The Other Shoe

by Domenika Marzione


"What is it, Garrotte?"

"Do you see that? The orange light? That don't look like any astronomy thing. Not even for Pegasus."

"Fuck. "

This wasn't the first time Doctor Weir had gone off-world overnight and it wouldn't be the last. But that didn't mean that an undercurrent of concern wasn't lapping persistently at the command-and-control element of Atlantis. The transfer of authority went smoothly because of practice -- McKay and Sheppard were absent often enough and most of them didn't know what Weir actually did with her time, so there was no place to put a power vacuum -- but there was a certain something that only manifested when Weir was off with a team on missions. Especially to visit advanced societies.

For a while Hanzis had been crafting a theory about it, some corollary of Murphy's Law that calculated a society's technological aptitude versus their likelihood of wanting to do harm to the Atlantis expedition. He'd stopped, however, when the equations had been reduced to jacking up the danger level to "high" if the society in question could do more than build a trebuchet. The abandonment was probably for the best because the data point from last month's imprisonment of Sheppard's team at the hands of a bows-and-arrows society would have only further damaged morale.

With most of Atlantis's command off to visit a world that apparently had access to Ancient technology, however, it didn't matter what the state of Hanzis's theory was. Personnel who didn't need to linger in the control room did, the marines were more diligent than gate duty normally warranted, and while nobody said anything out loud, the anticipation of waiting for the other shoe to drop was almost palpable. That they could actually be with Ancients right now didn't ease fears any --Daniel Jackson's revelation about the Ancient who'd co-opted their data interface had only reinforced the already generally accepted belief that the Ancients were hardly lofty and less than benevolent.

Lorne put down his pen and rubbed at his face. There wasn't a soul in Atlantis who could begrudge him going to bed; he'd been up for twenty hours, settled two minor and one not-so-minor dispute (what was it with the scientists acting out when McKay was away?), and caught up on all of the outstanding paperwork before starting on Sheppard's backlog as well. Polito, officer of the watch, was sitting at the table in the corner of the room doing his own work and waiting for Lorne to vacate the desk.

He had re-located to the Military Commander's Office (ironically named, of course, because Sheppard had never used the place) so that he could be within easy reach for control room personnel, but there'd been no need since Sheppard's team had left the day before. No official need, at least. But he knew that everyone felt a little better when they could see the leadership of Atlantis. And, for better or for worse, the effective leadership was him right now since Beckett and Zelenka wanted nothing to do with day-to-day operations.

Accepting that he'd be just as useless as they were to assuring the daily functioning of the city unless he got some sleep, Lorne stood up and was about to tell Polito that he was retiring for the night when his radio came to life.

"Captain Polito? We've got an incoming aircraft heading straight for the city," Lieutenant Patchok said. "Scanners say it's not Wraith, but they don't know what it is and they're not answering any hails."

Polito stood up and looked at Lorne, frowning. "Scramble the jumpers for intercept, Lieutenant, and try to figure out what its intentions are before we blow it out of the sky."

"Aye aye, sir."

"How far away is it?" Lorne asked as he moved around the desk and toward the door, Polito following. They ran down the concourse and Lorne could see the bustle of the control room in crisis mode, Patchok an island of stillness in the middle of things.

"It's still in space," Patchok said as they got to the control room, gesturing with one hand to the plasma screen along the back wall.

"It hasn't breached atmosphere yet," the engineer manning the sensor elaborated. Lorne didn't know her name, nor the names of any of the other scientists in the room. "But it's on a direct course for Atlantis. Whatever it is, it knows exactly where we are."

"ETA?" Polito asked as he crossed the room to look at the display. "And any chance that it'll burn when it hits atmo?"

"At current course and speed? About twenty minutes until it breaches atmosphere and about five from there until it's directly on top of us," the engineer replied.

"And no on the burning-up," another engineer added from the console that controlled local sensors. "Gunnery Sergeant Habschein reported a sighting of what he thought was an explosion in space and the aircraft was detected from that area shortly thereafter. If it could survive an explosion that could be seen without magnification, then it probably won't be affected."

"Unless it was a hyperspace window opening," Zelenka said as he emerged from the hallway across the room. "But we don't have that kind of luck."

"Great," Lorne muttered, watching Zelenka cross over to the long-range sensors, giving instructions to the scientists that he passed. "Where are the jumpers?"

"Jumper Bay, this is Flight," the sergeant at the console said into his radio. "What is your status?"

"Activate the ready-room team," Polito told Patchok. "And recall Major Lorne's and Staff Sergeant Stackhouse's teams. Full gear for everyone."

Patchok repeated the commands into his radio. Lorne knew that for his own team it was simply a matter of finding Yoni --Ortilla, Suarez, and Reletti were in Patchok's platoon and were thus already armed and ready.

"Flight, this is Jumper Bay," an accented voice announced. "Jumpers Two and Five are away."

"Lieutenant, get Doctor Beckett here," Lorne said. "Doctor Zelenka, is there any chance we can identify this aircraft before the jumpers get close enough to shoot it down? Can we be sure that it's not a Wraith ship?"

It's not that he didn't trust whichever lieutenants were flying, but he'd rather not burden them with the choice of whether to fire or not. There weren't many civilizations in Pegasus with space flight capabilities -- and everyone doubted that the Olesians were still around -- but with the Ori having built a supergate to the Milky Way and the rogue SG-1 team that had hijacked the Prometheus, anything was possible, friendly or really not.

"It's not Wraith," Zelenka replied, not looking up from the laptop he'd commandeered. "After the siege, we fine-tuned the sensors. It's a ship, but it's not a Wraith ship."

Relative quiet fell in the control room as the engineers focused on their tasks and the officers watched. For all that Zelenka shamelessly shirked all command responsibilities during peaceful times, he was effective and efficient now, issuing spare orders and moving purposefully from station to station to his laptop.

Hearing a rustling behind him, Lorne turned around to see Ortilla, Suarez, and Reletti waiting outside the control room. Ortilla gave him a ironic smile when Lorne met his gaze. Just another night of fun.

"Flight, this is Jumper Two," Lieutenant Paik's voice came through over the speakers. "I have our bogey on my screen. It's flying straight as an arrow and right for the city. I'm trying all radio frequencies, but I don't think I'm close enough yet."

"Copy, Jumper Two," the flight sergeant replied. "Let us know if you can make contact or an ID."

Lorne could hear the hushed sound of the north door to the gate room opening and the anything-but-hushed noise of a platoon of marines moving into the gate room. Looking down, he could see Gillick gesturing his men into position out of the way from Patchok's guard teams and then making for the staircase. Gillick came up the stairs and around to the gate room, nodding at Lorne before going to stand by Patchok.

"Ten minutes to intercept," the engineer at the radar console reported.

There was nothing to do but wait and the waiting was miserable. Lorne felt helpless and knew that the marines felt the same way, all of them with nothing to do until the scientists figured out what was happening and translated it into terms that they could understand. Stackhouse's team materialized by Ortilla and Beckett arrived, still in his lab coat. Yoni showed up wearing his fatigues and gear and carrying Lorne's tac vest and an extra P-90, handing them off and then joining the lieutenants on the tiny balcony because the control room was getting crowded.

"Flight," Paik's voice was startling in the quiet tension. "My sensors have identified our bogey as another jumper."

Incredulous murmuring in the control room. "Are you sure, Lieutenant?" Lorne asked.

"Yes, sir," he replied, sounding as disbelieving as the rest of them. "As much as I can be without visual confirmation. I'm close enough to scan the ship and it's definitely shaped like a puddle jumper."

"How is that possible?" Polito looked mystified.

"The planet Colonel Sheppard's team is visiting has Ancient technology," Zelenka pointed out as he moved from his laptop to the short-range sensor console. "If they have PDAs, then it stands to reason that they might have jumpers. Especially if they are Ancients."

"But how far away are they?" Lorne asked, because he didn't think that their mystery civilization was actually populated by Ancients. "Wasn't that planet on the other end of the galaxy? It'd have taken light years for a jumper to get from there to here."

"That orange light could have been a hyperspace window," Zelenka reminded them. "Different mechanism, different visual effect."

The holographic display on the center screen suddenly changed and a puddle jumper's outline was visible. It wasn't the one on approach to Atlantis -- their video sensors didn't go that far out -- but it could be the feed from Paik's jumper.

"Puddle jumpers don't have hyperspace abilities," Beckett pointed out. Lorne had almost forgotten that he was there. "Isn't that how we nearly lost Colonel Sheppard with the Hive ship the other month?"

"Our jumpers don't," Zelenka agreed, returning to his laptop and typing furiously. "But we know that the Ancients had puddle jumpers that could travel through time and we ourselves have experimented with adding hyperspace capability to the X-302 fighter."

"Five minutes to intercept."

Lorne turned to Gillick. "Get your men to the transporter closest to the jumper bay. Friendly or not, if that ship touches down, I want you there to greet it."

"Aye aye, sir," Gillick replied, starting toward the entryway to the control room.

"Reletti," Lorne went on, "go with them in case they need to take a jumper to get there."

The two on-call pilots were already airborne and neither he nor Sheppard were available to fly. There should be more pilots getting ready, but the most experienced ones would need to be prepared for possible air combat and Reletti was a good enough pilot to fly a transport jumper.

Reletti followed Gillick down the stairs, Ortilla and Suarez watching with both envy and concern.

"Three minutes to intercept."

"Flight, it's definitely a puddle jumper," Paik reported over the speakers. "It's almost identical to one of ours. And if they're responding to my comm, it's not on any frequency we can get."

"Copy that, Jumper Two," Lorne said. "Stay on radio, please."

With Gillick's marines gone from the gate room, the only noise was the murmuring bustle of the engineers at the consoles and Paik's voice over the speakers as he tried to make contact with the approaching jumper and coordinated with Lieutenant Eriksson, who was flying Jumper Five. Paik had been a naval aviator before Atlantis and knew the protocols, how to warn and when to threaten.

"One minute to intercept."

"Lieutenants, you are cleared hot," Lorne said, feeling the gravity of the situation settle squarely in his chest. He'd done a stint as a forward air controller and while the experience had been worthwhile, the near-chronic heartburn hadn't been nearly as much fun. This sort of air control, where he could see neither their own aircraft nor the target, was the hardest and the most prone to bad mistakes and friendly fire. "Don't fire unless fired upon and try to escort the jumper to the south pier."

The south pier was their de facto landing strip because of its distance from buildings of importance and proximity to a transporter. Gillick could get his men there and in position well in advance of a landing.

"Intercept in ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one.... Engagement."

Jumpers were an all-or-nothing combat element -- they were armed with a shield and drone weapons and nothing in the way of anything that could fire a warning shot. They weren't really meant for combat flying and he and Sheppard had been asking for a complement of X-302s from the start. The request was as likely to be met as the one for more drone weapons.

In the control room, Lorne and the others watched as the three jumpers, reduced to two blue dots and a red one, maneuvered on the screen. Paik and Eriksson were moving to bracket the other jumper and force it to land.

"The rear hatch is gone," Eriksson exclaimed as he moved into position, sounding both amused and surprised. "Whoever's left is in the cockpit."

If everything aft of the bulkhead was gone, then the chance of it being the vanguard of attacking force was a little less -- or, at least, of it being an effective vanguard.

"I'm going to move up a little and see if I can't get visual contact with the pilot," Paik said. "Radio's obviously not working."

Lorne looked over at Polito, who was watching the display, and then to Yoni, who gave him a tight shrug. Zelenka was watching his laptop and Beckett, looking vaguely seasick, was leaning up against the far wall by the catwalk to Doctor Weir's office. Patchok, standing next to Yoni, was half-turned so that he could see both the display and his men in the the gate room below.

"Holy fuck!" Paik cried out and everyone's head turned to the screen. "It's Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay!"

A collective sigh of relief, but Lorne knew that the crisis wasn't over quite yet. "Get them to the south pier, Lieutenant," he ordered. "Lieutenant Gillick, if you could please meet them there."

"Why not the jumper bay?" Beckett asked, still looking a little pale.

"Because we don't know if they're alone or if they're compromised, sir," Polito answered before Lorne could. Beckett flushed and hung his head, but Lorne knew that Polito hadn't meant it as a rebuke and instead turned to Yoni and gestured with his head.

"Going," Yoni agreed. He snapped loudly twice and made a come-along motion when he'd gotten Ortilla's and Suarez's attention. The two marines navigated through the crowded control room to join Yoni on the way to the infirmary and then to the pier.

It was ten minutes before Sheppard's jumper landed on the south pier, twenty minutes before the ship was deemed safe by Gillick, and an hour before Yoni cleared Sheppard's team and Doctor Weir for entrance back into the city. It was three hours before all of the emergency codes for the city were changed -- the full debrief was scheduled for the next day (later that day; it was already after midnight), but Sheppard had insisted on starting precautionary measures that shouldn't wait until then.

It was going on dawn before Lorne actually got back to his quarters and he debated just taking a shower and going back to work; he had a full morning scheduled and that was before he had found out that most of Atlantis's command element had been forcefully and thoroughly interrogated by Replicators (oh, was the SGC going to love this databurst) intent on destroying the city.

But that dedicated plan of action was rendered moot when he fell asleep on his bed, still dressed, after sitting down to take off his boots.

feed me on LJ?

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