While John had a few doubts about McKay's plan to send some of the base staff to use the jumper's own sensors to check the base, he supposed that it was a fair enough decision based on what they knew. He wasn't going to get anywhere by starting a panic with a theory, and if a Wraith was out there, it was probably fairly weak by now no matter how careful it had tried to be with its available food supply. If they could just identify where everyone was, they could hopefully isolate any intruders in one part of the base until they worked out something better, and then they could focus on working out how to use this station and/or dealing with whatever was causing this blackout…
The sound of gunfire from up ahead cut John's train of speculation short, prompting him to draw his energy gun and his pistol and run towards the gunshots, Elizabeth immediately behind him as McKay followed just after them, vocally complaining but clearing willing to come along anyway.
The more John thought about this mess, the more anxious he became that he was dealing with something far more complicated than an old bit of technology having teething trouble…
When the three-man team went around another corner and found Ronon lying on the ground, John knew that they were in trouble; he'd seen Ronon in action enough times to be sure that he wouldn't be taken out by a simple accident.
"Are you all right?" Elizabeth asked, hurrying over to kneel down beside the Satedean as he groaned and tried to get up.
"Did you see who attacked you?" the expedition leader asked.
"Yeah, it was Teyla," Ronon replied grimly.
"Teyla?" McKay repeated. "Why-?"
"Wraith," John said grimly.
"Wraith?" Elizabeth repeated, before understanding dawned. "But we didn't detect anything when we ran our scan; how could something take her over-?"
"They're virtually immortal and fairly powerful, remember?" John noted grimly. "A few ships crashed into the ocean during the last battle, and I'm willing to bet that a Wraith or two survived until we came down here and started stirring things up; something strong enough to live this long could probably get into Teyla's head easily enough if she wasn't expecting it."
"And walk along the ocean floor without a pressure suit at these depths?" McKay put in.
"Again, the Wraith are fairly strong even when they're young; if something lived this long down here, it's probably worked out how to control its ability to cope with the conditions outside of its ship, even if it couldn't go anywhere useful without more help," John noted. "Take little trips out at a time to build up its endurance, and it might have even found a way to walk to this station, even if it couldn't get through the shields until someone turned them off."
"Good point," Elizabeth nodded grimly. "Doctor Beckett did speculate that they might even be able to survive in a vacuum so long as they weren't left out there for too long and had some kind of warmth nearby; compared to that, being underwater near thermal vents would almost be simple."
"And this didn't occur to you earlier because…?" McKay asked as he shot a pointed stare at John.
"Because I'm not some comic book character who plans for everything," John countered. "I can only work with what I've got, and what I had suggested that any Wraith out there would have done something earlier if it survived the crash or would have just died from the pressure down here; I can't be blamed for finding out that the ridiculously unlikely actually happened."
"Right," Elizabeth nodded in understanding at John before she turned to address the team. "In any case, our priority right now has to be to find Teyla and work out what she's trying to do; John, tell everyone to congregate in the central control room, and then help us find where she might have gone."
"Check," John said, reaching up to his mask to activate his new inbuilt radio. "John Sheppard to all team; we have reason to believe that a Wraith has made it into this drilling station- or is making its way here- and is likely to be very hungry. Travel in pairs and get to the central control room as soon as possible; in my experience, hungry Wraith can be desperate, but we don't know how long it's been since it last fed, so it might be slower than they usually are."
As he heard the rest of the team starting to respond to his order, he could only hope that it had been given soon enough to stop Teyla doing anything she'd regret when she came to herself…
"This is Zelenka," the Czech scientist suddenly said over the radio. "Someone has just activated emergency forcefields throughout the station."
"Can you get back to the control room?" John asked.
"Most of us are here already; we just need to work out the best routes for the others based on what is left accessible," Zelenka replied.
"What's Teyla doing?" McKay asked, panting slightly as they ran along the corridor.
"Best guess; creating a suitable path for the Wraith and following it up by making sure that we can't do anything with the controls to stop her," John noted.
"Right…" McKay said, before coming to a halt at a junction in the corridor. "OK, I'll head bac to the control room; if we're being hacked, I'll need to be there if I'm going to counter it."
"I'll come too," Ronon said, grimly raising his gun. "Can't exactly leave you alone if there's a Wraith out here."
"Thanks," McKay said, giving Ronon a brief grin of thanks before the two men hurried down a corridor, leaving John to look at Elizabeth.
"If you-?" he began.
"I'm safer staying with you," Elizabeth said.
The simplicity of that statement, as though she was almost surprised that she needed to even say that much, meant more to John than any words could have expressed. Not bothering to reply, he turned around and continued down the corridor, keeping an ear out for both Elizabeth's footsteps just behind him and any sound of Teyla up ahead, until they arrived in what looked like an auxiliary control room of some sort, Teyla staring at the various broken control panels in front of her.
"Teyla?" John asked, relieved when she turned around to look at him in genuine confusion; at least he didn't have to worry about her still being under the Wraith's control.
"J… John?" she said, shaking her head slightly as she looked between him and Elizabeth. "Wh… what am I doing here?"
"I have a few ideas, but I'd like to check in with the team before we worry about that," John said, walking over to take Teyla's arm as he smiled reassuringly at her. "Come on; let's… get back to the control room, huh?"
God, he hoped he was wrong about what they were up against…
"Rodney?" he said, activating his radio once again as they walked. "We've got Teyla; how's things at your end?"
"Not great," the Canadian scientist replied grimly. "We've not only lost several key systems, but the entire operating code's been scrambled; communication's gone, control crystals are blown, half the power's gone, and a series of emergency forcefields have been set up at various points throughout the station."
"To give the Wraith easy access?" Elizabeth asked, keeping the radio on even as she looked at John.
"Most likely," John nodded grimly, before turning his radio back on. "McKay, focus on reactivating internal sensors and disabling the forcefields between us and the Jumper; if the station can't communicate with Atlantis directly, the jumper's our best bet."
With that said, he shut off the radio and turned back to look at Teyla. "Did you sense anything about the Wraith that was using you?"
"Y… yes," Teyla nodded uncertainly, pushing aside her obvious fear at the idea as she looked at John. "I believe that it is a Queen."
"A Queen?" Ronon repeated, tightening his grip on his own gun.
"Great," John groaned. "I hate those bitches…"
"So what now?" McKay asked.
"We track this bitch down before she can do anything too extreme," John said firmly, before looking awkwardly at Teyla. "Uh… until we know how much control she had over you…"
"I understand," Teyla said solemnly.
John hated this, but he had to be practical now that he was considering multiple people; if it was just him at risk, he might have been willing to let Teyla come with him, but with the rest of the expedition in danger he had to be cautious.
"OK," he said, looking over at the two women, tossing Elizabeth his energy weapon after resetting it to stun as he drew his own P-90, "I'm going to head for the jumper to make sure things are under control there; stay here and stay safe."
He didn't stop to say anything else before he charged down the corridor, hoping that his memory of the station's layout was correct and that the Queen hadn't blocked off every path just yet; she might be intelligent, but the Wraith couldn't have been inside this station before and Teyla's own memories wouldn't have been enough to cut every route off…
Despite having to take a few detours on the route between the back-up control room and the jumper's docking bay, with some shields raising and lowering as he ran through the station amid half-heard comments from the control room staff that they were working to shut all the shields down, it didn't take long for John to reach his destination. As he charged into the docking bay, he found himself facing the back of a Wraith Queen standing over the body of one of the scientists, another corpse off to the side.
"STOP!" John yelled, brandishing his P-90 even as he knew that it was too late to save the Wraith's latest meal. As the Queen turned around, John fired his gun at her, only for the Queen to dive out of the way before John felt a sudden pressure in his mind.
"Fascinating…" the Queen said, her tone the same chilling tone John had heard from other Queens as she stood back up. "You are… the Phantom…"
"Yeah, and you're… some lost Queen… who can't accept… that she got left behind," John countered, tensing his shoulders as he tried to maintain his hard-trained mental barriers. "Care to… make this easier?"
"I was about to make you the same offer," the Queen countered, chuckling as she flexed her fingers, clearly anticipating an additional meal. "You may have developed some reputation among my sisters' children, but I am not so pitiful as to fall-"
Seizing the moment, John pressed his finger down on the trigger, bullets erupting from the gun to strike the Wraith Queen in the chest. The blast only sent her staggering for a moment, but that was enough for John to fire another quick series of shots as she lost her grip on his mind, leaving her to fall to the ground as the pain overwhemled her.
"Got her," he said, turning on his radio as he checked out the area around the ship; there were two bodies lying on the ground, clearly the victims of Wraith feeding, but nothing else seemed to be damaged. "Two victims before I got here, but the jumper's structurally intact, and I've taken the Queen out."
"She's dead?" Elizabeth asked.
"Just out of it," John said. "I hit her with a few bullets, but considering what she's probably been through to get this far, her healing ability's probably been 'amped up' by feeding on her fellow Wraith; I didn't shoot at anything too vital, so she'll regain consciousness later."
"Hold on; you're leaving her alive?" McKay said over the radio. "If it's a Queen, why not just kill her?"
"Because Wraith don't live this long by being stupid, and Wraith Queens definitely don't get to their level of authority by charging into enemy territory without some kind of plan beyond killing everyone," John said firmly. "If she was smart enough to make Teyla set up those force fields and get down here in the first place, I want to be sure she doesn't have any other nasty surprises for us before I take her head off."
"I thought you left your sword on Atlantis?"
"My gun does the job well enough; I just find the sword neater," John noted, his gaze fixed on the Wraith. "Can someone get up here with the emergency sedatives and something we can use to tie this bitch down? In a situation like this, I think we can all agree that the more precautions we take the better."
"We'll get right on that," Elizabeth said, only a slight anxiety in her tone despite the thought of the threat they'd just confirmed was trapped with them. "Keep an eye on her and we'll be there as soon as we can."
"Check," John said, terminating the radio as he stared grimly at the still Queen.
He already had a few ideas about what they could expect from this mess, but the sooner he knew what they were up against for certain, the happier he'd be…
Staring at the Wraith Queen currently bound before her on the table of what seemed to be the station's equivalent of an infirmary, Elizabeth shuddered inwardly, both at the thought of what this 'woman' was capable of and what they had to do to prevent that. As much as she accepted that negotiating with the Wraith at present was a virtually pointless task, considering how much they enjoyed what they were and the various lessons learned from last year's aborted 'alliance' with Michael's hive, the concept of keeping prisoners like this still made her uncomfortable, particularly when they were having to resort to such extreme measures as repeated drugs to keep her contained.
She appreciated what the Wraith were capable of and acknowledged John's point that the Wraith would have just eaten the rest of the Geneva Convention if they'd been granted the chance to participate, but that didn't make it easier to countenance this kind of treatment…
"Welcome back," she said, controlling her reaction as the Queen regained consciousness and began to strain against her bonds; she trusted John's experience, but it still wasn't comfortable being this close to a Queen. "I trust you're comfortable?"
"That groggy sensation you're feeling are the sedatives we're pumping you full of," John put in firmly. "Just a precaution. As for the other precautions…"
Elizabeth gave John and Ronon a chance to demonstrate their weapons before she walked up to stand directly over the Queen. "Now then, you're going to tell us everything we want to know."
"In exchange for…?" the Queen asked.
"This is not a negotiation," Elizabeth said firmly.
"I disagree," the Queen said, grinning the usual sadistic grin of her kind.
"On what grounds?" John asked. "I'm fairly sure your ship's out there and you've been waiting down here ever since you were one of the unlucky ones during the Wraith's last attempt to blow up Atlantis, and you'd have come over here with the rest of your crew if you had any, so what we want to know is what you actually thought you were going to accomplish over here?"
"You are all going to die," the Queen said, ignoring John's argument as she continued to stare confidently at her 'interrogators'.
"We're at that stage already?" John said, shaking his head as he looked at the Queen. "You people have so little imagination…"
As the Queen defiantly turned her head away from them, Elizabeth didn't need her long experience with John to know that he was more unnerved by that last comment than he wanted to let on right now. Even if he genuinely wanted to believe that this Queen was just falling back on typical Wraith arrogance, they couldn't take the chance that it was something more…
"And we missed this earlier because?" John asked, looking pointedly at McKay after the scientist had revealed the results of his latest scans of the station's surroundings.
"Well, it's emitting very low EM results; add in the fact that it's partly buried in silt, and it's actually not that surprising that we missed it earlier," McKay explained, shaking his head in frustration as he studied the Wraith cruiser the science team had just discovered during the Queen's interrogation. "Still, if we'd just been paying more attention…"
"Nobody could have guessed that something could still be out there after all this time, McKay," John looked reassuringly at the scientist. "Like I said, even I didn't suspect anything until it was too late; we can't go kicking ourselves because of hindsight."
"So what now?" Elizabeth asked. "All that talk about our imminent death may or may not be an empty threat, but we have to find some way to be sure…"
"I can find that information," Teyla put in.
"Are you sure?" John asked. "That already went against you earlier…"
"She is heavily sedated, and this time I know exactly what I am dealing with," Teyla said firmly. "We have to know."
"OK," John said, nodding in thought. "I'll head out to see if I can find anything in the cruiser, while you get ready to see what you can get out of her if we need to get into her head."
"You sure that's safe?" Ronon asked.
"Hey, if I can knock her down, you can keep her down," John smiled at the Satedean warrior, trying to conceal his inner doubts. "Like I said during the interrogation, she'd have brought more warriors along if she had anyone else to do her dirty work; whatever's in that ship, I'm sure I've handled worse.
Maybe the Queen was just showing the typical Wraith arrogance, but when dealing with someone who'd managed to survive this long, John wanted to make sure they were covering all the angles, which included entering potentially hostile territory by himself to limit the risk.
As he cautiously moved the jumper towards the crashed Hive ship, John was grateful once again for the Wraith's typical arrogance; while the larger ships needed Wraith DNA to actually pilot them, most of the minor control systems were easy for anyone to use as the Wraith never expected anyone to try and break in to them. Setting the jumper down as close to the Wraith cruiser as he dared, John took a few moments to program the jumper's shield to extend from its rear hatch to the nearest entrance to the cruiser before he left the ship. It was fairly deep at this point, but after the time it had spent being protected by the station's own shield, the shield should still be good for an hour or so before he had to return to the drilling platform. Walking through the small ship, it didn't take long for him to reach the main control him, his eyes narrowing as he studied the Wraith's twisted equivalent of a command console.
His experience with the Ancient language might still be relatively amateur, but he'd learned enough to be sure that what he was looking at was extremely bad news.
"Damnit…" he muttered, before he activated his radio. "Everyone, I'm at the Wraith ship, and we have a problem; before she left, the Queen activated a self-destruct program set to go off in a couple of hours."
"A couple of hours?" McKay repeated. "Why leave us so much time?"
"She probably wanted to give herself enough time to get into the base and find a way out while underestimating our ability to hold her off; the 'why' of it doesn't matter right now," John said, his attention focused on the console. "What's important is that we need to shut this thing off before it blows up; if I remember the Ancients' records of this area, we're currently over a particularly thin part of the planet's crust, right?"
"Which means that something the size of a Wraith cruiser blowing up in this area would release all that thermal energy to such an expansive degree that even Atlantis could be destroyed," McKay finished, his tone clearly expressing his terror at the thought. "Oh, that's really not good…"
"Can't we just turn the self-destruct off?" Ronon asked.
"With two hours to go and Wraith technology notoriously picky, I wouldn't like to try it unless I knew I had the right code," John said, staring grimly at the computer. "I just don't know enough about Wraith technology to know what would happen if I entered the wrong code; for all I know, the second I get it wrong I'd end the countdown and set it off now…"
"I can find the code," Teyla's voice cut in.
"Teyla?" Elizabeth said anxiously. "You already-"
"I was caught off-guard last time," Teyla said grimly. "As we have already discussed, I now know what I am up against, and I know what I am looking for; I appreciate that you are concerned, but that will not happen again."
"And I'm here if things do turn ugly," Ronon put in.
"Do it," John said after a brief hesitation, his guilt over what he was asking Teyla to risk only slightly appeased when Elizabeth gave the same order.
For the next few moments, all that John could do was stand anxiously over the control panel, listening to the silent radio connection for the next sign that anything was going to happen, wondering if he had enough time to try his luck if Teyla's current gambit failed…
When Teyla's voice came back over the radio to pass him the code, John grinned in relief as he tapped the necessary control panels, waiting for a few moments before the display for the self-destruct fell silent.
"It's done," he said, turning the radio back on with satisfaction. "Feel free to put her down."
"With pleasure," Ronon said, followed by the sound of his energy pistol discharging. "She's headless."
"Good," John said, looking grimly around the Wraith cruiser.
He was proud that he and his allies had managed to outmanoeuvre such an ancient Wraith Queen, but that didn't mean he was completely comfortable at the thought of staying in this ship any longer than he had to.
As far as he was concerned, the only thing they needed to focus on now was testing whether that geothermal drilling platform would be worth all the effort it had taken to get down here in the first place.
AN: A bit easier than canon, but with John's greater experience of the Wraith, it was easier for him to work out where the Queen came from and what she was after.
Coming up next is a more original chapter, as John considers recent events on a personal and galactic level while reflecting on his grimmer past as the Phantom