Summary: Temporarily in charge of Atlantis, John must find a way to repair a badly damaged city and keep her inhabitants alive.
A/N: Many thanks to kristen999 for the beta. All faults mine.
“John, am I interrupting?”
“Yes, thank God.” John grinned at Teyla as he closed the lid of his laptop – and the four hundred and seven new emails – and waved at a chair. “Have a seat.”
She perched on the edge, her sharp gaze flitting over his face. “Are you well?”
John chuckled. “Look that bad, do I?”
“The past few weeks…”
“Yeah, they’ve been-” He glanced away as memories stabbed at him. “Anyway, what can I do for you?”
“We have finished inventorying the food supplies.” Teyla handed him a computer tablet. “Our dry goods are plentiful, but meat and produce are very low.”
John scrolled through the data, grimacing as he did the math. Their stores wouldn’t last until the end of the week. “Recommendations?”
Teyla sat back. “First, we should continue the rationing you instituted. I would suggest decreasing meat to one meal only and with set portion sizes. Also, one fruit or vegetable serving per person per meal. Second, we must re-establish relations with some of our trade partners. The harvest on New Athos will not produce sufficient quantities to support Atlantis. Unless Earth will be sending supplies soon?”
“I spoke with the SGC yesterday. Midway isn’t stable enough to begin shipments. The Apollo headed home to restock. The Daedalus is on its way, but it won’t arrive for almost three weeks.” John leaned back and raked fingers through his hair. “Who do you trust enough right now to meet with? We can’t offer much in return at the moment, and I don’t want our address out there.”
“The Samnea are an honorable people and would not be offended by not knowing our location. Also, I believe we can trust the Reka’aza, the Atwe, and the Dolegrans.”
“Can they provide enough to get us by for a few weeks?”
She smiled wryly. “The negotiations will be delicate, especially with the Atwe, but with the proper incentives, the quantities will be sufficient.”
“Delicate, huh. No Rodney or Ronon then.”
Teyla arched a brow.
“Or me. Don’t worry. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.”
“Are repairs progressing well?”
John propped his elbows on his desk and shook his head. “I don’t know how Elizabeth did this. Every time one thing gets fixed, something else goes down. Rodney’s been holed up for the past three days in the power room trying to repair the primary conduits. The combat engineers are still shoring up the worst of the structural damage. And today the desalination system went offline.”
“The system that removes the salt and minerals from the water?”
“Yeah. Apparently the composition of this planet’s ocean doesn’t agree with it.”
“Then we are without drinking water.”
“Until Zelenka gets it unclogged and reprogrammed. So add water rationing to your list. Some of our people are working outside and others are in interior areas that have little to no air circulation until McKay gets the power fixed.”
She frowned at her tablet. “Did Doctor Zelenka say how long it will take? The bottled water will not last long.”
“He said within forty-eight hours if everything goes according to plan.”
John sighed. “Exactly.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Then again, something has to go our way soon. Right?”
Teyla looked dubious. “I will ask the Atwe for water as well.”
“Probably a good idea. Take Lorne’s team with you.”
She smiled knowingly. “Of course.”
“Good luck,” John said. “And be careful.”
Teyla stood, inclining her head. “I will return as quickly as possible.”
John forced himself to stay in his chair as the door slid shut behind her. Teyla was capable of taking care of herself. She’d been negotiating in this galaxy by herself for a lot longer than he’d been around. Still, the need to keep his people close these days was almost an obsession. He knew he’d been transparent, but Teyla always saw more than he intended anyway.
With a groan, he opened the laptop and scrolled through his email. How could he possibly have another forty-three emails in the short time Teyla had been in his office? Gritting his teeth, he dug in, sorting through all the replies and forwards until he had the most current version. He pulled out a scratch pad and pen; he loved technology but there was something about scribbling notes that helped him focus. Four pages later, he dropped his head in one hand and tossed the pen with the other.
John flinched so hard his elbow slid off the desk. “Shit, Ronon! A little warning next time.”
“What fun would that be?” Ronon smirked as he retrieved the pen.
“How long have you been standing there?”
Ronon sprawled in a chair and threw the pen at John’s head. “A while.”
John stuffed the ballpoint in a drawer. “You could have said something.”
“I could’ve. You hungry?”
“Yeah.” John glanced at his watch. “Is it really that late?”
“You mean did you miss lunch? Yeah, the little there was of it.”
“You know we have to ration what we have.”
Ronon kicked at the desk. “I know. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m still hungry. Give me a couple of the marines and some sniper rifles. There’s a herd of monleik on Fodren that should be migrating near the Ring about now.”
“You gonna skin and roast them yourself?”
“Sure. Unless you want to.”
John laughed. “I’m more the restaurant type. You know, bring it to me on a plate, already cooked.”
“And proud of it.” John stood, stretched. “Can you bag enough to feed the entire expedition?”
Ronon scowled as he pushed to his feet and headed to the door. “What do you think?”
“Sorry. Lost my mind for a minute.” John jabbed at the transporter controls. “Anything else going on I need to know about?” he asked as they rounded the corner to the mess hall.
“Keller says the blood bank is low.” Ronon snagged a tray and began loading a plate. “I’ve almost got Zelenka’s still put back together.”
“How does your brain go from blood to booze?”
Ronon grinned. “Important liquids.”
John passed over the water and took a bottle of juice and a sandwich. “They teach you to build stills in the military?”
“Officially? No.” Ronon wrapped a foot around a chair leg and pulled, sliding into the seat. “Unofficially, my taskmaster rewarded the guy who made the best niroq with extra rations for a month.”
“Damn. All we got was a one-time calisthenics skip.”
Ronon snorted. “Figures.”
“Hey, I told you I was lazy,” John mumbled between bites. “How does the infirmary look?”
“Better. Got the glass cleaned up and the drugs back where they go, at least the ones Keller said to keep. We lost some of the ones that have to be chilled. That’s one reason the blood bank is so low.”
John stared at his empty plate, but no amount of wishing made a steak and baked potato appear. “Yeah, I read her report. I told her to start a drive. We can’t afford to be without.”
“Spread pretty thin right now.”
“Don’t I know it.” John groaned as the lights flickered. “What now?”
The radio crackled. “Sheppard, this is McKay.”
“What’s going on, Rodney?”
“I’ve repaired most of the conduits. I just need to take a couple more offline because, well, there are overloads, and I don’t want to blow up the city. I’ve sent the control room staff to auxiliary control and-”
“Rodney! Take a deep breath and slow down.”
“What’s wrong with him?” Ronon asked. “Thought Keller refused to give him any more stimulants.”
“Probably too much coffee laced with Red Bull and Mountain Dew,” John muttered. “McKay?”
“Yes, yes, sorry.” His breath stuttered over the connection. “I need to take the conduits in the tower offline to finish the last of the repairs. Primary systems are being run through auxiliary control, but I had to shut off transporter access to the central tower and relocate the control room staff to auxiliary control. The relays are beginning to overload.”
The lights surged again.
“I can see that. How long will it take?”
“A day? Rodney, we can’t be without power that long. We’ve got people off-world. We need to access the gate.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s the only way to fix this.”
“How long do you really need?”
“I just told you!”
“And I told you we can’t be down that long.”
“Fixing the desalination system. What do you need?”
“Sleep. I need sleep. I need a club sandwich the size of my arm. I need another person to help replace the damaged conduits while I monitor the consumption.”
“That I can help you with. Sergeant Lancaster is an electrician. He’s been helping Harris with the structure damage, but I can pull him for a few hours.”
“A marine?” McKay was silent for a minute. “Can he bring me a sandwich?”
John rolled his eyes. “No, but I can. We’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
“Mayonnaise, no mustard, extra cheese.”
“Anything else I can get for you?”
“Now that you mention it-”
“Sheppard out.” John shook his head and looked at Ronon. “Wanna go for a walk?”
Ronon dumped their trays while John contacted Lancaster then grabbed water, a sandwich, an apple, and a bag of chips for Rodney. They headed outside for the long walk between buildings.
“At least it’s a nice day.” John tilted his head back, soaking in the sun.
“Air smells different.”
“You think so?” John sniffed experimentally. “Smells like ocean.”
Ronon shook his head. “The vegetation on the mainland isn’t the same.” He inhaled deeply. “Not as many flowers. More damp jungle. Water’s saltier too.”
“You can smell that?” John took a deep breath. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. Well, Zelenka might have mentioned the salt.”
“Cheater.” John squinted at the sky, trying to locate the moons. “The stars are different.”
“Noticed that. You gonna have a naming contest again? I wasn’t here for the last one.”
John kicked at a small piece of rubble as they skirted around a pile of debris. “Of course. When I find time.”
“They gonna let you stay in charge?”
“God, I hope not.”
Ronon shot him a sidelong glance. “You don’t want to be the commander?”
John sighed. “Too high a price. I’d have to give up flying to sit behind a desk and file reports with the IOA. Bunch of stiff-assed bureaucrats.”
“You mean you’d miss going on missions.”
“Hell, yes. Well, except for the Wraith. And the Genii. And the damn Replicators.” John glowered at the damaged towers around him, not realizing he was squishing Rodney’s food until Ronon pried it out of his hands. “Oh. Oops.”
“The way McKay sounded, I doubt he’ll notice.” Ronon shook the bag of chips and popped the sandwich’s plastic casing back into place. “You did what you had to do.”
“On the Replicator planet. With Weir.”
John stopped, turned his back to Ronon. Sunlight silhouetted a shattered building and glinted off the water between piers. “Doesn’t feel like it.”
Ronon stepped up next to him, staring across the water at the buildings on the other side of the city. “Losing people isn’t easy. I had a team once…” He shook himself. “You did what she wanted.”
“Let her die?”
“Saved the city.” Ronon glanced at him. “You think she’s dead?”
“Aw, hell, I don’t know. I’m not sure living would be the better option.”
“Do you remember when Cadman got stuck in McKay’s head?”
The corner of John’s mouth tugged upward. “Who could forget that?”
“I’d been here a few days. Didn’t know much about any of you. I was impressed you gave the order. Now that I know you and McKay… Ordering that dart shot down must have been hard.”
“I couldn’t let the Wraith know Atlantis still existed.”
“Even if it meant sacrificing McKay?” Ronon asked.
“Yes,” John ground out.
“You were right. So was Weir when she ordered us to go.”
“I could have-”
“No, John, you couldn’t have. If you would’ve tried to save her, we’d be dead and Atlantis would be destroyed.”
“I know,” John said quietly. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to find her.”
“Who said you had to?”
“The IOA keeps turning me down.”
“Why wait for their permission?”
“Because I would need the Daedalus or the Apollo.” John heaved a sigh and resumed walking. “Because the city is my responsibility right now. Elizabeth sacrificed herself for it. She wouldn’t want me to jeopardize it, even for her.”
Ronon clapped him on the shoulder as the doors to the central tower slid open. They wound their way through pitch black corridors to a stairwell, walked down a couple of flights, and emerged into the utter darkness of the subterranean level.
“No, no, no! Not that one. Did you buy your degree off ebay?”
“McKay!” John shouted.
A light protruded from a doorway. “What?”
“Lunch is here.”
“Oh!” The light bobbed furiously toward them. “Thank God! I’m starving.” White hands snatched the food from Ronon’s grasp. “What took you so long?”
“No transporters, remember?”
The light swung into John’s face. “No cheese?”
John swatted at the flashlight. “Ingrate.”
Rodney stuffed half the sandwich in his mouth. “Omamusfishd.”
“Swallow, McKay.” Ronon grabbed the flashlight and pointed it at a neutral spot, highlighting the area around them.
“Sorry. I said I’m almost finished.”
John’s brow wrinkled. “It went from taking all day to fifteen minutes?”
“That was thirty minutes, and what I meant was I’m almost finished locating the conduit damage. The teams are repairing the last few as we speak. We should have power restored fully in the next few hours.” Rodney ripped open the chip bag and poured in a mouthful. “Got anything to drink?”
John handed him the water and apple. “The gate?”
“We’ll need to run diagnostics on all the systems first. As soon as I bring the ZPM online, I’ll-”
“Get some sleep.”
“No, I was going to say-”
“Don’t argue with me, McKay. You have a staff of very competent people. Let them run the diagnostics.”
“No buts. I need you at the top of your game, Rodney. When you’re done here, go straight to your quarters. No stopping at labs or checking on Zelenka and the other repair teams.”
“Okay,” McKay said, a little too quickly.
“I’m serious. Don’t make me send Ronon after you.”
Rodney’s gaze shifted to Ronon then back, not looking impressed.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
John grinned. “Try me.”
“Fine, fine. I got it.” McKay’s brows rose hopefully. “Dessert?”
“Sorry-” John stopped as Ronon handed Rodney a chocolate bar. “Where’d you get that?”
“That candy bar.”
“What candy bar?”
“The candy bar you just gave McKay.”
Rodney scraped an arm across his mouth as he swallowed. “What candy bar?”
John glared as they blinked innocently at him. “I hate both of you.”
McKay rolled his eyes. “Oh. Ouch. That hurt,” he said dryly.
Ronon slapped John on the back hard. “Come on, Sheppard. We’ve got-”
John’s handheld radio squawked. “Colonel Sheppard, this is auxiliary control. Please respond.”
“This is Sheppard.”
“Colonel, Lieutenant Mogala missed her scheduled check-in, and we haven’t been able to raise her or anyone else on her team.”
“Where was she working?”
“The Sumner Building. Section J Twenty-seven, Level B Two.”
John grimaced. “Who do we have nearby?”
“No one, Sir. That’s the problem. The other teams are in outlying areas, and most of the scientists are, too, since power is out in the central tower.”
“That’s two buildings over from here,” Ronon said. “We can get there faster than anyone else.”
“Chuck, Ronon and I will check on them. What channel are they on?”
“Keep trying to reach them and notify me immediately if anything else happens,” John ordered.
“What do you want me to do?” Rodney asked.
“Right now, finish working on the conduits. I don’t want to leave our people stranded off-world any longer than I have to. I’ll call you if I need anything.”
“Got it.” McKay retrieved his flashlight from Ronon and hurried back to the power room.
John trailed a hand along the wall as he and Ronon made their way in the dark to the stairwell and back up to ground level. They rounded the central tower and double-timed it toward the Sumner building.
“What do you think happened?”
“Well, the building’s still standing, and I don’t see signs of smoke or fire. That’s something,” John remarked, switching his radio frequency to six. “Mogala, this is Sheppard. Come in.”
Only static answered him.
Rocks skittered in front of them as they passed Grodin’s spire. John slowed, looking for the source. A small heap of crumbled stone off to his right began a slow slide toward them.
John flipped the radio back to channel one. “Auxiliary control, this is Sheppard. How’s our buoyancy?”
“This is Auxiliary Control. We haven’t-” Chuck cut off as something shattered nearby. “Sorry, Sir. I don’t know what’s going on. Our board shows green.”
Atlantis rolled gently under John’s feet, then a little harder. A large chunk of rubble tumbled by. John gaped at Ronon who stared back wide-eyed. The only time the city moved like this was when they were rising. Or submerging.
“What the hell is going on?” McKay broke in. “We’re moving! We’re not supposed to be moving!”
“I know that, Rodney. Are the engines on?”
“No, Sir,” Chuck replied.
“They can’t be,” Rodney said. “No power.”
“I can’t hear them,” Ronon added.
“The missing team. Where were they?” McKay asked.
“Section J Twenty-seven, Level B Two.”
John frowned. “What is it, McKay?”
“One of the main ballast tanks is near there. We checked them as soon as we landed, but if something fell or shifted… Sheppard, you need to hurry. Normally an issue with one ballast tank wouldn’t be a problem, but with all the structural damage, Atlantis could literally tear herself apart. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” From the sound of Rodney’s breathing, he was already at a dead run.
John and Ronon sprinted toward the Sumner building.
“Where is this tank?” John asked.
“It’s in the subterranean levels just east of the Sumner building,” Chuck answered. “Section J Twenty-eight, Levels B four to nine.”
John dodged a shower of glass as Atlantis rocked again. He and Ronon jumped over the metal poles keeping the doors to the building open then ducked under the caution tape and pounded down the stairwell to level B four. Ronon, damn him, had barely broken a sweat as they raced down the hallway while John’s lungs were trying to leap out his throat and his legs were suing him for divorce.
Ronon screeched to a halt, his outstretched arm catching John mid-chest.
“What the hell?” John panted, gently checking his sternum for cracks.
Ronon pointed. Part of the wall lay in chunks, massive metal shards poking out in every direction and blocking John’s view of the hole in the floor.
“Well, that would’ve sucked,” John said.
“Yeah. Come on.”
Dust rained down every time Atlantis rolled, a fine covering of gray settling over both of them as they picked their way through the debris. A door with Ancient markings was twisted enough for them to climb through. The control room they entered sparked and hissed. Warning lights flashed from the three round consoles in the center, and the wall of glass overlooking the tank below was in a million pieces. John could barely hear himself think over the roar, and even from this distance he could tell the tank was empty.
Ronon shook his shoulder and shouted something. At least John assumed he was shouting. His lips were moving, but all John could hear was the tornado in the next room. So much for getting instructions over the radio. He gestured at his ears and shrugged. Ronon grabbed his arm and dragged him to a console. A dizzying array of Ancient text scrolled by.
John looked at Ronon. “What?” he mouthed.
Ronon rolled his eyes and pulled John back to the door and into the hallway. “Something turned on the compressed air. It blew all the water out and hasn’t shut off so new water can get in.”
“How do you know?”
“That’s what that consoles say.”
“You can read Ancient?”
“I grew up in this galaxy. The markings are everywhere.”
John’s brows shot up. “Markings about ballast tanks and compressed air are everywhere.”
Ronon had the grace to look a bit sheepish. “I might have picked up a little from McKay and Weir.”
The city tilted abruptly. Metal creaked and pieces of stone flew.
“Think you can figure out how to turn the air off?” John asked.
Ronon shrugged. “Worth trying.”
They climbed back in. Ronon stalked around the room, peering at each console and display, pushing a button or two. He looked to John, shook his head, and pointed to the door.
John followed him out. “Well?”
“You think it can be fixed?”
Ronon shrugged. “McKay fixes everything else.”
The city groaned, tilted one way then the other. The mangled wall near them continued to crumble, tossing large chunks of rock toward them.
“Right,” John said. “Not enough time. Can we shut it off manually?”
“Let’s go find out.”
Ronon crawled through the doorway then checked the consoles again. After his third circuit around, he slammed a fist in frustration.
“I don’t know,” he mouthed.
John nodded. He moved to the shattered glass wall and gingerly leaned forward to look down into the tank room. Every wall, support strut, and console had dials and switches. Ronon tapped his arm and gestured. A spiral staircase led to the first landing below. They raced down the steps and began scrutinizing the controls.
The city rolled again. John hit the catwalk and skidded to a pole. Ronon flipped over the railing.
“Ronon!” John yelled, climbing to his feet and staggering forward.
Fingertips clutched the edge of the landing.
John dropped to his stomach and reached through the bars, gripping Ronon’s wrist. Ronon’s other hand shot up and clasped John’s forearm. John grabbed Ronon’s bicep and pulled with all he had. Atlantis pitched hard again. John rolled to his right, the muscles in his shoulder screaming as they twisted unnaturally. Ronon’s boot clanged against the metal as he swung up, catching a rail. He hauled himself onto the landing and collapsed, chest heaving. John rolled his sore shoulder, allowing himself a quick second of utter relief, then stood and shook his head at his grinning teammate.
“Come on. We’ve got to shut off that air.”
John and Ronon retraced their steps and checked the controls then moved to the next level. A few minutes later, Ronon bumped his arm and waved toward the third level. When they reached it, Ronon went straight for a bank of levers. He pushed each one up then down. Slowly the roar of air was replaced with the rush of water as the tank began to refill. Ronon smiled, looking extremely smug, and headed back upstairs.
They climbed out the twisted door, skirted the damaged floor, and were halfway to the stairwell when McKay arrived, drenched in sweat.
“Is it fixed?”
“Of course,” John answered. “Well, mostly.”
“Mostly? What does that mean?”
“It means the tank is filling with water, but the control room is shot to hell.”
“Then how did you…?”
John hooked a thumb toward Ronon. “He fixed it.”
Ronon folded his arms across his chest and smirked broadly.
“Really?” McKay’s brows arched. “It’s really fixed?”
“Yep,” John said. “You need one of your flunkies to check it out and begin repairs.”
“-have power conduits to fix and a nap to take.”
Two more scientists stumbled into the hallway.
“Oh, good. Just in time,” Rodney said. “Go check the control room. Make sure the ballast tanks are working properly then do what you can to repair the damage.” He waved his hands at them. “Shoo!”
They scurried off. John, Ronon, and Rodney climbed up to ground level and began the long walk back to the central tower.
“Oh, damn,” John muttered, pulling out his radio. “I forgot about Mogala’s team.”
“They checked in a few minutes ago,” McKay said. “You didn’t hear them?”
John shook his head. “The place was deafening. Couldn’t hear anything.”
“Debris shifted on them.” Rodney held up a hand. “Everyone’s fine. Just cuts and bruises they said, but one radio was destroyed and the other was trapped under the rubble. It took some time to dig it and themselves out.”
“So we’re good?” John asked.
“For the five seconds it will last,” McKay groused.
John huffed a laugh. “Where’s your optimism, Rodney?”
“I had it surgically removed at birth.”
“Ronon’s almost got Zelenka’s still repaired. Maybe after your nap we can christen it.”
Rodney turned to Ronon. “You fixed the ballast tank and the still?”
“And he promised to go hunting. Maybe if he hurries we can have…what was it called?”
John nodded. “Right. If he hurries we can have monliek steak with it.”
McKay looked thoughtful. “Monliek any good?”
“Oh, yeah,” Ronon said. “Especially seared and topped with ruga leaf.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Rodney demanded. “I’m starving.”
“The gate,” John prompted.
“I’ll have it ready before he finishes that still.”
“Wanna bet?” Ronon challenged.
“You’re on,” McKay answered. “First one done owes the other his dessert for a week.”
John laughed as the men shook hands then ran in opposite directions. He’d have to remember the dessert challenge in the future. He walked to the edge of the platform, listening to the whitecaps’ rhythmic pounding below. The horizon was an explosion of reds and golds as the sun set, and a gentle breeze carried the exotic scents of their new planet. John turned slowly, soaking in Atlantis’ lighted towers, and her darkened, damaged ones. Repairs would take a lot of time and effort, but they would replace every rock, every sliver of glass, every sheet of metal.
He would make sure of it.
Atlantis was his responsibility.