Zero Hour Approaches

07 Zero Hour Approaches

 

T minus four days

They got the communication burst from the Daedalus when she was a little over two days out, basically stating that she was on time with a rough manifest and passenger list attached. Reviewing the lists of supplies and personnel, Elizabeth was reminded that if everything went as planned, this would be the last trip out for the Daedalus, and that the City would be short over 50 people. People who would be leaving them for a home that was no longer hers.

Switching lists, Elizabeth started reviewing the people who had been sent out. Most of the names listed were returning personnel, people who had left for Earth on R&R trips, or for medical rehabilitation. A select few were those who had been indirectly sponsored by Gen. O’Neill, with Atlantis being their last option, others were on the list because their skills were needed. These people had been informed by the returning personnel that this was likely to be a one way trip; very few of the selected had decided to stay on Earth.

As she got to the M’s on the new personnel list she paused, reading over the entries carefully looking for a set of three names. It looked as if McKay’s sister had not taken up the offer of coming out to Atlantis. Elizabeth didn’t really blame her, because while the Ori were not in the business of eating folks, they were also not in the habit of wholesale slaughter just for the hell of it. But Earth was home, the dangers were known and Jeannie had a nine year old daughter, a husband she loved, and a life there. Elizabeth could only pray there was never a day where that decision was shown to be incorrect.

Setting the Daedalus lists aside for her admin to divide among the department heads, Elizabeth brought up the lists of those leaving the City. Everyone listed had their evals, letters of introduction or recommendation, plus all the personnel returning had already completed their scheduled physicals. All that was left was the good-bye/welcome party planned for the last night Daedalus was on Atlantis.

Looking up, Elizabeth watched the techs in the control room go about the normal operations of the day. So far, today had been quiet. Chuckling to herself for feeling the urge, she none the less knocked gently on the wooden stand supporting one of her figurines. Better to be safe than sorry.

**************************************************

T minus 42 hours.

The day that the Daedalus arrived on her last run to Atlantis was, to put it mildly, insane. AT’s 1 thru 4 came in hot and full of casualties, in addition to the refugees they were shepparding. Medical was overrun and out of beds, so people were bunking all over the inhabited portions of the City. Meanwhile they had seen a small rash of accidents and O’Neill had been run ragged cleaning up after those plus making sure that there was room for all the supplies and new personnel that were expected.

Walking through the crowded halls of Atlantis, Caldwell knew that he was going to miss the men and women who made this base what it was. They were less than two Atlantean days out from declaring their independence and yet they still took the time to offer aid to those in need. He wished, deeply, that the skeptics and nay-sayers on Earth could see all the good that Atlantis base was doing in Pegasus.

Turning the corner into the Gateroom Caldwell looked up at Weir’s office, and seeing the glass walls in their clear configuration, he started up the stairs. As he got closer to the top of the stairs, he saw that Sheppard, McKay and O’Neill were meeting with Weir, all four were looking rather frayed around the edges. Hoping that his gifts would help alleviate some of the stress, Caldwell shifted the box in his arms, trying to minimize the clinking of glass.

Standing outside, waiting for the door to notice him and let him in, Caldwell sighed. He was really going to miss this crazy place.

**********************

Sitting in one of Elizabeth’s office chairs, Jon could feel himself start to sprawl out in weary comfort. He was finally sitting down after hours of running around the City putting out the fires, both literal and figurative. Mustering a final bit of energy, he opened his eyes in time to see Caldwell pause outside the office doors, and with a flick mentally requested Atlantis open the doors.

Watching as Caldwell placed his box on the desk, Jon felt a stirring of curiosity, it looked as if they were getting gifts.

****************************************

“Colonel, thank you for joining us. We were just discussing the final list of people heading out on the Daedalus. Has you crew completed the load out?” asked Elizabeth as she watched Caldwell open his package.

“Our registered cargo has been completely, returning personnel have all been assigned berthing and everything we could possibly unload, has been unloaded. Except this, compliments of General O’Neill.” And lifting out four gift bags, he looked at the nametags attached to their handles. Passing out three, he looked over at Jon, “Your gifts are waiting for you in your rooms. Don’t worry about it. Well? Are you going to open them?” and with that, Caldwell leaned against the desk.

Glancing at the smiling face of Caldwell to the gift bag in front of her, Elizabeth raised one eyebrow and started pulling items out. Placing them all before her, she started to laugh quietly; the mind behind these gifts did know her well. Lined up before her were a crystal tumbler, a one liter bottle of 18 year old Glenfiddich, a supersized container of Tums, another of Tylenol, two one pound bars of dark chocolate and a five pound bag of Kona coffee. Bliss. And all of it necessary survival supplies for commanding in the Pegasus galaxy.

Looking up from her goodies, she saw that John and Rodney had similar items from their bags, although John had also gotten a large supply of earplugs. Giggling slightly, she decided that O’Neill was showing that his sense of humor was still up and running. Peeking into the fourth bag, she saw that it was for Carson and the liquor in it was also Glenfiddich, and there were two bottles, instead of the bottle of Tylenol.

“Please pass on our thanks to the General, if you see him back on Earth, Colonel. We will treasure our gifts.” John said quietly. And after reloading his bag, he set it beside his seat. “Do you know if the IOA has any idea of what we are planning?”

Sighing as business interrupted the relaxed atmosphere of the office, Caldwell shook his head. “So far, there is no indication that they have a clue. There are a few rumblings happening at the SGC, but that is to be expected given the sheer amount of supplies Harriman and Siler have been shoving through the gate. Most of the noise has been coming from the rank and file, but it is moving up the chain quickly. I doubt they will be able to manage another large delivery. I know I checked our manifests three times before we left to make sure we had everything loaded.”

Rubbing his forehead, Jon nodded. “I think you’re right. Harriman sounded a bit grim on the last transmission and said that was it. They had reached the end point on what they could skim. Frankly I didn’t think they could pull getting as much of this stuff as they have. Thank God the new General is as blind as a bat.”

“Right. We are as stocked as we will ever be, people are either settling into the City or packing up, and we are up to our eyeballs in refugees. Business as usual then. Rodney? You are being awful quiet. What is wrong?” asked Elizabeth.

“Huh? Oh, nothing. Just thinking of what is going to happen once we are cut off.” Leaning back in his chair, Rodney looked at John Elizabeth and O’Neill. “You do realize that we are going to have to decide what rules we are going to live by here, right? And given that we are an extremely international group, not everyone is going to agree with said rules.”

“Okay, who are you and what have you done with McKay?” joked John. “I know. Lorne, O’Neill and I have been thinking about that too. Once we are officially on our own, we wanted to get together with the command staff, Heightmeyer and Teyla and discuss our new government. Because we are going to need a functional one as soon as possible. The command structure we have will work for a while, but it won’t last forever.”

Mildly surprised that Rodney had put the pieces of her next headache together so fast (and wasn’t that disturbing, a Rodney who noticed people and politics!), Elizabeth nodded. “That is number one on the list for the morning after the party, while we are still in the mood to make the decisions. And, sorry Stephen, it will be after Daedalus leaves so you and your crew don’t get into any deeper trouble.”

“Don’t worry about it, Elizabeth. We, at least my command staff, knew that there would be things you were leaving us out of, and we are not upset at all. In fact, we thank you. Given that I have delivered my packages, I am heading out. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves once I am gone.” And with a nod to all, he headed out, back straight.

“Colonel Caldwell!” called John as he stood up. When Caldwell turned around, John stood at attention and snapping a salute, held it as O’Neill joined him. Seeing what he was doing, the Marine stationed outside Elizabeth’s office also stood at attention and saluted. Spreading out in silent waves, the control room got quiet as all the military personnel saluted the man who had helped make their independence possible.

Clearing his throat and blinking rapidly, Caldwell nodded and returned the honors, holding John’s eyes for a ten count. Snapping his hand down, he turned in a parade perfect about face and walked out of the Gateroom.

************************

T minus 12 hours

Standing in front of the full assembly of Atlantis personnel, Elizabeth cleared her throat and started her speech in a firm clear voice. “Thank you all for being here.

“We are gathered here tonight to say goodbye to all of you who are returning to Earth, and honor all those who have fallen in this long war.

“To those who are leaving, thank you. Without your dedication and hard work, our independence would be a much more difficult proposition. Our lives are richer for having you here.

“For those we have lost, let us remember them, honor them, and never let them be forgotten.” and with that Elizabeth bowed her head, silent for two minutes. Taking a deep breath, she raised her head and her glass of wine, she smiled. “Okay. Speech over. Let the party begin!”

********************************************

Watching the ebb and flow of the party, John admitted that this had been a good idea. For the folks who were leaving, it was a last good memory of Atlantis to carry with them to Earth. For the new arrivals it was a way to meet everyone before buckling down to the hard work ahead. Add in the Daedalus folks, the Athosians, and the newest batch of refugees and the din was deafening.

Searching the throng before him for “his” departee’s John started making the rounds. Somehow he managed to find everyone and say a private good-bye to each, making sure they knew he had been honored to serve with them. The words he spoke may have been a tad formulaic, but the feelings behind those few words had been all too real.

Once his list was done, John stood back and indulged in some people watching. Sighing deeply in contentment, he knew that the whole party idea had done some good. Everyone was relaxed and having a good time, no one was getting too upset and the refreshments were disappearing at a good rate. So, now that he had the hard part of the evening done, it was time to find his favorite form of entertainment. Rodney. Grabbing two beers from one of the buckets scattered around the rooms, John started looking.

********************************************

Gazing at the buffet spread out before him, Rodney sighed happily. There was a good mix before him of Pegasus delicacies and imported Earth foods, all of them safe to nibble on. Grabbing two large plates, Rodney started at one end of the tables and began adding a bit of everything to the plates.

When his plates were as full as they were going to get, Rodney started walking towards one of the deeper conversational nooks. The party was being held in the room they had designated as the “Grand Ballroom” and each wall had several of these spaces, no one had ever figured out why. Through some clever design the niches were fairly quiet, thus you could hold a private conversations in them and still watch the room beyond.

Setting one of his two plates down, Rodney pulled two forks out of his pockets and after planting one in the plate on the bench, sat down. Taking the other fork in hand, he started poking through his haul. “You need to eat something soon.” Nodding his head towards the plate on the bench he continued “I got some of your favorites.”

Snorting softly, John handed Rodney one of the two beers he held as he sat down on the bench. “I do eat you know. Matter of fact, I eat several times a day”

“I know. But over the last week you have missed more meals than you have managed to eat.” And using his fork, Rodney pointed at the food. “Eat.”

“Who do you have monitoring my meals? Lorne?” sighed John as he picked up his plate and looked over the selection of food Rodney had gotten for him.

“Actually, no. Should I? And no, I am not going to tell you who is reporting on your eating habits.” said Rodney. Humming softly to himself, he took a long pull from his beer and leaned back. Life was, for the moment, good.

“I’ll figure it out someday, Rodney.” promised John as he too leaned back. “Good party. Did you say all your good-byes?”

“Yeah, I got them all in. Everyone has their contact lists and letters. Basically, all I have to do tomorrow is wave as they leave.”

“Me too.” and nodding his head at the party, John continued “So, we eat and then mingle?”

“Do I have too? You know I hate parties.” complained Rodney as he worked his way through his share of the food.

“Yup. If I have to, so do you. Eat up, you will need your strength.” and with that, John started eating.

*********************

Zero Hour

Despite some truly monumental hangovers, the entire command staff of Atlantis showed up for the early morning liftoff. Watching the men as they winced away from the bright light and loud noises, Elizabeth and Teyla shared amused glances and secret smiles. Watching them were Daniel and Rodney, and since both of them had refrained from drinking as heavily as the others, they were fully capable of poking fun at their friends.

Observing the whole situation from behind his sunglasses, John knew that he and the other guys were in for a great deal of teasing in the days ahead. Thankfully most of it would be good natured and it would eventually die away. Eventually. If nothing else someone would come back through the ‘Gate naked and have to explain. Maybe. Soon.

**********************************

Rocking on his heels as he waited for each person to say their final good-byes, Rodney looked over at John. Smiling brightly he leaned over and said, “So! Wanna go a little closer to the ship, Major?”

Looking a bit green around the gills, John shook his head slightly. “Someday you will truly remember that I made Colonel. Anyway, thanks for the thought but I think I am close enough. How about you, Jon? Stephen?”

“Don’t remind me Sheppard. I get to walk into that,” and wincing slightly, Caldwell looked over at the Daedalus and the clusters of people slowly boarding her. “I am too damn old to spend all night drinking before I ship out. Why did I let you talk me into this again?”

“Because I put the glass in your hand and didn’t tell you to stop drinking?” answered Jon. “Please tell me that we have a lot of Tylenol on hand?”

With a small smile hovering around the edges of his mouth, Carson nodded. “Yes, Jon, we have a lot of Tylenol on hand.” Reaching into the bag at his side, Carson started handing out bottles of water and packets of pain medication

“One would think you all would know better by now. Being such old and experienced military men and all.” and snickering slightly, Daniel took his water bottle, but passed on the drugs. He knew when to stop drinking, even if Jon didn’t.

“Old! Who are you calling old, Danny? Has to be Stephen, because I am not old.” grumbled Jon as he swallowed his share of the water and Tylenol.

“Hey! I am not old. And while you may not be physically older than me, the General sure as hell is. And since you came from him…. Well I guess that mean that you *are* older than I am!” and smiling smugly Stephen looked over at Jon.

Growling slightly, Jon nodded. Jack was older than Stephen, and well, up until June 2003, Jon hadn’t even been in existence. Thanks to an interfering Asgard with cloning on his mind, Jon had come into being. As had Danny. And now he was in the body of a twenty-two year old. And he was obviously feeling every one of his years, including Jack’s.

“Gentlemen, please. Supposedly you are all adults. Please do not make me have you sit on your hands.”, and smiling at the antics of those around her, Elizabeth continued to watch the loading of the Daedalus.

“Hey! We resemble that remark!” said Jon with a grin. Nodding at the others they agreed. Time to lay off on the jokes.

Glancing at his watch, Stephen nodded to himself. It was time for him to board his ship. “Well folks, it is time to go. Good luck. If you ever make it back to Earth, you will have friends waiting.” and reaching out, he started shaking hands in a final good-bye. Reaching Elizabeth, he paused and with a smile, gave her a hug instead of a handshake. Turning on his heel, Stephen swept a glance over the people before him. Atlantis was in good hands.

************************************

Independence Day + Three.

Sitting at his console, Chuck looked up as the ‘Gate started to light up due to an incoming wormhole. Checking his status board, he could see that there were no teams expected to report in. Actually, there were no teams out at all. And all their allies knew they were going to be incognito for a while. So it was either an emergency from their allies, or it was something else. It was also way too soon for the Daedalus to have reported back and the weekly check in wasn’t for another four days.

So, this wasn’t in the plan of the day. Time to call in Dr. Weir and update her. Tapping his commo controls, Chuck announced “Dr. Weir, we have an incoming wormhole. No information on where it is from yet.”

“Thank you, Chuck. I will be right there.”

From his post Chuck watched as the Gateroom Marines took up station around the room. If anyone tried to make it in, they were sure to have an interesting welcome. Shifting slightly he placed his hand over the iris controls, ready in case he needed to drop it in a hurry. Watching the sixth chevron flash by Chuck noticed that Dr. Weir was now standing beside him, when the seventh chevron passed by, and the Gate continued to dial, he swallowed. There was only one place that routinely called in from an eight chevron address. Earth. And they were early.

With a flash of blue light, the eighth chevron locked and they now had an open wormhole. From who, they didn’t know yet. Glancing at his boards, he nodded. “Dr. Weir, we have an incoming message from StarGate Command. Do you want me to patch it through to your office?”

“No, thank you. I will take it here. Please put it up on the main screen.” and turning slightly, Dr. Weir moved towards the screen.

“Atlantis, this is General James Balok of the SGC. Has the Daedalus left station yet?”

“General, this is Dr. Weir. Yes, Daedalus has left and is three days into her return voyage. Why are you asking?”

“Because we need her to turn around and pick up your ZPM. This message is to inform you that the Atlantis ZPM is now needed on Earth for her defense. Please ready it for transport.”

“General, without that ZPM, Atlantis has no defenses. Why is Earth demanding we turn it over?” asked Dr. Weir. And clasping her hands behind her back, she signaled the staff of the Gateroom to call up Sheppard and McKay.

Toggling his radio, Chuck quietly passed on the request. Getting two affirmative responses, he made sure to nod slightly at Dr. Weir as she glanced at him. Back up was on the way.

“I don’t believe you understand me in this, Dr. Weir. Earth has priority over Atlantis in this instance. My advisors are certain that the naquadah reactors that you have on hand will be able to run the city well enough to continue with a slightly modified version of your mission. Of course if the Wraith do show up, Earth will do all she can to help.” and leaning back in his chair, the General looked at her, seeming to think this was all the explanation that was needed.

“Pardon me, General, but that is not acceptable. With only naquadah generators supplying power to the infrastructure of the City, we will not be able to use our shield. Without our shields we would be helpless. That is not acceptable. Thus I am sorry to inform you that Atlantis will not be giving up her only, repeat *only* ZPM with out a better reason than that. We happen to like surviving and that piece of Ancient technology is one of the ways that we do that.”

“Doctor, you really have no choice in the matter. Atlantis will give up her ZPM. This has been approved at the highest of levels, both by the IOA and the Presidents office.” and while still leaning back in his chair, the General was now starting to radiate a bit of smugness. It wasn’t a good look for him.

“I am sorry to hear that General. Given what you have just said, it makes it easier to say this: Atlantis is now independent. We will not hand over our only means of survival to Earth. We will not stop our current mission which is to learn as much as we can about Atlantis and the Pegasus Galaxy. We will not stop helping other cultures in this galaxy. And we will not stand by and allow either the President or the IOA to gut us.”

Staring at her in shock, the General was silent. Suddenly he looked up, beyond the camera on his desk, and the picture went blank. Seconds later, the wormhole from Earth disappeared. Watching the blank screen for a few moments, Dr. Weir sighed, and then turned around. “Well that went well. Not.”

Snorting softly in amusement, Chuck nodded. Dr. Weir was right, that hadn’t gone over very well. Glancing at the screen that was set to monitor the Daedalus, he could only hope that they were going to be allowed to continue their trip home.

****************************

“So, who was that calling?” asked Rodney as he and John came up the stairs at a trot.

“The new General in charge of the SGC. His name is James Balok. Had either of you had a chance to meet him yet?” asked Elizabeth as she walked toward her office.

“Nope. Not me. Rodney?” said John as he followed her.

“What? No, I haven’t. Elizabeth? Was he short, bald and gapped toothed?” asked Rodney with a strange smile on his face.

“No, why?” Elizabeth was confused. The man on the screen hadn’t looked like that at all. And hadn’t Rodney said that he had never met the General?

Chuckling quietly, Rodney answered, “Neither of you are Trekkies then. Balok was a character on the original series. A villain if memory serves me correctly. Guess the writers really did steal names off of real people!”

“Okay, that is oddly interesting. But obviously not why Elizabeth called us up here. What’s up? And why did Chuck call us on the red alert channel?” asked John as he sat down on one of the chairs in Elizabeth’s office.

“Right. Business. Then talk about Rodney’s TV habits.”, and clearing her throat, Elizabeth repeated the conversation she had just had with Balok.

“Now that is weird. I wonder why they need our ZPM? They have two, the one in Antarctica has to be in good shape due to not being used and the one in the power grid has to be the most closely monitored item on the planet. What gives?” and blinking hard Rodney quickly ran through a list of possible scenarios. When nothing jumped to the top of the list he dropped the whole question as useless and tried to bring his mind back to the meeting.

“No idea. And we didn’t get a commo squeal either. So I doubt there will be any new information on that front. Although they may try to redirect the Daedalus.” said Elizabeth.

Speaking quietly, John said, “I hope not. Actually, I don’t think they can. Caldwell told me on the sly, that the Daedalus was scheduled to go into dry dock before her last run and it had been pushed back so they could do this one. She is way overdue for one and not really in any shape to go into battle, let alone a battle with Atlantis. Given that, the SGC would be smart to send in a newer ship. If nothing else, they may think it would have a better chance against us.”

“Right. Like that will work. Our shield holds off Hiveships. Does the SGC really think they have anything that is going to get through? And if we get an eight chevron dial in, that iris is not going to come down with out the proper ID and codes. Which that General does not know.” and sounding rather smug, Rodney sat back with his arms crossed.

“What about your back door program. The one you used to get us in here when we retook the city from the Asurians? Is that still viable?” asked John.

“Sure, it is viable. For me most definitely, maybe Radek, and possibly Col. Carter. But for the run of the mill SGC people like Bill Lee? No, not a hope in hell. The initial back door I used on that mission got moved right after we got possession of the City. Now it moves every couple of days. So, no. They can’t use it. They are welcome to try, but there will be more than a few splats on the iris if they do.” explained Rodney with a shrug.

Nodding, Elizabeth turned to John. “Okay. So we have no worries on that front. What about an incoming ship? We are rather well known out here.”

Tipping his head back, John contemplated the ceiling as he took a deep breath. Releasing it slowly, he looked back at Elizabeth and Rodney. “Right. Well that is something that Lorne, Jon and I have been talking about. Given what we know about the StarGates, we don’t have to stay here. Hell, we know that the Asurians fixed the stardrive. We even know that it works, thanks to all the tests that the engineers ran when we got the City back. We can move the whole City to a new planet if needs be. Since that would in effect, change our address, we might want to hold that plan in reserve.

“Another idea would be to sink the City. Again, this is something that we can do at any time. And we can move her away from this location to a new one at will. We have the power and we aren’t really tied to this spot for any reason that we can see.

“Last idea is just sit tight with the shield up. Now that won’t do anything for the Mainland, but somehow I don’t think that the SGC is all that interested I the Athosians and tuttle roots, do you?”

5 Comments:

  1. Hummm i like to says that en epic story….

    Thanks so much !

  2. have to run off to work. This series will give me a few moments of “what if” thinking while at work which may help with any stress that comes up.

  3. Pingback: The Slow Slide of Indifference | Ladyholder's Blog

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