On an encouraging note, based on Sumner and Teyla's own analysis of the ship so far- along with what little attention McKay had been able to give it in between his research into the shield-, apart from the subspace beacon that had allowed them to detect the Aurora being virtually shattered on this ship, the Orion seemed to be in relatively good condition. While whatever had happened to put it in this position had resulted in the programming codes controlling the ship's ability to fly anywhere being almost completely wiped, along with some damage to particular crystals in the main computer, Atlantis still had records of the necessary programs in its database even before their encounter with the Aurora last year, and the plans they had acquired while investigating the ship in question should allow them to determine how to replace the missing crystals...
"So," Lycus said, drawing Elizabeth's attention back to the present as she focused her attention back on him, "you believe that your city's knowledge has progressed sufficiently since the Phantom last came to us to complete the work that we have started?"
"Only because we had a lucky break a few months back when we discovered a previously-unknown... relic of the Ancestors... with more information about their ships than we had previously possessed," Elizabeth said; she didn't think it would entirely help their case if Lycus knew that they'd already destroyed one Ancient ship after salvaging it, even if the ship had already been almost irreparably damaged before they'd found it.
"I see," Lycus said, nodding slightly at her in understanding, an expression of silent contemplation on his face for a few moments before he smiled slightly at her. "Well, if the Phantom believed that you were worthy to learn the secrets of the city of the Ancestors with him, I feel safe in trusting you with our own discoveries."
"Thank you," Elizabeth replied, nodding back at him in gratitude. "I'll be sure to let you know what we find... once Doctor McKay has finished his analysis of your shield generator, of course; we fully understand that it's your main priority right now."
"Yes, we've used it to help protect many others from the Wraith-" Lycus began.
"Sumner to Weir," a voice suddenly said in Elizabeth's radio.
"Excuse me, Chancellor," Elizabeth replied, looking apologetically at the older man before she activated her radio. "Yes?"
"McKay's just discovered a problem with the Taranian's shield generator," Sumner replied, his tone grim as he spoke. "You'd better get down here now."
"We're on our way," Elizabeth said, standing up and looking apologetically at the chancellor. "You should probably come with me; I just received a report from Colonel Sumner, and apparently Doctor McKay's discovered that something's wrong with your shield generator."
"The generator?" Lycus repeated, apprehension clear on his face as he stood up and walked after her as she headed towards the lab. Even without her long experience of McKay's moods, Elizabeth would have quickly seen that the Canadian scientist was concerned about the latest turn of events; his expression displayed an apprehension that he'd only previously shown when they were waiting for the Wraith to reach Atlantis.
"What's wrong?" she asked, hoping that Lycus wouldn't take offence at her taking control of the current inquiry; since it was someone on her team who found whatever had just been discovered, she felt a certain responsibility to establish the current crisis.
"Well," McKay said, turning to face her as he spoke, "as we were all already aware, this facility is powered by geothermal energy- which exists in this area in sufficient quantities to supplant the traditional need for a ZedPM that would normally be required for a facility like this-, and it's been experiencing various harmonic tremors in recent months."
"Which means?" Ronon asked.
"So," McKay continued, "according to Norena, the tremors began when she was forced to make some modifications to the system to compensate for recent fluctuations in shield strength, after they turned the shield on and have since kept it running for the better part of a year in response to the sudden rise in Wraith activity that began last year..."
Elizabeth wasn't sure if she should be grateful or not for the fact that she wasn't a swearer by nature; it might have given the game away if she'd said anything at this point, but there were times when news like that made her want to vent her frustrations with a simple curse word or two...
"And I assume that this shield wasn't designed to stay on like that?" Sumner asked.
"Bingo!" McKay confirmed, pointing in confirmation at Sumner before he lowered his finger as the colonel glared at him in a very pointed manner for his lack of professionalism.
"Uh... anyway," the Canadian continued, quickly overcoming his momentary discomfort as he looked at the people around him, "the problem is that this facility was never designed to be continually run at maximum capacity. It was a good idea based on what you knew of the situation, don't get me wrong, but shields are intended for emergency uses only; when you shut down those alarms you mentioned earlier, you overrode the failsafes which stopped them..."
His voice trailed off as he studied the information now on display on his laptop, his eyes widening in horror. "Oh no..."
"What?" Norena asked, looking inquiringly at McKay as she and Sumner walked over to study the laptop with him.
"The reason the Ancients chose to power this facility on geothermal energy is because we're sitting right smack in the caldera of a dormant supervolcano," McKay clarified, looking grimly up at his team leader and the attractive Taranian scientist. "Or should I say, formerly dormant, because drawing all of this energy from the magma chamber has made it extremely active."
"And that means that things are about to get worse, right?" Sumner asked, raising an eyebrow at his team's scientist.
"To say the least," McKay replied, nodding pointedly at the other man.
"Hold on a minute; you said we're inside a volcano?" Elizabeth asked, trying to regain some kind of control of the current conversation as she walked over to a nearby window. "I don't see anything like that..."
"Because you're standing right inside it," McKay said, steepling his fingers to create a traditional triangular volcano-shape. "Look, when you think a regular volcano, you think Mount St. Helens or, uh, Kilauea."
"And... supervolcano?" Elizabeth asked apprehensively.
"Yellowstone National Park, with a caldera over fifty miles wide and a massive sea of molten rock just beneath the surface," McKay clarified.
"So, the Ancients built this facility to draw on geothermal energy because it had access to all that power?" Sumner asked, looking over inquiringly at McKay before he turned to study the view outside the window thoughtfully. "I'm guessing these 'supervolcanoes' don't erupt very often?"
"Yeah, normally, thousands, often hundreds of thousands of years can go by before these things go off, but unfortunately these... well, they aren't normal circumstances," McKay said, looking awkwardly over at Norena as he continued to speak. "It's nobody's fault- there's nothing in the plans that actually said this would happen, after all; the Ancients never exactly predicted that anyone would do what you've been doing-, but by drawing on the geothermal energy continuously for the last year or so, you've increased the pressure of the magma chamber; it's expanded to over forty miles now, and it's still increasing."
"Can it be stopped?" Elizabeth asked, her mind struggling to comprehend the scale of what McKay had just told them; if they were currently inside a volcano, judging by what she'd seen of the area outside this facility when she'd come through the Stargate, the potential power of the eruption would be incredible...
"No; the damage is already done," McKay said grimly. "Look, a significant hotspot rift has opened. The pressure will keep building as magma continues pouring in directly beneath us."
"Could we relieve the pressure by providing the magma with somewhere else to go?" Sumner asked. "We could launch a drone into the crust at the other side-"
"Not everything can be solved with military force, Colonel!" McKay said, glaring at Sumner in exasperation. "When this thing goes, the whole thing goes!"
"Right..." Sumner said, before he turned to look resolutely at Lycus. "We need to evacuate your people; we can help you establish a suitable alternative location on this planet if you don't have one already-"
"Look, you're still not getting it!" McKay yelled, looking in exasperation at his team leader. "Listen to me, all of you; when this thing erupts, the force of the explosion will be over ten thousand times greater than the blast that destroyed Mount St Helens. It will obliterate half of this continent!"
"There must be other continents-" Elizabeth began.
"The dust cloud will envelop the planet within weeks, blocking out enough sunlight to kill every living thing; we are talking about an Extinction Level Event!" McKay yelled, before he turned to address Lycus in exasperation. "Look, the only option you've got is to evacuate your people to another planet, and I would advise doing it sooner rather than later."
For a moment there was silence as Lycus looked contemplatively at McKay, before he turned to face Elizabeth.
"You are all certain of this?" he asked.
"Chancellor Lycus, Doctor McKay is the finest scientist we have," Elizabeth said; as much as she hated confirming McKay's ego at a time like this, she didn't have a choice when this many lives were at stake. "I trust his advice without reservation-"
"And I acknowledge that the Phantom has proven time and again that he would not trust anyone with guardianship of his city unless he was certain that they could be trusted," Lycus said, looking grimly at her for a few moments before he nodded in a reflecting manner. "While the timing of this eruption is... unlikely, I cannot deny that the tremors have become increasingly more prevalent in the last few weeks since I ordered that we maintain the shield on a regular basis, and I can foresee no way for these incidents to be the fault of another."
Elizabeth said nothing as Lycus stared out of the window at the vast volcanic expanse around them- even McKay remained silent, evidently recognising that anything he said right now was more likely to be the wrong thing to say-, until he nodded in resolution.
"Norena," he said, turning to look at the Taranian scientist, "tell our people to gather their most precious possessions and prepare for evacuation through the Ancestor's Ring; we must find a new planet-"
"You can evacuate to Atlantis for the moment," Elizabeth added; hopefully the offer would improve the chances that Lycus would accept their offer without asking too many questions about the Phantom. "We can work on finding something more suited to your individual survival later, but if we can't help you sort out your shield problem, we can at least give you somewhere to stay in the short term."
"Thank you," Lycus said, nodding back at her.
"Talking of evacuation plans," McKay said, looking hopefully around at his teammates and the Taranians, "if we move some people into the Orion, I'm fairly sure that we can use that to help us evacuate some of the population-"
"I thought you said that the Orion wasn't operational yet?" Sumner interjected, looking pointedly at McKay.
"Well, not yet, but it's not that far off; everything's connected up properly, but the main problem is that most of the crystals containing the necessary programming code to activate the propulsion systems have been damaged and nobody here knew the programming codes necessary to use the back-up crystals as replacements," McKay explained with a noticeably more enthusiastic smile. "I've still got the information we recovered from Aurora and Atlantis's databanks; give me a couple of hours to make sure I know what needs replaced-"
"Do we have that time?" Sumner interjected, staring pointedly at the scientist.
"Uh... well, we should; the magma build-up's inevitable, but it's not going to be immediate, so we should still have some time if I'm quick..." McKay said, momentarily hesitant in the face of Sumner's stare before he straightened his stance in resolution and turned around to hurry towards the hanger where the Orion was stored.
After Elizabeth had exchanged glances with her military commander, she shrugged slightly and turned back to look at Chancellor Lycus.
"I apologise for Doctor McKay's... abrupt departure... but he makes a valid point," she said, hoping that Lycus didn't object too much to her issuing this many suggestions so soon after their first meeting; she might have more experience in this kind of situation than him, but she also recognised that he didn't become leader of his people for nothing. "Whatever else happens right now, our best chance for saving as many of your people as possible is getting them through the Stargate or McKay completing the repairs to the Orion that you've already started; I assume that you have some idea of how many people it could hold if you had to use it?"
"Yes, we've measured its interior and it's always been able to hold a significant portion of the refugees we have staying with us at present; as you said, we felt that it would have a good secondary refuge if we were able to get it working again," Lycus replied.
"Good," Elizabeth said, smiling at him in thanks before she became more serious. "Let's go; we don't know how long we'll have, so it's best to get started."
As Sumner stood at the Taranian DHD, Teyla and Ronon coordinating the evacuees towards the Stargate while McKay went over the available information on the Orion and the newly-arrived Doctor Beckett checked out any injured, he wondered how things had come to this; they find what could be the second most exceptional remnant of the Ancients' legacy left in this galaxy- the Tower of the 'Lord Protector' didn't count as it was in such bad condition there had been virtually nothing useful left of it, but Orion seemed to be in significantly better shape-, and they barely have time to start looking at it before they had to work on evacuating an entire civilisation...
It was a relief that most Taranians lived near the facility; at least it meant that they didn't have to worry about sending out messages to the more distant territories that would probably never get there in time to make a difference. Doctor Weir and Chancellor Lycus were already preparing to travel back to Atlantis with the first batch of refugees, and his last report from Teyla had assured him that the rest of the Taranians were making excellent progress preparing for their departure.
"Sumner to Weir," he said, as he finished entering Atlantis's address into the dialling device. "The Stargate's been dialled; you're good to go."
"Acknowledged," Doctor Weir's voice said on the other end of the line. "See you back in Atlantis."
As Sumner watched the Stargate through the window in front of him, Doctor Weir and the Chancellor advanced through the now-active wormhole in the middle of the stone platform, closely followed by the first collection of Taranians assigned to the evacuation plan.
As the refugees departed, he allowed himself a few moments to relax; he might prefer the missions where his team won a victory over the Wraith, but there was still something satisfying in helping people escape this kind of danger...
Then a violent earthquake shook the complex, triggering a burst of steam from the ground immediately in front of the Stargate, and Sumner was motivated into action even before the large circle that had changed and affected so many lives across so many planets began to sink.
"Ronon, Teyla; get those people back inside immediately!" he yelled, thought quickly translating into action as he activated his radio to alert the rest of his team before he changed the setting once again. "Sumner to Atlantis, raise the shield; the Stargate is sinking into the magma!"
As he watched the sight in front of him, the refugees retreating as the stone platform began to collapse in bursts of molten orange, all Sumner could do was watch helplessly as the Stargate fell over onto its front and began to sink into the ever-expanding pool of lava surrounding it.
For a few moments, all that Sumner could do was stare at the sight of the area where the Stargate had been only moments before; he knew that the Stargate could survive almost anything thrown at it short of the 'Gatebusters' he'd heard rumours of during his trip back to Earth, but the scale of what had just happened... coupled with the sheer random bad luck of it...
"What happened?" Ronon asked, as he, Teyla and Beckett hurried into the control room, their arrival drawing Sumner's thoughts out of the momentary panic that had been about to set in; he had a situation facing him, and he had to present a controlled front for the rest of his team if they were going to get through this.
"The Stargate sank into the magma just after Doctor Weir and Chancellor Lycus passed through with the first wave of refugees," Sumner clarified, looking grimly back at his colleagues.
"What?" Beckett asked, looking in shock at the colonel before his gaze returned to the expanding magma before them. "Oh God... we are in serious trouble..."
"Maybe not," Ronon said, looking over at Sumner with a thoughtful expression. "The Taranians have said a bit about that ship of theirs in the hanger; maybe McKay could finish the job."
For a moment, Sumner wondered if that idea was even possible- he knew that the Orion was in relatively good shape, but even with whatever advice the Phantom had been able to provide he doubted that they could have completely put the ship back together given their own pre-existing technological development-, but pushed that thought aside; with no immediate way to contact Atlantis, and no way of knowing when the Daedalus would get here- assuming that Doctor Weir was able to reach Colonel Caldwell in time to make a difference-, that particular plan most likely represented their greatest chance of survival using the resources available to them.
"It's... worth a try," he said at last, nodding briefly at Ronon in acknowledgement of the Satedean's suggestion before he turned to Teyla. "See what you can do about coordinating the remaining refugees; I'll check in with McKay and see how things are going at his end."
It wasn't much of a plan, but it was probably the best that they were going to come up with in the time available to them; Sumner just hoped that McKay's usual brilliance when faced with something that would kill him if he screwed up remained valid...