The Daedalus dropped out of hyperspace into an ambush.
The bridge rocked as weapon volleys slammed into unshielded hull. Titanium buckled under the onslaught, the ship's nose rupturing as her atmosphere spilled out into vacuum. Two hive ships fired lazily into the spot where they knew the Daedalus would exit hyperspace, bright bolts of plasma following the ship as she wallowed in confusion for a moment.
A moment too long.
“Shields to maximum!” Caldwell shouted.
The bridge was a mess of activity. Colonel John Sheppard pulled himself up off the console where he'd been thrown in the confusion. Caldwell arranged himself in his chair like he'd meant to sit down instead of having been tossed in it by momentum. A console exploded in a shower of sparks and a quick choked scream behind them.
Captain Dave Kleinman had the helm. He tamped down the fear of the flashing red lights on his console and reported what it said. “Decks one to seven in the forward section have decompressed and are venting atmosphere,” he said.
“Seal off those sections,” Caldwell ordered. “Get a damage control team down there.”
Another volley impacted the ship, though this time the shields took the brunt of the impact. They would not last long.
“Who's firing on us?” Sheppard asked.
“Two hive ships bearing down on our position, sir,” Kleinman said. “One of them is the friendly.”
“Not so friendly,” Sheppard said.
“All main weapons, fire at will on both ships,” Caldwell ordered. “Hermiod, stand by to beam warheads to the nearest hive ship.”
“It doesn't make any sense,” Sheppard said, still confused. “Why break the alliance now? They don't even have the gas aboard their ship, we do.”
“Not my concern,” Caldwell said shortly. He winced and growled as the bridge flashed with a console fire. These Wraith knew exactly where to hit the Daedalus to render her unable to defend herself. This spoke of more than just a broken alliance. This was willful betrayal.
The comm came to life. “Colonel Caldwell. This is Hermiod. The warheads are ready to deploy.”
Caldwell could have purred. Even the hardened note of anger in Hermiod's alien voice felt good. “Stand by 'til we reach optimal range.” He wanted this to work and he wanted it to be beautiful.
That snapped Sheppard into something more than confusion. “Wait, no! You gotta give Ronon and McKay time to beam back aboard first!”
Caldwell stood and looked Sheppard in his naive young eyes. “We were betrayed,” he said, voice eerily low and calm. “Your friends are already dead or they are worse than dead. If they do not escape before we reach optimal range, they never could have. They have until then to activate their emergency transceivers. There's nothing else we can do for them now.”
Sheppard stood his ground, refusing to accept defeat. Ronon and McKay would escape, they always did, this was no different. And then...
“That's time,” Caldwell said as the Daedalus took another hit to her portside shield emitters.
Sheppard's bravado faded, desperation seeping through. “You gotta give 'em a few more seconds!”
“I can't do that. Hermiod, deploy warheads when ready.”
Desperation turned to fury and then... hope.
“Colonel Caldwell. Dr. McKay's code has failed to breach the Wraith countermeasures. I am attempting another series of codes.”
“Work as fast as you can,” Caldwell said. “Our shields won't hold up forever.”
“With some 302s we might be able to take out their hyperdrive, save us some time,” Sheppard offered.
Caldwell gave Sheppard a long look. This plan had no point, no purpose, no chance of doing any real damage to an enemy ship that big. Damaging the Wraith hyperdrives would not buy them time, it would prolong the battle. But it wasn't meant to be a real plan, was it? This was pure emotional vengeance, the driving need to hurt the enemy who had hurt him. Caldwell understood that.
“Do it,” Caldwell allowed. “Volunteers only.”
Sheppard ran off the bridge to his doom as Kleinman shouted their shield status. The emitters on the forward section were inoperable, the emitters port and starboard wouldn't be able to compensate for much longer.
A scream from behind drew Caldwell's attention as a console exploded. The stench of burned flesh drew his eyes to...
Captain Pat Meyers writhed on the deck, her face and hands burned by the console explosion. Caldwell's hands were empty, no device to save her this pain, but he left his seat and went to her, kneeling at her side. Her hands were wet with blood and gore as she gripped at him, leaving dark smears on his hands and uniform.
“Shields at forty percent!” Kleinman called.
There was nothing they could do. To flee was their only option. But flight did not mean defeat. Not this time. Not ever.
It was a distinction Iaso knew all too well.
“N'arik, kin'tra Meyers,” Caldwell said, voice low but not quite a whisper. “Na shal mol t'ak. Kal'ma shal tel.”
Caldwell looked around his bridge, damaged and disarrayed though it was. His crew's focus remained on the battle, the enemy seeking to destroy them in lazy swipes of plasma cannons while their railguns barely made pox-dents in the great hive's skins. Yet there were those who had heard, who gave him just enough attention for him to feel their confusion.
The Daedalus rocked with an internal explosion. “We just lost emitter arrays on the port side!” Kleinman shouted.
“Compensate!” Caldwell ordered. It pained him to let go of Meyers' desperate grasping hands but he had to. This ship needed its commander and her crew needed their goddess.
“Not enough,” Kleinman called. “Shields under twenty percent.”
“Keep our active emitters between us and their fire,” Caldwell said. “Hermiod, what've you got for me?”
“I cannot guarantee that I will be able to defeat the Wraith countermeasures in sufficient time.” The comm was still clear but how long would that last?
“Understood,” Caldwell said. He switched channels.”Colonel Sheppard, get your flight back to the ship. We need to jump out of here as soon as possible.”
“Two minutes,” Sheppard pleaded over the comm link. “I can shut down their hyperdrive in two minutes.”
Caldwell regretted allowing such a naive human the opportunity to take his vengeance. “Unless you can shut down their weapons, it's not gonna do us much good.”
Sheppard swore over the comm and then his channel went silent.
“I'm not getting anything, sir,” Kleinman said.
The battle was lost. The Wraith had won this day but they would not take this ship. “Prepare to jump on my mark,” he said.
But then it was over. The two hives jumped to hyperspace, leaving the Daedalus to her fate. “Why the hell did they do that?!” Caldwell demanded.
“Three of our 302s are returning to the Daedalus, sir.”
Sheppard wasn't among them. Caldwell silently dismissed the emotional young human and his need to throw himself up against a larger enemy in search of vengeance. Iaso had been right from the start, Sheppard was unfit to be Prime of Atlantis. Dr. Weir was too quick to trust her enemies, too willing to take these Wraith at their word, and a weak Prime meant she never had to defend her actions against question. Caldwell would never have made these mistakes.
And now his own Prime's blood dried on his hands.
“Set course for Atlantis,” Caldwell said. There was one good thing about the city's continued existence. It made a suitable port for repairs.
The Daedalus medical bay was quieter than it should be. Much quieter.
Most of the injuries were minor. Most of the casualties were immediate, decompression sucking them out of the ship into open space in the middle of a battle. The lucky ones would have vaporized in a stray plasma shot before they knew what happened. The unlucky ones would have had time to realize and the opportunity to watch as the Daedalus flew off without them.
There were only three bodies. Sergeant Livingston and Private Bradly, both at their posts in the forward section of deck six when it decompressed. The rupture was too small to suck anyone out but the section had to be sealed to protect the ship. There was nothing they could have done to save themselves as they slowly suffocated. But the third...
Captain Pat Meyers was on the bridge when the secondary navigational array took a direct hit. The power surge blew the console. Her burns were disfiguring but she would have recovered eventually, though she would have lost her hands and her sight. But she had inhaled when the explosion hit and the plasma burned her lungs. Death did not come quickly for her either.
Caldwell couldn't help but dwell on their deaths as he bound a sprain in the medical bay. Dr. Kathy Richards objected at first but those objections faded after Caldwell allowed for certain concessions. Like these blue latex gloves, as though pretending his hands were clean would be enough to remove his crew's blood from them.
He finished the binding and felt a hand on his shoulder. Dr. Richards stood behind him, a caring look on her face that edged too close to pity for his liking. “You've done enough,” she said. At her nod the engineer nodded and hopped off the bench, his sprained wrist wrapped and stabilized. With little more than a grateful look he was gone.
Caldwell shook his head. “It's never enough.”
“I can make it an order, Steven.” Despite the threat she only sounded tired. “I should anyway. You haven't been in here like this since...”
Caldwell made a noise of acknowledgment as he found a chair and sat, stripping off his gloves. His hands were clean, his skin clear and sterile, yet he could still feel Meyers' blood hot and wet on his skin, her flesh sticky and clinging. He felt naked and useless without the Goa'uld devices. The morgue would be empty if only he had what was rightfully his.
“Hell of a day,” Richards said.
“Can we not do this?” Caldwell asked.
“That depends,” she said. “You don't have a medical background. Not even field training. And yet before the Goa'uld was extracted, after every bad day I'd find you in here asking for something to do. You seemed to know your way around so I allowed it. It did the crew a lot of good to see their commanding officer in here changing bandages and soothing burns.”
“I didn't know when I came on board that you're not medically trained,” she continued. “I suppose the Goa'uld was. Which brings me to my current question. Should I worry that you're in here again?”
A thin crusted line lurked under one fingernail. He'd scrubbed down under the doctor's orders before gloving up and yet even still the blood of his Prime stained his hands. “She wasn't just a Goa'uld,” Caldwell allowed. “She was old. She had armies once, before her father's betrayal. She didn't lead or command, that's what generals are for, instead she was their healer.
“Her Jaffa were loyal to her unto death and beyond. Because they knew, they all knew. When one of their number fell in battle she'd come for them, she'd heal their wounds, she'd snatch them from death, and they'd rise to fight again for her. Their blood would drip from her hands, stain her white silks red. She was terrifying to behold.”
“And so she, what, tried to inspire that same loyalty here?” Richards asked, her voice carefully neutral. Even she wasn't sure if the empty feeling in her throat was disgust or awe.
“It was a comfort to come here after a battle,” he admitted. “She didn't have to be a general anymore, she could be a healer again. I guess... I was hoping...”
“You were hoping to feel that comfort again.”
“Something like that.”
Richards took a deep breath to steady herself. The Goa'uld was gone, Caldwell was only a man. She had to remember that. “Makes sense,” she allowed. “But I expect you to scrub up and wear gloves. The crew appreciate you being here, at least, and you seem to have retained some of the Goa'uld's medical knowledge.”
Caldwell laughed mirthlessly. He'd retained much more than Iaso's 'medical knowledge'. The thought made him despise the situation even more. If the SGC hadn't kept Iaso's inventions from him there would be no bodies awaiting autopsy. If Dr. Weir wasn't so trusting of this Wraith whom they all called 'Michael' the Daedalus wouldn't have flown into an ambush.
If Iaso had been allowed to destroy Atlantis there would be no hive ships speeding through the Void toward the Milky Way. The Systems and Earth wouldn't need to be protected.
Instead the Daedalus limped toward the city, 35 people lost to open space, three dead, dozens suffering minor to moderate injuries, and her bow almost completely open to the twisted vacuums of space and hyperspace.
The plan was ridiculous from the start. The retrovirus to convert Wraith into humans was some measure of successful, though the idea of converting it into a gas was a poor one. The retrovirus was already a virus, why not simply change the protein hull to allow it a measure of contagion? The Wraith would spread it among themselves, like killing a parasite by inducing a fever. That made more sense, it was more versatile, and it raised the potential that the virus might spread unchecked and incurable.
But it was Dr. Beckett's plan. It was Dr. Weir's plan. It was Colonel Sheppard's plan. It was Dr. McKay's plan. And now Sheppard and McKay were dead or worse and the Daedalus would have to deliver the news.
And Earth would fall.