Pairing: teamfic, a little McKay/Sheppard or OT4.
Beta'd by: dossier
Spoilers: Season Four episodes up to 4.09 The Seer by implication, nothing in particular.
Summary: Human beings weren't meant for any of the things they're doing here, but they wouldn't be human if they let that stop them.
"Atlantis, this is Jumper One. Do not, repeat, do not, lower the shield. We are under attack by darts launched from a Wraith cruiser in orbit around the second planet and cannot reach the stargate before they intercept."
Sam shut down the message as it began to repeat. She'd already listened to it three times. A few more and she'd be reciting right down to Sheppard's relaxed drawl.
The control room had gone quiet. Everyone looked to her. She forced a smile. "It appears Colonel Sheppard and his team will be a little late. Schedule a dial up for every four hours and forward the data packet to astrometrics."
Mortenson and his people would be delighted with the sensor readings on the red dwarf star and the discovery of a habitable planet in orbit. The Ancients had placed their stargates on or in orbit around planets in G-type systems which led to teams gathering quite a bit of information on stars similar to Sol and very little on the far more populous M-class stars.
That same packet of information told Sam a different story from Sheppard's casual front. The team had sent everything they had. Sheppard made their reckless plan sound as every day as morning cereal, but there was a good chance it would fail. Jumper One and its four person team might already be lost.
Sam walked back to her office. It wasn't time to write Sheppard's team off yet. They would wait and hope to hear from them. No other options offered themselves; she couldn't justify sending a jumper into a possible ambush. More frustrating than that, even if she could send a jumper, she couldn't go herself.
Commanders stayed on base. General Hammond had done it for years. Jack had taken the Washington DC post to get away from it. Landry...Sam scolded herself. She'd never really warmed to Landry, though he was a good Air Force officer, he'd still didn't quite fit the SGC. Better than Bauer wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
She had always been the one going out and doing, not the one waiting behind. It made her swallow a knot of frustration each time she had to wait or decide without being out there.
They would dial again in four hours per SOP. She told herself Jumper One would answer. If they didn't, it would only mean the Wraith were still too close.
No one answered at the eight hour mark either. Sam stood on the opposite side of the console from Sgt. Campbell and watched glimmering blue surface of the stargate. "Anything?" she asked. She knew he would have told her or put it on speaker, but asking stretched window of the possibility a little longer.
Answering just closed it.
"Shut down and try again in four hours," she ordered.
Eight hours later and Sam told herself they were still playing possum, cloaked and radio silent on the other side of the wormhole. "This is Colonel Carter," she said and Campbell transmitted via the comm. "We will check in again four hours from now. Atlantis out."
She made herself go to the mess, where she sipped a native tea since supplies were at the low point that always proceeded the arrival of the Daedalus from Earth. She'd developed a fondness for the older ship and Colonel Caldwell the first time the Apollo showed up without critical supplies. Ellis didn't like carrying cargo and had managed to leave parts of it behind twice out of four times, using the excuse that the containers hadn't been ready at departure time.
The Apollo's commander wasn't a popular man in Atlantis.
The tea tasted like stewed sawdust. She fetched herself a tray with a sandwich and salad and nibbled it while watching through the mess hall windows as the sun sank in a glory of color and clouds.
Keller took a seat beside her and picked at her own meal. "No news?"
Sam smiled to herself. Atlantis had a grapevine that beat out even the SGC's. Everyone in the city would know AR-1 had been trapped on the wrong side of the stargate.
"Not so far."
"Well, they always make it back," Keller said encouragingly. She didn't quite manage to sound confident enough to believe.
Sam forced the smile to stay on her face and set her sandwich back onto the yellow tray. Even if they did elude the Wraith, AR-1's plan relied on hiding in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The jumpers were tough and versatile, but they weren't meant for deep submersion; that had been proved. The shield could compensate for a time, but shields ate power like candy. Sheppard's team always made it back, but Sam knew that only meant 'until the day they don't'.
"Well, I think I'll head back to the control room," she said. "I've got some paperwork to finish for the IOA."
She abandoned half the sandwich. It had gone dry and tasteless anyway.
The paperwork – whether electronic or hard copy, it still took a chunk out of each day – the IOA demanded seemed endless and occupied her until the next scheduled dial-up. Twelve hours had passed.
Sam left her office and watched as Campbell entered the symbols on the DHD and opened the comm. Tension ratcheted higher through the control room. Light from the gateroom below flickered over tired faces.
Silence answered their hail.
She kept a calm face in place, not letting the sick feeling inside show. Campbell repeated the hail five more times.
The night shift had arrived by then and were hovering in the background. They quietly switched over after the wormhole closed again. The control room seemed dark after that despite the operating lights. Sam glimpsed Major Lorne arrive down on the gate room floor. He came up the stairs and to a halt next to her.
They stood without words, looking down at the empty ring.
"I'll be in my office," Sam said at last.
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but you need to get some rest. Someone will comm you if anything happens."
Sam had meant to lie down on the couch in her office. She knew it did no good exhaust herself waiting, but it seemed wrong to just go to her quarters. Lorne was telling her no one would fault her.
"All right. We're dialing in every four hours."
Lorne nodded and left her, stopping next to Campbell, who still hovered next to his station at the DHD console, despite having relinquished it to his shift replacement. She heard Lorne speak to him too. Campbell finally nodded and started away.
Sam forced her own feet to move and headed for her quarters.
She slept five hours because her body demanded it, but snapped awake long before dawn. After a hot shower and in a fresh uniform, she found her way back to the control room. It didn't surprise her to find Campbell back too and Zelenka running an utterly unnecessary diagnostic on the meteorology console. Lorne had taken over a seat at environmental station and had his head bent over a tablet pc.
He looked up as Sam approached and shook his head before she could ask.
Seventeen hours and counting. The sick feeling in Sam's gut kept getting stronger. She headed into her office and reviewed science team proposals. Another thing base commanders didn't have time for: real research. She hadn't been in the labs except to retrieve McKay or Zelenka in months.
She didn't leave the office when the stargate dialed the next time and no one came to get her. Twenty hours and counting with no word.
Dawn through the stained glass lit the gate room in a rainbow of warm color. Keller commed her to report Medical remained ready and a fast response team prepped to go off world. Sam thanked her and stared through the glass at the control room, absently tapping a pen against the top of her desk.
Lorne left and returned with fruit, pastries and coffee. Sam checked her schedule. "Cancel Robbins' mission to Adiana or go forward?" she inquired.
"We can't shut down every time a team is late," Lorne said. "The Sundanese are expecting us."
Sam agreed. "Let him know his team still has a go," she instructed. "I want them to depart on a schedule that will put their check ins between the ones attempting to re-establish contact with AR-1." She didn't want one contact to block out another even if they left the wormhole open the entire thirty-eight minute window.
They went through several items she would have consulted with Sheppard over if he'd been back, watched Robbins lead his team through the gate, and then waited out the next two hours, both pretending more than accomplishing any work.
Twenty-four hours since they'd had contact with AR-1. The stargate dialed again.
"This is Atlantis Control hailing Jumper One. Please respond. This is Atlantis Control hailing Jumper One. Please respond. This is Atlantis Control hailing Jumper One. This is Atlantis Control..."
Please respond, Sam mouthed along with the comm tech. After ten minutes, she couldn't listen any longer and headed for the conference room and the Exobotany Department's briefing.
Zelenka sat in for McKay, acting as his second. He needed a shave and typed into his laptop through the presentation by Dr. Brown, paying her little attention. Katie spoke in a soft voice, appearing washed out and jittery. She trailed off in the middle of a sentence as the stargate activated. Her head turned toward the gate room.
Sam didn't look. Her watch told it was only Robbins reporting in on time.
Dr. Parrish stood up and took over after that.
"Colonel Carter," Zelenka called after they finished.
"I have modified a recoverable MALP with remote controlled thrusters and signal boosters ready to deploy through the stargate."
"We would have to send another jumper through the stargate to recover it," Sam pointed out. "MALPs are expensive items." She had to justify every one of them they lost in her reports to the IOA.
Zelenka waved a hand. "Not so expensive as a jumper or four personnel."
"No," she admitted.
"I have added sensors designed to locate and interrogate jumper systems."
"I hadn't heard about this project," Sam said.
He ducked his head and muttered, "Is prototype assembled by engineers in last," cough, "twelve hours."
"If we do not find a way to rescue them, Rodney will save them instead, come back and make all life in the Science Division unbearable for weeks, even months."
"Of course, that's it," Sam murmured. "Come on, walk with me, give me the specs on the modified MALP."
They launched the boosted MALP at hour thirty-two and immediately began gathering data. Zelenka operated it, while Campbell repeated the now far too familiar litany, please respond, please respond, please respond. The MALP's cameras relayed the stargate turning with slow majesty against a backdrop of glittering stars, one moon and a slice of the blue gas giant. The view rotated as Zelenka reoriented, scanning methodically through the camera's range of motion with each adjustment. Streams of data from a myriad of sensors gathering data invisible to the human eye cascaded in a parallel window. The stargate disappeared from view and the dim red-tinged disk of the red dwarf appeared on the screen.
"No sign of any darts," Lorne pointed out.
"They could be waiting on the far side of the ice moon," Sam said, not to be contrary but because it was what her experience warned her to expect. Jaffa in particular had always been fond of lying in ambush for anyone coming through a stargate. Whether the Wraith thought that way or not, it had to be accounted and factored into any decision.
Lorne grimaced but didn't argue.
"Detecting traces of a hyperspace window opened within the last twelve hours," Zelenka murmured.
Sam walked around the console and studied the information on his screen, frowning. "Darts aren't hyperspace capable."
"No, they are designed to stage from a larger ship or deploy through the stargate," Zelenka confirmed. "Atlantis' hyperspace-capable jumper is the only one in existence." A trace of pride colored his tone. "Even the Ancients did not manage that."
Sam hid a real smile this time. It would never do for McKay to find out how impressed she'd been by his work on that jumper. He might have done most of the work while on the way to ascension, but it had still been his brain that had been enhanced, it had still been him. He and Zelenka had finished the work under tremendous pressure too.
The hyperspace jumper remained in Atlantis, retained as an emergency evacuation vehicle rather than used in the regular mission rotation.
"Do you think the cruiser left the system?" she asked.
"Colonel Sheppard's report contained no data on how long the cruiser had been in-system," Zelenka said. "They might have finished the cull or been called back to whichever hive the cruiser escorts."
"Scan for any indications of debris or wreckage," she told him.
"Yes, I am doing so." The snip in Zelenka's tone reminded Sam that Zelenka had more than enough ego to stand up to McKay's and didn't like having his toes stepped on. That didn't stop her from reading over his shoulder.
"Anything, doc?" Lorne asked. It made Sam jump. He had slipped up beside her silently.
"Nothing so far, Major," Zelenka replied easily.
"That's good news, right?"
"Perhaps, Major. We will hope so." Zelenka relinquished control of the MALP's camera and began transmitting a series of instructions that resulted in a stream of data in Ancient. "I have initiated the program sending out a signal to the jumper's most basic systems. It duplicates the diagnostic protocol that tests life support. If the jumper receives the signal and retains both life support and comms, it should respond."
"How long?" Lorne asked.
Zelenka lifted his hands away from the keyboard and rocked them. "Maybe quick, maybe long, maybe never."
"We'll keep the wormhole active as long as we can and redial if necessary," Sam decided.
"If the Wraith are gone, we could send a jumper through," Lorne said.
Sam shook her head. "We don't know they're all gone, Major."
She turned her head toward Campbell. "Yes?"
"We have a hyperspace signature on the long range sensors. It matches course and profile for the Daedalus."
"A week early."
"Four days," Zelenka said. "You must correct for difference between Atlantis and Earth sidereal periods."
"Let's hope they have our requisitions," she replied.
"Colonel Carter, I still think it would be worth the risk to take a cloaked jumper through," Lorne said.
Sam shook her head. "No, Major. Even if the Wraith are gone, a jumper has no way to retrieve another jumper if they've taken damage that is preventing them from opening or transiting the wormhole. At best, you could only confirm they were alive." She was already thinking ahead. At its usual cruising speed, the Daedalus would travel from the far edge of the long range sensors to Atlantis in a little over thirteen hours. It could off-load in under thirty minutes, beaming packed truck trailer-sized containers of goods from the cargo holds to Atlantis' warehouses nearly instantaneously.
"Jumpers all have emergency spacesuits, they could transfer over, even in vacuum," Lorne insisted.
"It's still an unnecessary risk," Sam told him, hardening her voice, reminding him it was her decision.
"Colonel Carter," Zelenka said.
She and Lorne both turned back to him.
"I have a signal."
"From the jumper?"
"No." He looked puzzled but excited. "The signal is in Ancient. Atlantis is recognizing it and responding automatically via the MALP boosters. It appears to be from an installation the database identifies as Siribe Station."
"Could this have anything to do with the ZPMs mentioned in Dr. Metzinger's research?"
"Possibly." Zelenka's breath caught and his eyes widened. "The station is transmitting life support data from Jumper One."
He smiled as he looked up.
"Four life signs are still registering."
"Can you contact them?" Sam asked.
Zelenka bent to the keyboard. She waited, taking in the faint but real way relief had already spread through the control room. Soon the entire city would have the news. But this was news Sam didn't mind sharing far and wide.
Finally, Zelenka shook his head. "I am sorry, but even with boosters, the MALP is insufficiently powered to maintain contact. The signal is breaking up. The gas giant may be occluding or interfering. It is generating a massive amount of radio noise."
"It still performed well," Sam said. "See if you can find anything out about Siribe Station from the database, please. Get Dr. Metzinger to help. He seems to have better luck than the rest of us."
She switched her attention back to Lorne.
"Unless AR-1 contacts us before then, as soon as the Daedalus is finished resupplying Atlantis, I will request Colonel Caldwell take it to PL4-3E2 to investigate and recover Jumper One and Colonel Sheppard's team. You and Dr. Zelenka may accompany them, unless Colonel Caldwell objects."
"Thank you, ma'am," Lorne said. She couldn't tell if he meant it sarcastically or not.
The Daedalus dropped out of hyperspace just beyond the termination shock and ninety degrees off the ecliptic. She might not be the newest and fastest ship in Earth's proto-fleet any longer, but she'd crossed the space from Atlantis to PL4-3E2 in less than five hours and could have dropped into the system deep within the solar gravity well if Stephen had called for it. He preferred caution though and a chance to escape if the red dwarf's system held an ambush the Daedalus couldn't handle. He wanted a good look at everything before taking his ship any closer.
"Anything?" he asked.
"Nothing, sir," Kleinman replied.
"Take us in, sublights at seventy percent."
Dr. Zelenka and Major Lorne were both lurking at the back of the bridge, where the navigators plotted their course, well out of the way for the moment. Zelenka hadn't ousted any of Stephen's crew from their stations the way McKay generally did.
McKay was good, no doubt about it, but Stephen preferred his own people when on his own ship. His crew knew each other and their equipment. Novak even forgot to hiccup when under enough pressure and the pressure was pretty constant now that Hermiod had gone.
The last surviving Asgard's final clone body had failed months before. Novak had been in tears.
"Picking up traces of a hyperspace window," Kleinman said. "Decay matches the data Atlantis picked up through their MALP." He paused. "At least twelve hours ago. The energy signature matches a Wraith cruiser. Nothing else, sir."
"Thank you," Stephen told him absently. He left his seat and approached the bridge view port. It showed the red dwarf as a dime-sized light amid the greater starscape, emphasizing how far out they were. How little the human eye could pick out as well.
Stephen couldn't find the disk of the second, possibly inhabited, probably culled planet Sheppard's data packet had indicated. It took him time to even find the massive gas giant.
View ports were impractical, design dictated by the psychology of sighted beings. The Daedalus navigated and maneuvered according to her sensor data. The helm would be stronger and safer without the view port, but Stephen admitted he would feel blind without it. Every ship he'd ever been on had one, every human ship he'd heard of and the Asgard. Only the Wraith eschewed them.
He watched the red dwarf grow larger and brighter as the ship slipped deeper into the system.
"Major," he addressed Shirley Monahan, "take us to the second moon of the gas giant. We'll check the stargate before proceeding."
"Yes sir," she replied.
"Sublights eight-five percent."
He felt the change through his boots, a subtle, inaudible harmonic shift in the vibration that always ran through the Daedalus' decks. That hum, of engines and environmentals, fans and thousands of different pieces of equipment operating in sync, meant the ship was sound and functioning and it reassured Stephen Caldwell the way his wife's breathing had when they slept together before she had died.
He closed away any thoughts of Allison as inappropriate.
Dr. Zelenka joined him before the view port as they approached the gas giant. It loomed, filling the frame, though the Daedalus' course didn't lead directly to it.
"Sometimes I forget this is a great privilege, this magnificence," Zelenka said. "To see such things that I did not even dream of as a boy. Sometimes I only think how annoying Rodney is or how I miss walking down to the bakery in the morning to buy kolac(e and coffee."
"We all do that, Doctor," Stephen told him.
The view port showed them the great, pregnant curve of the planet as the Daedalus skimmed past.
Zelenka cleared his throat. "The Ancient station, Siribe, is on the planet."
Stephen nodded his understanding. "We're going to dial up Atlantis and let them know we got here in one piece before we proceed further." Carter had told him she would keep the scientists busy combing the database for anything else useful on this mysterious installation. They might have found something in the intervening hours. Knowing Sheppard and his insane luck, combined with McKay's ingenuity, the lost jumper might already be home and this just a fool's errand.
He genuinely hoped that would be the case.
Atlantis had nothing new to add.
The Daedalus moved into orbit far above the roiling clouds of the planet. Zelenka finally took over one of the engineer's stations and conducted the scans. Atlantis dialed back and they maintained a real time comm connection.
"What do you think anyone would stick a base down in that for, sir?" Kleinman asked quietly.
Stephen had no idea. It could have been 'pure' research or something that could only be accomplished under the conditions the gas giant provided. It could even have been to hide it.
"I have Jumper One's telemetry," Zelenka announced. "It is registering four life signs. Drive pods fully charged, hull integrity one hundred percent, shield...inactive." He lifted his gaze and blinked rapidly. "I do not understand how this can be."
"Find out," Stephen said. He nodded to Monahan. "Hail Jumper One. Start with the encrypted SGC channels and if they don't answer, cycle through everything else that can punch through. They're down there, I want to hear from them."
Monahan bent to her task and soon her melodious voice formed a background to the bridge's workings: "This is the Daedalus hailing Jumper One. Respond on any channel."
"I can only theorize that Jumper One is actually docked within the Ancient installation and protected by a pressure shell," Zelenka announced.
Stephen checked the ship's chronometer and made the simple calculation. Jumper One had last been in touch with Atlantis fifty-two hours previously.
"I want latitude and longitude for this installation, Doctor," he told Zelenka. "Kleinman, place in geosynchronous orbit when you have the coordinates."
He seated himself.
Monahan paused and turned toward him. "No response so far, sir."
"Open comm to Atlantis."
"Already set up, sir," Monahan said. "Just go ahead."
"Atlantis, this is the Daedalus."
"Daedalus, this is Colonel Carter. What news do you have?"
"This is Stephen Caldwell, Colonel. I'm afraid we have very little. Dr. Zelenka has successfully received telemetry from Jumper One indicating it is functioning and confirming four life signs aboard, but attempts to contact AR-1 have failed."
"Have you been able to form a lock on their subcutaneous transmitters?"
"The Daedalus is moving into orbit over the Ancient station. We should be able to transport them out once we have," Stephen said. "We'll continue trying to contact them in the meantime."
"The lack of any form of contact worries me," Carter said.
"You think they ran into another Pegasus surprise?" Stephen asked. It wasn't that much of a joke.
"The existence of a base hidden on a planet uninhabitable by humans without tremendous technological support is surprising enough."
"We'll beam them directly to infirmary quarantine."
"Good. Thank you for this, Colonel."
Stephen chuckled. "I'm used to playing cavalry at this point."
Kleinman lifted his hand to catch Stephen's attention and nodded. They were in orbit over the Ancient station.
"Colonel Carter, let me get back to you. We will try to contact your team once more, then retrieve them."
"Provided they are not behind shield down there," Zelenka piped up.
Monahan had begun her soft-voiced hail again. She shook her head when Stephen caught her eye.
He opened the ship's intercom to Medical. "This is Colonel Caldwell. Please prepare to receive four people. They will be beamed directly to the infirmary. I want them in quarantine until their status has been evaluated."
"Infirmary D is sealed and has a medical team in biohazard gear waiting, sir."
He commed Engineering next. "Dr. Novak?"
"Here, sir," she replied immediately.
"Please lock onto AR-1's transmitters and transport them to the infirmary on Deck D."
Major Lorne caught his eye from where he'd been waiting and silently watching. "I'll go down to D," he said. "In case they need a familiar face."
Stephen agreed with a nod.
"Dr. Novak, are you ready?" he asked.
"Transporting now, sir." He heard a small hic and almost smiled. "Transport successful."
He resisted the urge to drum his fingers along the arm of his chair. "Dr. Zelenka? Any changes?"
"None," Zelenka said. "Perhaps Rodney will be able to tell us more."
Major Lorne's voice over the ship intercom kept Stephen from answering, though not from wincing at the prospect of another grandiose McKay lecture or possibly a furious rant over being snatched from the midst of some amazing discovery.
"I'm in Infirmary D. Colonel Sheppard and the rest of the team are unconscious," Lorne reported. "The docs are saying comatose with severe dehydration. They're working on them, but...it looks bad."