John stood at the controls of his cloaked tel’tak. Below the ship, he could see the puddle jumper stocked with supplies uncloak right above the access tunnel that led to the gate room. He would rather pilot the jumper himself, but he had lost that point in the negotiations. And when Yu had woken, he had found a way to turn even that to his advantage. O’Neill had his ass handed to him on a plate, and John couldn’t warn him about one thing. Certainly the human half of the expedition would not be pleased to find a goa’uld mother ship with 42 death gliders, 700 jaffa, and a full staff sitting in orbit over the city. After all, O’Neill had only obtained an agreement that no jaffa would go through the chappa’ai, and a human pilot would control the puddle jumper to ensure that. Nowhere in the contract did it say neither side could fly a ship there. And while humans had ships they could use as well, they didn’t have enough to hold off Yu’s forces
John just had to hope that Yu continue in his willingness to share.
“Major Lorne requesting access to topside,” Evan said over the radio once he had the puddle jumper hovering over the shaft doors.
Rodney stood next to John and whispered softly, “I can’t believe this is working. Everyone at the SGC is clearly stupid.”
“Ensure that door does not close once it opens,” John said in Yu’s voice. This was a dangerous game they were playing, more than the negotiations with O’Neill, more than walking into the SGC. The tau’ri had made a poorly worded agreement, and John would have to drive the truck through the loophole Yu had designed.
“On it,” Rodney said, typing madly. He had access to Ancient computers he’d repaired and he knew the SGC systems, so John didn’t doubt that he could override the tau’ri computer. However, the tau’ri reaction might be more violent than Yu imagined. Yu insisted that O’Neill was too desperate to risk losing Atlantis, but John wasn’t convinced.
Walter answered from the SGC. “Major Lorne, you have clearance. You are to go straight down and then through the gate without landing. Attempting to land your vehicle will result in destruction of the gate ship.”
John found that ironic. Lorne had volunteered to pilot Yu’s puddle jumper to prevent Lord Yu from piloting a dangerous ship into the heart of the SGC. The specific contract allowed the use of the topside access to the Gate room, bypassing standard security, but it did not forbid others from walking through on foot.
John watched Lorne’s ship go straight down into the long missile tunnel. It was straight, and perfect for use by rings, not that anyone on the SGC side had thought to ban the use of them.
“Major Lorne, we are unable to close the topside hatch. Did you hit something on the way in?”
“Negative,” Lorne answered. “Descent is smooth. Do I ascend or continue on mission?”
There was a long pause. “Continue on established flight path,” Walter finally answered. John could imagine O’Neill yelling for someone to get the hatch closed. He’d be calling for soldiers to guard the gate, and Carter would be madly typing. It made John homesick. However, it was time for him to play Lord Yu.
Rodney’s computer chimed. “Okay, I have control over the wormhole, and it’s not disengaging at Walter’s command. Carter’s going to be working on the other end, so don’t delay too long because I don’t know how long I can hold their computers hostage.”
“Do not deviate from the plan,” John ordered Rodney before heading toward the rings.
“Right. Like this plan isn’t suicidal enough already? Trust me, I plan to let you handle this.”
John agreed with Rodney about the suicidal nature of this plan, so he ignored Rodney’s muttered complaints about John’s suicidal streak infecting Yu. That seemed unfair since it was Yu’s plan. John signaled the jaffa at the communication board.
The jaffa announced. “SGC prepare for Yu the Great, also known as the Jade Emperor, the exalted Lord Yuhuang Shangti.”
O’Neill’s voice came over the computer. “Whoa, you know, we don’t have the red carpet out and we haven’t had the cleaning lady in, so it’s not a good time.”
John signaled and the rings rose up and enveloped him. When the bright light faded, John stood in the gate room, surrounded by crates and armed Marines. He turned toward the observation window and saw General O’Neill. In a field uniform.
Well, Yu had not been the only one holding out during negotiations. Landry and O’Neill were having a few words, and John waited with dozens of P90s all pointed at him. Hopefully they wouldn’t take too long to settle this because John wanted the rest of the supplies through the gate. Yes, he could wait for one of Yu’s motherships to bring the rest, but John worried that even a week delay could mean the difference between life and death.
O’Neill finally left the control room, and John waited for him to come down to the gate. The blast doors opened a crack, and O’Neill slipped inside with two more Marines right behind him. One was a full colonel and the other a major. That seemed like a lot of officers for a relatively small mission, but then John suspected that an Earth ship was already headed to Atlantis with more people than the agreement allowed for. Hopefully the Daedalus and Yu’s Zhulong wouldn’t start firing on each other.
“Manners suggest you should call before dropping in,” O’Neill said with obvious anger.
John raised an eyebrow. “The agreement allows me to take as many supplies as I deem necessary.”
“In a gate ship. One gate ship. One gate ship that already went through,” O’Neill said firmly.
“The gateship is the only transport allowed through. You did not limit how many might walk through,” John said, “and I will not allow this expedition to fail for lack of resources since I am going along as well.”
O’Neill appeared speechless, and John tapped the main stone in his kara kesh, and the rings came down again. When they left, two shepherds started urging a sizable group of pigs toward the event horizon.
“Hold on there,” the colonel John didn’t know exclaimed, but O’Neill was considering John with a cold expression.
“Let them take their bacon, Marshall,” O’Neill said. That was a familiar name. Colonel Marshall Sumner. He was head of security for the beta site and had led a number of rescue missions. Since John had led a purely scientific team, he had never crossed paths with Sumner, but he had a reputation as a commander who made love to his rule book and who never left someone behind. John respected one of those. Yu generally respected the other, but John didn’t know how Yu was going to having this many officers to deal with. O’Neill turned back to John. “I assume you’re the reason why the doors won’t close. So, what do you have up there? Another gate ship?”
John didn’t answer because Yu would not have. They had a half dozen tel’tak loaded with ancient equipment, animals, silks and fabrics for trade, furniture for Yu’s throne room, and one air conditioned crate for Rodney. John knew his friend wanted to see the city. Yu feared leaving Rodney behind and having him get into mischief without supervision. Yu knew that revealing John’s love would make Rodney more loyal to John, but it would also make him more determined to free him. Yu planned to carefully balance those motivations.
“Stargate Command, this is Major Lorne. We have pigs coming through the gate. Literal pigs.”
O’Neill touched his radio. “Major, Lord Yu has added a few supplies. Keep on your toes.”
“Yes, sir,” Lorne answered.
“So, are we ready to go now?” O’Neill asked.
“Not for a while,” Yu said, and the rings deposited a second group of pigs with a tender.
“For crying out loud,” O’Neill blurted out as one of the young pigs made a run for it. A startled Marine grabbed the squealing animal, surrendering it when the tender came to claim it. More rings brought goats herded by more servants.
The first of the crates appeared with a tender who had a pack of Chongqing and Xiasi hunting dogs.
“Seriously?” O’Neill demanded.
“I shall not want for meat if the technology fails us,” John said calmly. Personally he worried about taking animals into unknown territory. It seemed unfair to the creatures, and considering that Rodney had elected to leave Cat behind with his servants, John wasn’t the only one that worried that they might be taking the animals into a situation where the environment or some unexpected virus could kill all of them. However, Yu did not move without his entire household moving with him, and the hunters disguised as tenders and the animals were part of that household.
O’Neill turned to the window. “Carter, do you want to get that door closed before Yu decides to bring an elephant along?”
“Working on it, sir,” she called back. John didn’t point out that she had no hope until Rodney left his computer to ring down with the rest of the supplies.
O’Neill threw another fit when a throne appeared on a wheeled carriage, but he didn’t order anyone to stop the servants from pushing it through the gate right in front of huge piles of fabrics. The next crate that came down was large and red, and when servants began to push it up the ramp, John itched to follow. That was Rodney. John’s greatest fear was being separated from him, but he couldn’t indicate too much interest. So when the next crate came down, Yu moved to a spot next to it.
“Are you done yet?” O’Neill asked.
“I am,” John said as he strolled up the gate. A thousand times he had walked this very ramp as a major and then a lieutenant colonel representing the United States and Earth. Now he walked it as Earth’s enemy. The irony was painful.
John heard O’Neill order his people into formation, but he didn’t check to see how many followed. Earth was allowed to bring one hundred soldiers, and Yu was allowed none. However, Yu was allowed as many personal servants as worked in his household, and each of them was as deadly as an Earth soldier. And the mother ship would provide for any additional security Yu would require if Earth broke her agreements.
When John went through the event horizon, he knew immediately that this wasn’t a standard trip. The cold sank into his bones and the sense of movement went on so long that when John was spit out on the other side of the wormhole he nearly stumbled. The shock woke Yu, and he looked around the room, each of his pieces lined up neatly.
John was relegated to the backseat as Yu took stock, but that was fine. John was too busy listening to the city. It sang. John distantly noted Evan Lorne standing beside a lit staircase with Ancient script, but John was more interested in the sense of cold weariness that surrounded him. The city was tired. Yu walked up the stairs, ignoring the calls from behind him. When he reached the consoles, he placed his hands on the controls and felt them struggle to life for him. Not for Yu, although Yu would be able to take advantage it. No, they woke for John.
“Step away from the controls,” O’Neill said in a cold voice. Lord Yu looked up to see O’Neill and Sumner pointing weapons at him. Radek Zelenka stood behind him, and the chappa’ai was quiet.
“Do you plan to betray our alliance so soon?” Yu asked mildly. That lack of bluster appeared to bother O’Neill.
“I was thinking about it, yeah.”
The city started to shake, and Yu looked down. Imminent shield failure.
“What, what did you do?” Radek demanded as he rushed forward. Yu stepped back to allow the nervous scientist access.
“The city is out of power. We can continue our alliance or I can allow you to drown as the ocean crashes in on us,” Yu told O’Neill coldly, and he meant every word.
“If we die, you die too,” Sumner said as he raised his weapon.
“No, I shall not,” Yu said. He touched his kara kesh. “Are you in position to retrieve your god?” Yu asked loudly. The answer came back through the device.
“Yes, my lord. Your ha’tak stands ready. We will pick you up as soon as the shield fails.”
Yu smiled cruelly at Sumner. The shock in the officers’ faces was more satisfying than Yu could express in words, but John was there to share it with him. Yes, Yu had his ha’tak in place already. He and as many of the servants as the ha’tak commander could target would be saved, with Rodney at the head of that list.
“He is right. The shield… it is failing,” Radek said. “The ZPMs are too old. We have minutes.”
“Well crap,” O’Neill said. “We have the generators. Zelenka, find the power room and get them hooked up.”
Radek looked at O’Neill. “What? Is like asking me to splice a car battery to a nuclear reactor. Hard. We will all be dead much before I finish that work.” The main room was now loud. Animals explored, the dogs were whining as they reacted to the stress of the people around them, and the tau’ri were all clutching weapons as though that would save them. They were frightened children flailing in the dark.
‘You need them,’ John thought at Yu. ‘They are more resourceful, more creative.’
‘If they will not bend, they will die and I will explore myself,’ Yu thought back at John.
O’Neill clenched his jaw. “Same agreement?”
“Yes,” Yu said.
“Fine. Save the city and we keep to our agreement,” O’Neill said.
Yu turned to Oshu and nodded. His servant hurried to the crate with Rodney and opened it.
“It’s about time. So, are we there?” Rodney asked.
‘He fills the air with pointless questions,’ Yu thought with frustration.
‘He’s nervous,’ John answered, and he understood why. Everyone from Earth was staring at him. Oshu got a hand under Rodney’s arm while the servants who had come through with crates of chickens and ducks, herds of goats and pigs, moved to their new tasks. Several moved to Oshu’s side. Below their cloaks they had weapons and personal shields. Others move to retrieve the two partially charged ZPMs.
“We are in danger of being destroyed when the shield fails. We must install the power sources,” Oshu said. Rodney looked to Yu, but he didn’t react. However when Oshu pulled on Rodney again, he seemed to find his voice.
“Okay, I need a command station and my computer. We don’t have time to search for the control room and I don’t know how much time we have,” Rodney said as he hurried up the stairs. He flinched when he passed O’Neill, but other than that, he didn’t react.
“Between ten and twelve minutes,” Yu said.
“Oh great. No pressure there. I did mention that this was a suicide mission, yes?”
“Many times,” Yu said. It was such a John thing to say that John was surprised. However, Rodney didn’t react. He hurried up the stairs to the controls.
“Map. I need a map. Someone find me the power generation room. Now, people!” Rodney snapped. Lord Yu moved to one side, carelessly running a hand along a second console so that another might help Rodney search.
“This might be the shortest expedition in stargate history,” Sumner said.
“Nah, this is nothing,” O’Neill said. He continued to watch Yu with undisguised hate. “We’ve been in worse situations, and we always came through. Now the snakeheads? A lot of them are dead.”
Yu gave O’Neill an amused look. The man was clearly underestimating Yu’s ability to plan if he believed that. Yu was in Atlantis, and he planned to stay.