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"Hello?" a voice said from the radio after the three men had been walking in silence for a few more minutes, John subtly moving in the direction of the underwater bay they were most likely to be using while trying not to make it too obvious that had a more definite plan in mind…

"Yeah?" O'Neill said, as he answered the radio. "How's everything going with that plan of yours, Doctor Weir?"

"Actually, General," Elizabeth said, her voice displaying her discomfort at this turn of events, "we're going to need a favour."

"Oh?" O'Neill said, exchanging brief glances with John and Woolsey before returning to the conversation. "What kind of favour are we talking about here?"

"Well," Elizabeth began, "we made it to the underwater jumper bay we thought was there, but unfortunately, while the outer door worked, the inner door is remaining sealed as we can't drain the water level, and we apparently suffered some minor damage during our return that's left us with a leak in the gateship."

John cursed the further evidence of the city's sudden run of bad luck; the Asuran attack must have damaged the automatic control systems for that bay- they'd taken a few knocks over the years and he'd only ever bothered to perform limited repairs on them because he'd tended to use the Stargate to get anywhere-, which meant that Elizabeth's team's chances of getting out on their own were shockingly limited unless he stepped in somehow…

"OK…" O'Neill said, looking thoughtfully at the radio. "I get what the problem is, but I don't get what we can do about it…"

"We need you to get to the manual override in the gateship bay's control room and activate it so that we can drain the water out," Elizabeth replied. "We'd do it ourselves, but we can't open the gateship without letting the water in, and the outer door seems to have jammed since we entered it, so we can't get out that way…"

"I know where that control room you're talking about is; we're on it," John said, reaching over to take the radio from O'Neill with a brief apologetic glance at the general; he might as well reassure Elizabeth about this latest dilemma personally. "Just hold on, Doctor Weir; we'll be there soon."

"I know," Elizabeth replied, that warm tone in her voice that he'd heard so often when they were alone, talking about nothing in particular…

"OK," he said, handing the radio back to O'Neill as he looked firmly between the two men, "we've not got far to go until we get to the control room they're talking about, but we also have to assume that the Asurans are going to work out what's happening sooner rather than later; the sooner we get there, the sooner they're out and able to help us."

"Not the greatest plan in the world, but I've heard a lot worse," O'Neill said with a slight shrug. "So, since you know the way… lead on?"

"You're trusting him-?" Woolsey said, looking over at O'Neill incredulously.

"Trusting the guy who's lived in this city for decades, hasn't done a thing to hurt us since we got here, and doesn't want to get caught by the Replicators any more than we do?" O'Neill retorted, pausing in thought for a moment before he nodded. "Yeah; I'm trusting him."

"Thank you, General O'Neill," John said, nodding briefly at the other man before he turned back to the corridor before him. "Come on; let's move."

After a few minutes of hurried movement- John couldn't quite call it 'running' as he'd had to adjust his pace to compensate for Woolsey's lack of physical condition and O'Neill's greater age, even if he'd never tell the other man that he was old to his face-, they finally reached the hatch that John recognised as the entrance to the control room for the underwater gateship bay, a ladder extending down towards it.

"So, this it?" O'Neill asked, as John paused to crouch down beside the hatch.

"That it is," John confirmed with a nod at the older man as he opened the hatch, only for his slight smile to falter as he found himself faced with water reaching up to the ceiling of the room below. "Damnit…"

"Let me guess; we need to go in there?" O'Neill asked.

"Bingo," John said grimly, as he reached up to shrug off his cloak, handing his gun over to the general as he tossed his cloak to Woolsey. "You might need this if any of the Asurans show up; it's not one of your anti-Replicator weapons-"

"You know about those?" Woolsey interrupted, looking at John in shock despite the cloak in his arms.

"I've been hanging around this city for years and the Asurans have been one of the hot topics of discussion for the last couple of months that the expedition were living here; I think we can assume I overheard something about that weapon over that time," John pointed out with a firm glare before he looked back at the other man. "The point is, tht gun won't stop them for good, but it should immobilise them for a few moments. I'll try and be as quick as I can, but it's still going to take a while; if I recall correctly, these controls are on a dead man's switch-"

"As in, you'll have to hold them down to work?" O'Neill said, looking at the masked man with new anxiety. "Isn't there a risk that you could… I dunno…"

"Drown?" John finished for him, smiling slightly as he tapped the mask and allowed the general to see the brief green glow surrounding his face. "This provides me with some additional air reserves; I wouldn't like to go for a long swim, but a relatively quick dip like this should be fine."

"So long as you're sure," O'Neill said after a brief pause, looking grimly at the water below them. "I know I wouldn't like to swim in that…"

"I'll be fine," John said, moving to crouch down beside the open hatch before looking back at the other man with a grim smile. "Just keep the gun ready if something shows up."

With that said, he took a deep breath and dived into the water, opening his eyes as soon as he was fully submerged. The oxygen in his mask also provided him with small 'goggles' so that he could see what he was doing more clearly than otherwise, and the oxygen also helped him stay underwater long enough to do what had to be done. After swimming along for a few moments, trying not to think about how cold the water was- he'd been a competent swimmer back on Earth, but this was a longer distance underwater, in colder temperature, weighed down by wet clothing-, briefly noting the window showing the gateship bay before he turned around to face the control console. Quickly scanning the various panels before him, John soon identified the appropriate lever on the panel on the other side from the window, pulling it down and holding it in position until the water level in the gateship bay had gone down to nothing. Swimming back to the surface, he emerged with a relieved smile, deactivating his mask's force-shield as he looked at his current allies.

"It's done," he said, hauling himself out of the water and taking his cloak back, pulling his Ancient shield device out of his cloak and placing it on himself after making a brief adjustment so that it could push the water away from him.

"They're in?" O'Neill said, as he handed the cloak back to the other man.

"Should be, anyway," John confirmed as he shrugged the cloak back on. "Door's open, they're coming in; all that we need now-"

John's thoughts were cut off when the door behind them opened once again, revealing a small group of five Asurans, each one aiming a weapon at them.

"Crap!" O'Neill said, firing his gun at them despite the obvious futility of such an action, Woolsey pulling out his own pistol to fire off some bullets that would have done little damage even against an opponent that would actually be hurt by them, until John fired his own weapon at them. The subsequent attack did little more than freeze the Asurans in place, but that was enough for the three humans.

"Neat trick," O'Neil said, glancing over at the Phantom. "I don't suppose that killed them?"

"As I said, all I can do is immobilise them," John said apologetically as he glanced at his weapon. "I read about your own anti-Replicator weapons, but without a working example I couldn't make this generate the same blast, so we've probably taken them down for a few moments at most…"

"Right," O'Neill said, nodding solemnly at him. "In that case, you hurry off and then find some way to double-back to that underwater gateship bay to give Doctor Weir's team some back-up; we'll try and make a fuss at this end to buy time."

"What-?" Woolsey and John said simultaneously.

"Hey, you're the expert in dealing with stuff in this city; best will in the world, I don't know enough about this place to be useful to them right now, so we're more use to you making a lot of noise the other way," O'Neill said, looking at John with a slight smile before he looked back at Woolsey. "So, let's focus on running and give the three docs and the three natives time to do whatever they came here to do, OK?"

John tried not to feel too uncomfortable about the general's automatic assumption that he was a native of the Pegasus Galaxy; he had more immediate priorities, particularly since Elizabeth was the only person who knew that right now anyway.

"If you're sure…" he said, looking uncertainly at the general; he didn't want to leave the other two men on their own, even if he acknowledged the tactical merits of General O'Neill's suggestion.

"I'm sure," O'Neill said grimly, indicating the door at the other end of the corridor they were standing in. "Go."

Refusing to give himself time to hesitate, John turned around and ran for the door, his mind already tracing the route to the underwater gateship bay that Elizabeth and her team would have entered by.

He'd just have to hope that the Asurans would want to use the general as a hostage- Woolsey he was honestly so-so about; he didn't want the guy to die, but he wouldn't feel that bad if he ended up dead either- and take it from there…

As she got out of the gateship, Elizabeth couldn't believe how complicated things had been; she knew that people always said that no battle plan survived contact with the enemy, but it seemed like they'd encountered at least half of the plan's potential problems fairly quickly.

The attempt to bomb the central tower and disable Stargate operations had worked, and they'd recovered Niam fairly easily despite Carson's concern about his ability to handle the ships- his piloting experience had naturally been limited ever since more men became available and Sumner decided that providing lessons to ensure that everyone who could fly knew how to do so wasn't a priority-, but with the cloak damaged and the need to get up close to the city to transmit the signal without reactivating Niam, they had been forced to retreat into this gateship bay to escape destruction.

McKay was still working on transmitting the program through Niam without bringing him up to a power level where he'd be a danger, but the fact that they hadn't heard anything else from General O'Neill, Mr Woolsey, or the Phantom didn't bode well for anything they might try to accomplish in this city…

As though summoned from her thoughts, John suddenly appeared at the now-open door of the gateship bay, dressed in his usual mask and cloak, gun in his hand and a tension in his stance that suggested that he'd been running recently.

"The Phantom?" Carson said, looking at the new arrival in shock as the rest of the team filed out of the gateship, holding on to their ARG weapons.

"That's me," John said, nodding grimly at the doctor before he looked over at the gateship, where McKay was still crouched down beside Niam's immobilised form. "What exactly is that doing here?"

"Trying to use him to transmit a code that will shut down the other Replicators without giving him so much power that he wakes up and tries to kill us all; it's not as easy to get that kind of balance as you'd think," McKay said, glaring up at the other man even as Ronon reached back into the gateship to toss another ARG to the Phantom.

"Thanks," John said, nodding briefly at Ronon before turning back to the matter at hand. "Right now, we've got two prisoners to rescue along with a city full of Asurans to defeat; I think we can all agree that stopping the Asurans takes priority?"

"Hostages?" Carson said, looking anxiously at John. "What makes you so sure they won't-?"

"They can't afford to send wave after wave of men at us just to stop us destroying them; it would be a waste of resources, and we're dealing with a race of machines who prefer practicality over self-sacrifice," John said firmly, before his gaze shifted to McKay. "Hostages give us something to focus on, so they'll keep them alive for the moment, but the sooner we can get that program you were talking about ready…"

"I am working as fast as I can; this isn't exactly a laptop, you know!" McKay said, glaring up at John as he continued tapping away at the Ancient pad in his hands.

"All right," John said, looking over at the rest of the team. "Until we can take down the Asurans, our priority has to be stealth; it shouldn't take long for the Asurans to analyse their prisoners' minds, but they don't know what we're planning yet, so we might have time…"

"No harm hurrying, right?" Ronon said, looking firmly at the scientist after exchanging glances with the man in the mask.

"OK, look, just let me…" McKay said, still tapping away at his gadget. "If I can… that should… yeah, OK, I think I've got his power levels about as high as I'm comfortable with; I'm gonna try to get him to-"

"Get down!" John yelled, raising his gun and firing it at Niam as the Asuran stood up, looking at McKay with a strong glare, only realising after he'd fired the weapon that he'd used the ARG Ronon had given him rather than his more traditional weapon.

"Oh, come on!" McKay said, turning to glare at the Phantom after the initial shock had passed. "I was just about to get somewhere-!"

"By waking him up so he could kill us all?" John said, glaring back at McKay. "I appreciate that you were trying to do something difficult, Doctor McKay, but if we're going to take back Atlantis, I think we can all agree that we're going to need a new plan."

"Can we still use the freezing program?" Doctor Beckett asked.

"Not unless we can somehow capture a Replicator and use them to upload the code without them killing us," McKay said, shooting a glare at the masked man. "I need to load the programme directly into a Replicator and spread it that way, otherwise it won't work."

"These weapons blow them apart, right?" Ronon said, holding up his own ARG. "I say we just start killing 'em."

"Normally I would share your run-and-gun enthusiasm, but these weapons are only gonna work for so long before they manage to identify the frequency they use to disrupt the bonds that hold the Replicators together," McKay said.

"In other words," John said, noting Ronon silently looking at McKay, "they build up an immunity if we shoot too many of them."

"Exactly," McKay said, nodding at the Phantom's assessment before he continued. "Look, the freezing plan would have worked because they would be unable to communicate with each other while we were blasting them, but the more we shoot, the greater the likelihood these weapons are gonna become ineffective."

"What if we had some way to hit them all at once?" John said, looking thoughtfully at the weapons in their hands. "I mean, there's a limit to how long it takes them to adapt to these weapons; if we hit enough of them in the same attack, couldn't we stop them before it's all over?"

"Yeah, that would work, if we could get them all into large groups-" McKay began, before a sudden thought occurred to him as he snapped his fingers several times, a broad grin on his face as he turned to look at Elizabeth. "How much C4 do we have?"

"Well… as much as was left in the gateship when we took it, so a decent amount; why?" Elizabeth asked.

"Well, it's desperate…" McKay said, looking around at the rest of the team.

"Well, so are we," Elizabeth said.

"We need to split into groups," McKay said.

"I was going to suggest that anyway," John said, making a mental note to do what he could to stay with Elizabeth. "Why? What are you thinking?"

Chapter End Notes: AN: OK, important question; does anyone want to see the Atlantis team's efforts to rig the city shield generators and 'rescue' Jack and Woolsey, which will mostly be the same as canon, or shall we jump straight to them being captured and John being unmasked at last?

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