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06 June 2008 @ 07:53 pm
Help from Unexpected Places: The Siege, pt 3  
Author's note: Things that don't belong to me include characters, settings and most of the dialogue. Enjoy. Previous parts are here.

Edit: Added the cut. Sorry!


THE SIEGE 3

Time was telescoping oddly. John was sure he should have reached the Hive by now, but it remained obstinately far away.

His comm switched on unexpectedly. “Major Sheppard, decloak your Jumper immediately.”

“What?! Who the hell is this?”

“Not a Hive,” Alice said quickly.

“Authentication Alpha Charlie One. Decloak *now*.”

John did, grabbing the lifesigns detector as everything washed white.

When his vision cleared he was standing in front of the viewscreen of a Prometheus class vessel. Turning, he looked at the man in the commander’s seat.

“Major Sheppard?”

“Yes,” he said cautiously.

“Colonel Steven Caldwell.”

“Thanks for the rescue.”

Caldwell nodded. “We’re attempting to contact Atlantis now.”

“What about the Hive?” He glanced at the life signs detector, still gripped tightly in one hand.

“Your target was destroyed.” He glanced back at a signal from one of his crew. “We’ve raised Atlantis. Go ahead.”

John turned back towards the viewscreen. “Atlantis, this is Sheppard.”

“John?” Elizabeth demanded.

“What other Sheppards do you know?”

He heard Beckett, in the background, breath a relieved, “Oh my God!” and Rodney protest, “No, no, that can't be. We saw the hive ship go up.”

“I assure you, Doctor McKay, that Major Sheppard is alive and well,” Caldwell said.

“Who is this?” Elizabeth asked.

“Colonel Steven Caldwell, commander of the Daedalus. We are ready to assist you.”

“Oh, thank you!” Rodney said.

“We are very glad to hear it, Colonel,” Elizabeth said. “And I assume we have you to thank for saving Major Sheppard.”

“We were monitoring your transmissions as soon as we came out of hyperspace. We couldn't beam him in until he decloaked his Jumper.”

“Didn't take much convincing!” John told her.

“Doctor McKay?” Caldwell asked.

“Present, yes.”

“I trust you'll know what to do with this?”

He gestured to one of the crew, adding to John, “We’re beaming down the ZPM.”

“You’ve just made a friend for life. Or until Rodney gets distracted by something else.”

“How did they do that?” Carson asked in surprise.

“Well, the Daedalus is loaded with Asgard technology. The beaming technology's the first part of it. They've got things like ...”

“Rodney,” John said quickly. “What say we get the shields back up?”

“Yeah,” Rodney agreed dazedly. “What say we?”

“We still have Wraith all over the city,” Elizabeth told them.

“After we deal with this other hive ship, we'll assist you as soon as we can. Caldwell out.”

“Sir, we have incoming enemy fighters bearing three-two-zero,” one of the officers said.

“All forward rail guns stand by. Launch all fighters.”

John turned back towards the viewscreen, watching the battle. The fighters weren’t visible yet, but he could see the shields flaring each time they were hit.

He glanced around when the intraship comms came on. “Colonel Caldwell. This is Novak in Engineering.”

“What is it?” Caldwell asked.

“Uh, Hermiod wanted to remind you that that our shield strength will be severely diminished without the Zero Point Module tied into our power systems.”

“I'm well aware of that, Doctor. Caldwell out. Major, do you recommend any specific target on the hive ship?”

John blinked, realizing a second too late that Caldwell was talking to him. “One of the fighter bays, sir.”

“It would increase the chance of secondary explosions.”

“That was the thinking, sir.”

“I agree. Weaps, arm two Mark Eight tacticals. Our target is the hive ship's main fighter bay.”

“Warheads armed...target is locked, sir.”

“Fire.”

Several Darts managed to deflect the warheads; they impacted harmlessly against the Hive’s shields.

“We need to get in close,” John advised him.

“Helm, alter heading to intercept. Go to max thrust.”

“Max thrust,” the Helm officer repeated.

“We just need to get closer,” Caldwell muttered.

“The Asgard gave you hyperdrives and shields. How come no offensive weapons?” John asked.

“They don't like providing other races with anything that could potentially be used against `em.”

“I thought they were allies.”

“Without the beaming technology, you wouldn't be here, Major. Arm two more Mark Eights.”

“You're wasting ordnance, Colonel. Those missiles are being intercepted miles from the hive ship.”

Caldwell ignored him, gesturing for the weapons officer to fire anyway. Again, the warheads were destroyed harmlessly.

“Well, now we're 0 for 2,” John remarked. “How many of these things have you got?”

“Only one needs to get through,” Caldwell pointed out.

“Is there any way we can deliver a warhead the same way you plucked me out of the Jumper?”

“The Asgard have already considered that, Major. There are failsafes built into the system to prevent their use as a weapons delivery system.”

“You've got one of these Asgard on board? Can he override the failsafe?”

“Why would he do that?” Cladwell protested.

“Well, his butt's on the line just as much as ours.”

Caldwell nodded slowly, reaching for the comm. “Novak, I need you and Hermiod to figure out how to get a site-to-site transport lock on a set of co-ordinates inside the hive ship.”

“No-no-no-no-no-no. Sir, Hermiod isn't gonna like that.”

“Get it done, Doctor, that's an order.”

It took longer than John was comfortable with, but eventually Novak contacted them. “Colonel? Hermiod is ready and standing by for warhead transport. But I can tell you, he is *not* happy about this!”

“I'll take that under advisement. Are we within transport range?”

“Yes, sir,” his weapons officer said.

“Transport warhead when ready.”

“Ready. Five...” She stumbled over the words, correcting herself to say, “The weapon is away.”

John turned back to the viewscreen, watching as the Hive tore itself apart.

“Novak, I need you to prep another warhead for transport,” Caldwell said. “We need to take out those cruisers.”

“Sir, wait.” John glanced back out as the cruisers jumped into hyperspace.

“Colonel, cruisers have broken off and entered hyperspace,” one of the officers confirmed.

“Seeing what we just did to their remaining hive ships, I don't blame `em.”

“There's still a lot of Darts out there,” John reminded him.

“Alright, let's clean this up,” Caldwell agreed.

“Sir,” one of the officers said. “The remaining fighters are regrouping.”

“Alright, take position, stand by for defensive fire.”

“We're not the target,” John muttered.

“Major Sheppard is right, sir. The formation is headed toward Atlantis.”

John raised his voice. “Elizabeth, you've got a problem.”

“Yeah, we see that, Major.”

“We're moving to intercept but I don't think we can get there in time.” John glanced back at Caldwell, who shrugged.

“Not a chance. They're coming in too fast.”

“Oh my God. Their approach is ballistic,” Zelenka said.

“What exactly does that mean?” Elizabeth asked.

“Their impact velocities will be in excess of ten thousand kilometres an hour. No part of the city can withstand that.”

“You'd better get the damned shield up!” John warned them.

“How much time do we have?” Elizabeth asked.

“Forty-five seconds,” Zelnka answered distractedly.

“Rodney, we need a shield up in forty seconds or we're dead!”

McKay and Elizabeth bickered about it for several seconds; John listened to the familiar patter, watching the viewscreen. Finally, just past the point of too late, the shield went up and the Darts smashed into it, exploding.

“Atlantis, this is Sheppard, come in.” He glanced at Caldwell when no one answered. “Atlantis!”

“We're still here,” Elizabeth said finally. “That's our status.”

“Don't scare me like that!” John protested.

“Sorry. What about the Wraith fleet?”

“The remaining cruisers have withdrawn from the battle,” Caldwell told her.

“Thank you, Colonel. Thank all of you.”

“Glad to be of help. We're gonna stay in geosynchronous orbit for the time being. Can we be of any further assistance?”

“We could use some help with the Wraith in the city.”

“We'll send in some people to help with that. Daedalus out.” Caldwell glanced at John. “Major Sheppard – I'm sure you're anxious to get back to Atlantis.”

“Yes sir. Thank you.”




Caldwell detailed three Marines to go down with John while he sorted out the rest of the teams. Hermiod, still grumbling about the misuse of his systems, sent them directly into Stargate Operations, right into the path of one of John’s soldiers. He noted with pride that the man had them covered, but backed off on recognizing them.

“Secure Stargate Operations,” John told the marines. They split off as Elizabeth came down the steps from the gallery. “Well, I'm home!”

Elizabeth hugged him. Jon blinked, surprised, and rather tentatively hugged her back. After a moment she let go, drawing back to look at him.

“Yes, you are. I truly thought...”

“Yeah, yeah, I thought the same thing about you a minute ago. We gotta stop that!”

“I'd like that,” Elizabeth agreed.

“So, uh, where are we?” John looked around, noticing Alice waiting patiently near one of the corridors.

“Well, most of our sensors are still down, but we do know there are at least a handful of Wraith still in the city,” Elizabeth told him.

“Still got some work to do.”

“Before you do anything, Colonel Everett insists on speaking with you. He's in the infirmary.”

John nodded, heading towards the infirmary. Alice paced him, waiting for him to speak first.

“Had fun while I was gone?” he asked.

“Same old, same old,” she agreed. “John, I don’t know how much help I can be. A lot of sensors are down.”

“Stick around anyway.” He pulled the life signs detector out of his vest. “Get everything you can?”

“Yes. Your ship’s very big. The computers are funny, though. They’re not like the ones you brought from Earth.”

“They’re made up from different systems the SGC found. A bit of Goa’uld, a bit of Asgard. Think there’s some Tok’ra in there.” He shrugged. “You can still read them, right?”

“I’m Ancient built. I can read anything your people can design.”

“Good to know that humility thing’s really working for you.” John glanced down the corridor at the infirmary, halting. “Look, what kind of shape is the city really in?”

“Not so bad, really. A lot of circuits burned out. Mess and dirt. Nothing really structural damaged.”

“And the ZPM?”

“Shields for a while. Dial to Earth, maybe. Other systems for a while. It’s not at full power.”

“Figures.” He looked towards the infirmary. “You know why Everett wants me?”

“No. Only that he’s insistent. The Wraith almost killed him.”

John blinked, glaring at her. “He was attacked? And you’re mentioning this now?”

“Almost drained. But still alive. He’ll live to wish he wasn’t.”

John grimaced at that, turning and heading for the infirmary.





Much later John came back to the Gateroom, talking to Zelenka. “Preliminary count is forty casualties, maybe more. I'm still trying to line up lifesigns readings with actual people.”

“There are no Wraith lifesigns?” he asked, glancing up as Elizabeth joined them.

“The last one was trapped in one of the deeper parts of the city,” Zelenka said absently. “He died trying to damage city with one of their grenades.”

“Three of our men were injured,” Elizabeth added. “On the bright side, there was no flooding.”

“Have we been able to locate Lieutenant Ford yet?”

“I'm sorry, no. We've searched everywhere in the city. It's possible he may have beamed up into one of the Wraith Darts.”

“Let's not make that assumption here.” He glanced around, catching Alice’s eye.

“Major, I'm sorry – we've searched everywhere inside the city.”

Alice paled. “He’s in the water. John, he’s in the water just outside the city.”

“Well, how about outside the city?”

“I don't understand.” Zelenka frowned.

“Well, expand the sensors. Maybe he's in the water.”

“Even if that was the case, there's no chance that ...”

“I'm not asking you to swim out there, I'm asking you to press a few damned buttons.”

“Hurry,” Alice murmured.

Zelenka turned to the console, changing the settings. “Even if you're right, I don't see how...Oh my God.”

The screen clearly showed a lifesign, just outside the shield. John half-turned, looking at Elizabeth, who was already touching her earpiece.

“Colonel Caldwell? One of our men is in the ocean outside our shield, most probably injured. Can you beam him to your ship and then down to our infirmary?”

There was silence for a moment until they heard, “Atlantis? This is Doctor Novak on the Daedalus. You're gonna need some SFs in your infirmary before we beam your man down.”

“We already do, Doctor,”
Carson told her. “Beam away.”

Alice made a face. “There’s a Wraith.”

“It’s a Wraith?” John said through gritted teeth.

“No. It’s Ford. But there’s a Wraith too.” Catching his look, she added, “A dead Wraith. But still a Wraith. I hate them.”

“You’re not the only one.” Louder, he added, “I’m gonna go check on him.”

“Right,” Elizabeth said absently.




Carson was busy when John got down there; he paced for a while until one of the nurses threw him out, and then went on a round of the city, checking in with as many of his men as he could find. Eventually Alice appeared to tell him Ford was out of surgery, and he excused himself and went back to the infirmary. Elizabeth caught up to him just as he reached the door, and Carson redirected them into his office.

“I gave him a mild sedative to help him rest,” Carson told him, “but he should be dead.”

“Well, he's a tough kid.”

“Not my point, Major. He was lying face down in the freezing water for over an hour. I don't care how tough he is.”

“So what are you saying?” Elizabeth asked.

“We still have no idea how it works, but during the Wraith feeding process, the victim is injected with a special enzyme. It strengthens the human body temporarily and ensures that the heart continues to beat.”

“Why would they wanna make you stronger?” John protested.

“Cos when you die, it spoils their fun,” Alice told him, drowning out Carson as he said essentially the same thing. John scowled at her, wishing he could tell her to get off Carson’s desk.

As though sensing his thoughts, she grinned and swung her legs.

“They make you stronger so they can take more time to kill you,” Elizabeth summarized.

“Lovely, isn't it?” Carson agreed. “In most cases the enzyme is released slowly into the bloodstream throughout the feeding process. I can only ascertain that the Wraith died quite suddenly and that Lieutenant Ford's system became flooded with it.”

“And that's why he was able to survive in the water for so long.”

“Exactly. The problem is, now the enzyme is breaking down in his system. Eventually there'll be none left.”

“Well, that's not good.”

“No. In fact, I'm quite certain it'll kill him. It's possible his body's become dependent on the enzyme to function.”

“Your doctor’s really very smart,” Alice said. “Ours never figured that out. Although we tended to kill the Wraith before they ever made it into the City.”

John glared her into silence; he’d caught the gist of what Carson and Elizabeth were saying under Alice’s words. They were talking about weaning Ford off the enzyme.

“Then we're gonna have to get more of this enzyme,” he said.

“Aye. With your permission, Doctor, I'd like to harvest it from the Wraith bodies in the morgue. I know it's a wee bit creepy, but...”

Rodney broke in over the radio. “Elizabeth. Major Sheppard.”

“Do whatever you have to do,” Elizabeth told Carson. “What is it?” she added to Rodney.

“You're gonna want to get up here.”

John grimaced, turning to follow Elizabeth out.




Rodney and Radek were both working on laptops, yelling back and forth at each other in scientist’s shorthand.

“Aren't you supposed to be getting some sleep, Rodney?” John asked.

“I was trying to do just that, but someone thought I should know the deep space sensors were back up and running.” He glared at Radek, who glared right back at him.

“Yes? And?” Elizabeth said pointedly.

Rodney turned back to his laptop, leaving Radek to answer.

“We've picked up twelve more hive ships traveling in hyperspace.”

“Their course and speed will bring them here in thirty-six hours,” Rodney added.

Elizabeth sighed, rubbing her face and pushing her hair back. “Alright. Get Colonel Caldwell down here.”

“I’ll be back in a second,” John said, stepping into the corridor. “Alice!” he hissed, frowning when she didn’t appear. “Ok, I’m pretty sure there’s no Ancients in the City right now. What are you doing?”

She still didn’t appear, and he could hear Caldwell’s voice from Operations. Giving up, he went back to join the meeting.

“Twelve hive ships?” Caldwell demanded.

“The cruisers that got away probably called for reinforcements,” John told him.

“Our research shows there are at least sixty hive ships in this galaxy,” Rodney added. “I mean, who knows how many more could be on the way?”

“At least the shield's up and running.”

“That only buys us time.”

“I like time!” John protested.

“Look, the first siege of Atlantis lasted for years. I mean, with only one functioning ZedPM, we can't expect to hold on that long.”

“Can we submerge the city again?” Caldwell asked, apparently tired of being ignored.

“It's a city, not a yo-yo. Look, I don't even know how they did it the first time.”

“How long until they arrive?”

“A little over a day,” Elizabeth told him.

“You know what?” John sat upright. “I'm sick of this.”

“I'm sorry?” she said in surprise.

“I mean, sitting around waiting for them to show up. I say we take the fight to them.”

“We've got one ship, Major,” Caldwell reminded him.

“We've got one ship with an Asgard shield, an armoury full of nukes, and beaming technology. That evens the odds a hell of a lot.”

“Twelve ships and their escorts.”

“I'm telling you, we've gotta send these guys a message. We're not like the Ancients – we're not gonna sit around and wait. We don't back off – we have the capacity and the will to go kick their asses for a change.”

“How do I fight a ship in hyperspace?” Caldwell protested.

“The Wraith faster-than-light travel is not as efficient as the Asgard hyperdrive aboard the Daedalus,” Rodney said, turning on a nearby screen. It was displaying the fleet’s path. “Not only are they slower – they need to travel in a series of jumps. So, if my calculations are correct, they'll make one last stop here, fifty light years away, before they make the final jump to Atlantis.”

“Doctor Weir?” Caldwell asked.

Elizabeth frowned, looking at John. “It will feel good to have them on the defensive for a change.”

“Alright then. Let's do this.”




Before he left John tried to find Alice again, but she was still mysteriously absent.





The attack, good in theory, didn’t stand up to the engagement and the damaged Daedalus landed one of the piers. John led Caldwell and a couple of other officers into the City, watching out for Alice who was still MIA.

Elizabeth met them just inside the City. “Welcome back to Atlantis, Colonel.”

“The Wraith are right behind us,” John told her.

“I wasn't expecting you to land.”

“Until repairs are complete, the Daedalus is gonna need Atlantis' shields as much as you do.”

The comm went off abruptly. “Doctor Weir – the hive ships are emerging from hyperspace.”

“We're on our way.”


They met Rodney on the way, piling into the Operations room together. Alarms were going off as Rodney shoved he nearest tech out of his seat.

“They're getting into some sort of formation,” someone else said.

Shots began to echo from above and everyone automatically flinched, looking upwards as though they could see the shield from where they stood.

“The shield's holding under the bombardment but it's under incredible strain.” Rodney stared at his screen.

“How long will it hold?” Elizabeth asked.

“Well, if they stop firing it'll last almost indefinitely, but...”

“Are we talking months, weeks?” she interrupted him.

“Days. At this rate the ZedPM will be depleted within days.”




Much later Rodney stood with John on the balcony, watching the blasts impact against the shield.

“It's almost pretty, isn't it?” Rodney said reflectively.

“Almost – but not quite.” John glanced around, but Alice was still missing.

Giving up for the moment, he headed for the conference room with Rodney. The others were already there.

“The Daedalus will be back in fighting form within the next twenty-four hours,” Cladwell told them, “but I think the next engagement's gonna have the same result.”

“Even if we were able to destroy these ships this instant, more would be here in a few days, and even more a few days after that.” Elizabeth shook her head. “From where I'm standing, I just don't see how we can win this.”

“Well now we know how the Ancients must have felt.”

Radek shook his head. “Atlantis is only way to Earth. As long as they know we're here, they're just going to keep coming.”

“As long as they know that we're here,” John repeated slowly.

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.

“Zelenka just said as long as they know that we're here, they'll keep coming.”

“Yes, he said that,” Rodney said irritably.

“Well, what if they thought we were gone?”

“Then there would be no reason for them to stay,” Teyla realized.

“Exactly!”

“Exactly what?” Rodney protested.

“We disappear.”

“Destroy the city, you mean?” Caldwell frowned.

“No, we just make it look like we did.”

“How?”

“We cloak it,” Rodney said in sudden realization.

“Yes,” Radek agreed. “Yes! The Puddlejumpers are equipped with cloaking technology which renders them invisible to the naked eye, and to Wraith scans. If we just simply remove one of the cloak generators from the Puddlejumper...”

“I wouldn't say simply, but yes – by interfacing a Jumper's stealth cloak generator with the city's shield, we should be able to render the city invisible.”

“That's all well and good, but I think if the city were to suddenly disappear, they might be able to put one and one together,” Caldwell pointed out.

Rodney nodded impatiently. “Which is why we fake a self-destruct. Have the Daedalus beam a nuke right above the city's shield, and then detonate it. While their sensors are blinded, we cloak the city; when the smoke clears ...”

“... nothing but ocean,” Elizabeth finished.

“What about hard radiation?” Caldwell asked.

“I should be able to calculate with reasonable accuracy how long to wait until we switch over to the cloak.”

“But what about the displacement issue?” Radek protested.

“It's coparambulation – that's the easy part!”

“OK,” Radek agreed. “What about the hard part?”

“Hard part?” John said sharply.

“Um...” Rodney busied himself with his computer. “The cloak for all intents and purposes will replace the shield, which means that we'll be completely unprotected once the cloak's activated.”

“We'll be completely exposed?” Elizabeth repeated.

“Well...yes.”

“So if they're not fooled by the ruse...”

John finished Caldwell’s sentence. “...then they destroy the city – which, I remind you, is exactly what we were gonna do anyway.”

“What about the Daedalus?”

Caldwell grimaced. “Well, if it doesn't work, our shields should be sufficiently recharged to break through their lines and escape. We know we can outrun `em.”

“Alright,” John said quickly. “Let's get as many non-essential personnel on your ship as we can – just in case.”

“I love this idea,” Elizabeth said slowly. “I really do – but the Wraith are aware that we have cloaking technology.”

Teyla rose. “They are close – close enough for me to connect to them. If I can convince them that we intend to destroy Atlantis rather than allow it to be taken, just before the explosion occurs...”

“How will we know whether or not they believe you?”

“Well, if they stop the bombardment, we'll know,” John suggested.

“He's right. If the Wraith believe that we intend to destroy the city, the last thing they will want to do is to help us do it.”

Elizabeth nodded, turning to Rodney and Radek. “How much time do you need?”

“Oh, well...”

“...a week...”

“...a couple of hours...”

“I'll take the second estimate. Go.”



Carson met them on the steps outside, out of breath. “He escaped.”

“What?”

“Who?” John demanded, overriding Teyla.

“Lieutenant Ford. He was able to disarm one of the marines, and got away with all the Wraith enzyme I had left.”

John tapped his comm. “Ford, this is Sheppard, come in....Ford? I need you to come back to the Control Room, buddy, we're all goin' home.”

Ford didn’t answer, and John glanced at Elizabeth. “Lieutenant, do you copy?”

“You're just afraid of me, Major. You're afraid of what I can do now. I'm not listening to you.”

“Radio’s off,” Alice murmured. John glanced briefly at her before turning to catch Elizabeth’s eye again.

“I'm going after him.”

“Now's not the right time!” Elizabeth called, but he was already gone.

“Where have you been?” John demanded.

“The ZPM and your generators are fighting each other, causing some hiccups. I was in involuntary shut down while the fluctuations evened out. Ford’s three levels above you.”

“You couldn’t have warned me?”

“Involuntary,” she repeated. “I didn’t know it was going to happen.”

“That going to happen often?”

“Can’t tell, I’m afraid.”

“Something you don’t know?”

“It’s your primitive power sources. He’s heading for the transporter.”

“Yeah, I got him.” John waved his life signs detector.

Alice drifted along beside him as he tracked Ford through the City, keeping him up to date with Teyla’s attempts to contact the Wraith.

“She know you’re there?” he asked quietly.

“It’s possible. I can’t affect anything beyond the displays, and there’s too many people around for me to do that unless you really need me to.”

“No. Don’t...”

“Shush.”

John fell silent, slipping behind a pillar. A moment later Ford came around a corner, trotting towards him. John waited patiently, but just before reaching him Ford slowed, apparently thinking for a moment before turning and heading in a different direction.

John stepped out when he was sure Ford was far enough away. “How is he tracking me?” he murmured.

“Who knows.” Alice was glaring after him.

“What’s up with you?”

“He’s part Wraith now, effectively. If my sensors were working properly, he’d be setting off all the alarms.”

“Get over it,” he told her. “Program yourself not to care.”

“I can’t, it conflicts with a primary directive. Sorry.” She glanced away, smiling suddenly. “They’ve stopped firing.”

“Good,” John murmured. “How’s the ZPM?”

“Not nearly as strong as it was.”

“I could have told you that. How much longer?”

“Will it hold out? Depends on what you ask of it, John. I don’t think it’ll dial Earth, anymore.”

“Doesn’t matter, not if the Daedalus makes it through.”

John’s radio activated, and he paused to listen to Elizabeth. “Attention all personnel: prepare for detonation flash.”

“I in trouble here, Alice?”

“No, you’re not near enough a window to catch the blast. Turn off the detector, though. Just in case.”

John glanced down at it, flicking it off. “What’s happening?”

“Bombs away.” She was standing with her head tilted as though listening to something. “Dr McKay’s about to...cloak’s on. We’re being scanned.” She turned to look back at John. “Ford’s getting away. You need to move.”

“Yeah. Where?”

“One level down, section J four.”

John made it in only a couple of minutes, stepping out into one of the open areas that littered the City. Ford was waiting for him, gun aimed and ready.

“I could have shot you a couple of times by now.”

John lowered his stunner, letting it hang at his side. “Well, I'm glad you didn't. Look, why don't you and I just go someplace where we can talk?”

Ford lowered his gun, backing up a couple of steps as John approached him. “You're trying to change me back.”

“No,” John said quickly. “I'm just tryin' to help you.”

“Careful,” Alice warned. “He’s not in his right mind.”

Ford shook his head. “No you're not.” He turned to leave.

“Oh, crap,” John whispered. He raised his stunner, shooting Ford in the back. Ford stumbled but didn’t fall, catching himself on the frame of the transporter room and turning to glare at John. He stepped backwards, letting the doors close.

By the time John got there he was gone.

“Damn!” he hissed. “Alice, where’s he gone?”

“Operations tower.”

John stepped into the transporter, stepping out just in time to see the Stargate begin to dial and a ‘Jumper lowering into place.

“Where's Ford?” he called to McKay.

“I assume that's him in the ‘Jumper.”

John ran down the steps, pausing level with the ‘Jumper. He could see Ford inside, determinedly ignoring them, and Alice standing behind him.

“Can they detect that?” Elizabeth asked.

“I don't know,” Rodney said absently.

“Shut it down!”

“I can't – the ‘Jumper's in control.”

“Ford!” John called. “Stand down! This is a direct order!”

Under his breath, he added, “He can hear me, right?”

Inside the ‘Jumper, Alice nodded. Beside him, she said, “He can hear you. He just doesn’t care.”

Ford lifted his gaze to stare at John for a moment before turning away. The ‘Jumper turned, picking up speed as it headed into the ‘Gate, which shut down behind it.

“Where the hell is he going?” John demanded.

Alice started to answer, but cut herself off as Weir said, “It won't matter if the Wraith can detect the Gate activity through the cloak.”

“There's only one way to know,” Rodney said, sitting back and looking upwards.

“They’re leaving,” Alice murmured.

The comm. activated, and Caldwell said, “This is Daedalus. Our sensors indicate the Wraith fleet is breaking orbit.”

Rodney looked down at his laptop. “I can confirm that. They're headed for hyperspace. Look, I'm gonna keep the cloak up for a while just to be sure, but, uh, I think they bought it.”

Elizabeth came down to join John in front of the ‘Gate. “The Gate address'll be in the log,” she offered. “There's still a chance...”

“It doesn't matter where he goes. The second he gets to wherever he's going, he's gonna ditch the Jumper, turn around, and dial another address – one we can't trace.”

“We'll find him.”

“Maybe.”

“Hey.” She bumped his shoulder lightly. “At least we're still around to try.”

“Yeah.” He turned away, heading out to walk the City.

“If we find the ‘Jumper,” he said eventually, “can you tell where he dialed?”

“If he used the ‘Jumper controls, yes, but you trained him better than that. Dr McKay might be able get it from the crystals.”

“No, he’ll just go to a trade planet with a lot of traffic.” John grimaced.

Alice glanced around. “City’s still standing.”

“Yeah. More or less.”

“Enough. It’s been a long time since the City won a fight against the Wraith.”

“It’s not the end,” he reminded her.

“No. But now they know you’ll fight.” She grinned. “The City will stand with you, John.”

“Good to know.”

Alice smiled, fading out, and John kept walking the boundaries of his City.