Admittedly, their chances in the current fight were a lot better than they'd been when the Wraith had attacked them last year- they had one nearly full Zero Point Module and the remaining dregs of power in the original ZPM, a restocked compliment of drones thanks to their encounter with the Tower after they'd dethroned the Lord Protector, and work on the Orion had progressed to the point that the ship was virtually back to full working order-, but that didn't change the facts; if the Wraith knew that they were here, they were in serious trouble even if they could defeat this Hive.
There had to be something she could do...
"Penny for your thoughts?" a familiar voice said.
"Now you show up?" Elizabeth asked, turning to look at John in exasperation; his 'sudden appearance' act might be impressive, but it could also become very frustrating when she was already feeling stressed about the current situation.
"It's been a bit hectic over the last few days; I didn't want to risk it-" John began, only for the cool manner in which he began to explain his actions to finally push Elizabeth over the edge.
"Risk what; getting captured?" she yelled, walking over to stand almost directly in front of John. She hated to be this blunt almost as soon as she spoke, but faced with the chance to talk with someone who she didn't have to be Atlantis's in-control leader for, the ability to vent was something she couldn't pass up no matter how much she might want to. "We could use your help here-!"
"Sumner will only accept that help so long as I do things his way; I can't do that-!" John began, his voice becoming increasingly frustrated as he looked back at her.
"Why?" Elizabeth retaliated in equal frustration; given that she couldn't just yell at the Wraith or her staff, as much as she hated to sound so petty, John was the best thing available right now. "Because your precious ego won't allow you to accept orders from anyone else-?"
"Because that man is trying to do things by a book that doesn't apply out here; how am I meant to react-?"
"You could at least try and moderate your approach-!"
"I DON'T TRUST HIM!" John yelled.
For a moment, silence settled over the balcony as the two leaders- both official and unofficial- stared at each other, until John sighed.
"I'm sorry," he said, looking apologetically at Elizabeth. "I didn't... look, whatever that might have sounded like, I do trust you; I just..."
"No, I'm sorry," Elizabeth said, trying to smile reassuringly at John. "I understand why you have issues with Sumner's authority, but it's just... it's been so busy here these last few days; getting the Orion's repairs finished, evacuating the Athosians back to the mainland, setting up the cloak again..."
She shook her head in exasperation. "I guess I... I needed to vent at something, and you were the closest thing available; everyone else needs me to be in control, needs me to take command of the situation, needs me to be something that I'm not-"
"No," John interrupted, walking over to turn Elizabeth away from the balcony and face him, placing his hands on her shoulders as he looked at her. "They need you to be who you have the potential to be. There might be some debate back at Stargate Command, but you wouldn't have been given this job if the right people didn't think you could do it; you just need to believe in yourself-"
"When nobody else does?" Elizabeth asked, sighing in frustration as she lowered her head. "Half the time I'm with him I feel like Sumner only takes orders from me because he has to according to the chain of command established by his superiors, I can barely spend any time with the rest of my staff because Sumner wants us to remain professionally detached from the people we may have to order to their deaths at some point, Rodney spends most of his time in his lab when he's not on missions- I'm not sure if he even has any spare time any more; he's either working, eating or sleeping-, Teyla and Carson are friendly but they have to focus on what her people and his department need rather than spare the time to spend time with me, and Ronon... well, I don't think I need to tell you why that's difficult..."
Shrugging his hands off her shoulders, she turned to lean on the balcony once more, staring out at the ocean before her as though looking for the answers, before she spoke again. "I just... I wish I felt like I was here because people genuinely believed that I could do the job, not because I was just the most politically viable choice..."
"I believe in you," John said simply.
"Why?" Elizabeth asked, turning to look at him once again; for a moment, their proximity made her flash back to their brief encounter while Phoebus had controlled her body- she'd never mentioned that moment and she never would unless John showed a willingness to discuss it first; Phoebus's implications had been... 'confusing' was the most obvious word-, but she pushed that thought aside to focus on the relevant question. "Why do you have such... faith in me?"
"Because since you came here, you've never chosen the course of action that works best for Earth, but always gone for the course of action that works best for humanity," John said solemnly (Something in his stance suggested that he was keeping something back, but after the trouble she'd had getting John to talk about himself in the past she wasn't going to push him to provide more information than he wanted to). "We have soldiers, scientists, and doctors here, each one playing a role that they feel is more important than the others, but you're able to stand apart from all that and find a way to make them all work together to help those who need it, both here and back on Earth."
For a moment, as he looked at her, Elizabeth thought that he was going to say something- she wasn't sure what, but he was definitely about to say something-, but then he shook his head slightly and continued with something that sounded slightly forced to her, as though he'd changed his mind on what he was about to say at the last minute. "Even if some people on Earth don't get that because they're too removed from this situation... I have faith in you, and more than a few of the staff here feel the same."
For a moment, Elizabeth wasn't sure what to say in response to that statement- the sheer simplicity of John's sentence was somehow all the more overpowering than his earlier shout had been; he spoke as if her ability to command Atlantis was a simple fact of the universe-, but, in the end, her mind's role in the decision-making process was seemingly bypassed as she wrapped her arms around John and gave him a brief hug.
"Thank you," she said, kissing him briefly on the cheek that was the only part of his face exposed by his mask- she wasn't sure why she did that, but it just felt... right to do so- before she stepped back to smile at him. "I... I needed that."
"You're welcome," John replied, a slight softness in his eyes as he looked at her that she hadn't seen before and couldn't quite interpret.
For a moment, as Elizabeth looked back at him, she almost didn't see the mask or whatever he had underneath it- the memory of the smooth surface she'd felt when Phoebus had extended her fingers under the mask still unnerved her, but she was willing to leave that particular secret for whenever John felt the time was right to share it with her-; she just saw the man who had done so much for Atlantis, the man who had fought for this galaxy before they knew there was anything to fight here... and the man who believed in her when she had trouble believing in herself...
"Anyway," John said, smiling slightly at her as he stepped back towards the balcony, "I'd better get into position before that hive gets here."
"Position?" Elizabeth repeated.
"Hey, I've got more practise with that control chair than anyone here; if we get into a fight, I think you'd want me in charge of that thing rather than anyone else," John said, shrugging slightly with the nonchalance that you could only show when stating a fact before he smiled at her. "And don't worry, I won't do anything to try and take charge unless we get into a battle and I'm sure I'm needed; I don't want to provoke anything if I don't have to..."
Elizabeth only gave John a nod of approval after he proposed his idea, but was all that he needed. As soon as her head had inclined in acknowledgement, he had turned around and jumped off the edge of the balcony, his cape spreading as he fell towards the lower levels, leaving her to turn around and walk back into the city, fighting the urge to smile.
The news that the Phantom was still watching out for them might not be something that Sumner would regard as especially encouraging, but for Elizabeth, John's promise that he would be there if they needed him was all they needed right now...
A couple of days later, as she stood in Atlantis's control room, preparing to coordinate the city's current defence plan against the Wraith, Elizabeth could only hope that John's intervention wouldn't be required; she might recognise that he'd only do that kind of thing if he felt that he absolutely had to, but that didn't mean that Sumner would be as understanding about it as she would be...
She knew that she was just trying to focus on the smaller-scale issues to avoid thinking about the long-term issues facing them- even with their new control of the Orion after the Taranians had allowed them control of the ship, they still hadn't had the time to fully test the new control crystals or any of the code that was on them-, but she couldn't help it; there was so little that she could actually do right now...
"All of my people have been safely relocated to the city," Teyla said as she and Ronon hurried into the control room
"Did everything go smoothly?" Elizabeth asked; she hated having to relocate the Athosians like this, even if Halling and Teyla continued to assure her that they were grateful for the chance to help Atlantis.
"Yeah; they're pretty used to it, back and forth, by now," Ronon said dismissively. "Have you picked up any of their contacts?"
"Sergeant?" Elizabeth asked, glancing at Chuck as he sat at the console (It was somehow harder to think of him by his rank).
"Negative, ma'am," the young man replied after a quick glance at his laptop. "Scans are still clear. It looks like it's just the one hive ship."
"And our cloak?" she asked.
"Up and running," Chuck confirmed. "All readings are in the clear."
"Good," she said, before she reached up to activate her headset radio. "Colonel Caldwell, are you in position?"
"Affirmative," Caldwell's voice replied. "We're out of scanning range and ready to jump into position on your go-ahead."
"Excellent," Elizabeth replied.
"Just for the record," Caldwell added, "I still think that we should be in orbit around Atlantis, ready to open up on that hive ship the second it comes out of hyperspace."
"It's one hive, Caldwell, which suggests they might just be checking up on us," Elizabeth replied (She wouldn't even admit it to John, but it still left her feeling slightly frustrated her when Caldwell did that kind of thing; did he honestly think she hadn't considered this whole situation from a military standpoint rather than just trying to determine the best way to avoid a fight?). "There's no need to confirm our presence if we don't have to. Just stand by."
"Standing by," Caldwell replied, terminating the connection at his end as Elizabeth turned her attention to another matter.
"Colonel Sumner, what's your status?" she asked, shifting her radio from the Daedalus to the frequency that she could use to contact the Orion.
"We're out of sensor range and ready to jump into hyperspace on your word," Sumner responded, his tone grim. "McKay still has some doubts about Orion's ability to accurately calculate short-range jumps- something about him having more time to compensate over longer distances-, but the ship seems to be ready for combat, so we shouldn't have to worry about that if nothing else."
"Well, hopefully we won't need you; just... be ready in case we do," Elizabeth said, before she terminated the connection and turned to look at the technician.
"I have a contact," Chuck said, looking grimly back at her as he studied his laptop for a moment. "It's going into geosynchronous orbit; hasn't armed any of its weapons."
"If they do, I want you to switch from cloak to shield as quickly as possible," Elizabeth said. "Don't wait for my order."
"Yes, ma'am," Chuck replied (Elizabeth was grateful for his casual acceptance of that order; whatever importance Sumner might place on the chain of command, it was always good to see them showing independent thought).
After a few moments of silence, during which Elizbaeth could only stare at the screen displaying the current status of Lantea, Chuck glanced around at her. "Transmitting a signal, audio only."
"Put it on speaker," Elizabeth said, her gaze still fixed on the red dot representing the hive-ship.
"We know you are there," a male voice said over the radio. "We mean you no harm. Please respond."
"Colonel Sumner," Elizabeth said, her voice low as she activated the radio to address Orion, "are you hearing this?"
"It's repeating again," Chuck said before Sumner could respond (Although he could equally have been just as stunned into silence as she had almost been).
"We mean you no harm," the voice said again. "There is no point in hiding, Doctor Weir."
Elizabeth couldn't help but start at that particular statement; the idea that someone in a Wraith ship could address her by name was not encouraging for her hope that it was someone else they were dealing with...
"We know you are there," the voice continued to say. "We mean you no harm. Please respond."
"Is that who I think it is?" Sumner asked at last.
"He's addressing me by name," Elizabeth replied grimly. "I think we can assume it's Michael."
She might have expected their flawed experiment with the retrovirus to come back to haunt them eventually, but she'd assumed that it would have taken more time than this; even if he hadn't been killed by the Wraith, would they really listen to someone who couldn't even remember his past?
"You don't actually intend to respond?" Caldwell said, clearly having been listening to the transmission himself.
"Why not?" Elizabeth asked.
"Where do you want me to start?" the Daedalus commander replied
"I think we can safely say our cover is blown," Elizabeth pointed out, deciding to tackle the most obvious problem facing them right now.
"I wouldn't jump to that conclusion," Caldwell said with a slightly dismissive tone.
"The message is from Michael, Colonel," Elizabeth retorted; it was hard to deny that kind of evidence, no matter how much they might want to do so.
"They know we're here," Ronon said with his usual direct manner.
"But they don't know exactly where we are," Caldwell pointed out.
"He's right," Sumner added, having evidently been listening to the conversation from Orion. "If we answer them, we provide them with a means of directly targeting Atlantis; we can't risk it."
"Teyla?" Elizabeth asked, looking hopefully over at the Athosian; relying on telepathic contact might make her uncomfortable, but if it could get the job done in this current situation...
"Any attempt on my part to connect with Michael will confirm our location as surely as if you answer by radio," Teyla replied, dashing Elizabeth's brief hope that she might have found a loophole in the current dilemma.
"I recommend you open a secure channel to the hive via the Daedalus," McKay put in from Orion. "That way they won't be able to pinpoint Atlantis' position."
"And we can always turn the shield on," Elizabeth finished for them.
"We have more than enough firepower to stop one Hive if things get ugly; I say we keep it in reserve and try McKay's suggestion," Sumner pointed out.
With options limited, Elizabeth turned to look at Teyla and Ronon; it was probably a long shot, but if anyone was going to know the answer to the question she had right now, it was probably them.
"Have you ever heard of a Wraith behaving this way?" she asked; her hopes for a positive answer weren't high, but this wasn't the time to worry about that.
"No," Ronon replied.
"Nor have I," Teyla added.
"Right," Elizabeth said, putting aside her disappointment at the lack of past experiences to draw on to focus on the immediate issue. "Let's hear what they have to say."
As John crouched in his 'hiding-hole' just outside the control chair, his earpiece tuned into Elizabeth's so that he could hear whatever was about to be said- it didn't count as eavesdropping if he was only going to do this kind of thing to stay informed in an emergency; he'd never do something like this to listen to her in private-, he couldn't help but wish that he'd considered the possibility of this particular Wraith coming back to haunt him so quickly.
God... Michael was still alive...
He'd been hoping that the Wraith would have killed the guy as a freak the moment they had him back in their custody again- even if the retrovirus hadn't been able to permanently transform him into a human, the experiments he'd undergone before being exposed to the drug itself had to have done something to his system that would make it hard for him to become a normal Wraith again-, and here they were, facing the one guy he'd really hoped they'd seen the last of...
The fact that they weren't bringing him down to Atlantis at least made him feel slightly better- the less opportunities for Wraith to gain access to Ancient technology the better-, but he still didn't exactly feel that relaxed about this current mess; Zelenka's preparations for setting up an indirect communication link sounded like they'd be effective, but that didn't make him feel that much better as Elizabeth gave the order to open the channel.
"Hello, Michael," Elizabeth's voice said, confirming all of John's worst thoughts about the current mess.
"Why the long delay?" Michael's voice responded.
"We needed to take a few precautions before contacting you," Elizabeth clarified. "I'm sure you understand why."
"I said we would not harm you," Michael said (John wasn't sure if he should feel stunned or awkward about the fact that Michael had that much faith that they would keep their word after what he'd said the last time they were on the same planet).
"Well, excuse me for not taking you at your word," Elizabeth responded (John couldn't help but hate himself at that comment; just two years in the Pegasus Galaxy had turned the most peaceful woman he'd ever known into someone who doubted other people's words, no matter how justified that doubt was). "You wanted to talk; we're listening. Go ahead."
"Over two years ago, every hive ship in this galaxy emerged from hibernation prematurely," Michael replied, his voice slow and grim, as though he was having trouble even remembering this; clearly the retrovirus's mental effects hadn't gone away yet. "We thought a new rich feeding ground had been discovered."
"Earth," Elizabeth said, John's own lips moving almost automatically to repeat her statement as he processed the implications of that statement (It was one reason he'd always taken care not to give any Wraith the chance to interrogate him; after everything the other Elizabeth had told him about the Wraith's psychic powers, he hadn't wanted to risk them reading his mind and learning about his real homeworld).
"Unfortunately," Michael continued, "locating your planet and uncovering an effective means of transportation to get there has proven quite difficult."
"Well, I can't say I'm sad to hear that," Elizabeth responded, a slight smile in her tone.
"For the first time since the dawn of our race, there are too few of your kind to feed the waking Wraith," Michael continued. "This has resulted in civil war. Hives are forming alliances. The strong are attacking the weak."
"Which are you?" Elizabeth asked (Whether just trying to establish their social position or get a better idea regarding how many more Hives they might expect to show up if they dealt with this one, John couldn't be sure).
"Our goals are not dissimilar, Doctor Weir," Michael replied, ignoring the offered question.
"You would like to eliminate the Wraith as a threat?" Elizabeth asked, her incredulity obvious. "I find that hard to believe."
"We would like you to give us Doctor Beckett's retrovirus," Michael clarified. "If we were able to distribute it among the rival Wraith hives in sufficient quantity, this would both render them helpless and provide us with an alternative food source."
John wasn't sure if he should feel enthusiastic or sickened at the scenario that Michael had just proposed; Elizabeth's comment about the Wraith becoming humans certainly presented an interesting new solution to the current conflict by having the Wraith destroy themselves, but even if Michael seemed to like that idea, John couldn't shake the thought that there was going to be some kind of catch...
"As a sign of good faith, I am sending you our jamming codes," Michael continued, the offer drawing John's attention back to the conversation. "This programme was established and distributed before the civil war broke out, so we assume all the hive ships are still using it. By figuring out how to bypass or disable this programme, you would be able to beam your nuclear weapons aboard any of our ships whenever you so please. We are willing to help you achieve this if you help us."
John vaguely heard a console beep and a technician apparently confirm that they were receiving the aforementioned data burst, but the range of Elizabeth's radio wasn't sufficient for him to actually explicitly hear what was being said, even if her subsequent comment about sending something to a non-networked computer suggested that they'd sent the data they'd just mentioned.
"I'm sure you'll want to recall all the ships you have lying in wait for us and discuss this with your people," Michael continued, his tone rather casual for such a potentially dangerous topic. "We will await your reply... but, should you make an attempt to destroy us, we will alert every Wraith in this galaxy to the fact that Atlantis is still very much intact. I'm sure you wouldn't want that."
With that, Michael terminated the connection, leaving John with nothing to do but sit grimly in his hiding-place before he began to move.
If what he'd heard was any indication of what he could anticipate in the future, he should probably be near the conference room to hear how things were about to go...