and that’s not playing fair.”)
Major Lorne bounded up the stairs. “Ronon, sit rep?”
Natives were friendly. Then they weren’t.
Minor. Might have to stun McKay if he doesn’t calm down.
Ha ha. Major Lorne, tell Zelenka I need him out here. Full kit. And extra Power Bars.
Dr. Zelenka’s eyes widened. “No, no, I don’t –”
Radek, was all Dr. McKay said, and Dr. Zelenka nodded and went running towards the ready room.
“We’ll be there in ten,” Major Lorne said. “Atlantis out.”
“Take everything you need, Major,” Mr. Woolsey said as the Major headed back down the stairs.
Nora observed it all with wide eyes. She wasn’t sure what a Code Black was, but she could surmise that it involved Colonel Sheppard somehow.
“Now we log in that First Squad are going offworld, and that AR-3 will be taking the lead.” Amelia leaned over to watch Nora input the information in her datapad. “And don’t forget Dr. Zelenka.”
“How many does this make?” Mr. Woolsey asked, his face set in its usual solemn expression.
“Third time this year for AR-1, sir,” Amelia replied. “And two Code Purples.”
The ‘jumper bay access door in the ceiling opened up and a ‘jumper dropped down in front of the Gate, just outside the splash zone. Nora dialed up the address and initiated the wormhole.
‘jumper five requesting departure confirmation, Major Lorne said over the radio.
Amelia nodded at Nora, who replied, “Departure confirmed, ‘jumper five.”
The ‘jumper shot through the event horizon, which rippled around it, and then it was gone.
“So. Code Black?”
Nora posed the question to Amelia, but it was Mr. Woolsey who answered.
“It means the military leader of the team has been taken prisoner. Code Purple for Science staff, Code Yellow for medical, and Code Green for technicians.”
“The last time this happened we didn’t get Colonel Sheppard back for almost a week,” Amelia said. “Dr. McKay was stalking around here like Dr. Jekyll, biting everyone’s heads off.”
“I think you mean Mr. Hyde,” Mr. Woolsey said absently. “Let me know when we hear back. I’ll be in my office.”
"What if the whole team gets captured?” Nora asked. “How do we find out about that?”
“They miss a check-in. We give them four hours, to account for weather anomalies or other naturally-occurring issues that might delay the team. After that we send a retrieval team.”
“How many times has that happened?”
Amelia looked thoughtful. “For AR-1? Seems like at least once a month, to be honest. Dr. McKay tends to rub people the wrong way.”
Luckily it didn’t take a week to get Colonel Sheppard back this time. The Gate was activated offworld about twelve hours later, and Dr. Keller had a medical unit standing by. AR-1 came through first, and Nora was relieved that everyone was mobile, even if Colonel Sheppard was leaning heavily on Dr. McKay. They all looked exhausted, and a bit bruised, but Colonel Sheppard gave Nora and Amelia a thumbs up before Dr. Keller insisted he get on the waiting gurney.
The Colonel’s team didn’t leave his side, and Nora felt a little pang of homesickness. She was fitting in well enough, but she missed having that kind of closeness with someone. She looked at Amelia out of the corner of her eye as the ‘jumper passed through the Gate, but Amelia was busily typing on her datapad.
“Now what?” she asked after the Gate shut down.
“Now everyone that went offworld gets a medical checkup, followed by a debrief with Woolsey and some mandatory downtime.” Amelia stood up and tucked her datapad under her arm. “You and I get some chow time, followed by some sack time. Isaac will cover while we’re gone.”
Nora followed Amelia to the transporter, stretching and yawning as she did so. It had been a long shift. And maybe she was a little jealous that the offworld teams had all the excitement. Her first day aside, Nora had mostly been sitting behind the Ancient consoles logging in the comings and goings of the teams. Master Sergeant Harriman had joked about never getting out of the chair when he came to speak to the tech class, but Nora was starting to think that was an actual thing.
It wasn't that she wanted any of the danger, or to find herself in an A-2 situation, but surely there were plenty of offworld missions where nothing bad happened. Nora was in a completely different galaxy, but she’d seen none of it. Not even the mainland of New Lantea.
“I think I’m putting down roots,” she grumbled.
Amelia laughed. “You’ll get used to it.”
Nora pushed her hair off her forehead, where it was sticking from sweat and blood.
“Please trust me,” she said. She did her best to look confident. “They won’t let us through unless we talk to them first and explain why. Otherwise they’ll leave the iris – the shield – down and anyone who tries to travel there will die.”
Nora did her best to speak slowly and clearly, to appear genuine. She could feel Major Teldy’s eyes on her, knew a lot was riding on her ability to play things out.
The armed man in front of her – Nora didn’t know his name, so she was calling him Bob in her head – seemed to consider her words. His men, and there were a lot of them, had AR-6 surrounded. Had divested them of their P-90s. Nora knew their options were limited.
She regretted having agreed so readily to accompany Major Teldy’s team offworld. She’d only said yes because they’d needed a linguist on that particular mission and she was tired of sitting in the chair.
“Call them,” Bob said finally. “Get them to remove the shield.”
“I will.” Nora took a deep breath and dialed the address for Atlantis on the DHD. She hoped she remembered the protocols correctly, particularly since Bob would be listening in on Dr. Porter’s earpiece.
The wormhole whoosed into place. Showtime.
“Atlantis. This is Dr. Nora Hawkins.”
Dr. Hawkins. You’re early for your check-in. Is everything okay?
Hearing Amelia’s voice helped steady Nora. “Situation normal,” she said, using the code phrase. “The mission is a wash and we’re requesting an early return.”
Understood. I’ll alert Dr. Keller that you’re returning ahead of schedule.
“Thanks. We’re all pretty tired. I feel like I’ve made the Kessel Run twice over.”
That was a gamble: Nora wanted some way to indicate how many hostiles wanted to cross over into Atlantis, and while Amelia had already proven to be a scifi nerd that didn’t necessarily mean she was a fan of Star Wars.
Traveling offworld ain’t like dusting crops, Dr. Hawkins, Amelia replied, and Nora was flooded with relief. Her message had been received.
A moment later her GDO flashed green, signaling that the iris had been retracted.
“It’s safe to cross,” Nora told Bob.
They went in three groups, AR-6 spread between them. Nora went with the second group, one of the men holding her in front of him like a shield. She felt the pull and tug as she stepped into the event horizon, and then emerged on the other side into chaos.
“Drop your weapons!”
There were Marines and the stutter of automatic weapons from Bob’s men and the one holding Nora tightened his arm around her neck, and then there was a flash of light and everything faded away.
“Ow, ow, ow!”
“Hey, easy. It’s okay.” Amelia was there, sitting beside the bed. In the infirmary.
Nora winced. “Everything hurts.”
“You got caught in Ronon’s stunner blast,” Amelia explained. “The pins and needles will wear off soon.”
Nora wanted to ask what happened, but then Dr. Keller arrived to examine her. She expected Amelia to leave, but once Dr. Keller gave Nora a clean bill of health Amelia returned with Major Teldy in tow.
“Dr. Hawkins,” the Major said. “I just wanted to thank you for your quick thinking. And for keeping a cool head. You did good work today.”
“No offense, Major, but please don’t ask me to go offworld again.” Nora fingered the bandage on her head. “I like the chair. I love the chair. I never want to leave the chair again.”
Amelia laughed. “How did I know you’d say that?”
Even Major Teldy cracked a smile. “The team wanted me to let you know that we’re even now.”
Nora flushed. During her first week she’d accidentally gated AR-6 to a swampy, leech-infested planet. It hadn’t made her any friends at poker night.
The Major nodded and left, and Amelia sat down on the bed next to Nora.
“I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I’m glad you’re a Star Wars fan,” Nora replied.
Amelia reached over and wrapped her hand around Nora’s. Nora ducked her head, unable to stop the smile that was spreading across her face. She twisted her hand so they could tangle their fingers together.
“I really like you, Nora Hawkins,” Amelia said softly.
Nora raised her head and looked Amelia right in the eye. “I know.”